City Ballet Dances in the Moonlight

Iago Breschi and Ariana Gonzalez in “Aubade.” Photo: Chelsea Penyak

Can’t City Ballet of San Diego afford shirts for its male dancers? Just kidding. The bare-chested guys looked swell in a show that was a charming mix of setting—UCSD’s Epstein Family Amphitheater—and a program of superbly danced all-new work.

The three ballets evoked the diurnal cycle, opening with “Aubade” (dawn serenade), followed by “Forever Sunset” and “Moonlit,” while the sky shifted from dusk to night. Even lovelier, a cricket nocturne filled quiet moments in the scores.

The intimate program, with a cast of just 10, offered dances by resident choreographers Elizabeth Rowe-Wistrich and Geoffrey Gonzalez, as well as a piece by company member Brian Heil.

Rowe-Wistrich’s “Aubade,” set to selections by Erik Satie, begins with adagio partnering by Ariana Gonzalez and Iago Breschi. It’s swoony … and fresh, when she supports him in arabesque. Gonzalez is small and precise, Breschi tall and muscular, and unison phrases delight for the way these very different bodies harmonize.

A playful section features Lucas Ataide tenderly partnering with Sumire Ito and Breschi who runs, then slides on his knees to reach Megan Jacobs. Then “Aubade,” like the rising sun, catches fire. Gonzalez enters with a smoldering gaze, gorgeously fluid arms, and bright little steps, as the two couples take angular poses behind her.

There’s a bit much of Breschi taking a classic danseur noble stance, chest regally lifted, one arm above his head and the other to the side, though it’s hard to blame Rowe-Wistrich for wanting to show off her dancer’s buff physique. Similarly, Geoffrey Gonzalez, in “Forever Sunset,” overuses canon, where one dancer starts a phrase, another begins the phrase a beat or two later, and so on.

Lucas Ataide, Shannon Romeo, and Preston Swovelin in “Forever Sunset.” Photo: Chelsea Penyak

Yet there’s much to love in Gonzalez’s wistful new work, especially the poetry with which he infuses the “ordinary” move of dancers forming hand-holding chains. The seven dancers sometimes face the same direction, sometimes not. They clasp hands, part, clasp again, trying to hold onto one another … but knowing, in this ballet set to Remo Giazotto’s yearning Adagio in G Minor, that we can’t always do that.

Alone in the foreground, Ataide leaps and twists as if gripped by anguish. He and Preston Swovelin (a guest artist who’s a principal with the Golden State Ballet) join luminous Shannon Romeo for a striking pas de trois—supporting her or watching while she does urgent reaches. All seven dancers cluster, taking turns being the one supported, or part of the community offering support.

“Moonlit.” Photo: Chelsea Penyak.

“Moonlit,” inspired by the waxing and waning of the moon, was Heil’s first-ever dance for City Ballet’s professional company. He rose beautifully to the challenge with this work for seven female dancers set to music from Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony.

In filmy blue skirts, the dancers scatter across the stage, shift fluidly from all-group unison to smaller clusters to solos. Heil knows these artists, and he gives each one movements that make them look great, highlighting Katya Schloemann’s freshness and strength, Sophie Robertson’s sparkle, Ariana Gonzalez’s exquisite arms.

As City Ballet’s artistic director, Steven Wistrich, said in opening remarks, it’s great to perform outdoors in the summer, but not so easy to find a venue with good lighting and acoustics, plus a non-punishing floor. The Epstein Family Amphitheater, which opened last fall, proved a terrific setting for dance.

Leave a Comment