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Ariana and Geoff Gonzalez in “Afternoon of a Faun.” Photo: Chelsea Penyak

City Ballet of San Diego has been gobbling up ballets by George Balanchine and has built an impressive repertory. For “Balanchine & Beyond” at the Spreckels Theatre last weekend, the company did two of its two Balanchine pieces but also premiered work by two other New York City Ballet choreographers, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins.

In Robbins’s sultry “Afternoon of a Faun” and Martins’s relentlessly paced “Hallelujah Junction,” the dancers were dazzling. And City Ballet pulled out the stops—and the checkbook—for “Hallelujah Junction,” bringing out two pianists from New York City Ballet to perform the John Adams score. The other three pieces also had live music, capably provided by director John Nettles’ City Ballet Orchestra.

“Afternoon of a Faun” takes place in a ballet studio, beautifully evoked by barres, gauzy drapery, and “windows” through which we see the azure of a gorgeous day. (The set and lighting were created by legendary theatrical designer Jean Rosenthal.)

Geoff Gonzalez, in black practice tights, showed off his bare, mobile torso in catlike stretches, looking as if into a mirror (in the direction of the audience). Enter Ariana Gonzalez, focused on her own poses in the mirror. Though both continued their self-absorbed mirror gazing, their bodies came together in striking architectural shapes and unusual lifts—in one, her body was straight and he held her upside-down. And this married couple brought a great sizzle to the final kiss.

“Hallelujah Junction.” Ariana Gonzalez and Sean Rollofson, foreground. Photo: Chelsea Penyak

Ariana Gonzalez was also a principal in “Hallelujah Junction,” and she has just the right style—and attitude—for the jazzy choreography. She had a strong partner in Sean Rollofson, whether he carried her draped over his shoulder or spun her as she planted one toe and leaned backward. And Ryosuke Ogura devoured the stage with fouettés as the Solo Boy. (Why oh why does ballet infantalize mature artists by giving names like that to roles?)

The piece is fast and merciless—it’s hard to imagine where to get one’s bearings in the Adams score. But the leads and eight-member corps nailed it, and it was thrilling, especially with the New York City Ballet pianists performing behind the dancers onstage.

The two Balanchine pieces, “La Source” and “Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux,” both featured exquisite Erica Alvarado. Alvarado has divine hands and feet, and, although she’s small and quick, she also conveys a luxurious sense of never being rushed.

“La Source,” which opened the program, got off to a tentative start on Saturday. The male principal, Rollofson, looked stiff, and there were some muddy orchestral entrances. But Rollofson relaxed into partnering Alvarado—and delivered some big leaps in his solos—and the orchestra seemed to hit its stride, as well. Kaylee Skelton, in the first lead role in which I’ve seen her, was a quick-footed Solo Girl. And, as always with City Ballet, there was a well-drilled corps.

Erica Alvarado and Lucas Ataide in “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.” Photo: Chelsea Penyak

“Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux” proved a tour de force for Alvarado and Lucas Ataide. She traveled backwards in arabesque. He threw off fouettés and turning jetés. She leaped at him and he caught her in fish dives. Yippee!

Reviewing City Ballet’s “Nutcracker” three months ago, I wrote: “I’ve watched this company progress one small step at a time. I’m eager to see it make a grand jeté to the next level.” With this program, particularly the exciting new works and the pianists from New York, they did it. Bravo.

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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