City Ballet Preserves Three Treasured Ballets in ‘Balanchine Spectacular’

His ballet directive “Glissade, jeté, assemblé, sissonne, pas de bourrée…” sends waves of dancers gliding and leaping from the corners. Lean and soft spoken, Steven Wistrich, artistic director of City Ballet, watches and claps out the beats while a pianist repeats waltz rhythms.

City Ballet of San Diego performs Balanchine's "Rubies."  Courtesy image

City Ballet of San Diego performs Balanchine’s “Rubies.” Courtesy image

Sequences grow more complex. The more experienced dancers take greater risks.  They jump higher and farther. Several men just clear low beams in the Pacific Beach studio. And this is just the warm up.  City Ballet of San Diego has been rehearsing its all-Balanchine program since early January.

Balanchine Spectacular on view at the Spreckels Theatre March 6, 7, and 8, preserves three of George Balanchine’s ballets: “Rubies,” “The Four Temperaments,” and “Walpurgisnacht Ballet.”

“We’re working hard,” said ballerina Ariana Gonzalez, “and we’re ready for the run at Spreckels.  “Sandy is very tough, and we love her.  We get lots of notes because she wants everything to be perfect.”

Karissa Myers (L) Erica Alvarado (C) Ariana Gonzalez (R) rehearse for the Balanchine performance.  Photo credit: Julia Hiebaum

Karissa Myers (L) Erica Alvarado (C) Ariana Gonzalez (R) rehearse for the Balanchine performance. Photo credit: Julia Hiebaum

She’s referring to Sandra Jennings, the Balanchine Trust repetiteur who evaluates every aspect – technique, rehearsal, lights, casting, even program notes.

The Trust based in New York guards all of Balanchine’s ballets.  Only those deemed worthy may perform them.  City Ballet of San Diego danced its first Balanchine ballet in 1994. Now it has 18 in repertory.

“I’m dancing ‘Rubies,’ Gonzalez said, “and partner with Stefano (Candreva). The music is awesome and it’s extremely glamorous and athletic. It demands technique.”

Rubies” is one of three acts from “Jewels,” considered Balanchine’s first full-length abstract ballet. “Emeralds,” Rubies,” and “Diamonds” each have a different composer and are linked by jewel-colored costumes.  A collaboration between Balanchine and composer Stravinsky, “Jewels” premiered in 1967 and has been described as “crisp and witty,” with angular and syncopated choreography. Gonzalez says, “Balanchine’s dances are all about the ladies.” All of his wives were ballerinas, including Maria Tallchief, the third of four.

“The music for ‘Rubies’ is Stravinsky,” said Gonzalez,” so it’s very dramatic. The toughest part is finding the stamina. We’re ready to get it on stage. Costumes are brilliant red, ornate with strips for a skirt.”

Gonzalez, formerly Ariana Samuelsson, grew up in this dance studio. Her parents, Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich, co-founded City Ballet in 1993. She danced with Atlanta Ballet and Joffrey Ballet, and returned to City Ballet in 2005. She recently married company dancer Geoff Gonzalez.

“Geoff is taking a leave to work on commercial dance projects in New York, so he’s not performing in this show” Gonzalez said, “but he’ll be back soon.  We love this dance company. When my parents are ready, we’ll take over for them. We have so many great dancers.”

She nods to diminutive Erica Alvarado, who sits on the floor next to her.

“I’m dancing inWalpurgisnacht’ and ‘Temperaments’” and partner with Ryosuke (Ogura),” Alvarado said. “His technique is amazing, so fancy and precise.”

Balanchine choreographed “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” for a 1975 production of the opera Faust, composed by Charles Gounod. It’s the opera’s last act, when Mephistopheles brings Faust to watch the celebration of the eve of May Day, when the souls of dead wander.

“It’s neoclassical and romantic,” Alvarado said. “I rotate with Katie Spanoletti in that ballet, and she’s one to watch in ‘Temperaments’ too.”

Created in the 1946, “The Four Temperaments” is marked by dancers in simple workout clothes, classic forms fused with angular experimentation, and a bare stage.

“They are all challenging pieces, said Alvarado. “We need those short intermissions so we can regroup and change costumes.”

“Oh yeah, we need a few minutes to breath and fix our hair,” said Gonzalez.

Balanchine Spectacular runs March 6-8 at the Spreckels Theatre downtown.  Tickets: $29-$79.  Music is recorded. www.cityballet.org

“City Ballet Preserves Three Treasured Ballets in ‘Balanchine Spectacular’” also appears in The La Jolla Light. 

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