Live Music Elevates City Ballet’s Magic and Tragic Dances

A thrilling ballet is more than physical technique and costumes. For this weekend’s production of Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp and Carmina Burana, City Ballet is soaring to new heights with a live orchestra, chorale, and elegant musicians on stage.

Ariana Gonzalez, Brian Heil, and Bethany Green are the leads in “Carmina Burana,” a new ballet by Geoff Gonzalez. Image by Carly Topazio

The mix of a classic and a premiere at the Spreckels Theatre showcases the lovely and versatile dance company and two powerful and contrasting scores.

Clean symmetry and a swirl of stiff platter tutus are wonderfully satisfying in Mozart Concerto, by resident choreographer Elizabeth Wistrich.

Having Kristen Kort play the flute and Stefano Wendell play the harp on stage elevates the dance experience. Kort and Wendell are a joy to watch near the edge of the stage as the dance progresses from Allegro, Andantino, and Rondeau with the entire cast.

As the dancing men and women twirl and weave, one can’t help but sigh at the combined beauty of the music and athletic bodies in sheer tights under soft drapes and a chandelier.

“Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp” is danced by Iago Breschi (left) and the City Ballet of San Diego company

The men wear regal vests and the women sparkle in tiaras. Costumes are by David Heuvel. Headpieces are by Gillian Metcalf. Lighting is by Stephen Judson.

This may be dance heaven, especially when the women jump quickly and open their arms like jerky hands on a clock. Polished yet playful, they become silly frogs when they bend their knees in lifts.

Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp was last performed by City Ballet of San Diego in Jan. 2006, at the Birch North Park Theatre.  The company has grown and excelled. The Spreckels Theatre is the company’s home now, and it celebrates its 25th Anniversary Season.

Geoff Gonzalez is the second resident choreographer. As husband of star dancer Ariana Gonzalez and son-in-law to Elizabeth and Steven Wistrich, Mr. Gonzalez brings new focus on contemporary dance theater.

For this world premiere of Carmina Burana, Mr. Gonzalez integrates Carl Orff’s potent score into the tragic story of a banker ruined by the Great Crash of 1929. Set in Manhattan, the narrative follows the true story of James J. Riordan who became suicidal when he lost all of his wealth and walked the streets of New York with a gun.

Dressed in period clothing, Brian Heil conjures the spirit of James the Banker in the Roaring Twenties when he loses everything. Who knew this company dancer was such a fine actor?  He gives a visceral and physically demanding performance that is chilling.

The ballet opens with gritty film of New York streets and old cars, and crazed people dancing and leaping out of buildings. Judson’s lighting and simple props recreate that dark world when desperate people found joy in Speakeasies and dance halls.

Ariana Gonzalez dances the role of Mistress Marilyn with the same dangerous fire as in Carmen, but this time she shakes a fringy short dress.  The entire company shines as flappers, stock brokers, and their wives.

Ariana Gonzalez dances the role of Marilyn in “Carmina Burana.” Image Carly Topazio.

We suffer along with Banker Wife Florence, danced by Bethany Green, when she grips the hand of her daughter (Nera Holland) and leaves her husband.  The image of them with only a suitcase and the daughter looking back at her dad for the last time is stunning.

Mr. Gonzalez has created a tragic drama that lingers, especially in this era of uncertainty.  James the Banker is Everyman; watching his friends and family abandon him is heart wrenching.

When composer Carl Orff created his work after World War II, he had the mythological Goddess of Fortune in mind. She either shines bright upon you, or allows you to fail.

Gonzalez inserts that mythic character into the Banker story. Lauren Anthony and Casey Gonzalez rotate the role of Goddess of Fortune dressed in a golden toga. She’s surrounded by the Spirits of Fortune, who operate much like the Wilies in Giselle.

Dressed in black with sheer skirts, the Spirits lurk in shadows and undulate spidery arms. Costumers Karin Yamada and Jannifer Mah created golden masks with frightening mouth fringes that look like loose teeth. They frighten the audience in the lobby during intermission.

Flappers dance the Charleston on pointe shoes, Bankers dance with their wives and cheat, and this sexy tragedy is elevated to the rafters with Orff’s thundering and curious score, and played live in a beautiful, historic theatre.

John Nettles conducts the City Ballet Orchestra. Jim Tompkins-MacLaine conducts Pacific Coast Chorale. Nettles is Asst. Conductor for the Chorale. Rodney Girvin, Accompanist. Caroline Nelms, Soprano Soloist. William Marshall, Baritone Soloist.

City Ballet’s production of Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp and Carmina Burana runs Friday May 11 at 8 pm, Saturday May 12 at 8 pm, and Sunday May 13 at 2 pm, at the Spreckels Theatre.  858-272-8663


  1. W Rouse on May 14, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    Sounds fabulous

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