Squeezing Mozart, Debussy, and Hart into a Leotard

Dancers jump to rock-n-roll, leap back to neo-impressionism, and land near 1791 Vienna in Mozart’s Requiem, City Ballet of San Diego’s contemporary program at the Spreckels Theatre starting Friday, Nov. 13.

"Mozart's Requiem" features the entire City Ballet Company, orchestra, and 80-voice choir. Image: Chelsea Penyak

“Mozart’s Requiem” features the entire City Ballet Company, orchestra, and 80-voice choir. Image: Chelsea Penyak

“In designing the program we try to keep a balance,” said resident choreographer Elizabeth, Betsey Wistrich. “We begin with music by Beth Hart, which has singing. Debussy is more classical, with a single piano, and we close with ‘Mozart’s Requiem’ which has a full orchestra and chorus.”

"Mozart's Requieum" a program of contemporary works by Elizabeth Wistrich and Geoff Gonzalez, with the City Ballet Orchestra. Image: Chelsea Penyak

The men of “Mozart’s Requiem.” The program includes three contemporary works by Elizabeth Wistrich and Geoff Gonzalez. Image: Chelsea Penyak

The premiere of “Hart to Hart” promises electrifying power. This is Wistrich’s second ballet set to Hart’s raw, energized music. First iteration “Leave the Light On” has been a favorite since its premiere in 2004.

Wistrich’s exploration of Mozart’s masterful score was a hit in 2014 and features the entire company of dancers, the City Ballet Orchestra, and the 80-voice Pacific Coast Chorale. John Nettles conducts. Choreography is dramatic and features Derek Lauer in a main role, replacing Geoff Gonzalez who has shifted to rising resident choreographer.

Gonzalez stepped away from dancing last year to focus on choreography. He also married his dance partner, ballerina Ariana Gonzalez (formerly Samuelsson) who dances full time with the company. She’s the daughter of Steven and Betsey Wistrich, who co-founded City Ballet in 1993. The Gonzalez duo partnered in many productions such as Balanchine’s “Emeralds” and “Romeo and Juliet,” and they are becoming co-directors of the respected company.

Geoff has been teaching The Nutcracker to a dance company in South Dakota. For several weeks, dancers and musicians in San Diego have been in rehearsals without him. Ariana has been running the show at home.

With different backgrounds and training, they are a striking couple. They impressed ballerina Wendy Whelan and colleagues when they participated in CHOREOLab 2015, in conjunction with the touring show Wendy Whelan/Restless Creature.

They presented a solo from a larger work, “Infinitus,” and received warm praise and direction from top choreographers Kyle Abraham, Brian Brooks, Joshua Beamish, and Alejandro Cerrudo.

Read more about the CHOREOLab2015 experience in my award-winning piece When Dancemakers Test Work…Everyone Wins published at sandiegostory.com.

Find extensive reviews of City Ballet productions too, such as Balanchine Masterworks and the rare collaboration with Malashock Dance and San Diego Dance Theater.

For the Mozart Requiem program, Mr. Gonzalez dives into duets.

“The music is everything in four PAIR,” he said about his new ballet of four duets set to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune,” the third and most familiar movement from “Suite Bergamasque.” Delicate piano depicts silvery moonlight, with a soft sadness and floating harmonies.

“It’s all piano solos and each section of the suite has a firm identity. Alike yet nothing alike, I listened to each one to figure out its enigma. From finding themes and their variations to breaking down sections, we try to shape feelings and emotional tones.”

Dancing in the premiere are:   Adam Bloodgood/Carly Tapazio; Jessie Leigh Mowes/Erica Alvarado; Derek Lauer/Ariana Gonzalez; and Lucas Ataide/Rony Lenis

“My original idea had four male/female duets, but I realized musically how each duet called for different situations, Gonzalez said. “I tried to match personalities to take an idea and run.”

He has dancers begin with a movement base. There are fleeting images. A temporary relationship ends with something fiery, on the edge of losing control. Two competing women contrast strong and feminine.

“The simplest form of love is playful and deep,” Gonzalez continues. “Two competing men are peaceful and dignified. When I listen to the suite, I see images and motifs.”

Pianist Rodney Girvin will play live on stage, which is a challenge and thrill.

“We want to connect with the internal feelings of a brilliant pianist,” Gonzalez said, “and it’s always a challenge. There is so much work below the surface for a master like Debussy, and pianists add their own interpretation, which is magic. The goal is to incorporate that raw passion into the design of the dance and performance.”


Nov. 13-15 at the Spreckels Theatre downtown. Run time approx. 2 hours.







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