Eifman Ballet
Kings of the Dance Tickets

Tour De Force | Ardani Artists Management

Tour de Force offers O.C. a cornucopia of styles, dancers

Date: April 29, 2011

OK, so the Segerstrom Center's balletpalooza, Tour de Force II, wasn't quite as star-studded as originally advertised – Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, two marquee-topping names from the Bolshoi, had to drop out – but I didn't hear anybody at Thursday's blowout complaining that they didn't get their money's worth. (We learned in the weeks leading up to the Center's first Tour de Force in 2009 that program shuffling and last-minute personnel changes are part of the fun.)

In two jam-packed hours, we got to see a Who's Who of ballet's best and brightest dancers and choreographers in a program that mixed excerpts from familiar warhorses with new work (some of it brand new – Mauro Bigonzetti's "Vertigo" was created by the Italian choreographer in Costa Mesa last year and has been performed only once before, in Russia).

Appropriately enough, each half of the evening began with a scene from Boris Eifman's 2003 ballet, "Who's Who." (Eifman, sitting directly in front of me, was treated like a rock star by adoring, autograph-seeking fans.)

Eifman is a master of ballet as psychological drama. His "Don Quixote," playing through Sunday at the Segerstrom Center, is an evening-long metaphor for Soviet-era repression.

Light and fluffy isn't Eifman's forte, and that's what we get with "Who's Who." Here's the plot, for those of you who were mystified on Thursday: Two male dancers from the Russian Imperial Theater escape the Russian Revolution in 1917 and make their way to America. When gangsters pursue them, they dress as female performers in a nightclub.

If you're thinking that sounds a little like "Some Like It Hot" on pointe, bingo. Eifman appropriates the sound, look and jazzy energy of the era (actually, Eifman's world seems more like the Roaring Twenties than the dark days of World War I), but it's like watching Russian actors play Curtis, Lemmon and Monroe with Boris-and-Natasha accents. The excerpts are entertaining and colorful but lack authenticity and import. (Not to be nitpicky about the score, but Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing" belongs to the 1930s, not the teens.)

The evening's classical pas de deux were well executed – sometimes dutifully, sometimes beautifully.

Denis and Anastasia Matvienko, a husband-and-wife team from the Mariinsky Ballet, are a dazzling duo, though not always perfectly matched. As their solos in Balanchine's "Sylvia" demonstrated, she's a more cautious dancer than he is. He's exuberant, indulgent, and sometimes flirts with the edge of his considerable technique; she doesn't.

They seemed more comfortable later in roles they have danced before to considerable acclaim, "Don Quixote's" Kitri and Basilio.

Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz were a less worldly but more enjoyable matchup.
Peck, a young California native who's already a rising star on Broadway and at New York City Ballet, was well paired with De Luz, who's older but retains his sharp, boyish charm.

They were irresistible in Balanchine's "Tarantella," a brief but showy pas de deux set to Gottschalk's Grand Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra.

Peck's execution of Balanchine's devilishly tricky leg movements was dainty yet joyous, bringing to mind the dancer who originated the part in 1964, Violette Verdy (that's not surprising, since Verdy coached Tiler about "Tarantella's" finer points). Peck's only occasional deficiency was rhythmic anticipation—a fast-tempo necessity that's crucial in Balanchine's work.

De Luz was her equal in precision and passion, conjuring the spirit of another Balanchine dancer from that era, Edward Villella. And the duo brought the same infectious mix of brio and technique to another 1960 Balanchine classic, "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux."

For those with a more adventurous aesthetic, the highlights of the evening were undoubtedly the works by Bigonzetti, Patrick De Bana and William Forsythe.
De Bana's choreography comes off as slight and self-indulgent at times – his portentousness can seem empty in "Creature," a male duet full of ominous sounds and sinuous unison movement. A solo called "The Picture of ..." was more satisfying: a mournful and pensive work danced introspectively by the choreographer to Purcell's achingly beautiful "When I Am Laid in My Grave" from "Dido and Aeneas."
The contributions of Bigonzetti and American choreographer William Forsythe were far more effective.

Russian virtuoso Katya Markowskaja and Noah Gelber, an American who worked with Forsythe for years at the Frankfurt Ballet, performed excerpts from Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" in the first act and "Slingerland" in the second. The works are emblematic of Forsythe's mesmerizing style: a bending and willful breaking of balletic rules and an emotional palette that is powerful yet hard to define. Both works were danced with reverence and brought gravitas to the evening.

Bigonzetti's "Vertigo" was, for many in the audience, the highlight of this year's "Tour de Force."

Minimal, dark, presented in shades of stark black and white, it was a somber and ritualistic study full of tortuous intertwining, scooping and circular arm movements, slow, stately suspensions and chilly tableaux. Set to mournful music by Shostakovich, it was performed with a feeling of profound tragedy by the masterful Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes.

As enjoyable as this pair was in John Neumeier's "Lady of the Camellias," I'd come back to watch "Vertigo" over and over. It represents "Tour de Force" at its best: technical brilliance married to creative audacity.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7979 or phodgins@ocregister.com