Sassy and sophisticated, Diablo Ballet turns 20


Rosselyn Ramirez and Derek Sakakura of Diablo Ballet in George Balanchine's Who Cares? (Photo: Ashraf Habibullah)

Rosselyn Ramirez and Derek Sakakura of Diablo Ballet in George Balanchine’s Gershwin tribute, WHO CARES? (Photo: Ashraf Habibullah)


After 20 years of captivating East Bay audiences, Diablo Ballet tipped its hat to the past with an anniversary program that segued movingly from film clips of past performances to live performance of the same pieces, but also nodded vigorously to the future with a brand new work by resident choreographer Robert Dekkers.

Unlike many regional dance companies who have sacrificed live music in these hard economic times, Jonas and her board have their priorities right, continuing to serve up live accompaniment for three of the works on this fine program.

The luscious bedroom pas de deux from Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias featured Diablo alumna Tina Kay Bohnstedt in the role of 19th century Parisian courtesan Marguerite Gauthier, ably partnered by the elegant David Fonnegra, to the strains of the introspective, heartbreaking slow movement of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor.

Diablo Ballet alumni Corinne Jonas and Viktor Kabaniaev in KT Nelson's Walk before Talk. (Photo: Ashraf Habibullah)

Throwback: Diablo Ballet alumni Corinne Jonas and Viktor Kabaniaev in KT Nelson’s WALK BEFORE TALK. (Photo: Ashraf Habibullah)


Rosselyn Ramirez and Derek Sakakura were similarly well-matched in the ‘Sweetheart pas de deux’ from Eugene Loring’s classic Billy the Kid, a rare balletic interlude in this stark, modern opus with a highly unclassical theme: the making of a psychopathic killer.  The score by Aaron Copland (a virtual unknown in 1938) was played live by Roy Bogas.

Diablo’s tiny ensemble displayed their virtuosity in two episodes from Who Cares?, George Balanchine’s scrumptious revel to George Gershwin.

Diablo alumnus Kelly Teo employed a tightly circumscribed vocabulary, with a Fosse-flavored snap to shoulders, hands and arms in his dazzling visualization of music from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ “electric” period. Robert Dekkers, Edward Stegge, Derek Sakakura, David Fonnegra, Jennifer Dille and Rosselyn Ramirez, in elegant, streamlined black, strutted and hitch-kicked, brisé-d and entrechat quatre-d, like musical notes popping frenetically off the page. A visual and aural blast.

Dekkers collaborated on the lower-case cares you know not with a quintet of Diablo dancers, with Susan Roemer who designed costumes and the 35-foot jersey shroud that billows menacingly over the proceedings, and with Samuel Carl Adams who architected the score for eight cellos, close mic’d to capture the nuanced scrapes, whispers, and effusions often lost in the performance environment, some tuned to unconventional pitches – the resulting sound by turns wistful and electrifying – overlaid with electronically processed field recordings of ghostly noises.

The title appears to have been ripped from a children’s lullaby, whose lyrics include the line “cares you know not, therefore sleep.” The piece is no innocent dream however, more of a nightmare. Frequently bent over as if in severe abdominal pain, the dancers wrap and unwrap themselves in the stretchy amber shroud, occasionally piloted by two men in hoodies like the Grim Reaper. Adams’ score, together with Dekkers’ urgent but spare choreography, blurs the boundary between seduction and alienation.


Diablo Ballet alumni Karen Portner Lapointe and the late Kyongo Kim. (Photo: Ashraf Habibullah)

Throwback: Diablo Ballet alumni Karen Portner Lapointe and the late Kyongo Kim. (Photo: Ashraf Habibullah)


The program meandered back and forth across history, interspersed with lovely filmed tributes from dance luminaries including Sally Streets, KT Nelson, and Christopher Stowell. Positioning the pieces in chronological order would have better emphasized the influence of Balanchine’s groundbreaking absorption of jazz into the ballet idiom on the contemporary work of Teo and Dekkers, for example.

But even though dessert arrived before the appetizer, the tasty morsels left us hungry for more.

– More about this delightful program in our review in the Huffington Post. –

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