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Sacramento Ballet: The Future Is Now

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Stefan Calka is a member of the Sacramento Ballet company and one of its strongest dancers.

The Sacramento Ballet couldn’t have picked a better program for its first performances in its new home, the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts.

Bach to Now and Beyond” embraces both the history and future of the dance company by showcasing the energy and excitement of the Sacramento Ballet.

The program begins with George Balanchine’s timeless classic “Concerto Barocco,” set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. Balanchine originally dressed the dancers in elaborate Baroque costumes, but discarded them for what would become his signature dress: simple practice tunics and dance togs — all white for the women, black pants and white tops for the men. The costumes add timeless elegance to the abstract work.

“Concerto Barocco” is often referred to as architectonic, or architectural in design. It certainly is that, having a structure that is as strong, organized and unified as a building’s design.

The two featured females (Lauryn Winterhalder and Katie Miller in the performance reviewed) are near mirror images of themselves (tall, elegant and with perfect extension) and of the two, solo violins of the accompaniment. Stefan Calka (Richard Porter in some performances) is the sole male dancer in the piece, which requires both strength and artistry in performance. An ensemble of eight females, moving in unison through demanding and synchronous patterns makes the piece one of breathtaking beauty.

The second piece on the program is the newest — created by Ashley Walton in 2014 — and in this performance is collaboration with local artist Raphael Delgado. He painted three screens which act as moving walls for Walton’s “Written On It,” set to music by Philip Glass. Lauryn Winterhalder and Jonathan Harris, a relatively new addition to the company, are the featured couple in a dynamic dance reflective of Glass’ driving music. The “walls” in the piece move to obscure or reveal dancers (an ensemble of 15 — four males, the rest females) in a contemporary piece full of energy and tension. Harris shows himself to be a talented partner, providing sturdy assistance in his couples dance.

A surprising, sharp ending gives “Written On It” a powerful punch. Walton certainly is, as ballet co-artistic directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda say, one of the country’s hottest young dance makers.

The final piece on the program is “Blood Rush,” a dance in seven movements, by Chinese choreographer Ma Cong (who now lives in this country). Set to music by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, the dance uses ballet language and imagery as it incorporates contemporary, jazz and tango movements as suggested by the music. The dancers are attired in costumes with the flavor of the Argentine culture, black and red outfits, and the women in flat tutus that suggest huge flat plates anchored around the waist.

The first movement features five couples: Isabella Velasquez and Stefan Calka, Julia Feldman and Dylan Keane, Winterhalder and Christopher Nachtrab, Audry Mathias (or Lauryn Winterhalder and Anthony Cannarella (or Jonathan Harris) and Larissa Kogut and Hunter Finnegan, each cleverly matched strong partners. Keane and newer company members Finnegan and Cannarella hold their own against company stalwarts Calka and Nachtrab, who are excellent as always.

The sixth movement features Ava Chatterson and Richard Porter, two exquisite dancers beautifully paired. The final movement features the entire ensemble and ends with a memorable image that drew a gasp and then excited applause and a standing ovation — the third of the evening — from a sold-out crowd.

This is no-doubt one of the strongest programs presented by the ballet company, with two contemporary dances that are worthy of sharing the same stage with Balanchine’s classic.

Performances continue this week at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday; then 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 30; 7 p.m. Friday, April 1 and 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, April 2. The E. Claire Raley Studios is at 2420 N St., in the former Fremont School for Adults. Tickets are $57.

For more information, call the ballet at (916) 552-5800 or go to sacballet.org.

Photo: One of the Sacramento Ballet’s strongest dancers, Stefan Calka. Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Ballet.


About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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