New Ballet brings its 7th annual presentation of new works, Fast Forward, to the Hammer Theatre at San Jose State University for one night only, February 2, 2024. It’s an ambitious program for any company, as it boasts six world-premieres. Two feature the entire 22 person cast, a mixture of Company Artists, Studio Company dancers and apprentices. To accommodate the necessary costume and shoe changes between pieces, Executive and Artistic Director Dalia Rawson conducts front-of-curtain interviews with the choreographers following their pieces. She is personable and engaging, asking each about the inspiration for their dance.
These elucidating interludes demystify the dances for the audience, providing insight about the choreographic process, a dance’s meaning and movement, and the intricacies of live performance. In the second act several pieces are introduced rather than reviewed, offering us anticipatory imagery and conceptual lenses through which to watch.
New Ballet is deeply committed to teaching and developing dancers. Fast Forward affords the dancers opportunities to participate in the development of new work and exposure to different aesthetics and choreography methods.
New Ballet dancers in Dalia Rawson's All Bets Are Off; Photo: Chris Hardy
The New Ballet dancers are remarkably adept at transitioning from modern pieces, danced in a flat ballet slipper, to dynamic pointe work. They are confident and well-rehearsed; only in the partnering, which is sparingly present this evening, does tenuousness creep in.
Northern California is a melting pot of cultures and New Ballet understands the power of bringing many voices into the mix. Female choreographers are featured. The company is authentically racially diverse. A range of body types are represented on stage, without any sacrifice of grace or execution.
Choreographer Keon Saghari’s Safar Khosh, which means safe journey or bon voyage in Farsi, provides a multi-cultural launch to the program. The influence of Saghari’s Iranian heritage is present in the movement vocabulary. Performed in toe shoes, the dance seamlessly interweaves traditional Persian and contemporary Western dance to create its own hip form. Palms pressed tightly together overhead are drawn down toward the belly as the dancers bow in prayer. The back of a hand rests against the ear, while the other arm extends up at a diagonal. A Middle Eastern line dance sequence, with six women cross-stepping arm over arm on their toes, is a marvelous melding of cultures.
New Ballet dancers in Keon Saghari's Safar Khosh; Photo: Chris Hardy
Múa Nón is an exquisite, technically challenging, and precisely executed balletic version of a Vietnamese Hat Dance performed to the percussive beats of Brazilian musician Divan Gattamorta. In long silk tunic and pants, a modern dance take on the traditional ao dai, a dozen women each clasp a cone-shaped woven hat. While hovering on their toes, in line behind one another, they each in turn raise their hats creating a wave effect. Dancing with a prop can throw off one’s balance, yet this ensemble skims across the stage in synch, their hats held in precise position echoing their neighbors. Múa Nón highlights the elegance, strength of the performers. Its beauty is irrefutable and a credit to the skill of award-winning choreographer Linh Mai Le, who is also New Ballet’s School’s Director.
New Ballet dancers in Linh Mai Le's Múa Nón; Photo: Chris Hardy
Mariana Sobral’s Solace is most memorable for the original new classical score by local composer and New Ballet pianist Peter Colclasure. It begins with short moody phrases to match the introduction of each dancer’s searching inquiry, as they appear sequentially in disparate pools of white light. Dancers perform much of Solace holding disc-shaped flashlights in their palms. The work of putting them down, picking them up, turning them on and off is distracting and in the end, it is Lucas Ward’s dappled amber light which creates the lovely effect of pervasive golden candlelight. Sobral knows the dancers well and they shine in the solos and small group work, but an unevenness is present in the large group sections, suggesting that while the intention to include all is admirable, less is more sometimes.
Act 2 grabs us with Fall Back by Erik Wagner, a challenging contemporary work which allows the viewer to find their narrative. The story I wrote involves couples and singles, happy and sad; some couples wish they were singles while singles wish they were couples. A man drags a woman. A female pair tag each other playfully, dodging here and there in a getting-to-know-you prelude. Some move with boldness, others in droopy suppliance with arms at their sides palms forward. The inventiveness of Wagner’s choreography and pacing keep us guessing and wanting more. Even his contrasting musical selections intrigue, ranging from Goldberg Variations’ classical piano to the buzzy electronica and raspy vocals of James Blake’s ‘Fall Back’.
A challenge for these forward-facing ballet programs is how, or even whether, to include romantic classical pieces such as Jing Zhang’s Water Lily. Ballerinas in ivory lace and chiffon dresses with arms above their heads, in fifth position, glide toward their partners. Men in black tights are at the ready to lift them and support their pirouettes. Performed to classical piano music, Water Lily is lyrical and cleanly presented, but unmemorable. It feels a bit retro alongside its genre-pushing brethren.
Rawson’s finale, All Bets Are Off, is a show stopper for the whole company. The Top Shelf Big Band is in the pit, exuberantly playing selections from the ‘Cuphead Game Soundtrack,’ composed by Kristopfer Maddigan. Costume Designer Deborah Lund has fun with this one and so do we. The gals are sassy flamingos in bright pink bodysuits and irreverent tutus. Their male escorts are dashingly bare chested in pink tuxedos with black satin lapels. The air is full of theatrical smoke through which beams of pink light cut, suggesting a nightclub in a time gone by.
The energy level is sky high as dancers jive, jump spread eagle and swivel their hips. Star turns abound as do stage crossing leaps. Charleston steps and jazz hands bring smiles, even when performed en pointe. The ladies bounce onto their toes and then bend their knees, arms churn in a large overhead arc. Their balance impeccable despite the challenge. Sassy is the name of the game and we feel the rambunctious fun in the slouchy wide-legged walks with rolled back shoulder shimmies.
The full house shows its appreciation as the curtain falls. One wonders what the future is for these wonderous new works, will a single showing be their destiny? Fall Back is the piece I most wish I could see again, perhaps even in an expanded version, but Múa Nón, All Bets Are Off and Safar Khosh would all draw me to a repertory program. New Ballet, which grew out of the troubled San Jose Ballet, has a great school and talented dancers. It is unfortunate the South Bay is not more interested in supporting a performance company.
Review by Jen Norris, published February 3, 2024
ARTISTIC STAFF Artistic Director: Dalia Rawson
New Ballet Orchestra Conductor: Thomas Shoebotham
Costume Designer: Deborah Lund
Company Artists: Ellis Broderick, Ty Danzl, Tango Hayato Fujita-Gomez, Naomi Le, Rebecca Nugent, Erica Patton, Jazlyn Quezada, Alysa Reinhardt, Sarah Stevens, Sorcha Tate
Studio Company Dancers: Jack Concordia, Grace Clements*, Maria Cutaia*, Delaney Ewert, Deborah Le, Andy Nguyen, Gabriela Rodriguez, Niamh Rollins * Leave of Absence
Studio Company Apprentices: Laine Evans, Tomie Ishimatsu, Daniel Le, Stefana Seizovic
FAST FORWARD – Hammer Theatre, San Jose State University
February 2, 2024 7:30 p.m.
Choreographer: Keon Saghari
Music: Nissim by The Gaslamp Killer and Amir Yaghmai, Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman by A-WA, First Love by Pezhham Akhavaas and Imamyar Hasanov, All Melody by Nils Frahm.
Dancers: Jack Concordia, Ty Danzl, Deborah Le, Naomi Le, Andy Nguyen, Erica Patton, Jazlyn Quezada, Alysa Reinhardt, Sorcha Tate
Choreographer: Linh Mai Le
Music: Corpo and Grande Salto 2 by Divan Gattamorta
Dancers: Ellis Broderick, Laine Evans, Delaney Ewert, Naomi Le, Deborah Le, Rebecca Nugent, Jazlyn Quezada, Gabriela Selena Rodriguez, Niamh Rollins, Alysa Reinhardt, Sarah Stevens, Sorcha Tate
Amor Mortal; Choreographer: Laura Burton; Soloist Hina Oshima
Music: Me voy a morir de tanto amor by Alberto Iglesias
Toxic Choreographer: Laura Burton Soloist: Isabel Lim
Music: Toxic by Anthony Willis
Choreographer: Mariana Sobral
Music: Peter Colclasure
Solo: Erica Patton
Quartet: Ellis Broderick, Naomi Le, Alysa Reinhardt, Sarah Stevens
Duet: Ty Danzl, Sorcha Tate
Company: Jack Concordia, Laine Evans, Delaney Ewert, Tango Hayato Fujita-Gomez, Tomie Ishimatsu, Deborah Le, Daniel Le, Andy Nguyen, Rebecca Nugent, Jazlyn Quezada, Gabriela Selena Rodriguez, Niamh Rollins, Stefana Seizovic
PROGRAM • ACT II
Choreographer: Erik Wagner Music: Goldberg Variations by BWV 988 & Fall Back by James Blake
Dancers: Ty Danzl, Ellis Broderick, Tango Hayato Fujita-Gomez, Deborah Le, Andy Nguyen, Rebecca Nugent, Erica Patton, Alysa Reinhardt, Niamh Rollins, Sarah Stevens, Sorcha Tate
Choreographer: Jing Zhang
Music: Spring Waltz by Toms Mucenieks
Dancers: Ellis Broderick, Jack Concordia, Ty Danzl, Delaney Ewert, Tango Hayato Fujita-Gomez, Deborah Le, Naomi Le, Erica Patton, Alysa Reinhardt, Niamh Rollins, Sarah Stevens, Sorcha Tate
Suspirium Choreographer: Laura Burton Soloist: Stefana Seizovic
Music: Suspirium by Thom Yorke
Army of Me Choreographer: Laura Burton Solist: Tomie Ishimatsu
Music: Army of Me by Bjork
Glass Choreographer: Brennan Wall Soloist: Ellie Arai
Music: Glass by Hania Rani
All Bets Are Off
Choreographer: Dalia Rawson
Music: From the Cuphead Game Soundtrack; Composer Kristofer Maddigan
Performed by the Top Shelf Big Band Woodwinds: Andy Ritger, Jerry Holmes, Bob Olson, Brian Adams, Brett Szalapski Trumpets: Ricky Hall, Ricky Martinez, Keith Hunter Tombones: Jason Loveman, Mark Rosenberg, Bill Sommerfeld Piano: Joe Samuels; Bass: George Alfs; Guitar: Clifford Samoranos; Drums: Todd Hanson
Clip Joint Calamity: Full Company
All Bets are Off: Alysa Reinhardt, Delaney Ewert, Jack Concordia
Inkwell Hell: Sorcha Tate and Company
Sugarland Shimmy: Full Company