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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Oceánica Ballet presents Horizons, Hiller Aviation Museum, San Carlos, August 19-20, 2023

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

An aviation museum is not the most intuitive location for a ballet performance, but this is Oceánica Ballet’s third appearance at the Hiller Aviation Museum (Hiller), so I must be missing something. The program (12:30 and 2:30 Sat/Sun Aug 19 & 20) is free with museum admission. The grandmother purchasing entry before me also buys a ticket for her ten-year-old granddaughter to ride in the flight simulator after the show.


The cast of Oceanica Ballet's Swingin' performing at the Hiller Aviation Museum; Photo: J. Norris


Entering the museum’s atrium through a parted drape, one finds a sprung dance floor, rimmed with footlights. The audience, half of whom are school age children, sit in arced rows of folding chairs. Full scale aircraft float surprisingly unobtrusively above it all.

Oceánica’s Horizons is comprised of a quartet of ballets inspired by travel and travelers. The dancing is strong and the thrill of seeing artists pirouetting en pointe, barely an arm’s reach away, is real.


A series of busy-airport tableau featuring fifteen professionally trained dancers fills the stage lending building our sense of anticipation. As the travelers rush of to their next adventure, we discover a clean-cut fellow. Seated on his roller bag with time to kill before his flight, his boredom is evident as he cocks his elbows placing his hands behind his neck.


En Route, choreographed by Robert Burns Lowman, features the affable and expressive Evan Johnston. Cross-stepping across the stage, his hands deep in his pants pockets, he charms us with his Charlie Chaplin inspired antics. Crouching behind the suitcase, his face wedged between the rollerbag’s upright handles, Johnson mugs, his eyes dancing mischievously. After a high-flying split jump that seems to span the stage width, he realizes time has flown and dashes off, his luggage held above his head.


Embrace, described as a romantic sunset picnic for two pairs of lovers, could be a predictable balletic offering, but the casting makes it intriguing. Addie Spremich and Patience Gordon do a lovely job as a female couple. Edgar Lepe and Fabiana Santiago dance the more traditionally gendered twosome. Set to starry-eyed film scores by Bernad Hermann, the paramours only have eyes for their partner. Two women tip back off their toes into the waiting arms of their mates, who gently right them. As the musical crescendos, Spremich and Gordon jump into the arms of their lovers, who twirl their upright figures around the room. Kudos to Choreographer Lowman and company for including this work. There is nothing overtly sexual in the content, but still if felt like an important gesture toward LGBTQ+ recognition and the dismantling of strict gender roles in ballet.


The cast of Oceanica Ballet's Embrace performs in the Hiller Aviation Museum; Photo: J. Norris


Guest Artist Jessica Woodman’s quintet Mosaic features Robert Burns Lowman and Marinna Kus in matching electric-blue bodysuits with shear black skirts. As she sails into his arms perfectly posed, their broad easy smiles convey their confidence with each other. Their timing is impeccable, especially in a too short unison sequence. The cast expands with the introduction of Nicole Khoo, Hollie Rudolph and Naomi Sailors. There is a joyful quality to the piece, which experiments with tempos, speeding up in the middle section before slowing once more for a luxurious cross-stage glide by the star couple.


The cast of Oceanica Ballet's Mosaic performs in the Hiller Aviation Museum; Photo: J. Norris


Edgar Lepe’s Swingin’ is rollicking fun, a series of set pieces staged to forties Big Band tunes. Colorful skirts flare out as three couples hit the dance floor for some swing inspired ballet. Fabiana Santiago and Lepe make a sophisticated pair. Her elegant lines and keen musicality set them apart.


In addition to choreographing and dancing in Swingin’, Lepe shares credit for the design and construction of the marvelous costumes, along with Joshua Ugarte. Patience Gordon, Hollie Rudolph, and Naomi Sailors look fabulous in their well-made USO uniforms, complete with matching garrison caps. The Andrew Sisters’ ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ accompanies the gals in a stylish number which pulls from ballet and tap dance. One minute they are pirouetting on their toes and the next they are executing heel stands with their arms and legs thrown open to form giant “Xs.”


From L to R Hollie Rudolph, Patience Gordon, & Naomi Sailors in Edgar Lepe's Swingin'; Photo: J. Norris


Unfortunately, the USO hostesses exit before the three sailors enter (fear not they find each other later). With military precision the sailors march on, before dropping for some impressive knee spins. In an ode to Robbins’ Fancy Free, the trio swoons over golden glamour girl Marinna Kus. Competing for her attention, Joshua Ugarte leaps folding his body in half so his fingers touch his toes while his legs are parallel to the floor. Kus teasingly beckons her suitors with a come-hither glance before dashing off, perhaps in search of deeper pockets.


From L to R: Joshua Ugarte, Evan Johnston, Robert Burns Lowman & Marinna Kus in Lepe's Swingin'; Photo: J. Norris


In keeping with musical theater tradition, each set of performers dances a short reprise, before the stage fills with the whole company for a final unified send off. Horizons is a genuinely entertaining forty-five-minute performance, just right for a family audience. It’s no wonder Hiller has invited Oceánica back summer after summer.


Review by Jen Norris, published August 22, 2023

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Production Credits

Oceánica Ballet presents Horizons


En Route

Choreographer: Robert Burns Lowman

Dancer: Evan Johnston

Music: Joey Pecoraro

Costume Design & Construction: Robert Lowman & Edgar Lepe


Embrace

Choreographer: Robert Burns Lowman

Dancers: Patience Gordon, Addie Spremich,

Edgar Lepe, Fabiana Santiago

Music: Bernard Herrmann

Costume Design & Construction: Robert Lowman & Edgar Lepe


Mosaic

Choreographer: Jessica Woodman

Dancers: Marinna Kus, Robert Lowman, 

Nicole Khoo, Hollie Rudolph, Naomi Sailors

Music: Slow Meadow, Steven Gutheinz, Dexter Britain

Costume Design & Construction: Edgar Lepe


Swingin’

Choreographer: Edgar Lepe

Couples: Kayla Gill, Addie Spremich, Yan Zhang, 

Matthew Ebert, Edgar Lepe, Joshua Ugarte

Solo: Lara Cheng

Duet: Fabiana Santiago & Edgar Lepe

Boogie Trio: Patience Gordon, Hollie Rudolph, Naomi Sailors

March Quartet: Marinna Kus, Evan Johnston, 

Joshua Ugarte, Robert Lowman

Music: The Andrews Sisters, Benny Goodman Orchestra, 

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

Costume Design & Construction: Edgar Lepe & Joshua Ugarte


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