Ballet Vero Beach off to a promising debut

With polish and promise, Vero Beach’s first all-professional ballet company took to the stage Friday in a première that bodes well for the company’s future.

Ballet Vero Beach, two years in the making under the artistic direction of Adam Schnell, offered up just over an hour of dance in three weekend performances. While classical and neoclassical ballet predominated, there was thoughtful effort by Schnell to not only test his audience tastes, but stretch them.

Though the evening began tentatively with a new contemplative piece choreographed by Schnell, it quickly inspired confidence with an admirably executed pas de trois from “Le Corsaire,” followed by a gorgeous Schnell pas de deux from 2006, “Two Trumpets,” a tribute to his parents’ marriage.

The momentum carried through to the program’s end, particularly with the injection of humor in an outrageous solo “en travesti,” and tension in an edgy work of modern dance.

Schnell introduced his company to the audience by introducing himself through a choreographic memoir of a recent reckoning. “Pavane,” or “La Dernière Fois” (“The Last Time”) was choreographed by Schnell for the première, and it speaks to his own shift from performer to director and choreographer.

The curtain rises on a stage empty but for a double ballet barre: A male dancer enters and begins his warm-up. Later a second dancer enters with vigor from the wing, the younger, fleet-footed alter-ego of the dancer at the barre.

The older dancer moving through the tortuous – and torturous – ritual was Matthew Carter. He was Schnell’s former roommate when both danced for Omaha Theater Ballet. That company has since closed, and today Carter is ballet master of the four-year-old Ballet Nebraska, on whose dancers most of the evening’s choreography was set.

The role of Carter’s younger self was danced by Alberto Liberatoscioli, and he showed precision and strength. He also played it straight, with not a lot of charm or exuberance, while Carter seemed to revel in his slow meditation on muscle. Maybe Schnell is telling us he’s happy with his back stage pass.

The stage came to life with the slave girls’ Pas de Trois from “Le Corsaire,” with radiant dancing from Vivi DiMarco, Katie van der Mars and Kelsey Schwenker. Then as two principal dancers, Natasha Grimm Gregory and Sasha York, took the stage in the jubilant love story, “Two Trumpets,” it was easy to imagine searching out favorites among the company in the seasons ahead.

That was already the case with unmistakable Ballet Vero Beach ballet master, Camilo Rodriguez, who offered up another round of death throes as The Dying Swan, a reprise of his hilarious parody, complete with feathered pancake tutu, honed in his time as principal dancer with Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo. Rodriguez performed as the shedding swan at the company’s “First Steps” benefit last summer. (At least one patron, applauding happily, was heard to exclaim, “She was great,” before her seatmate straightened her out: “Brava!”)

The second half opened with an explosive work of modern dance by a guest duet by the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company. Choreographed by that company’s co-founder, Kate Hutter, a classmate of Schnell’s at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Massachusetts, “Unravel” featured company dancers Genevieve Carson and Nicholas Heitzeberg in a work that premiered at the Kennedy Center a year and a half ago.

With the audience in thrall – a similar reaction to the modern dance offered at last summer’s benefit – the curtain rose on the evening’s centerpiece: a neoclassical ballet, “Chopin Variations,” choreographed for eight dancers by the late Samuel Kurkjian. The one-time resident choreographer at Boston Ballet was Schnell’s mentor at Walnut Hill; he died last fall, midway through rehearsals for the piece.

Next season, it was announced, Ballet Vero Beach will expand to three performances. The first is a performance in August by the same modern dance troupe that performed in the premiere; its members will be in town in conjunction with Schnell’s summer ballet intensive at Riverside Theatre, where he is director of dance.

Next will be more parody ballet with “Go For Barocco,” performed by the Trocks and others, and choreographed by Ballet Idaho artistic director Peter Anastos. It was described by the New York Times as a “many-layered masterpiece of parody.” (Matthew Carter also has a past with the Trocks – he danced in a Merce Cunningham parody at Lincoln Center in 1999. Schnell danced briefly with the company in Japan.)

The company’s main spring performance will offer Marius Petipa’s classical masterpiece, “Paquita.”

Board members, sponsors and supporters were no doubt taking note that the 1,000-seat Performing Arts Center at the Vero Beach High School appeared no more than half full Friday. But Vero’s ballet audience was divided over three performances last weekend. And it was an enthusiastic crowd that included many young people.

Sadly, the curtain fell without well-deserved bouquets of roses appearing for the dancers. The house lights rose before the cheering audience could muster the inevitable Vero standing ovation. Nevertheless, the somewhat abrupt end to the evening left an energized sense of anticipation for next season.

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