Maine State Ballet’s summer offering is a balanced program including a crystalline new Bach ballet and a fiery Stravinsky classic.
The program opened on Friday and continues next weekend in Maine State Ballet’s intimate theater in Falmouth.
Placing artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele’s “Bach Concerti” (in its premiere) next to “The Firebird” raises interesting contrasts of musical interpretation and rhythm, and between different dancers’ styles.
“Bach Concerti” was set to three allegros and one adagio from Bach’s piano and keyboard concertos. The selections, in three different keys, work very well together, and the choreography has classical form of both steps and composition, to match Bach’s formal construction.
In the first allegro, Janet and Glenn Davis performed with a corps of four, with neat, sparkling beats including entrechat quatres. The dancers maintained the ballet’s classical integrity, with appropriate restraint in arm and leg positions. The Davises shined in the footwork and a circle of turns for each.
For the adagio, Rebecca Purser was led onstage dramatically by partner Frederick Bernier. Purser danced as if in an exquisite dream, with floating lifts, elegant bends and gorgeous arabesques. Bernier matched her line exactly.
Michael Holden burst onto the stage for the third selection, a bouncier allegro performed with Kate Hamilton and Christina Williams. Holden showed lift in his jumps, and executed a superb turn sequence.
The fourth selection was a more exultant allegro, and the most complex choreographically, featuring Katie Farwell and re-introducing the other soloists in ever-changing entrances, pairings and patterns.
Farwell danced with her usual strength, control and musicality to the melodic theme, while a corps of four women posed behind her, reminiscent of the rhythm section of an orchestra supporting a solo violin.
While Bach provides clear-cut structure and rhythm, Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” is mesmeric, abstract mood music. This isn’t easy music to choreograph or dance to — you would never tap your feet to Stravinsky’s complexly woven themes.
Miele’s choreography and the dancers’ performance demonstrated intelligent understanding of the music. Dramatic points were finely plucked from the weave, which continued seamless throughout.
As the Firebird, Elizabeth Dragoni was powerful and very birdlike, with slow floating of her arms set against avian wrist flicks and head tilts. She inhabited the role with precise expression of musical nuance and characterization, and exquisitely fluent use of her arms, head and upper body.
Janet Davis was a very dramatic Minion to the Ogre Kotschei (Bernier), with gorgeous leaps. Her performance with the corps of creeping forest creatures was fascinating; her movement quality seemed to enrich theirs.
Gail Csoboth’s designs, with lighting by Bernier, made the woodland setting magical. In Miele’s onstage introduction, she noted this summer’s 100th anniversary of the ballet’s 1910 premiere, and mentioned her past acquaintance with Igor Stravinsky himself.
At least two of New York City Ballet’s Stravinsky ballets were created during her 1960s tenure there, and she recalled the composer attending rehearsals, stamping out the tempo when it didn’t suit him, demonstrating on the piano and having heavily-accented arguments with his friend and Russian compatriot, choreographer George Balanchine.
It is remarkable to have such a direct link here in Maine to these legendary artists, and Miele’s sophisticated interpretations seem to show their influence.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer, teacher, musician and dancer who lives in Saco.