“The Poet’s Love” may be the most stunning piece of choreography Linda MacArthur Miele has ever created for Maine State Ballet. It has a rare compositional perfection — in both choreographic musicality and dramatic flow — that makes it a true privilege to view.
The ballet, which premiered last year, had its first reprise on Friday evening. The music (a famed song cycle by Robert Schumann with Heinrich Heine’s poetry) has an unmistakable poignancy, which Miele and her dancers have captured beautifully.
“The Poet’s Love” opened with the poet, portrayed by principal dancer Glenn Davis (for whom Miele choreographed the piece) alone on stage in near-darkness, in a white artisan’s blouse.
As the songs progressed, arising from the poet’s thoughts, Davis was joined by two couples toward whom his yearning was shown as he reached out as if to partner one of the female dancers but was supplanted by her true partner, or echoed the movements of the other men.
The couples were performed by Elise Bickford with Michael Holden and Elizabeth Dragoni with Nathaniel Dombek, the men in costumes to match Davis’, the women in flowing romantic dresses in pink and lavender. Holden’s first appearance was chillingly effective as a mirror image of Davis.
Eventually, Davis was joined by Janet Davis, in white. After their first duet, the poet’s dream was threatened by the appearance of another partner, performed by Frederick Bernier, in black.
The Davises have danced together in countless ballets and performances, but this one seems quintessential in capturing their special chemistry, with exquisitely matched musical phrasing and physical line.
The choreography includes some very inventive demonstrations of their ephemeral pairing. In one of the loveliest, he slipped his arm under hers and then let it slide as she danced until he was holding her hand.
Conflict and loss were shown with such moves as Glenn Davis supporting Janet Davis in a backbend while she held Bernier’s hand, and reaching for her but having his hands close over nothing while Bernier’s closed around her waist.
In one of the most moving moments, her hand dropped in slow motion toward his outstretched hand, never quite reaching it before a musical transition spurred her return to Bernier.
Glenn Davis rendered every moment with dramatic and physical command, fluid in movement and fluent in expression. Janet Davis was light and dream-like. The other couples danced smoothly and strongly, with beautiful arabesques and articulation from Dragoni.
“The Poet’s Love” was joined on the program by two diverse pieces: a “tutu ballet” and a “leotard ballet.”
“Paquita” was staged with mostly the standard 19th-century Petipa choreography, for a corps of 16 young women (in confectionary colored tutus by Gail Csoboth), a pas de trois with Caitlin Bernard, Maiki Saito and Christina Williams, solo variations by Sara Alpert, Hannah Anderson, Veronica Druchniak and Rhiannon Pelletier and a pas de deux by Kate Bennett and Nathanial Dombek.
As a whole, “Paquita” was a lovely performance, with pleasing transitions, energy and color. The soloists performed bright footwork, quick jumps and highly-musical balances and turns.
The pas de deux was elegant, with solid partnering in the adagio. Bennett performed her challenging solo with delicacy, fluidity and excellent control. Dombek showed great smoothness and precision, with beautiful hands and arms. Later, Bennett impressed again with a strong series of fouette turns.
The program was rounded out by “Five,” a short new ballet by Miele to an allegro for piano and orchestra by Bela Bartok. This was a smashing piece performed by Katie Farwell, Hannah Hays, Juliette Lauzier, Marissa Patten-Harris and Katie Skog.
Miele matched Bartok’s composition with dramatic structure and abstraction including borrowings from modern dance. The dancers were rhythmically spot-on throughout, never missing a beat of the difficult counting, and consistently strong in movements ranging from grand leaps to glittering footwork to subtle gestures capturing silences between notes.
“Five” is a welcome addition to the Maine State Ballet repertoire and provided stylistic refreshment between the classical “Paquita” and the romantic “The Poet’s Love.”
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer, teacher, musician and dancer who lives in Saco.