American Repertory Ballet charms with neo-classical pieces

DANCE

LEIGHTON CHEN

From left, Shaye Firer, Cameron Auble-Branigan, Karen Leslie Moscato and Joshua Kurtzberg of American Repertory Ballet dance in “Tears of the Moon.”

Mary Barton has choreographed a charming divertissement for American Repertory Ballet. This premiere, “Shades of Time,” opened the devoutly neo-classical program that ARB presented on Saturday at The Theater at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg.

Barton, a company ballet mistress, and her husband, company director Douglas Martin, view the classroom as a font of inspiration that never runs dry. It provided the vocabulary for all three pieces on Saturday; and while these works varied in style and atmosphere, all found their ultimate justification in the beauty of their classical language.

Set to autumnal music by Elgar, “Shades of Time” depicts the passing hours. Three enraptured couples portray “Nightfall,” which frames the ballet; a vigorous pas de deux represents “Dawn”; and “Noontide” is a bustling ensemble. These allegorical fancies are simply a pretext, however, allowing the dancers to be themselves. When, in “Nightfall,” Samantha Gullace’s leg unfolds in “développé,” reaching its full extension in synchrony with the music, all that seems to matter is the thrill of seeing the step completed with her leg held at an angle and her silken foot displaying a taut curve.

How we see the steps depends upon how they are arranged, of course. Barton is at her best in “Nightfall”— both in the opening, where the women wrap an arm around themselves, introducing an “enfolding” motif; and in the close, a scintillating showcase for Gullace.

Trinette Singleton’s “Dreams Interrupted,” the middle piece on the program, is more predictable and dull in spite of its impassioned scenario. Here, Shaye Firer acts out a nightmare, torn between a violent stalker and the man who tries to rescue her.

Kirk Peterson is among the finest classical choreographers in America, and in his “Tears of the Moon,” a series of four duets created last year to Beethoven piano pieces, his confident and spare handling of his material shines a light on his experience. While challenging the dancers in ways that inspire bursts of applause, the steps combine so naturally that everyone looks terrific. Here, classroom steps — échappés, and relevés — also acquire dramatic shadings.

Echoing repeats in the music, the first duet draws pathos from Joshua Kurtzberg’s persistent attempts to appease Karen Leslie Moscato, who turns away in anger. Cameron Auble-Branigan is the diffident one pursued by Firer in the second duet. In the tempestuous third duet, Alexander Dutko both kneels and flies; and his searching leads him into a wind-whipped partnership with Monica Giragosian.

The most Romantic duet of all, however, set to the Moonlight Sonata, has Gullace emerging from a beneath a fabric drape like a somnambulist. She comes face-to-face with Mattia Pallozzi, and as they grasp hands she awakes with a gasp — jolted by love’s electricity.

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