A fine start to a new dance season

by Rob Tiller

Looking south from Casa Tiller at sunrise.

Raleigh, where I live, is definitely not New York or San Francisco, but still, it has interesting people, universities, sports, and good restaurants. Also, lots of beautiful trees. And a thriving arts scene, including excellent music and dance. I’m particularly proud of our ballet company, the Carolina Ballet, which punches way above its weight class, both in terms of great choreography and great dancers. It started its fifteenth season this week.

On Friday we had a fine dinner at Poole’s Diner and then saw the new program, which features four works by artistic director Robert Weiss. Weiss, an alum of the City Ballet, is a legitimate and distinguished heir of George Balanchine, and he’s still creating masterworks. Each piece of the new program was quite different from the others and touched on different emotional places.

My favorite was a new piece titled Meditation from Thais, with familiar music by Jules Massenet. It was an adagio pas de deux performed by Lara O’Brien and Marcelo Martinez. The dancers, both in white leotards, began clasped together in single shape, which gracefully transformed itself and then divided into other aspects. There were no program notes on the piece, probably because the subject was clear: a man and a woman. It was sensuous. Lara is at once willowy and strong, and in this piece, intensely tragic.

The other new Weiss ballet was Intimate Voices to music by Jean Sibelius. Its theme seemed to be families and loss. The distinguished cast was headed by Melissa Podcasy, who is retiring after this program and assuming new coaching duties. Fortunately, she’s still in great form. The first movement had gorgeous Edwardian costumes, with the ladies in pastels and hats and the gentlemen in tails, and ended with a patriarch’s death. The scenery involved projections of country scenes, which were effective. I found the piece touching and look forward to seeing it again.

We talked with Ricky Weiss at intermission. He was happy with the performances, but worried about the company’s finances. Ballet is a labor-intensive business, and even with dancers working for less than seems fair and reasonable, the costs are high, and balancing the budget is a constant challenge.

The most cheerful piece was the first one, set to Prokofiev’s first (“Classical”) symphony. This involved classical costumes, complete with tutus, and a more traditional movement vocabulary. The last piece was Symposium to music of Leonard Bernstein, which is one of my favorite Weiss ballets. Eugene Barnes was particularly wonderful as Dionysos.

On Saturday we walked a few blocks to the SparkCon street festival and looked at dozens of pastel drawings on the Fayetteville Street pavement. There were musicians and circus performers, and lots of spectators. At sunset we went to the top of a parking deck at Salisbury and Hargett and watched hundreds of chimney swifts darting and swarming, and finally dropping into a large chimney.