Wonderful Balanchine ballets, and friends

by Rob Tiller

We just loved the new Carolina Ballet program, A Balanchine Celebration, which we saw when it opened on Thursday night.  It ran the emotional gamut, from wrenching (Agon) to carefree (Who Cares?), all, naturally, by George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer of the twentieth century.  
It was all wonderful, but I have to mention especially Lara O’Brien and Eugene Barnes in the Agon pas de deux, with music by Stravinsky.  As I mentioned to Lara afterward, it truly made me uncomfortable, as it surely is meant to do.  She took the angular movements to a frightening extreme.  I was reminded of something I once read about Suzanne Farrell:  she made the audience sweat.  Margaret Severin-Hansen and Pablo Javier Perez were deft and delightful in Tarantella.  I also had a new appreciation for Jan Burkhard in Valse Fantaisie and in Who Cares.  She’s got a spunk and sass, which worked particularly well in the Gershwin.
I need to give a special note of appreciation to the pianist for the Gershwin, Karl Moraski.  I was on the second row, practically inside the piano, and could hear every detail.  In my jazz period, I listened to multiple versions of all these iconic standards, and learned not just the tunes and harmonic structures, but also the words to all these songs.  Moraski was faithful to the spirit of the music; Gershwin would certainly have approved.  I spoke to him afterwards to congratulate him, and verified that he had done the arranging.  I noticed that the dancers seemed to be smiling a lot during the Gershwin, and wondered for a minute if they’d been coached smiling.  Then I realized I was smiling a lot, too.  The great music, and Balanchine’s lighthearted ballet translation of MGM musical-type dancing, was delightful.  
Last year we made a contribution that made us the pointe shoe sponsors of Lola Cooper, and so we always watch her performances with particular interest.  She had a charming pas de deuz with Nikolai Smirnov in the Gershwin piece, S’Wonderful.  She’s got a ton of warmth and vitality, and just keeps getting better.
One of the great things about having exceptional artists in the 42d largest city in America (as opposed, say, to the first, second, or third) is you can, if you want to, talk to them.  Earlier in the week, I’d sent Ricky Weiss a link to a Ted Talks talk by the choreographer Wayne McGregor.  At intermission, he told me that he really appreciated my sending it, and he absolutely hated it!  It was contrary to everything he believed dance should be trying to do.  He found it hollow and superficial.  I didn’t think it was quite that bad, but what do I know?  As I told Ricky, whatever the merits ot McGregor’s choreography, I thought it was worthwhile that the Ted conference was engaging with dance, and it suggested another avenue for exploring and communicating about creativity.  Ricky seemed to be of the view that there was no redeeming quality.  He just couldn’t stand it.  
At the other intermission, we had a glass of wine and a chocolate in the donor’s room, and two of the new dancers of the company came up and introduced themselves:  Colby and Laren Treat, who are twin sisters from Ilion, New York.  I was so impressed that they had the gumption to come right up to us and start talking.  That’s not an easy thing to do, for a young person or any person.  They were really friendly and had interesting things to say about the program.  
I feel so fortunate to be able to meet and be inspired by all these artists.  It’s one more great reason to live in Raleigh, NC.  Earlier in the week, I had lunch with my friend David Meeker, who was recruiting me to join the board the City of Raleigh Museum.  David is still in his twenties, but has contributed significantly to civic life by founding the Busy Bee Cafe and developing the building with Beazley’s and other properties.  We agreed that Raleigh had come a long way and had a ton of great things happening (e.g. arts, food, sports, commerce), but was still struggling with its branding.  I thought the museum might help develop a richer understanding of Raleigh, and agreed to consider joining the board.
As I’m posting this, we’re in RDU airport (free wifi!) about to depart for Italy.   is our first trip there, and has been a long time coming.  I almost made it when I was sixteen, and was recruited for an orchestral music program by the NC School of the Arts in Siena, but lacked the necessary funding.  I almost made it six years ago, but then my Mom fell ill.  So now we’re going to do it.  I’ve reviewed numerous guidebooks, and listened to 15 CDs of Pimsleur’s Italian.  I think it’s going to be great.  More to come.