Sacramento Ballet gets edgy with ‘Modern Masters’ program

“Fluctuating Hemlines” is one of three dances on the Sacramento Ballet’s “Modern Masters” program.

What do Septime Webre, Darrell Grand Moultrie and Edwaard Liang have in common? Each is one of the best, most in-demand contemporary choreographers in the country, and each will have a dance performed by the Sacramento Ballet this week on its "Modern Masters" program.

Webre’s "Fluctuating Hemlines" is among the most popular dances in the ballet company’s repertory. An engaging work that begins with the dancers in fun Sixties attire, the women sporting beehive hairdos, the dance reveals surprising depth. The dancer strip to their underware to reveal their true selves, ambitious, angry, frustrated. It underscores the difference between appearances and reality. The dance will be performed to live music by the Tigger Benford Percussion Ensemble. Benford was commissioned by Webre to create the music for his dance.

It is unusual — except for the annual holiday "Nutcracker" performances — for the ballet company to be accompanied by live music. "Live music is such a great addition to the performance," said Sacramento Ballet co-artistic director Ron Cunningham. "It’s also a little different each time. The musicians like to improvise," he said. Asked what effect that would have on the dancers, he said, "It makes them play close attention. Very close attention." The improvisation comes between set points that allow the dancers to mind their cues, Cunningham said.

Moultrie is a young, Juilliard-trained choreographer from Harlem. He won the Sacramento Ballet’s 2010 Capital Choreography Competition and was commissioned by the company to create this dance for it. "Jazzin’," which is set to music by Duke Ellington and Wynton Marsalis, among others, will have its world premiere Thursday. A highlight of the dance is a fun and funny solo performed by troupe member Ava Chatterson to Ruth Brown’s saucy song "If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It."

"Darrell is such an exciting young choreographer," Cunningham said. "He really connects with our dancers." Moultrie created his dance in the ballet company’s studio in six days earlier this month.

The third piece on the program will be the Sacramento premiere of Liang’s very physical dance "Wunderland." Liang’s associate, Elizabeth Gaither, who danced in the original 2007 production of "Wunderland," set the dance (cast the parts and taught the steps to the dancers). Liang was in San Francisco for the March 21 world premiere of his new "Symphonic Dances" by the San Francisco Ballet and was only able to spend one day – last Friday — with the local dancers. He put them through their paces in a public rehearsal that was part of "Rockin’ & Rollin’ " at the ballet studio.

"We wanted Edwaard to do a dance for us last year, but he was just too busy," Cunningham said. "We asked him again this year, and it was the same thing. He’s such a hot property right now. Everybody wants his work."

This time, though, Cunningham was insistent. He called friends and pulled strings, two of them being Damian Woetzel and Jared Nelson. Woetzel had danced for Cunningham at the Boston Ballet

and is now with the George Ballanchine Trust
.  Nelson, a former Sacramento Ballet Company member, has work ties to Liang. Nelson was unable to get a new work from the choreographer, but Liang did offer the company a previous piece, "Wunderland." It’s a demanding, fluid work that keeps the dancers in constant motion, on their toes and frequently off-balance but in total control.

The Sacramento Ballet will present "Modern Masters" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Three Stages at Folsom Lake College. Tickets are $45. For more information, call (916) 608-6888 or go to or



Editor’s note:  Damian Woetzel has no affiliation to the George Ballanchine Trust.  Edits have been made to this article after publication.


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