‘Proteges’ points way to future of dance

Instead of looking back, as one might do when celebrating a 25th anniversary, Ron Cunningham of the Sacramento Ballet seems always to look forward. The latest ballet company production is Modern Masters Proteges, in which Cunningham invited three former dancers with the Sacramento Ballet to create new works for it. Jared Nelson, a Yuba City native who, after a stint with the local company, has danced for about a dozen years with the Washington Ballet; Ilana Goldman, who danced several seasons in Sacramento before moving on to the Trey McIntyre Project and then to the University of Washington where she’s soon to graduate with an advanced degree; and Amy Seiwert, who became resident choreographer with San Francisco’s Smuin Ballet and formed her own dance company, Imagery, after several years of dancing with the Sacramento Ballet each created a piece for the “Proteges” program.

They point toward the future of contemporary ballet – new and adventurous takes on dance possibilities, but grounded in the classical form. Seiwert, in particular, has been lauded (by the San Francisco Bay Guardian) as “quite possibly … the Bay Area’s most original dance thinker.” A Cincinnati native, Seiwert gave “I Think of You Often” its world premiere last September in her home town. It’s an easy, elegant dance set at a seaside resort. It uses beach chairs as props (a rarity in more formal dance), and creates a rushing wave upon the shore with a line of female dancers. Music by Swedish pop group Koop accompanies the five movements of the dance, the most impressive of which is a stunning pas de deux featuring Alexandra Cunningham and Stefan Calka in “Strange Love.”

Nelson’s “Cinq Fois Deux (Five Times Two)” opens the program and is perhaps the most traditional dance of the evening (made more classical by its music by Sergei Rachmaninoff). Five couples (Evelyn Turner and Richard Porter, Alexandra Cunningham and Christopher Nachtrab, Ave Chatterson and Stefan Calka, Maggie Rupp and Mate Szentes, and Lauryn Winterhalder and Oliver Adams) begin the dance in darkness in an elegant tableau, then break off and dance – each given fine, classical turns in the spotlight – before ending the piece again in tableau.

Goldman’s “Elusive” is credited “in collaboration with the dancers,” and it is truly an ensemble piece. Based in today’s society, it’s about the eternal search for that ideal, unattainable goal. With people running here and there, in packs and small groups yet always appearing alone, it’s a meditation on the difficulty of making personal connections. Alexandra Cunningham and Stefan Calka are the main pair in Goldman’s vision. Calka sees Cunningham in the distance, calls to her and chases after her, ultimately losing her in the mass of humanity. He continues to search and gets rare glimpses but contact remains elusive. (Calka will dance the part tonight but will be replaced by Christopher Nachtrab for Saturday and Sunday performances.

The program also includes the delightful “The Professionals,” a satire on the dancer’s life, created by company member Rex Wheeler and first performed here May 25, 2011. It is a hilarious look at what may or may not go on inside the dancer’s studio during a typical work day. There are several excellent comic turns in the piece, particularly the sleepy-until-caffeinated “Coffee Girl” danced by Evelyn Turner, the headphone head case “Choreographer” danced by Alex Stewart, and “The Trouble Makers,” featuring Oliver Adams, Christopher Nachtrab and Mate Szentes. Ron Cunningham has a humorous walk-on part as “The Director.”

“Modern Masters” continues at St. Francis High School Performing Arts Center, 5900 Elvas Ave. through Sunday. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $45 and are available at the door. For more information, go to www.sacballet.org.

The ballet company has two other programs in quick succession. “Beer & Ballet,” which was reviewed here recently, continues May 23, 24 and 26 at the Sacramento Ballet Studios, 1631 K St. The dances on this program were created by members of the dance troupe to be performed by their peers, and they display a creative talent that’s equal to the artistic and athletic abilities they show as dancers. Tickets are $35 and include drinks. For more information, call (916) 552-5800, ext. 2, or go online at the address above. “Highlights,” a collaboration between the ballet company and Found Space Theatrical Productions will be presented on May 25 and 29 at the ballet studios. Half dance from the repertory of Sacramento Ballet and half musical theater from the folks who staged the wickedly witty “At the Ballet” fundraisers, “Highlights” is a multi-faceted entertainment featuring singers, actors and dancers. Tickets are $30 and include refreshments. For more information: (916) 552-5800, ext. 2 or www.sacballet.org.

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