Sacramento Ballet opens season with all-Stravinsky program

Alexandra Cunningham and Christopher B. Nachtrab are featured in the Sacramento Ballet’s production of “Rubies.”

The Sacramento Ballet opens its 2013-14 season Thursday with three dances performed to the music of Igor Stravinsky. Two were choreographed by the ballet company’s co-artistic director, Ron Cunningham; the other was created by American ballet master George Balanchine.

The dances are Balanchine’s “Rubies,” an abstract ballet gem, set to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra; “Firebird,” perhaps Stravinsky’s most popular score, which Cunningham reimagines from the original choreography of Michel Fokine, who created it for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company; and “Rite of Spring,” which Cunningham stages as a primitive sacrificial ritual, more intense and jarring, perhaps, than the original, which was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinski.

When “Rite” was performed for the first time by the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1913, it caused a near-riot. Audience members booed, many walked out, fist fights broke out. The avant-garde nature of the music, with its intensity and dissonance, and Nijinsky’s wildly modern choreography (It was only his third ballet) didn’t sit well with Parisians of the time.

"That opening performance became so famous — or infamous — that more people claimed to have seen it than lived in Paris at the time," Cunningham said. Diaghilev and Nijinski based the ballet on old Russian folk tales, but Cunningham takes the tale of sacrifice to an even more primitive time and place.

The opening program, like the entire season, was chosen by Carinne Binda, Cunningham’s wife and co-artistic director. Binda is celebrating her 25th anniversary as co-artistic director of the company. “I asked her, ‘What do you want to see? What’s special to you?’ and we built the season from there,” Cunningham said.

The all-Stravinsky program will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Community Center Theater, 1301 L St. Tickets are $19-$90, available online at the ballet website, www.sacballet.org, or by phone at the theater box office, (916) 808-5181.

Next up for the ballet is Cunningham’s full-length “Cinderella,” to be performed Nov. 2 and 3 at the Community Center Theater. More on that and the remainder of the season later.

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