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Ballet Looks at Past & Future in ‘Snap Shots’

Ophelia

The Sacramento Ballet has named its 2015-16 season “Breaking Ground” – a reference to the fact that, come January, the company will move from its longtime home at 1631 K St. to a new one, at the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts, the former Fremont School in midtown Sacramento.

The initial program of the season (and the last to be performed in the old studio) looks both backward as well as forward. “Snap Shots” is a two-part program, the first featuring excerpts from six ballets created by Ron Cunningham and whipped into shape by Carinne Binda Cunningham, the ballet’s co-artistic directors, and the other a newly commissioned work, “Mix De Moultrie,” by Harlem native and Broadway and Off-Broadway dancer-choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie.

Appropriate for this time of year, the program opens with scenes from Cunningham’s 2004 creation “Dracula.” Richard Smith (who alternates in the role with Dylan Keane) dances the part of Harker, the unsuspecting lawyer handling details of Dracula’s move to London. Harker is in for a surprise — a nasty one — when he is pounced upon by the sensuous Three Vampires (Ava Chatterson, Julia Feldman and Kaori Higashiyama), who resemble spiders as they crouch on long legs and skitter across the stage in sinewy spider moves. Christopher Nachtrab and Stefan Calka put the “men” in menace as they alternate in the role of Dracula. Alexandra Cunningham is Mina, an innocent young woman ravished by the guy with fangs.

Many roles are double-cast and roles with alternate performers will have the other dancer’s name in parenthesis. (Alternating as the Three Vampires are Lauren Breen, Larissa Kogut and Katie Miller, while Mina is danced in some performances by Maggie Rupp).

Other dances sampled in the first act of the program include:

“Madea” (from 2000), with Lauryn Winterhalder (or Ava Chatterson) as the title character and Dylan Keane and Richard Smith (or Alexander Biber and John Whisler as the sons who suffer the wrath of their mad mother). Keane and Smith are well-matched as the twin sons, with similar height, physiques and leg extensions.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Hamlet” both come from 1999. Most striking about this excerpt is the scene in which Blanche, danced by Julia Feldman (or, alternately by Alexandra Cunningham) confronts her younger self, danced by Cunningham (or Maggie Rupp). In “Hamlet,” Stefan Calka (Christopher Nachtrab) has the title role, and Maggie Rupp (Lauryn Winterhalder) is the tragic Ophelia.

“Carmen” (2004) is a lighter — perhaps the only light — dance in this act. Performed to the famous music by Georges Bizet, it features Ava Chatterson (or Alexandra Cunningham) as the cunning pickpocket seductress, with Dylan Keane, Christopher Nachtrab, Richard Smith and Stefan Calka or Richard Porter as soldiers and Porter or Calka alternating as Captain Don Jose, who comes to arrest Carmen but falls under her spell instead.

“Etosha” (1990) is the earliest work on the program and is the only selection that is not from a story ballet. The dance was inspired by a PBS documentary about the difficult lives and sometimes inevitable deaths of creatures in the African desert. Maggie Rupp and Stefan Calka (Lauryn Winterhalder and Christopher Nachtrab) dance a chilling pas de deux in which one fragile creature is stalked and ultimately killed by a predator. Calka’s look of satisfaction on his face as he prepares to drag away his prey is pure evil. Who says dancers don’t act, too?

Moultrie created the playful “Mix De Moultrie” to showcase the personalities of company members. In only five dances with the dancers (three to choreograph and two to “clean up”), he also managed to create segments playing to the strengths of individual dancers.

I’m not sure what to make of “Opening — Introductions” when all 10 members are on stage and the male dancers give their names individually, while the females blurt their names out at the same time. They then dance solos and in groups, displaying lots of energy, and you can already see their personalities coming to the fore.

Highlights include “Bloodline,” in which Alexandra Cunningham not only dances exquisitely, displaying the poise and mastery of movement that earned her the title “prima ballerina” after last year’s “Swan Lake,” but talks about the difficulties of striving for perfection and being the daughter of the directors; “Investigation of the Third,” danced by Keane, Smith and Chatterson, and one of three movements set to music by Kenji Bunch; and “Cellular Imprints,” which has nothing to do with telephones and everything to do with a natural connectivity that permeates to our cells and soul, and impressively delivered by the strong, assured trio of: Calka, Nachtrab and Richard Porter.

“Snap Shots” will be performed at the ballet’s 1631 K St. studio at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 5 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 1:30 and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 24. Tickets are $57 and are available by calling the box office at (916) 552-5800 or by going online at sacballet.org.

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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