And the winner is …

Capital Choreography Competition

The Sacramento Ballet stretches with a trio of new works at the Capital Choreography Competition.

The Sacramento Ballet stretches with a trio of new works at the Capital Choreography Competition.

Photo By keith sutter

Crest Theatre

1013 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 476-3356

Rated 5.0

It would be easy to cheer for the Sacramento Ballet; after all, they’re the little company that could. When every arts group in the region started to suffer from the economy, the 55-year-old ballet was hit especially hard; last year, they came close to shuttering. Instead, though, they kicked out all the stops with a reinvigorated approach to both fundraising and audience building.

The result is enviable. In fact, other arts groups have contacted Sac Ballet to find out how they can survive tough times and build their audience by adding more intimate performances and showing up to dance in unexpected places.

But the opening for this season isn’t self-congratulation, however deserved that might be; instead, the Sacramento Ballet again breaks new ground with the Capital Choreography Competition, the first in what we can only hope will be a long series of such events.

Artistic directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda invited a trio of emerging choreographers to participate, with both a prize awarded by an expert jury and a “people’s choice” favorite. Each choreographer worked with the company for six days—a surprisingly short time, given the caliber of the works—and tailored their work specifically for performance in the Crest Theatre.

Viktor Kabaniaev, the artistic director of the Santa Rosa Dance Theater and the director of the Diablo Ballet apprentice program, choreographed a dance called “Almost a Story Ballet,” with music by John Adams. The ballet uses dissonance in the music to show the struggle of narrative to emerge from fragments, with a figurative—and literal, in the case of featured dancer Amanda Peet—letting down of one’s hair. It is, indeed, “almost” a story.

The second entry, “On Frail Wings,” was choreographed by Amy Seiwert to a surprisingly melodic violin concerto by Philip Glass. Seiwert, who was with the Sacramento Ballet in the 1990s, is now based in San Francisco, where she is choreographer in residence at the Smuin Ballet and directs Im’ij-re, a contemporary ballet company.

Seiwert’s piece takes its narrative from the classical myth of Icarus, and revels in both desire and the frustration of it. In the dancer’s movements, we are led to recognize gravity as existing, not only between the body and the Earth, but between each body. In the featured role in the ballet’s second movement, Roberto Cisneros demonstrates the fluidity of flight, so that it seems as if he is moving through water rather than air.

The final entry is from Matthew Neenan, the choreographer in residence at the Pennsylvania Ballet and one of the co-founders of BalletX. Neenan’s work masterfully made full use of both the company and the space at the Crest, including the curtained stage exits. “The Ratio,” choreographed to the music of Schubert’s String Quartet in C major, had a lovely pas de deux featuring Chloe Horne and Richard Porter, as well as some extremely athletic dancing from the corps that involved jumping on and off the stage.

Also included is a special tribute to principal dancer Kirsten Bloom, who will be taking a maternity sabbatical from the company. She dances the “Rose Adagio” from the first act of Sleeping Beauty, supported by Stefan Calka, Timothy Coleman, Richard Smith and Porter. It is a bittersweet moment that illustrates well what the Sacramento Ballet has come to mean to its fans.

The program includes videos of the choreographers discussing their work, a fascinating look inside the artist’s process. An entirely new panel will be judging the competition this week, and the audience will have another opportunity to vote for their favorite.