Legend of Sleepy Hollow • REVIEW CWB Press Office
Legend of Sleepy Hollow opened on October 13 at the Grand Center for the Arts in Tracy (an early 20th Century theatre renovated in 2007). The show delighted an enthusiastic audience with strong performances by the leads, Elisabeth Champion, Aaron Gulevich and Grant Landon.
Champion, her second time in the role of Katrina Van Tassel, really came into her own as the Dutch damsel, making the most of her scenes and dances. Champion’s approach was complimented by her Russian ballet training and up-bringing, giving the role a sophisticated flair that wasn’t too out of place. In the hands of Gulevich, Champion’s slender figure provided the audience with some spectacular partnering moments. As an actress, Champion is a lyrical dancer with a lightness that is a good match for a role such as Giselle. As Katrina Van Tassel, she brought to the role an unusual dramatic flair, yet added touches of picturesque simplicity. Aaron Gulevich returned in his born to play role of Ichabod Crane, bringing an added dimension to the role which he premiered in 2015. Gulevich had as great a connection with the children in the School Scene as with the other Sleepy Hollow characters. As Crane the teacher, Gulevich showed a good humored poise with just the right amount of care and disciplinary stance. As Crane the would be suitor of Katrina Van Tassel, Gulevich was able to navigate through the story as a leading man while keeping touches of quickness essential to the character. Gulevich’s dancing was sound and his pantomime well defined. Grant Landon also returned as Brom Bones, this time showing much more command on stage and adding a touch of welcomed sensuality to his presence as a lead dancer. Landon’s pleasing physique was complemented by a stronger technique this year, and a great rendition of a new solo dance at the beginning of the second act, fleshing out the role of Brom Bones. Landon’s acting capabilities also showed much improvement this time around, adding emotional content to his dancing. As Katrina's Cousins, Beth Ward, Isabella Andrews, Kateri Bilay and Isabel Jones all delivered strong performances with some colorful characterizations. Ward showed a wonderful correctness in her dancing, her technique reminiscent of the English ballet tradition. Isabella Andrews, in her first real break as a dancer performed with correct technical approach, showing promise as a young artist. Newcomer Kateri Bilay had spirit and verve in her dancing, with a go getting attitude that was pleasant to watch. Isabel Jones returned to Emma De Bruyne, again showing reliable technique combined with an artistry all of her own.
Elisabeth Champion, Aaron Gulevich and Hugh Rose III. CWB Archives.
On October 26 and 27, veterans Sarah Weaver and Nicole Firpo returned to the role of Katrina Van Tassel with aplomb and charisma. Weaver, a strong partner, kept her performance fresh, showing energy and enthusiasm in her scenes. Weaver’s charming personality and experience made the evening a delight throughout. Firpo brought her strong presence and elegance to the role of Katrina Van Tassel, easily navigating through all the facets of her scenes and giving her character a sense of maturity. Yet Firpo kept an overall playful approach to her dancing, creating a warm atmosphere. Gulevich and Landon reprised their roles as Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones respectively, delivering strong performances on each night. The roles of the Van Tassel cousins brought in a variety of beautiful performances. Erin McMahon, Rena Mian, Noelle Im, Maria Bellamy, Brittnie King and Britney Harris were all back as Katrina's Cousins. The cousins, an artistic liberty in the story that Daveluy has a tendency to include in his full length ballets were well represented. McMahon and Bellamy again showed off their unique qualities, with a special note to Bellamy, who confidently breezed through her solo. King and Mian gave charming performances with growing maturity. Britney Harris and Noelle Im's talents as the latest principal dancers on the CWB roster showed again great potential as headliners, with their technique and artistry solid and very enjoyable. New to the 'Cousins Club' were Tatum Avalos and Nancy Cole. Avalos showed off her natural lines with a touch of welcomed fierceness in her technique. Cole showed a vibrant dancing style accompanied by a lovely presence.
Sarah Weaver and Aaron Gulevich. Nicole Firpo. Bicek Photography.
Aaron Gulevich as Ichabod Crane. Bicek Photography.
As a production, Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a light ballet. It is appropriately unpretentious and retains the lightness of Washington Irving’s classic short story. Yet the ballet is well conceived with a seamless integration of live narration, video transitions and dance scenes. As an older Diedrich Knickerbocker, who’s character is the bridge between the audience and the performers, Hugh Rose III gave his best performance as Narrator since the ballet’s premiere in 2015. Rose’s deep, rich voice permeated the house and his rhythm flowed. Rose showed emotional content, carrying the scenes forward with meaningful intonations. The choreography by Jan Clark Fugit and René Daveluy goes to the point of each scene. Fugit’s style emphasizes point work for company ballerinas, as well as for Central West Ballet academy students. This quality reveals itself multiple times during the show, definitely giving many opportunities for female dance technique. Daveluy’s contribution to the ballet in choreography shows the distinct style he has developed with Central West Ballet over the last thirteen years. His music score for the show is straight forward with defined themes for each lead character and scenes. Over the last three years, Daveluy's choreographic and musical revisions have gone a long way to make the ballet more coherent.
Central West Ballet’s corps work was visibly the strongest seen in recent times, due to a new line up of incoming dancers. The performances benefitted from the up and coming talents within the company and its trainees. The added inclusion of Strut Performing Arts dancers since the ballet's premiere in 2015 has given the production some much needed male presence and great vitality. The Town Rising opening dance in Legend of Sleepy Hollow was particularly sharp and exciting, both technically and artistically. The School Scene, a well devised portion of the show, used pantomime, props and angular dancing. Well performed by all casts of CWB II and Academy students during the run, this scene was creative and mixed a modern and classical approach that worked well for the production.
The Barn Scene, with its exuberant dancing, remains the pièce de résistance of the production. Again here, the strength of the Company as a whole was what made it so entertaining. The Hallow’s Eve Waltz displayed good partnering and a togetherness throughout by all casts. The unfolding of the Forest Scene, with the much expected arrival of the Headless Horseman was perhaps the most enjoyed part of the show from an audience standpoint. The use of copious amount of dry ice, lighting mood, music and haunted sound effects all culminated well with the Horseman's entrance on his mechanical Black Stallion. With added Strut Performing Arts dancers, the Scarecrows dance was at its best and the Headless Horseman was well performed by Strut dancer Kevin Singleton. The audience at turns applauded, cheered and laughed at the humorous moments. It was for all purposes, tantamount to a ride through the Haunted House at Disneyland.
Legend of Sleepy Hollow, an effort by Central West Ballet to attract a steady audience seems to be gaining a foothold. It remains to be seen if CWB will bring it back. Audiences will have to wait and hold on to their heads until next year.
Creations, Choreography in America • REVIEW CWB Press Office
After a hiatus of 6 years, Creations, Choreography in America made a comeback at the Grand in Tracy on last May 13th. On the program was Purple Tribute, celebrating the music of the late Prince Rogers Nelson, followed by Love Duets, a lyrical suite of Pas de Deux. Closing the evening was a Central West Ballet staple, House of Folk. The entire performance was choreographed by René Daveluy and made use of projections as background, adding a clever array of abstract tableaux, particularly for the first work, Purple Tribute.
Caroline Sheridan in Breakdown from Purple Tribute. Ewing Photography.
Purple Tribute, a Rock Ballet to the music of Prince managed to keep a style proper to the legendary icon’s rebel like attitude and eclectic exploration in pop, funk and rock. The choice of songs was straight forward, focusing more on Prince’s commercial hits rather than his more significant revolutionary pieces. Still, Daveluy’s choice of songs, arrangements and mixing showed a respect for the great rock star and introduced the dancers well within Prince’s world. The opening made use of Let’s Go Crazy, starting with an orchestral adaptation and later, bringing in the music hit. This all women overture, mixed with projections of rock lights was effective. The choreography was minimalist, making use of the female form to introduce Prince’s music. Next was Slow Love, danced by soloists Brittnie King and Timothy Knoll. This sensual piece was typical of Daveluy, with intimate partnering, which King and Knoll performed with adequate care. King here showed much improvement in the smoothness of her dancing. The next song, Breakdown, showcased the talents of Caroline Sheridan, one of Central West Ballet’s newest Principal Dancers. Sheridan, a tall and technically strong dancer, commanded the stage with ease and filled every rhythmical aspects of the song. Daveluy’s choreographic style was recognizable, making use of subtle pantomime, jazz and modern moves, which Sheridan delivered to perfection. Following this was Prince’s famous song Kiss. This movement opened with a solo danced by Timothy Knoll, well performed and showing a unique refined style that matched Prince’s impressive vocal range. Knoll’s lean figure and fine movement was again perfect to express the rhythms and sounds of Prince’s virtuoso guitar playing. Knoll was then joined by eigth women, developing Kiss into a full fledged extended exercise in pop dance, making use of funky pointe work and tongue in cheek situations.
Caroline Sheridan and Aaron Gulevich in Purple Rain. Ewing Photography.
Purple Rain, the last movement of this Tribute to Prince featured Caroline Sheridan and Aaron Gulevich in a heartfelt rendition of the song. Complemented by a projection of a deluge of rain effects, Purple Rain finished with the entire company performing an atmospheric set of moves, Tai Chi like, as the stage lights dimmed to a full fade out. The audience cheered with this opening to the evening. Purple Tribute showcased the notable talents of new company headliners, mainly Caroline Sheridan, who held the stage with admirable charisma.
Nicole Firpo and Grant Landon in Dramatic from Love Duets. Ewing Photography.
The second ballet of the evening was Love Duets, showcasing Pas de Deux work for selected company members. Central West Ballet has always excelled at partnering. This latest work by Daveluy was inspired and displayed controlled, difficult Pas de Deux moves. The production of this ballet made use of projections of moving clouds, Celtic and nature like designs, giving the ballet a spiritual note. In addition to choreographing it, Daveluy also composed the music score. The score was a suite of pieces for piano and orchestra, lyrical in nature and showing well developed themes. The opening featured four couples moving identically through flowing formations. The first Pas de Deux was performed by Sarah Weaver and Aaron Gulevich, moving to a full orchestral élan of strings and brass. Weaver and Gulevich were in fine shape, dancing well together with some impressive torquing lifts, and ending with a spectacular shoulder backbend lift, showing off Weaver’s extreme and beautiful dance physique. The second duet, Playful, was danced by returning Principal Zachary Artice and Noelle Im, one Central West Ballet’s newest dancing stars. Im and Artice performed with heartfelt connection and danced the sensitive timing with precision. Im, a finely build dancer with great sense of rhythm, performed well in the hands of Artice, who’s experience and strong abilities made the Pas de Deux a delight to watch. Next was a section entitled Interlocht with Elisabeth Champion and Grant Landon. This movement was both musically and choreographically hauntingly realized, with a minimalist approach that was mesmerizing. Champion and Landon were superbly matched, showing lengthy arabesque lines and smooth sliding forward moves that were cinematic in approach (one could imagine the tracking of a camera pulling back as the dancers moved forward). The next movement, Whimsical, was danced by newcomer Lacey Elliston and Zachary Artice. Elliston showed great movement quality and performed well with Artice, who, in between intricate romantic partnering moves, flowed gracefully in solo. Nicole Firpo and Grant Landon were next in a section entitled Dramatic. This was tailor made for Firpo’s classic qualities, showing off her long hyper extended legs and dramatic movement. Firpo and Landon were well paired, with Landon here the younger partner confidently not losing a beat. Firpo and Landon’s section was another high point in Love Duets, with dramatic and powerful music. A special Pas de Deux followed with Tatum Avalos and Brian Harris performing a duet entitled Lullaby. Brian Harris, a 15 year old dancer who has been performing with Central West Ballet since age six, showed incredible control and maturity for one so young, partnering the graceful Avalos with meaningful purpose. The Finale of Love Duets, using the same couples as the opening, was very atmospheric, with again, demanding partnering. All couples took extra care with moves that were tough to synchronize. Love Duets was a reminiscent of Daveluy’s earlier works for Central West. It was fresh, innovative and pushed the dancers to their limits.
Sarah Weaver and Grant Landon in Gypsies from House of Folk. Ewing Photography.
The evening’s last ballet, House of Folk, something of a staple for Central West, entertained the audience from the get go, with a blend of Celtic Pop, Fiddle, Country and modern string arrangements. Daveluy made some revisions to the ballet, subtracting pieces and adding new ones. Special heights stemmed from this new arrangement. A dance to the classic The Devil Went To Georgia was performed with gusto by Brian Harris, Aaron Gulevich and 6 company ladies as the “Demons”. This new section of House of Folk rocked the audience, who cheered along as the number unfolded. Classic segments like Wild Steps, Jig Boy, Gypsies, Night Floor, Wheel Dance, Banjo Strut and Rattlin’ Roaring Willie were danced with expertise and brilliant energy. Caroline Sheridan handled Wild Steps with clean technique and vivaciousness. Brian Harris took over the coveted lead in Jig Boy, adding a fierce movement quality that fitted the dance. Gypsies was stunningly danced by Sarah Weaver and Grant Landon, making most of every section of this long duet. Night Floor was danced by Nicole Firpo, a section created for her in 2008. Firpo flawlessly moved though the solo with great rhythm and feel. Wheel Dance, an upbeat section of House fo Folk was led by an enthusiastic Grant Landon and company dancers. It was performed with palpable joy and excitement, a high moment in this performance. Banjo Strut was wonderfully danced by Britney Harris and Timothy Knoll. Rattlin’ Roaring Willie was led by Noelle Im, with Nicole Firpo, Sarah Weaver, Aaron Gulevich and a corps line of company women. Noelle Im exuded pride and joy and with Gulevich, provided spectacular throw lifts during the dance. House fo Folk would not have been complete without Cotton Eyed Joe, a thrilling and energetic dance performed with enthusiasm by the whole company.
A special section of House of Folk was a dance created for Soloist Bailey Phelps, who's performance was her last with Central West Ballet, as she was moving on to College. Entitled Onwards, Phelps performed this dance at her most beautiful and joyous. Showing her usual strong presence, Phelps' beginning solo changed into a duet as she was joined by Artistic Director René Daveluy, who partnered her in her last dance with the company.
Bailey Phelps and René Daveluy in Onwards. Ewing Photography.
In recents seasons, Central West has performed many entertaining shows, original new works and unique programs. Creations, having been on hold for the last few years, was much anticipated and appreciated from the audience. It’s an essential and original part of Central West Ballet’s productions and one hopes to see more of this ingenious program.