At this most eventful time of the performing arts year, when virtually every organization in town is mounting some kind of production, leave it to State Street Ballet (SSB) to present something that’s as bright, joyful, and full of happiness as Ballroom. Focusing on the pleasures of social dance through the lens of ballet, the seven pieces on the program each framed the subject in a different way. “Five by Gershwin” showed the choreography of SSB co-artistic director William Soleau at its most romantic and glamorous, with the men in tail coats and the women in brightly colored gowns. In “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” a quartet that saw him pursuing three beautiful women first in turn and then all at once, longtime company member John Christopher Piel showed that he’s grown into the ballet equivalent of a Hollywood leading man from the golden age, capable of warmth, wit, and self-deprecating humor, sometimes within the short space of a few bars.
“Stand by Me,” a world premiere duet by Kassandra Taylor Newberry, gave dancers Ahna Lipchik and Nickolas Topete the opportunity to show off their superb athleticism in both hip hop-derived moves and spectacular lifts and vaults. Robert Sund’s 1999 composition “BAND” closed out the first half in rousing fashion, setting spectacular ensemble work to the strains of Duke Ellington. “Caravan,” which featured Lipchik and Francois Llorente moving to the trombone of Juan Tizol, was particularly memorable.
After the intermission, another large number, this time a new one called “Bubbles” by Laurie Eisenhower, gave the young company a wonderfully cheeky set of tunes from Lawrence Welk to bop to. Nicole Thompson’s pastel costumes were spot-on updates of the Welk television show’s clean-cut all-American style. Anna Carnes and (however briefly) Noam Tsivkin came next with a brilliant new piece by Soleau set to Ella Fitzgerald singing “Misty.” Carnes is a great actress, and what she does in this short cameo is breathtaking. Her performance of this piece needs to be seen by many more people.
Soleau’s 1997 epic “Nuevo Tango” brought eight dancers and an equal number of high wooden stools to the stage for an exquisitely detailed and lyrical finale. Sammy Jelinek’s dramatic lighting design added to the powerful impact of these splendid performers.