State Street Ballet’s ‘American Masters’

Copland, Bernstein, and the S.B. Choral Society Open Season

Anna Carnes (left) and Francois Llorente perform Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, which is part of this year’s American Masters program. | Credit: David Bazemore Photo

In The Granada Theatre’s post-renovation era, collaboration among our heritage performing arts organizations has blossomed into a distinctive feature of Santa Barbara’s cultural identity. On Saturday, October 12, the trend will continue when State Street Ballet opens its 25th season with support from the Santa Barbara Choral Society. The program, American Masters, features three works choreographed by SSB co-artistic director William Soleau, two of which are world premieres. 

Soleau has thrived in the artistic scene fostered by the Granada since its inception. He and Rodney Gustafson initiated the practice of large-scale collaborations in 2008 with Carmina Burana, which had State Street Ballet joining forces with the Santa Barbara Symphony and the Choral Society for an epic production that pointed the way forward during the new building’s first full year. More collaborations with the symphony, such as Appalachian Spring (2011) and Mozart’s Requiem (2017), added to a growing list of works conceived in response to Santa Barbara’s unique cultural resources. 

Appalachian Spring returns on Saturday with a mostly new cast and full of Aaron Copland’s heart-stirring melodies. Danced to a slightly scaled-down version of the suite that Martha Graham made famous, Soleau’s vision bears the weight of her influence as gracefully as a classic Shaker chair. Inspired by the full range of the Appalachians, from the northeast to the south, he tells the story of two families that meet for a wedding. The city girl has chosen a country boy to be her husband, and, after the ceremony, she stays behind to take up her new life there. There’s a wonderful picnic sequence with the women in their long skirts trailing light, checkered blankets in the air, and a barn dance to “Simple Gifts” that’s steeped in whirling ascetic ecstasy. Sitting in on the last 20 minutes of a recent rehearsal, I caught both the keen sense of narrative that provides the work with a spine, and the bittersweet emotionalism of the dance’s details — the subtle hand gestures and exchanged glances that express its profound intimacy. 

Photo: David Bazemore PhotoState Street Ballet – 25th publicity 7/9/19 Gail Towbes Center for Dance

For Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Jo Anne Wasserman and the Santa Barbara Choral Society will be joined by countertenor Jacob Hall. Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna from 1997 quickly became the Los Angeles–based composer’s best-known work. He wrote it in 1997 as a requiem for his mother and dedicated it to the Los Angeles Master Chorale, whose 1998 recording of the piece was nominated for a Grammy. Lauridsen teaches composition and theory at USC’s Thornton School of Music, but the inspiration for his music stems from his roots in the Pacific Northwest. As one of the world’s top contemporary composers of choral music, Lauridsen wields a remarkably wide array of techniques, from Renaissance polyphony to modern dissonance. Its third movement, “O Nata Lux,” is considered a tour de force of modern writing for a cappella chorus. 

The State Street Ballet 25th season at the Granada continues with The Nutcracker on Saturday and Sunday, December 21 and 22, and Sleeping Beauty on Saturday, March 14. The excitement does not end there, as the company will tour its popular version of The Jungle Book in the spring, return to Santa Barbara for Modern Masters at the New Vic in May, and then come back to the Granada in October of 2020 for Starry Night, which is based on the work of Vincent van Gogh.


4•1•1 | State Street Ballet’s American Masters is Saturday, October 12, at 7:30 p.m., at The Granada Theatre (1214 State Street). Call 899-2222 or see statestreetballet.com

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