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'Reflections' is big, flawed, bold evening of bravura dance
Author: Paul Hodgins
Date: January 21, 2011
Publisher: The Orange County Register

It's fitting that "Reflections" should be the first major event at the newly christened Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

At a ceremony last week that renamed the 25-year-old Orange County Performing Arts Center to honor the Segerstrom family, its largest benefactor, there was lots of talk from Center president Terrence Dwyer and others about brave new roles and projects for O.C.'s premiere cultural institution.


Yekaterina Shipulina performs in Aszure Barton's "Dumka" in act two of "Reflections" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Shipulina was elegant and playful in "Dumka."

"Reflections," in its audacity, hubris and ambition, perfectly embodies that vision. Like the Center itself, it's a huge conglomeration many years in the making. Some parts of the three-hour evening work better than others, but that's understandable considering the size and complexity of the endeavor.

The inspiration behind the show, which continues through Sunday in Costa Mesa before traveling to Moscow, is as simple as it is brilliant: to present some of the best young Bolshoi-trained ballerinas in a program of mostly new work by some of the world's best contemporary choreographers.

A co-production of Russia's famed Bolshoi Theatre and the Segerstrom Center and shepherded by the Center's frequent dance producing partner, New York's Ardani Artists Management, the show is the brainchild of Ardani's Sergei Danilian. He envisioned a showcase of Russia's best female dancers after his earlier collaboration with the Center, "Kings of the Dance," an evening of bravura male dancing, played there in 2006.

"Reflections" is book-ended by two large works – "Remansos," Nacho Duato's reworking of an all-male trio created in 1997, and Mauro Bigonzetti's newly conceived one-act ballet, "Cinque."

In between, we get seven shorter dances. Five of them are brand new, commissioned for "Reflections." One of them, Balanchine's "Pas de Trois" (1955), is a palate cleanser: a reminder of what these dancers can do with a comparatively traditional-looking ballet classic.

"Remansos" has been re-conceived for three couples. Many critics thought the original was a commentary on AIDS. In its present form, the work seems less sharp thematically. It's now a study in male-female partnering, with romance and intrigue provided by a single red rose attached to a knife and a small upstage wall that Duato uses to clever theatrical effect with lots of disembodied arms and rose-passing.
Three couples perform poignant and occasionally athletic duets in the central third of the work; supple arm movements stand out. Some were more comfortable with Duato's vocabulary than others. The third couple, Yekaterina Shipulina and Alexander Volchkov, seemed the least attuned; Natalia Osipova and Vyacheslav Lopatin were the most successful.

The last section features a trio of men (I suspect this is derived from the original version of the work). It's also the most moving. Duato ends with an indelible image: a male dancer hanging upside down from the wall, attended by two others. The overtones of mortality are clear and poignant. (A different cast will perform "Remansos" on Sunday.)

The second act of the evening is the smorgasbord.

At their worst, these brief choreographies looked like studies – too thematically underdeveloped to be significant.

Lucinda Childs' "From the Book of Harmony," set to a pre-recorded orchestral score by John Adams, featured the American post-modern choreographer's famously minimalist style, which is marked by almost ritualized explorations of space; a strong diagonal characterized the first part of the work. But dancer Anastasia Stashkevich, draped in a loose-fitting, salmon colored costume, was overmatched by the big-boned music and the vastness of the stage. Child's subtle vocabulary needs a smaller space.

Two other solos, Renato Zanella's "Strauss Incontra Verdi" and Aszure Barton's "Dumka," were beautiful if overly self-aware valentines to their performers.

In the former, Polina Semionova, dressed in what looked like classy PJs, played a fourth-wall breaking tease with the orchestra and audience. Her performance was filled with sinuous elegance and coy acting. In the latter, the tall and elegant Shipulina performed a more abstract and substantial solo, accompanied by onstage pianist Vladimir Chukhnov in a soulful performance of Tchaikovsky's "Dumka."

More satisfying were Jorma Elo's quirky, bracingly fragmented solo, "One Overture," performed brilliantly by Maria Kochetkova; Karole Armitage's duet "Fractus," in which performers Yekaterina Krysanova and Denis Savin explored inventive partnering ideas to occasional blackouts and a driving electric-guitar score by Rhys Chatham; and Bigonzetti's "Serenata," a spectacularly athletic and sometimes violent duet performed by the consistently amazing Osipova with her able partner Ivan Vasiliev. (It replaced Wayne McGregor's "Chaconne," which will make its premiere at the Center in 2012.)
These three works best exploited the tension between classically trained performers and demanding, envelope-pushing movement.

The evening ended with "Cinque," which Bigonzetti originally planned as a 20-minute piece. It grew into a one-act ballet as the Italian choreographer became inspired by his dancers, according to Danilian.

In its size and dramatic arc, "Cinque" is easily the most substantial work in "Reflections." It is set to various works by Antonio Vivaldi.

Five dancers are presented to us, splayed casually on downstage chairs, looking exhausted and toying with their obviously fake hairdos. To some Broadway fans, they might look a lot like the jailhouse girls in "Chicago" about to break into a rousing chorus of "He Had It Coming."

After some indulgent posing and choreographic throat-clearing, the girls go upstage, where they're slowly fitted into awkward-looking tutus that seem to be made out of rubber. Then the serious work of soloing begins.

The five dancers (on Thursday it was Kochetkova, Osipova, Krysanova, Semionova and Shipulina) varied in their ability to execute what Bigonzetti wanted and in their apparent comfort level with the movement. Kochetkova and Osipova stood out.
Bigonzetti has a gift for smoothly combining classical vocabulary with his own unique vision. Don't be surprised if a graceful arabesque is followed by a bite on the hand as one soloist replaces another. The result can sometimes seem emptily theatrical (the pedestrian-looking introduction seems self-conscious and overly long), but at its best Bigonzetti's work is an homage to the dancers' breathtaking talent.

In that respect, "Cinque" came closest to fulfilling the heady promise of "Reflections." It was gutsy, edgy, and tried to show world-class talent in a new light. If "Cinque," like "Reflections," lets us down from time to time, the sin is forgivable because the goal is worthy.

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