Natasha Middleton, director of Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, brought “A Ballet Spectacular” to the Alex Theatre this past Sunday night. As one of their first grand openings since an almost two year hiatus due to the pandemic, you could tell that lots of time and effort went into the making of a successful show. The entrance posed all the magnificence of an opening with refreshments, ushers, glossy programs, and a PBDT backdrop for photographs in the lobby. With variations and selections from ballets such as Don Quixote, Spartacus, and Gayane, there seemed to be something for every dance goer. Unfortunately, this elongated the night to an unnecessary length of time. Split into two separate acts, with an intermission in the middle, it would have been simpler to have premiered one ballet in its entirety. Each scene and/or pas de deux required quick changes in background, costume, dancers, and music which left the audience waiting for dance to start more than watching actual dance take place. With that being said, the excerpts chosen are not popularly known by even the most enthusiastic ballet fans, which was appreciated and valued.
PBDT began with several scenes from Don Quixote with Damara Titmus playing Kitri, the daughter of Lorenzo and Basilio’s lover. While she hit every mark, and landed every turn, I felt that Titmus was not believable in her role. There was an exuberance missing, an understated lightness and fire that Kitri requires. With that being said, her technique was fair, and her lines were elongated. Basilio was played by Eduard Sargsyan who’s character is a barber and Kitri’s great love. Sargsyan, on the opposite end, was an absolute delight to watch and revel in. Each gesture, line, lift, leap, and movement was done with the energy of ten men. He presented an extraordinary candor and characterization of a Spanish lover.
The villagers, played by company members Nina Elmoyan, Hannah Hart, Alicia Khashaki, Alyssa Muller, Annya Redfern, Robson Tadeu-Freire, Arisa Tanihata, Aida Tonoyan, and Meagan Van Darren, would enter the space carrying tambourines, flowers, and fans to add environment and circumstantial domain to the scene. Using props is never an easy feat, and every dancer really utilized the power of gesture to support their precision on stage. With choreography by Marius Petipa and staged by Middleton, it was unclear whether we were watching many scenes piled together from the Don Quixote ballet, or just one scene. Besides a few nervous steps and slips, Act I was a wonderful introduction for those unfamiliar with ballet at large.
Act II began with a pas de deux from Spring Waters, performed by Lester Gonzalez and Elan Alekzander, who were both an absolute delight to watch. With impeccable technique, Alekzander in particular had an energetic joy that was impossible not to get attached to. With sky high arabesques and 90 degree attitudes, the partnership between her and Gonzalez was natural and easy.
Act II moved through Rachmaninov’s Prelude in E Flat Major with live decorated pianist Mikhail Korzhev, into a Spartacus Pas de Deux performed by Damara Titmus and Eduard Sargsyan. When we got to the Masquerade Waltz, with music by Aram Khachaturian and choreography by Natasha Middleton we finally got a glimpse of the company’s innovation and creative movement. With acrobats on stilts, and performers of the court dressed in long gowns and mimicked corsets, the environment of jest and secretive natures came out to play. Every performer fully embodied their character and the whimsy that a ballet can and should give. The technicality of moving groups of dancers on and off stage is an art unto itself and was done without a hiccup.
Act II continued with more Don Quixote, this time with Natalie Palmgren as Kitri and Eduard Sargsyan continuing as Basilio. Palmgren’s flawless technique was rooted in strength and stability. Her representation of Kitri was fiery, fearless, and anchored in a vibrant rhythm Kitri possesses throughout her trials and tribulations within the ballet. The audience held their breath as Palmgren did a series of single pirouettes into double pirouettes from upstage left to downstage right, followed soon after by single and double fouettés center stage. Sargsyan would jeté around her with precision and buoyancy, and the two had a candor unmatched to other partnerships in the program thus far. You could feel they trusted each other, and with that trust, a relaxation spread within the audience.
Next came selections from Gayane such as Lullaby, and the Saber Dance, and ending with Lazginka. With music by Aram Khachaturian and choreography by Eduard Sargsyan, the representation of this Armenian ballet was important to the Glendale community which represents one of the largest communities of Armenian descent in the United States. With energetic cymbals, drum beats, and communal choreography, the company of PBDT ended with a visceral sense of togetherness.
With different levels of technique and natural sensibility to the ballets being presented, I felt the night was a bit chaotic and hard to follow. Several moments felt unrehearsed or poorly executed, but the variations presented were appreciated selections that deviated from the popular Swan Lake, Cinderella, or La Bayadere. Middleton’s contemporary approach to the classics gave a new perspective; an appreciative gesture as the dance community continues to share these time honored traditions.
PBDT will be premiering “Joys of the Season” at the Glendale Performing Arts Center this December 9th and 10th. Tickets will go on sale in October at pbdtla.org
For more information about Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, please visit their website.
To learn more about the Alex Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: PBDT – Gayane (Lezginka), Choreography by Eduard Sargysan – Dancers Elan Alexander as Nune with Patrick Fitzsimmons, Aliko Hovsepyan, Alex Danielyan, Gevorg Tadevosyan – Photo by Tom Pease