Collaborative projects between arts organizations in Orlando are often well-received. The consolidation of different forces into something greater than the individual parts is a recipe for success. The sold-out performance of “Music of the Ballet” on Saturday evening at the Bob Carr, with the Orlando Phil joined by principal dancers from the Orlando Ballet, was the latest instance of Orlando’s thriving collaborative spirit in the arts.
Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet was a definitive moment in the Phil’s longstanding dedication to the arts. Conducted by Leslie B. Dunner, the uber-dramatic ballet was given a solid reading that elevated the orchestra and highlighted well-crafted choreography. The hefty brass of the ‘Montagues and Capulets’ introduced the piece with elegance, followed by soft flute lines and solo passages for other woodwinds.
Dunner, a renowned opera and ballet conductor and a current finalist for new Orlando Philharmonic music director, approached the piece with dignity, allowing all instrumental groupings their own space while pulling the ensemble together to delineate the events of Shakespeare’s play, depicted by the music.
Dancers Chiaki Yasukawa and Lamin Pereira were featured in both of the pas de deux selected from the ballet. The orchestra was positioned toward the back to accommodate a large dance floor, onto which the timeless lovers sprang. Orlando Ballet Artistic Director Robert Hill captured the relationship of the characters with subtleties in movement; flirtatious gestures are followed by more intense reciprocation. Pereira’s graceful twirls, traversing the dance floor, met Yasukawa with delicacy, as she tiptoed her way toward or away from him, swiftly being lifted onto his shoulder.
The piece ended on a frantic note, with the fierce Death of Tybalt. Dunner seemed to be on his toes especially for this section, carefully and emphatically signaling the repetitive blows on timpani and cello that set up the rhythmic pattern for the last few minutes. The dramatic section that follows – heightened by cymbal splashes, percussion and arresting trumpet lines – was a real highlight of the Phil doing what they do best.
La Vida Breve, by Manuel de Falla, was a much better introduction than Weber’s Invitation to the Dance in the first half of the program. A pithy orchestral statement, the A-B-A’ piece takes on a muscular character in the middle section. The Phil’s percussion elevated the performance, which said much in less than five minutes.
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was an obvious choice for the evening, although marked by warm performances from the ensemble and impressive dancing. The otherworldly Introduction to Act II captured the mysticism of the story. A brief shimmering on the strings sets the tone and introduces a gorgeously evocative oboe line, over harp. Jamie Strefeler performed the part warmly, which is later echoed by full strings.
The pairs of dancers for the ballet’s selected pas de deux were Areum Chung and David Kiyak; and Melissa Gelfin and Arcadian Broad. The choreography for the ‘White Swan’ reflective section was much more subdued, with delicate spins and embraces, backed by Rimma Bergeron-Langlois’ solo violin lines.
The performance of the talented principal dancers from Orlando Ballet was topped by Gelfin and Broad. The only Orlando native amongst them, Broad is only 16 and a gifted dancer, gracefully tapping his feet in midair as he leaped across the stage. Gelfin impressed the most with her elegantly articulated moves and fast pirouettes, spinning incessantly like a top.
Like the opening of the Prokofiev, Ravel’s delightful La Valse directed the spotlight to what solid orchestration sounds like when executed well. Dynamics were given attention to, starting with the soft but menacing opening notes for pizzicato basses and bassoons. Dunner and the orchestra remained well-balanced and coordinated, with highlights from oboe, flute, piccolo and harp. One particular intricacy about this piece, in addition to the ominous feeling Ravel assigns to his waltz, is the arrival at the dissonance in the last measures. Through raspy trombones and percussion and thickening textures, the composer transfigures his waltz into a raucous dance for full orchestra. The effect in orchestration is masterful, and it was very well accomplished by the Phil.
A recurring blemish in many classical music performances in Orlando is ill-timed applause (see my recent “Concertos by Candlelight” performance by the Bach Festival Society). It’s just unfortunate and hard to ignore how much a round of applause at the wrong time can really spoil an otherwise great performance. Toward the end of the opening Invitation to the Dance – a single-movement piece – the final solo cello entrance that follows a big orchestral cadence was ruined by premature applause. It makes me wonder whether some of the seasoned audience members of the Phil don’t really know the music they go to hear or whether they are just sitting in their chairs, holding back hair-trigger applause, heedless of the performance going on right in front of them.
To visit the Orlando Phil’s website and learn about upcoming performances, click here.
To visit the Orlando Ballet’s website and learn about upcoming performances, click here.
To read reviews of previous Orlando Phil performances, click here.
To listen to La Vida Breve, by Manuel de Falla, click here.
To watch a full performance of Ravel’s La Valse, click here.