Soloists, corps step up for Nevada Ballet

James Canfield, Nevada Ballet Theatre's new artistic director, works to assure that everything is beautiful at the ballet. And the all-Balanchine performances Friday and Saturday night were in keeping with that objective.

With the departure of principals Kyu Dong Kwak and Yoomi Lee, the company has fewer headliners. But soloists and members of the corps are stepping up and dancing with grace and enthusiasm -- even though some sections left dancers glistening with sweat and quietly trying to catch their breath during pauses on stage.

As the name implies, the evening was choreographed by the late George Balanchine.

Live music, performed by members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic under the direction of Richard McGee, accompanied the two first dances. The strings and keyboard gave the work a richness and vibrancy that cannot be accomplished with even the best recorded music.

The evening opened with 1935's "Serenade," to Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48." Primarily for more than a dozen ballerinas, it focuses on the women for most of the ballet, only introducing a few males near the end, almost literally to pitch and carry.

This was a picturesque ballet that showcased classic moves with a nod to modernism. Art for arts sake is an apt description, and the dancers knew and responded. Soloist Cathy Colbert, principal Racheal Hummel-Nole, soloist Alissa Verbena Dale and, later, soloist Jared Hunt and principal Zeb Nole had featured roles in the lengthy piece that brought much applause.

After the first intermission, the company returned with 1941's "Concert Barocco," to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Double Violin Concerto in D minor, BWV 1043." This, too, is a ballerina's work, with a sole male part. Grigori Arakelyan joined the cast for a pas de deux, but most of the work is devoted to putting a face -- or a foot -- to Bach's distinctive style.

After a second intermission, the company returned with the most lighthearted offering of the evening, "Who Cares?" From 1971, it includes snippets of 16 Gershwin tunes. Among the standouts were Dale, with her lilting, light "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" solo, and Dale and principal Zeb Nole who pulled off an admirable, seemingly effortless soft shoe sequence in ballet slippers in "Who Cares?" Apprentice Kelly Schaefer and corps member Griffin Whiting seemed to have the most fun of the evening with a buoyant "'S Wonderful," and corps member Emily Tedesco mixed jazz and ballet for a winsome, upbeat "Fascinatin' Rhythm."

If Canfield is looking to promote from within, he will have plenty of choices.