In past mixed reps, KCB sometimes seemed to spread itself too thin: one piece would be top-notch, others merely okay, and one or two runts in the litter.
Not yesterday, though: This was a strong program from start to finish. When Balanchine's Who Cares? does NOT put everything else in the shade, you know you're onto something good.
Not that Who Cares? wasn't delightful. Of all Balanchine's moods, this is the one I like best: the work of the master craftsman who doesn't think it beneath him to entertain his audience. And of course it's hard to go wrong in the entertainment department when you've got George Gershwin tunes, played by a full orchestra, for backup. Judith Fugate staged it for KCB, and seems to have done a great job of fine-tuning the dancers to an ideal balance of correctness and joyousness.
Nobody else was taking a back seat, though. The program featured the premieres of two beautiful newly-commissioned works: Concerto Grosso, by Eugene Ballet's Toni Pimble, and A Solo in Nine Parts, by Jessica Lang (who, incidentally, is NOT Jessica Lange, the actress!)
Pimble's abstract ballet is large in scale and takes some time to get moving -- but once it's got momentum, there's no stopping it. I'd call its appeal cinematic: Pimble excels in creating a breathtaking "stage picture" and then animating it vividly.
Lang, whose previous KCB work Splendid Isolations had struck me as somewhat contrived in its details, struggles a bit with the same problem early in A Solo in Nine Parts (flippy arms are only cute if you don't overdo them) but shakes it off quickly and delivers a fast-paced, charming brew of quick, deft movements and plotless but personality-filled interactions among the dancers. Doris Humphrey famously opined that all dances are too long... but when Nine Parts snapped smartly into its finishing pose, many of us were left asking, "Hey, wait, is that all?!?"
My fave, though, was "Donizetti Pas De Deux," an excerpt from a 1966 ballet by the late Todd Bolender, KCB's long-time artistic director. Like all Bolender's best works, this one exudes self-confidence: you get the sense he knew he didn't have to prove anything to anybody, so felt totally free to blend art, entertainment, and a few winks and surprises exactly as the mood took him.
Better yet, I was lucky to see it danced by Kimberly Cowen: the last Bolender-hired dancer still with the company, so I've read, and one who obviously "gets" the Bolender vibe right down to her toenails. She's at the absolute peak of mature artistry, able to fuse flawless technique with the mischievous sense that all she's doing up there onstage is screwing around having the best damn time ever. With partner Michael Eaton as her strong, good-natured foil -- William Powell to her Carole Lombard -- the whole thing played out brilliantly: a screwball comedy seamlessly woven into a virtuosic classical showpiece, and equally successful on both levels.
If angels goof around -- and now that Bolender's with them, they probably do -- I suspect the results look like "Donizetti Pas de Deux." Damn, that guy was good.