Ballet Pacifica and the Pacific Chorale took on a logistic challenge for their collaboration at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Sunday evening.
For one thing, the singers, pianists, dancers and conductor all had to find a place on stage. But the biggest problem wasn't the number of bodies involved, it was the fact that these bodies didn't seem to know each other.
Singers became unacknowledged scenery, and dancers focused decoratively outward and were rarely still. The two groups seemed juxtaposed rather than merged.
It was clear from the start that what was intended to be an abundance of riches could become a clash of currencies.
Under the direction of John Alexander, the chorale ebbed and flowed wonderfully through Johannes Brahms' "Liebeslieder" Waltzes, as dancers wedged far too many unremarkable waltz turns into a shallow space in front of the singers. Did they notice the music flowed from the swaying figures with earnest, shifting faces behind them? With no plot, couldn't choreographer James Jones or artistic director Molly Lynch have fashioned a relationship between the performing bodies?
For David Allan's sweet and short romantic duet to Norman Dello Joio's "Come to Me, My Love," the chorale tended to overwhelm the gauzy lovers with vocal power. Then they moved to each side of the stage and got a change of costume to match cowboys and -gals in Lynch's "The Settling Years" with music by Libby Larsen. Spirited hooting and stamping made the vocals delightfully quirky, unlike the choreography, an on-pointe recycling of Hollywood hoedown musical numbers.
When Michael Kane's "The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore" came along (to music by Gian Carlo Menotti) the singers became faces in the orchestra pit, "underwriting" the story.
The plot--confusing in program notes--concerns a strange poet (the incredibly buoyant Shawn Pace) who sets trends in the realm of exotic pets. Here, as elsewhere, tunes, words, notes, steps and narrative duked it out for our attention, continuing an evening of dueling sign systems.