Two 6-year-old dance companies--Inland Pacific Ballet, under artistic director Victoria Koenig, and State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara, led by Rodney Gustafson--are proving against all odds and naysayers that ballet is alive and kicking in Southern California.
Gustafson, formerly with American Ballet Theatre, brought his "Romeo and Juliet" on April 16 to Rolling Hills' Norris Theatre. Using Prokofiev's score, he successfully streamlined the work, focusing on the eponymous lovers in two acts.
As Romeo, Albanian-born Leonard Ajkun has an authoritatively chiseled presence, executing buttery landings and razor-sharp turns and effortlessly partnering Jenna McClintock's sweet but sometimes stiff Juliet. Ajkun also wielded a convincing sword in Frank Moran's expertly choreographed fights.
Comporting themselves with spirited technique were guest artist Fabrice Lemire, a menacing Tybalt, and company member Sergei Domrachev, a Mercutio whose bag of tricks included one-armed cartwheels and break-dancing barrel turns.
Gustafson also has a precise male/female corps; while Lindy Howe's effective costumes and Rolf Freeman's equally efficient lighting helped the evening resonate.
On Sunday's bill with Inland Pacific at Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Theatre, State Street paid homage to Spain. Gustafson's "Bolero," set to Ravel's ubiquitous music, showcased the company in crimson unitards and pointe shoes. Standouts: Kathryn Petak and Jeremiah Lincoln Campbell in a sultry pas de deux; Rebecca Thompson as slinky soloist.
In "Carmen," Robert Sund effectively married the music of Miles Davis and Gil Evans' "Sketches of Spain" with the saga of the ill-fated heroine. Guest artist Jodie Gates was breathtaking, from her snarly fights with Petak's pert Micaela to mopping the floor with Lemire's passion-oozing Jose. The 38-minute work left no gasp unturned, as Ajkun, a haughty Escamillo, completed the triangle.
Killer love was not the point of Inland Pacific's two premieres, but elements of attraction held sway nonetheless. Janek Schergen's staging of Choo San Goh's "Beginnings" flowed with lyric hip-swiveling and sensual coupling, as Christopher Bonomo, Sarah Spradlin, Kelly Lamoureux and Eric Shah infused a pliant freshness to this 1983 suite.
George Balanchine's 1970 classic "Who Cares?" epitomizes brilliance and brio. In Elise Borne's staging of the shortened, concert version, Bonomo stole the show, magnificently partnering Spradlin, Lamoureux and Samantha Mason and enlivening the Gershwin tunes with joyous ardor. His solo effort, "Liza," was a study in stamina and carefree elegance, adjectives that could readily apply to both companies.