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Devilishly Good Ballet
Diablo Ballet Company Comes to Park City
By Karen Anne Webb

Dance Preview:
Diablo Ballet
Eccles Center for the Performing Arts (1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City) on March 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 24 and 25, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets cost $15 to $50 with discounts for children under 12 and K-12 Summit County students.
Buy tickets via the Eccles Center at (435) 655-3114 or

When Diablo Ballet returns to Park City after a four-year absence, it will bring not only a sparkling repertory performance but the return of a much-missed face from the local ballet stage. Ballet West alum Amy Foster is now dancing with the company and has taken over a principal role in “Walk Before Talk,” which is returning by popular demand. The company performs in the Eccles Center in Park City on Saturday, March 4.

Founded in 1993, singled out by the Los Angeles Times as “a major discovery,” and named Best Company in L.A.’s BalletFest in 2000, Diablo Ballet is committed to tradition while daring to be different. Since establishing the ballet’s presence in the Bay Area, artistic director Lauren Jonas has wooed an impressive selection of dancers from prestigious companies at home and abroad. Included in the troupe are dancers who have graced the ranks of the Kirov Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Russian Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Ballet de Caracas, Oakland Ballet and, of course, Ballet West.

In a year when smaller companies have been folding—the closure of the Oakland Ballet earlier this year left Diablo Ballet the only ballet company in the East Bay area—Diablo has actually been expanding, cultivating new audiences by going in new directions.

“We’ve just returned from the Seventh International Music and Dance Festival in Bangkok,” says artistic director Lauren Jonas, “where we were the only ballet company represented. The United States Embassy in Bangkok was our official sponsor. It was a really exciting opportunity for us.”

On the homefront, the company has recently branched out into the idiom of the story ballet from its previously all-abstract repertory.

“Our first effort was a one-act version of `Carmen,’” she says, “an innovative story-within-a-story. We also did a version of `Petroushka’ done in a very modern style and employing film as an essential part of the design.”

The past year has also added a one-act “Magic Toy Store”—the same music and theme as the Rossini-Respighi La Boutique Fantasque but with outrageously updated characters. New this season is “The Legend of Taj Mahal,” to a composite score featuring pieces of Philip Glass, Ravi Shankar, and Peter Gabriel.

“We’re trying to widen our audience base,” explains Jonas. “`Magic Toy Store’ was intended specifically to appeal to families, while, with `Taj Mahal,’ we were hoping to find something that could be enjoyed by a more cross-cultural audience.”

Both ventures were successful, with “The Legend of Taj Mahal” netting the company an invitation to tour the production to India as well as to parts of Europe. Another innovation with some of these productions: sets and costumes are all more elaborate. Many of the abstract repertory pieces had been built with outstanding, innovative lighting design serving as the de facto scenery.

For this show, the company is reprising KT Nelson’s “Walk Before Talk.” New for this area will be Viktor (brother of associate artistic director Nikolai) Kabaniaev’s “Opus for a Table” and “Pas de Quatre et Pas de Six” by brother Nikolai.

“When KT Nelson, who directs ODC/Dance, came to make `Walk Before Talk’ on us,” recalls Jonas, “she had this interesting way of working that made the piece just so developed on the talents of the people who were then in the company. She would say, `Here’s the base phrase, now you two go over there and do something with it. You two make it a pas de deux. You others do something with it that gets your legs high.’ So it’s always interesting to see new dancers learn the parts that were done, for instance, by someone who turned extremely well and made of his part a section that was nothing but turns.”

Set to the music of Michael Nyman, the piece prompted Nelson to say, “This work is about finding the sensual and lyrical quality of the male dancers, while allowing the women to be both frail and facilitators.” It is high-energy, athletic, and fun.

“Opus for a Table” has proved, like Nelson’s piece, an audience favorite, according to Jonas. Kabaniaev studied in Germany, and the piece, Jonas feels, has a very European style that may remind people of, say, Jiri Kylian, especially when it comes to port de bras work. (It is, however, danced on pointe.) The piece was constructed for (of course) a table and three couples. Although it includes humorous elements (including very un-classical partnering), says Jonas, it is a beautiful piece. Score includes works by Beethoven, Schubert and Saint-Saens.

“Pas De Quatre et Pas De Six” bears the interesting distinction of being Diablo’s “signature rock ballet.” White classical tutus and a commissioned pop/rock score mainly by Michael Bemesderfer combine with funky movement to produce a piece meant to tweak both the ballet and modern entertainment aesthetics and fool the audience.

Although an increasing audience base might allow the company to expand its ranks from 10, Jonas feels she would like to limit expansion. “A part of the original vision of the company,” she points out, “is that it would remain small enough that our audience could identify with individual dancers. We want to maintain that.”

Also on the horizon for them is a new work by Nikolai Kabaniaev celebrating the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Rather than having dancers rattling around the stage, though, Kabaniaev is concentrating on celebrating the technological advances that have occurred since that fateful day.

“For Park City,” Jonas concludes, “we tried to pick a dynamic program that would thrill our audience. We’re so excited to be coming back!”

Diablo Ballet performs at The George S. and Dolores Doré at Eccles Center for the Performing Arts (1750 Kearns Blvd., Park City) on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15$50 (special prices for children under 12 and Summit County students K12) via the Eccles Center at (435) 655-3114 or


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