Lifechance: A Sumptuous, Masculine Meal

I won’t call this a review, because I believe reviews should be written by people who have expertise in the art form being commented upon. That said, I would like, from the perspective of a lay person who adores watching dance performances, to comment on Columbia Classical Ballet’s 2012 Lifechance International Ballet Gala of the Stars on January 21 at the Koger Center. I’ve attended several Lifechance performances in past years, and they’ve always been crowd-pleasers. The 2012 performance, too, brought people to their feet. It was different, however, from what I’ve personally experienced in the past for a couple of reasons. Most dramatic for me from the start was the eclecticism demonstrated by this year’s dance and choreographic talent.

The very first number, titled “Tryptych,” dramatically showcased the perhaps unexpected modern dance proclivities of Columbia Classical Ballet company members. Stark, minimalist costumes and set allowed the audience to focus exclusively on the performers themselves as they moved in ways that were rather un-Swan-Lake-like yet mesmerizingly fresh and sometimes quirky. I don’t know whether the dancers’ movements were supposed to be synchronized. They were not, and I do not know whether that was intended. I would have like to see more unison and tightness in this one company performance. In this particular number, there may have been too many dancers on stage at once or they did not have adequate time to rehearse because, even given the free-form, stream-of consciousness nature of the genre, it came across as a bit confused and, dare I say, kind of clunky. Ordinarily, I very much enjoy modern dance, but this number, choreographed by Rick McCullough, failed to deliver for me personally, though I applaud its inventiveness.

(Editor's Note:  Jasper loves a teachable moment. What Kristine witnessed when she wasn't sure "whether the dancers’ movements were supposed to be synchronized," is called a canon.  A canon is a choreographic form that reflects the musical form of the same name in which individuals and groups perform the same movement phrase beginning at different times. Canons can be confusing, particularly to the untrained eye -- which Kristine is very forthcoming in her claim to have. In retrospect, it turns out that the Columbia Classical Ballet Company was performing the piece to the specifications of the choreographer after all.)

By far, the performances I enjoyed the most occurred in the second half of the show. Call me sentimental, but my personal favorite was “The Man I Love” from George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Lauren Fadeley Veyette and Ian Hussey of the Pennsylvania Ballet were absolutely breathtaking to watch and exhibited a truly believable romantic chemistry along with beautifully precise movements. I really could not take my eyes off this dazzling couple.

Of course, Classical Ballet principal dancers Lauren Frere and Ivan Popov are among my favorite dancers to watch locally. Popov exudes a lovely balance of passion and professional polish. Every time he dances, I can imagine how much joy he gives and receives in performing. And without fail, the willowy Frere makes what must be rigorous appear effortless. I’ve never seen her when she did not exhibit perfection. Together, Popov and Frere were elegant and enchanting in “Somewhere in Time,” which was beautifully choreographed by Simone Cuttino.

Another unexpected element to this year’s Lifechance performance was the plethora of amazing male dancers. This truly was a show that allowed the men to shine. In my experience, it’s almost always been about the women with the men in supporting, almost wallpaper-like roles. Not so on this night. Everyone eagerly anticipated the return of Elgin native Brooklyn Mack to the Columbia stage. Mack, who first studied under company Director Radenco Pavlovich and has been with the Washington Ballet for two years now, delivered stunning athleticism and grace in appearances that seemed a little too brief for me. I really wanted to see more, but what Mack gave, he gave 100 percent. When Mack leaps, he seems literally suspended in the air for longer than usual before landing flawlessly and flowing into his next visual passage. It is such a treat to watch Brooklyn Mack dance for any length of time.

Another notable male performer was Columbia Classical Ballet soloist Willie Moore of Columbia. When he is on the stage, he rather steals the show with his riveting presence and lightning quick execution, from the unbounded energy of his leaps to the stunning speed of his spins. Moore always delivers an exhilarating performance. I also enjoyed watching male company members Hiroyuki Nagasawa and Oleksandr Vykhrest. It’s completely irrelevant, but on this night, I noticed that, on stage and from a distance, Vykhrest looks a tad like the actor Alec Baldwin (just saying).

One of the biggest surprises of the evening, however, was Chong Sun of the Washington Ballet, who took the stage by storm in a contemporary montage of drama, acrobatics, speed, and captivating showmanship. According to the program, Sun will be Columbia Classical Ballet’s newest member next season. I can’t wait to see more from this talented young man.

Aside from delivering some of the finest dance performances of the year to Columbia, Lifechance first and foremost is a charity event, this year benefitting the Harvest Hope Food Bank − a great cause in a difficult economy that has increased demand for food bank resources to new levels. Lifechance was a welcome feast that ably satisfied a city’s cultural appetite while helping stave off hunger of another kind.

Kristine Hartvigsen is the associate editor of Jasper Magazine - The Word on Columbia Arts.

For more of Kristine, read her article on Stephen Chesley, her poem Horizontal Hold, and her review of artist Lindsay Wiggins.

Contact Kristine at