Patrons and dance aficionados came together Saturday night for the Laguna Dance Festival's 7th annual "Stars of Dance" gala performance at the Laguna Playhouse.
Special guests Tiler Peck and Joaquin DeLuz of the New York City Ballet paved the way for a string of transfixing performances by the likes of Colorado Ballet, Ballet X, Smuin Ballet, and students from UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts.
Despite valiant efforts from the Colorado Ballet and Smuin Ballet duos to measure up, Peck and DeLuz stole the show. Peck and DeLuz's opening pas de deux was, without question, a tough act to follow, spoiling the audience with George Balanchine's legendary choreography.
"Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux," set to an excerpt from Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" ballet, showcased the pair's captivating personalities and credibility as enchanting, young lovers.
A charismatic Peck floated in the air as she basked in a sea of orange flourishes. Her effortless agility and control made for an intriguing sight of tight, defined footwork transitioning into a glorious release of extension.
DeLuz, a Spaniard, supported Peck every step of the way. But he earned his share of the spotlight in mid-solo moments, which garnered continual applause for his eternal sequence of turns in second.
In Act Two, the pair took the stage once again in "Rubies Pas De Deux," another Balanchine work set to Stravinsky's dynamic, and even eccentric, "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra." Once again, the pair was right on pointe, but now embodied a new set of vainly regal characters.
However, the primary feature of the Peck-DeLuz duo lay not in their superior technical precision and seamless flow, but in their mastery of storytelling.
Ballet X's inseparable duo, Cloe Horn and William Cannon, pirouetted into a close second with the Act One showstopper "It's Not A Cry," set to Leonard Cohen's tender cover of "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley.
Cannon is a rare treasure and was clearly the strongest male dancer coming out of Ballet X on Saturday evening. His strong, zealous movements combined with a tireless commitment to the music, choreography and emotional nuisances made him unmistakable as he lived in the moment.
Amy Seiwert's contemporary ballet choreography was poignant and inventive, especially when Chloe Horn used a black jacket to bind her lover's feet in an absorbing optical illusion.
Like an artist with her brush, Seiwart cordially painted this couple's rocky relationship through the eyes of human experience.
Smuin Ballet dancers Robin Cornwell and Jonathan Dummar had a lackluster opening in "The Man I Love," from Dancin' With Gershwin. But the pair made leaps and bounds in Act Two with "El Pollito," from Tango Palace.
Michael Smuin's tango-infused choreography pulsated with the music in a vivid flair of visually appealing movement, accented by Ann Beck's sensual, flowing costumes. Despite the Cornwell-Dummar duo's suave corporal execution, their chemistry was superficial, resembling a strictly physical relationship that lacked genuine emotion.
Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov of the Colorado Ballet made a brief, illustrious entrance as Greek gods in Asaf Messerer's "Spring Waters".
Later, audiences took a more in-depth look at the duo in "Esmeralda," which originally made its world premiere in 1844 at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. Colorado Ballet's modern rendition, still set to Cesare Pugni's playful musical themes, featured choreography by Nicholas Beriosoff based on the original work of Jules Perrot.
Although Mosina appeared flustered during the piece, she was still managed to balance on pointe as her leg skyrocketed into the air, kicking a miniature tambourine she raised overhead. Also, Tyukov, a veteran of the stage, exuded command and authority during his own solo moments.
Throughout the evening, the abundant duets were broken up with medium to large group performances by students from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts dance department and Ballet X.
The UCI students performed a longer excerpt of Jodie Gates' "Mein Zimmer," which made up for a dissatisfying performance given during the Festival's Art Walk preview at the Laguna Art Museum earlier this month.
Ballet X ultimately redeemed itself in Michael Keenan's "The Last Glass," after a satisfactory performance of "Delicate Balance."
Although Jodie Gates' novel choreography and staggering construction of organized chaos proved eye-catching, there lacked a resonance with the audience. The innovative movement was all show and no story, which separated this piece from others like the Act One closer, "It's Not A Cry," which brought the audience to their feet.
That said, the Laguna Playhouse has earned the right to be called a theatrical gem of Laguna Beach, and the same can be said of Jodie Gates, the dance festival's professed brains, beauty, visionary founder and artistic director.
A 30-year veteran of the professional dance field and proponent of dance education at UCI, Gates is the quintessential face of her organization's mission: to propel accessibility to dance, while creating the next generation of dancers alongside top professional companies.