Ballet performance by North Coast Dance.
June 7 at the Arkley Center
It was a pleasure to sit in the tastefully ornate Arkley Center in Eureka on a Saturday afternoon. North Coast Dance's artistic director, Danny Furlong, choreographed his vision of Jack and the Beanstalk as a vehicle for his company members and younger students to show off their chops, which they did. Dancers of different levels of training successfully worked together to tell this classic children's fairy tale. Most surprising was the elaborate, original score composed by Ryan Birdwell. As I listened in the lush theater setting, I longed for a live orchestra, which is, unfortunately, unaffordable this day and age. The recording of the score was clean and, nonetheless, served the music well. And the Arkley Center proved a perfect size venue for dance performances. Its casual austerity gives the art of dance its due respect without leaving us out of the action.
Although the first act dragged a bit, set designer Jerry Wallace's staging of a leafy beanstalk growing toward the heavens, with young Jack (played by a roguishly charming Tadesse Samuelson) climbing to the top, promised a magical second act.
Expectations were fulfilled as we were given entrée to the Giant's lair. The familiar characters here were delightfully fresh. With black crushed velvet pants covering very tall stilts, a wig and a big crown, the Giant, played wonderfully understated by Darus Trutna, seemed to be a giant, indeed. Heather Walker's Goose was hilarious, as she fluttered her wings and laid golden eggs from her nest through a chute down to the adorable Giant's minions below, a group of 10-year-old dancers who both acted and danced like pros.
Most unexpected was Leelou Wisemyn as the Harp, draped in sparkling gold. Not only did she come off the harp to open and arch her liquid torso, who knew she could also sing — opera, no less — and make us laugh with her Italian diva accent?
This Jack was a love story: young, penniless Jack in love with the Butcher's Daughter, an endearing young ballerina, Briana Cavinta, who stole our hearts. Equally lovely was her group of Friends. These five aspiring dancers, at 14, are at an age when a devoted dancer begins to get a handle on her technique, allowing her to trust the steps she's practiced for years and give herself to the dancing itself. I loved watching their unisons and the confidence they each expressed.
Furlong has a knack for training dancers who come to him in their late teens or older, most unusual in the ballet world. Many of his dancers — like two of the magnetic performers who had the juicy roles of wanton Gypsies, Stephanie Kim and Abra Labarre — trained before they came here. But others — like the third charismatic Gypsy Iris Van Atta, along with Wisemyn and buoyant Sam Campbell as the Baker — came to North Coast Dance as older beginners, with others in the troupe. One would be hard pressed to tell who had started as a ballet baby and who had not.
The rest of the dancers rounded out the cast with solid performances, including Toby Hennessy as the Harpist and Alfred Tix as the Monk. My eye is always drawn to older dancers, whose mature presence fills the daunting space of a big stage. Laura James played Jack's mother sympathetically, as we watched a romance blossom between her and another widower, the Butcher, handsomely played by Mark Hapgood. Sandy Sanderson, the Giant's Wife, stole every scene she was in, dramatically enduring her indenture as the Giant's wench, until her flushed emancipation from his hold. Hal Bahr's Bean Seller was quite dastardly.
My 9-year-old's favorites were the Three Trees, who, to his disappointment did not unveil themselves in the final bow. Ah, but the mystery, my dear one.