A Night of Gems: Metro Ballet's 5th Anniversary Gala

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The art of ballet is that its beauty distracts from the craft's supreme athleticism. It's lovely. It's synergistic, coordinating music and painstakingly-planned movement.

And with near-constant motion, it's a lot of work. You think those rippling-muscled performers lift themselves?

If one show requires this much energy, imagine seven in one night -- or five years of it. At Pantages Theater on June 12, the Metropolitan Ballet celebrated its fifth anniversary with a gala showcase.

Centered around Giselle, Act II, featuring international gold medalist and prima ballerina Tatiana Berenova, the evening had the feeling of something grand in scope. From the shuddering, ominous introductory strings, Giselle felt every bit the dark, epic tale it is. Utilizing every inch of the stage and the full talents of more than a dozen dancers, the Metro's performance gives author Theophile Gautier's magnum opus the broad, sweeping treatment it deserves.

Lush costuming and spectacular body control by Berenova and her counterparts were on display throughout. Of necessity, the soloists caught most spotlights, but the close-quarters precision of chorus line dancers ought not go unmentioned.

Yet for all its allure, Giselle seemed overly long, dragging in spots. This could not be said the shorter, post-intermezzo pieces, each of which was an intricate gem.

All were worth savoring. Most memorable was "Epiphany," created by dancer/choreographer Ramon Thielen. The lively work, backed by accordion music, explores questions of individual and group identity. A real star turn for lead dancer Shannon Corbet, who sheds her tutu in the waning moments, the piece is a fusion of classical ballet movement with modern, Latin-influenced styles. Well-received by the audience, "Epiphany" is an elegant jewel where longtime followers of ballet and neophytes alike can find much to love.

Thielen also shone brightly as a performer in "Roasted Swan" from the Carmina Burana, the evening's other highlight. The familiar music combined with Thielen's awe-inspiring dance metamorphosis to evoke so much at once -- life and death, transformation and pain, darkness and light. From his entrance on a spit to his solitary final pose holding a single glowing item, the 25-year veteran of professional performance was masterful.

And then the finale, "La Esmeralda." The program's structure -- hour-long Giselle before intermission, followed by six distinct works after -- permitted Berenova to triumphantly return for a final pas de deux and pas de six, shining until the end.

On a night of anniversaries (this mark's Berenova's 20th year as a professional performer), the finale was a fitting celebration of the cast's dedication to their craft. We in the audience were tired just from the clapping.

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