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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts


Gerald Carpenter: State Street Ballet Dancing Season to Big Finish

Comedienne Wendy Liebman will open Friday's 'Grand Finale' at the Granada Theatre

Sylphs bear their dead comrade aloft while her human lover grieves in the State Street Ballet’s La Sylphide.
Sylphs bear their dead comrade aloft while her human lover grieves in the State Street Ballet’s La Sylphide.  (David Bazemore photo / State Street Ballet)

By Gerald Carpenter, Noozhawk Contributor |

The State Street Ballet, known for its innovative choreography and unique style, will bring its 16th season to a triumphant close with a performance/party — a “Grande Finale” — at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Granada Theatre.

At the helm are Executive Director Rodney Gustafson, Managing Director Tim Mikel, and ballet masters Marina Fliagina and Gary McKenzie.

This is an anthology, but not a “State Street Ballet’s Greatest Hits.” After the opening monologue by comedienne Wendy Liebman, the program — mostly new — will consist of four works: La Sylphide, with choreography by August Bournonville, music by Herman Severin Lovenskiold, and staged by Marina Fliagina and Gary McKenzie; Sinatra, with choreography by Victoria Simon, music by various songwriters and performed by Frank Sinatra; Isle, choreographed by William Soleau to music from the opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell; and Tango Rain, also choreographed by Soleau to music by Astor Piazzolla.

As you will note in the above credits, La Sylphide is not to be confused with Les Syphides (choreographed by Michel Fokine with music by Frédéric Chopin and orchestrated by Alexander Glazunov, around the turn of the last century). La Sylphide, singular, is much older. It is, according to most ballet historians, “one of the world’s oldest surviving romantic ballets.”

The story of a young Scotsman, James, who falls in love with a Sylph — a wood sprite — La Sylphide came to the public in two versions. In 1832, the Paris Opera presented the ballet with choreography by Filippo Taglioni and music by Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer. In 1836, when Danish balletmaster Bournonville wanted to stage the Taglioni version in Copenhagen, the Paris Opera wanted too much money for the sheet music, so Bournonville choreographed his own version, and hired Løvenskiold to write another score. It is this version that has survived and will be performed by the State Street Ballet.

With its misty and gloomy forest setting, its mixture of real and supernatural, and its very unhappy ending, La Sylphide set the tone for most 19th-century ballets.

After a 20-minute break — enabling us to sigh, blow our noses and dry our eyes — we will be seduced into a very different world, the smoky nightclub sophistication of Sinatra, possibly inspired by Twyla Tharp’s “Come Fly With Me.”

Most 17th-century operas had ballets between the singing bouts, and Purcell’s Dido is no exception, although it may not be the designated ballet music that Soleau choreographed for Isle. The 17th century was, indeed, obsessed with the sad tale of Dido, Queen of Carthage, who was seduced and abandoned by the Trojan refugee prince, Aeneas, on his way from the fall of Troy to the founding of Rome. When Dido begins her swan song at the end of Purcell’s amazing opera, we get a rather startling preview of the romantic movement almost two hundred years ahead of schedule.

Piazolla seems to have become almost obligatory in contemporary programs, but since the tango is, basically, a dance, one can’t help but feel Piazolla’s music is better served on the ballet stage than in the concert hall.

Tickets for the “Grande Finale” are $100, $53 and $28 and are available at the Granada box office. Click here or call 805.899.2222.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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