By Mary Hierholzer
The North Atlantic Dance Theatre’s June gala was, like the company itself, a modest hidden gem on the North Shore. Performing at Beverly’s Larcom Theatre, the small company is a much-needed balletic presence north of Boston.
Founded in 1979 as “Dragongarde,” the North Atlantic Dance Theatre (NADT) is saturated in Boston dance history and is the project of ex-Boston Ballet dancers Rachel Whitman and the late Skip Warren. The company has maintained a Boston-area presence over the years, complete with apprentice and outreach programs. Now, NADT is ushered into today’s world of dance by Mr. Whitman’s and Ms. Warren’s daughter, Lucy Warren-Whitman, who took leadership of the company after Mr. Whitman passed away.
Ms. Warren-Whitman’s voice, as evidenced in NADT’s 2017 gala, is clear, bold and artistic. Her company presented three pieces representing distinct styles and attitudes of ballet: Les Sylphides, 2013 company original Rinzafore and Ms. Warren-Whitman’s own Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
In addition to the main company, the performance featured apprentices, who filled out the stage—quite literally. It was impressive for the company to showcase so many dancers; it just came back to bite them when the small stage could barely hold them. This hiccup was hardly NADT’s fault, but more a testament to the competitive nature of securing sufficient stage space. Even Boston Ballet performs on a stage that is technically too small for standard balletic productions.
In a nice nod to ballet tradition, the ensemble emanated an ethereal presence first in the classical Les Sylphides, Mikhail Fokine’s 1909 ballet of sylphs draped in white dancing around a male poet in black, set to atmospheric piano music by Chopin (for this performance, a recording). I was pleased with the dancers’ attention to detail in their port de bras, striking the sylphs’ iconic delicate and dreamy poses.
Other aspects, though, lacked strength. The dancers’ movements were often abbreviated, perhaps at times due to the small stage, and some visibly struggled with the choreography and timing. One soloist was unable to complete her promenade. For the most part, I enjoyed Noah Herron’s performance as The Poet—he brought good drama, high jumps and a beautiful arabesque, but his energy seemed to wane throughout the demanding ballet.
Rinzafore was a stark contrast to Les Sylphides, and the company seemed more at home in the piece, which was choreographed for them by Director Emeritus Thomas Vacanti. A contemporary ballet (with a hint of Balanchine) playing on the variations of movement, rhythm and shapes, Rinzafore was a thoroughly interesting piece to watch, with a good variety of solos, pas de deux and ensemble work.
In Rinzafore, I especially enjoyed guest dancer Jacob Hoover (Festival Ballet Providence), a confident, clean and artistic dancer whose recent performance with the Tony Williams Ballet Company also caught my eye. This was a piece that NADT wore well.
The “Spring” and “Summer” excerpts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons were a pleasant neoclassical conclusion to the show, rounding out the gala’s spectrum of styles. Aside from the bright green lighting at the beginning and end, Ms. Warren-Whitman’s Four Seasons was tasteful and evocative. She made good use of Vivaldi’s dynamic arpeggios with cascades of port de bras, and showcased wistful melodies with romantic pas de deux. Her choreography offered what the eye commanded to see to the familiar music that is such an inspiring piece of music for ballet.
Mr. Hoover and guest Eugenia Zinovieva (Festival Ballet Providence), whose credentials include training with Ethan Stiefel and Boston Ballet School, gave the most enjoyable and compelling performance of the afternoon in this piece during a lovely partnering, with an especially nice toss into a fish dive (pictured in the first photo).
Ms. Warren-Whitman’s artistic leadership of NADT shone in their spring gala, and though the company showed some weaknesses in technique, their performance left me enthused to watch how their much-needed balletic presence continues to develop on the North Shore.