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The Royal Ballet's "A Ravel Evening" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center opens with La Valse. Choreographed by Frederick Ashton, this is an elegantly British piece. It's set in a grand ballroom with chandeliers, big hanging drapes at the sides, and four attendants holding candles at the back. The men are in black tails, and the twenty or so couples who open, pair off, then line the sides with all men, then all women, then mixed again. This is a very athletic piece, with lots of leaps, lifts, and twirls. La Valse has a very Fred Astaire feel to it.

Next is Christopher Wheeldon's haunting pas de deux, Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte. It's a stark set, all in whites with subdued violets, blues, and greens. A single, half wilted giant Calla Lily is upside down at the back of the stage, with it's stem stretching almost to the top. Darcey Bussell is the elusive Princess who is like a dream as she floats like a breeze around the stage, seemingly on legs of elasticized steel. She is pursued by Jonathan Cope. When he dances with her, he's recalling her touch, her feel, as he looks from side to side for her. He's not with her, but he's recalling the memory of his dead Princess. This a beautifully ethereal and poignant Pavane.

 
La Fin du Jour is choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan to Ravel's "Piano Cto. in G." The designs and choreography were inspired by fashion plates from Europe of the 1930's. It has that Kurt Weill/Bertholt Brecht anything goes feel to it. The ensemble opens with mechanically kinetic movement but the motion smoothes out when the four principles enter. William Trevitt and Michael Nunn have their way with Belinda Hatley and Leanne Benjamin, as they're passed over their heads and all around. Benjamin is especially fluid and graceful as she effortlessly extends her leg, holds her toe with her fingers, and extends the other leg as she's passed over the top.

The final work is Daphnis et Chloe, choreographed by Frederick Ashton. We have walls that look like sandstone with Greek writing on them. A big statue of Pan is at the rear, with a couple of trees. Some elasticized material is stretched across the sand dune that makes it shimmer as it stretches into the distance. The Greek style costumes complete the feel of the pictures painted on Greek vases. There is an enthralling pas de quatre as Nicola Tranah's Lykanion tries to lure Daphnis away, while Michael Nunn's Dorkon tries for Chloe. Lightning flashes as the pirates kidnap Chloe. Daphnis lies unconscious as the three nymphs of Pan appear all in white from head to toe, with rainbow reflections in their cloaks. Daphnis awakens and the statue of Pan comes alive, and along with the three nymphs points the way to Chloe. In the pirates camp we have a pagan totem with a deep star-studded sky and crescent moon. As the pirates and their women dance, their leader Bryaxis carries Chloe high on his shoulders and exhibits her to his troops. The moon suddenly becomes full and Pan appears in it. Chloe is freed as the pirates flee. Daphnis and Chloe are reunited, and are carried to each other on the shoulders of the ensemble as they embrace high in the air. They're set down, and he lifts her high in celebration. Stuart Cassidy is strength and grace as Daphnis. His sheer athleticism enables him to capture all of Ravel's fluid nuances. Sarah Wildor captures all of the sensuality and lyricism of Chloe. She smoothly depicts the retiring shepherdess in love with Daphnis, is distressed by the advances of Dorkon and Lykanion, is vulnerable but defiant when she is captured by pirates, and triumphantly exultant as the lovers reunite at the end. The Pacific Sym. Orch. was led by Anthony Twiner in Pavane and La Fin du Jour, with pianist Philip Gammon. Emanuel Plasson conducted La Valse and Daphnis et Chloe with the Pacific Chorale and Sym. in "A Ravel Evening" with the Royal Ballet at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

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