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"Four Seasons" premiere for all seasons
Vivaldi's beloved musical cycle lives admirably in Mark Foehringer's new ballet, "The Four Seasons."

“MFDP: The Four Seasons”
September, 2001

by Melinda Lightfoot
copyright ©2001 by Oakland Tribune

Its world premiere was performed last weekend by the Mark Foehringer Dance Project, a company of nine outstanding dance artists, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

The entire dance concert, which included three other works, was choreographed by Foehringer, who creates contemporary ballet by fusing classical skills with modern dance sensibilities. Add a deep allegiance to music and narrative value and voila! A lively and engaging dance performance, marked by both humor and passion.

We hear the first movement of Vivaldi's "Spring" before the curtain rises. Then, just as one season opens naturally into another, the curtain opens for Tatiana A'Virmond dancing a rhapsodic invitation in "Opening." She cradles a round belly, rich with child. Balancing fruitfulness and new beginnings with lyrical movement, this dance prelude seems Renaissance-inspired.

"Spring" then blossoms into three lovely flowers, a troublemaker of a bumblebee and a silver-garbed butterfly, the bee's competition for nectar-sharing. Vivaldi would have enjoyed this playfulness hugely, I believe.

"Summer" enters in chinos and tees to explore identity and relationship. The green sapling of spring has become a good-sized tree on the screen behind the dancers.

In "Fall," picnickers from a simpler time entertain us with their unselfconscious play. Angie Allen dances a sweet young thing whose flirting awakens Scott Stevens, brilliant as a bumptious boy-to-man.

In "Boughs," David Kato and Matt Kovac portray tree branches, stretching, extending and supporting each other. This pas de deux is thoughtful and elegant, and Kato and Kovac do it justice. Then come the winds of autumn, wonderfully depicted as the various picnickers struggle mightily to advance against a wind that wraps the young folks in a tablecloth and blows everyone back to the wings.

"Winter" is exhilarating because to Foehringer it is a season of old age. Senior citizens on walkers hobble and shuffle, fighting among themselves for the last doughnut, the chair cushion, the newspaper. Suddenly, the dancers toss their walkers in concert, jump onto the side rungs, and pound them on the floor in time to the overriding, wild joy of Vivaldi's crackling ice-storm music. In delightful parody, a fitness instructor appears in brilliant turquoise spandex and the oldsters quietly revert to their expected states of decrepitude.

Three works follow: First the nuances of clouds are illuminated in "Nuages," set to Debussy and performed with strength and grace by Graciela Acedo, Janine Bryan and Matt Kovac. The threesome flowed together and apart just as moisture in the sky forms itself into flowing shapes.

The second work was "Of These, Hope," based on Peter Gabriel's music for "The Last Temptation of Christ." Annette Williams' performance was a gift to the audience, by turns exuberant, searching and awestruck into surrender.

The concert ended with "Rhapsodia," a whimsical whodunit set to Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." At his own dinner party, Rodney Pellingham-Smythe falls dead in his soup.

Was it his sister or her profligate boyfriend? Zoe, the young socialite in disgrace? Vera, the wronged wife? Her penniless lover? Or Mickey the boxer, who has just lost Rodney's patronage?

My favorite was Mrs. Wickersham, the bored, long-suffering housekeeper who suddenly throws all caution aside, lets down her hair and breaks into wild abandon. The costumes are gorgeous. The table rolls apart into individual units as the group splinters into suspicion and isolation.

The backdrop reflects ghostly images of faces distorted by accusation and blame. The story is handled with wit and grace, the dancing is superb and the ending ... remains a secret.

The program notes on the music for this concert were informative and well-written. Mark Foehringer Dance Project was founded in 1995 and has performed in California, New York and the Caribbean. Foehringer is also artistic director and school director of Western Ballet in Mountain View.

September, 2001
copyright ©2001 Oakland Tribune
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