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Festival Opens With Ballet

May 22, 1992

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ The Spoleto Festival U.S.A., which usually opens with a concert or an opera, opened for the first time this year with a ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.

The company rose to the challenge of a gala evening. The dance was followed by a banquet under a huge tent in the backyard of the theater, the Gaillard Auditorium.

Its program Thursday evening was almost as varied as it could be. It began with two neo-classical George Balanchine ballets, continued with the U.S. premiere of a wild avante-garde piece and concluded with ″Gaite Parisienne″ with its frothy can-can.

The new piece was ″Segunda Piel,″ which means second skin in Spanish. Dancers wore leotards, tight like a second skin. American choreographer Karole Armitage, who works a lot in Europe, has said that one needs a second skin to survive in today’s world. Ear plugs would have been a good idea, too, for the David Shea music which begins percussive and then becomes as loud and assaulting as a war.

The dance has interesting, high-kicking duets between dancers in white and black, which could be seen as the struggle between forces of light and dark. The dancing becomes frenetic, with a ″you should drop dead″ attitude. Some duets are hot and sexy. Lighting is decidedly weird. Sometimes dancers move in the dark. A small stage appears at the back, with ″entertainment″ other dancers don’t watch. Four men in police uniforms and dark glasses appear. They look threatening, but they do mild jazz dance.

It’s too long. When one is hit with an avant-garde pow, repeating it is an anti-climax. But ″Segunda Piel″ isn’t predictable, and it is exciting.

″Raymonda Variations,″ which opened the evening, began with Frederic Olivieri partnering the secure ballerina Laura Contardi. His first variation was adequate, then his next variation was dazzling, with high leaps and jumps and splendid line. Olivieri knows how to build a performance for excitement.

Patricia Neary, once a charming leading dancer in Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, staged ″Raymonda Variations″ for the company at its home in Monaco.

Paola Cantalupo and Jean-Charles Gil managed to be both cool in technique and happily ecstatic in Balanchine’s ″Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.″

The evening ended very upbeat with Leonide Massine’s 1938 ″Gaite Parisienne″ as staged by his son, Lorca Massine. The Offenbach music is as effervescent as ever. The costumes were a froth of color. We’ve seen the glove seller portrayed more beguilingly but Paola Cantalupo certainly can dance the part.

The festival’s final night, on June 7, at Middleton Place plantation, also will break with tradition, presenting jazz by the Duke Ellington Orchestra instead of a classical orchestral concert.

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