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REVIEW: Carolina Ballet’s “Rhapsody in Blue” puts a uniquely American twist on ballet

A poster for Carolina Ballet’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” (Carolina Ballet)

The spotlights shone on the Fletcher Opera Theater and heralded Carolina Ballet’s latest performance, “Rhapsody in Blue,which opened Feb. 1. Choreographed by Zalman Raffael, the performance was accompanied with music celebrating American composer George Gershwin’s work known for twisting classical music with American jazz elements from the 1920s. “Rhapsody in Blue” is a delightfully breathtaking performance that brings uniquely American music and dance styles to the stage.  

Two performances preceded the main event: “An American in Paris” choreographed by Amy Hall Garner and “Gershwin Shorts” by Lynne Taylor-Corbett.  

“An American in Paris” incorporated music and steps influenced by jazz that had a happy go-lucky vintage feeling. With the principal dancers Margaret Severin-Hansen and Richard Krusch, the piece set the stage for an amazing night. 

“Gershwin Shorts” is a collection of seven story-telling dances akin to silent movies. The crowd favorites were “Renegade Tutu” performed by Courtney Schenberger, who brought the story of a woman trapped in a dancing tutu to life with her dramatic facial expressions; “Library Lullaby” performed by Mia Domini and Marcelo Martinez in a comedic piece about an unlikely couple finding love in a library; and “Midnight Memory” performed by Amanda Gerhardt and Kiefer Curtis about a married couple reminiscing about the love they used to have. Expressive and emotional, the unconventional performance was a triumph. 

The pièce de resistance, “Rhapsody in Blue,” was a simple yet stunning performance. Carolina Ballet’s production masterfully celebrated George Gershwin’s work by twisting traditional American jazz with classical ballet. Unincumbered by heavy costumes, the dancers adorned themselves in layers of glittering tulle with mosaic-like detailing on the bodice of their costumes. Combined with a simple setting, the black background transitioned into the night sky, giving the performance a beautiful timeless quality. Led by Alyssa Pilger, Jan Burkhard, Joseph Gerhardt, Deirdre Scanlon and Braden Hart, the dancers seamlessly portrayed what it would have felt like to be Gershwin, a young man who was thrust into the heart of the American dream and culture and brought a new life to the music scene of the time, only to pass away at 38 after reaching the pinnacle of his career. The hope and life of the performance was a beautiful tribute to the composer’s life and work, which is just as influential today as it was a century ago.  

 

Carolina Ballet’s rates start at $10 for students. Performances of “Rhapsody in Blue” will continue until Feb. 18, ticket information can be found on the Carolina Ballet website. 

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