Tag Archives: Sasha York

Bohemian Rhapsody

October 6, 2014 by

Thunderous applause ushered in Ballet Nebraska’s fifth season when the blood-red Orpheum curtain dropped on the company’s beautifully staged production of the hauntingly macabre Giselle.

The classic work first staged in 1841 was a perfectly spectral prelude to the Halloween season, and the ballet’s eerie second act sent shivers down this reviewer’s spine.

Erin Alarcón, in perhaps her meatiest role yet, soared as the naive, coquettish peasant girl swept of her feet by Albrecht, a Rhineland Duke (Matthew Carter) who is sowing his last wild oats before marriage to one of his high-placed peers. The omnipresent castle looming on a hill in the background was a constant reminder of the young nobleman’s caddish behavior, and it didn’t take long for local huntsman Hilarion (the electrifying Sasha York) to expose Albrecht’s ruse in a love triangle that had fatal consequences for the weak-hearted title character.

Erin Alarcón as Giselle
Featured Image: Matthew Carter (Hilarion) and Erin Alarcón

The first act was a vividly playful splash of frivolity saturated in bright hues, thanks in large part to Deborah Overturff’s vibrant costumes. It all played out like some Technicolor throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood—think The Adventures of Robin Hood or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

The diminutive dancer was marvelous as the carefree peasant girl, but Alarcón really turned up the heat in the final scene of the first act when the Duke’s betrayal literally breaks the tender heart of the grief-stricken Giselle. Her finely acted, wild-eyed, hair-pulling anguish painted a disturbing scene, one that was no less harrowing than the very best renditions of the famously blood-soaked mad scene from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

The second act was the polar opposite of the first. Set in a darkly monochromatic, fog-shrouded forest that veritably drips with ominous foreboding, it was there that we were introduced to the veiled Queen of the Wilis (a splendid turn by Erika Overturff) and her gaggle of gossamer ghouls who possess the spirit of the now undead Giselle.

Fueled by Carter’s gravity-defying artistry, the tug of war between Albrecht and the Wilis sets the stage for some of the most ethereally stunning choreography delivered to date by the still-young company. Torn between allegiances to both her lover and her sisterhood of sylphs, Giselle and Albrecht must dance feverishly until dawn to break the spell so that she may finally rest in peace.

Joining Alarcón in demonstrating the power that great acting can have on a ballet was Judith Leppek. Her expressive take on the role of Giselle’s mother drove much of the narrative elements of the first act, and this fine actress can elevate to high art the seemingly throw-away machinations of a simple nod, grimace, or shrug.

Alarcón is now well on her way to establishing herself as one of the stars of Ballet Nebraska, but it was Vivi DiMarco that delivered a breakout performance on the Orpheum stage the other night. Her unforgettable solo in the first act had this reviewer wanting more from the young Chicago native who is in her third year with the company.

The only missteps involved a premature entrance (A Wili with a case of the willies?) and a minor wardrobe malfunction, a mere trifle involving a wayward tuft of tulle.

In this exquisite production of Giselle, the once fledgling Ballet Nebraska—the region’s only such outfit—entrenches itself as a thoroughly professional troupe capable of pulling off the sort of magic that one would normally expect only from more seasoned, bigger-budget touring companies.

A Life in Dance

April 30, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Her ethereal rendition of Mikhail Fokine’s “The Dying Swan” is a to-die-for delight. His gracefully rugged athleticism—not to mention a mop-top of untamed curls—makes him among the most recognizable figures in Omaha dance.

Bret Samson and Sasha York fell in love with the ballet at an early age, but it was as company dancers with Ballet Nebraska that they fell in love with each other.

Omaha Magazine caught up with the couple during a reception following the company’s performance of Duets, where Samson’s gossamer swan met its poetic demise.

“It’s kind of weird,” says Samson, “because work is work and home is home. We don’t often dance together in productions, so we can really get lost in rehearsals and forget that we’re even in the same room. Then we get home and it’s like, ‘Oh, hi! How was your day’?”

“I’m just glad,” the Russian-born York demurs, “that I’m paid to lift pretty women for a living.”

Samson’s accompanying eye roll suggests that a sharp elbow to the ribs may have been in order had she not been surrounded by so many wine-sipping, canapé-noshing witnesses. Is it possible that York had just uttered one of his “Greatest Hits” lines, perhaps now for the hundredth time?

“Make that the millionth time,” Samson replies with a coquettish grin.

On tap (make that en pointe) for Ballet Nebraska, the state’s only professional ballet troupe, is Momentum, the award-winning mixed-repertory series that showcases a vibrant mix of shorter works in a broad array of styles and themes, both contemporary and classic.

The program includes Poseidon, an elegant, original ballet in the neoclassical style by company ballet master Matthew Carter. It is based on the Joslyn Art Museum exhibit Poseidon and the Sea: Myth, Cult and Daily Life. Also featured will be Party Animals!, where ‘60s beats meet African rhythms in a whimsical, high-energy work by company founder Erika Overturff.

Ballet Nebraska’s Momentum will be performed May 2 in the Joslyn Art Museum Witherspoon Hall and May 4 in The Arts Center of Iowa Western Community College. Visit BalletNebraska.org for additional information.

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Dance, Girl, Dance!

September 30, 2013 by
Photography by Ballet Nebraska

Judy Leppek’s performance was this reviewer’s favorite in Ballet Nebraska’s recent production of Snow White at The Rose Theater. Luppek’s regal bearing, perpetually pursed lips, and impossibly long neck made quite an impression. She performed miracles with an arched, cuts-like-a-knife eyebrow in bringing great drama to her character, the deliciously diabolical evil queen.

Which is all well and good, except for the puzzling fact that Leppek—the critic’s fave, mind you—was performing in a non-dancing role. It’s a point that, sadly, doesn’t bode well for a ballet review, where the focus is meant to be…well, ballet.

Sure, Ballet Nebraska founder and artistic director Erika Overturff was terrific in tulle during a memorable solo as the Queen of the Nymphs. And the oft-paired and always resplendent duo of Natasha Grimm-Gregory (the beguiling Snow White) and Sasha York (the charming Prince) provided a couple of magical moments. The problem was that they just weren’t allowed enough dance sequences for them to dish up more than a meager ration of those magical moments.

The second act of Snow White best illustrates this dilemma. Between a septet of darling dwarves and Snow White doing almost everything but dancing, it seemed an eternity before this ballet was allowed to be a ballet.

Guest choreographer Winthrop Corey, artistic director of the Mobile Ballet Company and a summer faculty member for both Joffrey Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre, now has the dubious distinction of being behind my two least favorite Ballet Nebraska works; this one and 2011’s Dracula, which exhibited similar symptoms hinting at a diagnosis of Dance Deprivation Disorder.

Now entering its fourth season, the once fledgling ballet company—the state’s only professional troupe—should be at a certain stage in its maturation. It is to be expected that the early years of any such performance company would be typified by efforts that are building blocks for the future. It should come as no surprise that a company’s initial works could be rather bare-bones-ish. After all, and just as with any launch of a new performance company, Ballet Nebraska started with little more than an artistic vision. Just imagine the tireless organizing, networking, and fundraising that had to unfold before a single dancer could even dream of donning a tutu.

But imagineering has an expiration date. Now is a time when the company should be expected to shine in a fully developed artistic mission, and an ambitious one at that. Snow White didn’t cut any corners when it came to beautiful costumes and sets, but this reviewer felt it did so with dance, the very core of what they do.

Which is all a cryin’ shame. The company has a magnificently talented cadre of artists, but the curiously choreographed Snow White didn’t give audiences much of an opportunity to appreciate their talents.

There’s a classic ballet/burlesque film from the golden age of Hollywood that pits Maureen O’Hara (ballet) against Lucille Ball (burlesque). My wish for Ballet Nebraska is for them to heed the advice from the movie’s title and just Dance, Girl, Dance!

David Williams, the recently named managing editor of Omaha Publications, has written hundreds of performing arts reviews for a number of area publications and formerly served on the board of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.