Fiendish fouettés. Double cabrioles. Stratospheric grand jetés. All the pyrotechnics that burn brightest at ballet galas are scheduled to return to the Aronoff Center during the sixth annual International Gala of Ballet Stars, billed as "16 fabulous dancers from 11 world-renowned companies spanning four continents."
But there's a new twist this year.
From the get-go, this successful locally produced production has hewn to the golden rules of galas: They are all about variety and delight, none too serious but great fun. They are meant to provoke astonishment, not contemplation. They are crammed with top-ranked dancers, many of whom also hold medals from top ballet competitions around the world.
And, generally speaking, the cornier the dance, the more suitable it is for this type of program.
Longtime critic Clive Barnes has suggested, in fact, that high-powered galas are "occasions for the dancer rather than the dance."
And so this Saturday we will have the normal complement of well-ridden warhorse pas de deux: Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, Esmerelda and Swan Lake, crowd pleasers all.
But five fresh world-premiere ballets are also on the bill, says ballet tech cincinnati Producing Artistic Director Marvel Davis.
"It's the most diverse gala we have ever presented," Davis says.
Cincinnati Ballet's popular principal dancers Joseph Gatti and Adiarys Almeida will appear in George Balanchine's Tchaikovsky pas de deux, but Gatti has also choreographed two brand new solos. He'll dance "Burning Heart," and Almeida will perform "No Way Out." At a young age the two are already veterans of many world stages. This July, Gatti walked away with a gold medal from the World Ballet Competition in Orlando, Fla., which he can add to his trove of golds and bronzes. It will be interesting to see the moves he has made especially for himself and Almeida, his real-life girlfriend.
Alejandro Alvarez and Stephanie Dalphone, both from Nacho Duato's National Dance Company of Spain, appear in two world premieres they have specially commissioned for the Cincinnati stage: the lyrical "Still," by Canadian Shawn Hounsell, and the minimalist "Us vs." by Albanian Gentian Doda; both are modern in style.
"We call them duets," says Alvarez, "not pas de deux, because there are no tutus!
"Stephanie and I (they're married in real life) work for a company directed by a choreographer (Duato) who picks dancers who are good at his style. Because we almost exclusively do our director's work, we all have a particular style and aptitude. Nacho likes tall men and very physical muscular dancers who are very musical, like Stephanie and I.
"So of course his work showcases our strengths. But having pieces choreographed on you, as we are doing for Cincinnati, it's when everything that you want as a dancer manifests itself. We could have brought rep we do year-round in our company when we go on tour, but we wanted to do this for a change.
"It's showing us at our very best. In our partnering, we very much play with each other's weight. Either I have her weight or she has mine completely. We are counterbalanced, making a shape like the arch in a Gothic cathedral, held together by our support for each other."
Haiyan Wu and Yang Zou of Miami City Ballet are also partners on and off the stage. The locations where the two have performed individually and together, including Russia, Denmark, Turkey, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, France, Peru, Germany and Italy, make a veritable world map of stages.
They are also medalists in numerous international competitions.
"We are going to perform Balanchine's 'Diamonds' pas de deux from Jewels in Cincinnati," Wu says, "but we are also bringing 'Xun' (pronounced shu ahn) which we have choreographed ourselves. We just finished it last month.
"In our company we do a lot of Balanchine, and recently some Twyla Tharp. But we wanted something new and completely modern and different for this appearance.
"In Chinese, Xun means 'always looking for something.' The piece is about love, and how you are always looking for someone you want to be together with for your whole life. We have used Chinese music, and we have drawn some of the movement quality from traditional Chinese dance, so the feel is definitely not Western."
Surprisingly, Wu says her greatest strength as a dancer is not her astounding technique.
"It is that I am consistent," she says. "I tell myself 'I can do it.' Then I go on stage and enjoy the music and do my best. I always want to bring the best I can to my audience."
ballet tech cincinnati presents the Gala of International Ballet Stars at the Aronoff Center 8 p.m. Saturday. Go here for additional Gala interviews, and look for a review of the performance here.