“Balanchine Favorites”
Through March 2
Closed Feb. 10
Carolina Ballet

The Carolina Ballet continues its 10th season this week with another run of its “Balanchine Favorites” program. Included is the choreographer’s Raymonda Variations, which the company had not previously performed, and his grand Apollo. Other selections, and casts, vary.

The Feb. 24 matinee opened with a regrettable, and, one hopes, forgettable, new piece by company artistic director Robert Weiss, Oblique Dreamscape. In an attempt to balance the mainly female program, Weiss concocted a mostly male dance. Set among some dreary mannequins cluttering the stage, it appears to have been cut and pasted from some of his previous women’s dances without regard for masculinity or basic design principles. It shows some of the younger men’s skills, but even the valiant Wei Ni could not keep it from dragging dully.

In the main offering, however, there was sparkle aplenty. As a young student in St. Petersburg, George Balanchine danced in a production of Marius Petipa’s Raymonda, set to Alexander Glazunov’s happy music. He remained engaged with the score for decades, later choreographing three works to portions of it, including the 1961 Raymonda Variations. The dance tips its hat to Petipa’s exquisite 19th-century classicism, but remains fresh today because it features Balanchine’s still-surprising steps and moves, and his daunting technical challenges to the dancers.

As much of the brilliancy was supplied by the soloists and corps de ballet as by lead dancers Attila Bongar and the lovely Lilyan Vigo, who again enchanted us with her extraordinary poise and perfect balance. Margot K. Martin was able to show off her sass and rhythm in a charming series of little birdlike hops. Lara O’Brien used the elegant carriage of her head and arms to great effect, and Randi Osetek was impressive in “Variation VII.” She and Samantha Boik, another tall blonde, were striking together in the group dances, which were carried out with great élan. The Carolina Ballet has shown itself to be up to the considerable technical demands of this work, and one hopes it will make regular appearances in the repertory. It’s a piece that calls for words like “sparkling” and “delightful,” but not “emotionally powerful.” That’s OK, because there are few sweeter pleasures than watching a stage full of graceful women in tulle, sequins and satin pointe shoes, dancing pretty patterns with joyous zest.

One possibly greater pleasure is seeing dancers in minimal clothing sculpt space and build ephemeral forms from the gorgeous lines they draw with their bodies. In this manner, Balanchine’s 1928 Apollo provides the meat among the sweets of this program. Timour Bourtasenkov, reprising the role, is perfectly typecast as the golden god in white Lycra. This is a dance that you want to see again as soon as the curtain drops; it has so many astounding images and so much rich humor embellishing the story of the Muses competing for position with the god of the arts.

Melissa Podcasy was in good form as Terpsichore (although her seducing Apollo with her art would be more credible if she looked less displeased and remote), but the zing to the thing came from Margot Martin and, particularly, Margaret Severin-Hansen, who danced better on this day than I had ever seen her do. She is always buoyant and usually gay, but here, and in the preceding little jewel, Valse Fantaisie (to music by Mikhail Glinka), which she danced with her frequent partner Pablo Javier Perez, she was like milk thistle down in sunlight. She seemed lit from within with joy, and it was a great happiness to watch her fly around the stage in a series of weightless grand jetés.

Two weeks earlier, Severin-Hansen and Perez had provided bright moments in the sometimes lackluster Cabaret program performed Feb. 7-10. I cannot imagine why this program with its series of “miniatures” and its faux cabaret show was scheduled for the cavernous (and half-empty) Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. It might have been possible to build an intimate mood in the smaller Fletcher Opera Theater, but in Memorial, the café patter of aging Oak Room singer Andrea Marcovicci fell with a thud. When she and her band weren’t blocking the view, we could see some sweet dances (by Lynne Taylor-Corbett) to Irving Berlin songs. The best was “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” with Severin-Hansen and Perez giving it plenty of swing. Lilyan Vigo and Alain Molina were brave and dynamic in “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” while Lara O’Brien and Attila Bongar embodied elegance in “Cheek to Cheek.”

The real attraction of that program lay in its first two short works. Attila Bongar, in addition to being a graceful dancer, is emerging as an intriguing choreographer. The program opened with his wonderfully sculptural Yin & Yang, set to music by Xiao Lin Xu, and danced by Martin and company newcomer Marcelo Martinez. With amazing stage intensity, he has the stuff to let the bold Martin unleash her power. Watch this pair.

Bongar, along with Lara O’Brien, was also featured in the only new work of that program, ballet master Marin Boieru’s Evening Star, set to music by George Enescu. Like Boireu’s dancing, Star‘s strengths come from his warmth of spirit and ability to express nuanced emotion. It was a potent reminder that fine technique is not the only quality needed to make a great dance, or a great dance company.