SAN JOSE -- Galas celebrate past accomplishments in environments both festive and formal. But on Saturday night the audience at the Center for the Performing Arts embraced Ballet San Jose with a warmth usually reserved for close family members.

Again and again the packed house rained applause on the dancers as if to say, "We know it has been tough, but we are here for you. The future is now." The ambitious program, chosen by the leadership team of Artistic Adviser Wes Chapman and Principal Ballet Master Raymond Rodriguez, more than justified the optimism.

Ballet San Jose is not a company of superstars. But over the years it has nurtured a core of fine and unique dancers -- Ramon Moreno and Alexandra Meijer among them -- who have flourished. This is a solid base from which to make a new start.

To watch young Joshua Seibel, who last May was still an apprentice, take on the solo from Edward Stierle's overwrought but stunningly sculptural "Lacrymosa" with such aplomb, made the future for San Jose shine brightly.

And to look upon a skilled dancer, wearing the tiniest, skin-colored shorts, bracketed by the Golden Gate Boys Choir dressed in liturgical garb, provided one of the evening's most unusual sights.

Nuanced expression

Perhaps the gala's most heartwarming presentation came with the delightful "Célébration Polonaise," performed by the students of the Ballet San Jose School. The institution recently incorporated the national training curriculum of the American Ballet Theatre -- and the results are already showing.


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The "Grand Polonaise," from the "Sleeping Beauty" wedding scene, inspired the choreography. Originally it was a stately parade of entrances by the Nobles of the Court. Dalia Rawson adapted the Tchaikovsky score to dancers coming and going in overlapping patterns. Discipline, musicality and presence was asked from the tiniest tot to the budding ballerina and her cavalier. They comported themselves admirably.

In galas we also want sparks to fly. Those, however, who expected technical virtuosity might have been disappointed. Ballet San Jose puts equal emphasis on nuanced expression.

Next February, the company will present its first "Don Quixote." Junna Ige and Maykel Solas' Grand Pas de Deux offered a glimpse of the kind of bravura expected. Technically assured, Ige was an elegant but reserved Kitri to Sola's more dashing Basilio.

Stanton Welch's "Clear" was his personal response to 9/11. Wrenching in this sensitively realized excerpt was to see six men crumble and fade away, leaving new soloist Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun and Jeremy Kovitch clinging to each other in despair.

In Meijer and Rudy Candia's interpretation Ashton's "Meditation from Thais," needed a longer, more flowing through line.

Spit, slight polish

Karen Gabay's energetically free-flowing 'Waltz of the Flowers" was set on eight couples. Lively and spacious, it whetted the appetite for the company's new "Nutcracker" to premiere in early December.

The Finale made a strong point about San Jose's potential. First performed last April, the company now owns the intricacies of Clark Tippet's fast-paced and demanding "Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1." The work is designed on four primary, very different couples and a corps of sixteen dancers who are also paired. The contrast between Mirai Noda and Moreno's spunky exuberance and Meijer and Kvetch's cool romanticism was particularly striking.

"The Fifth Campaign" from Balanchine's perennial crowd pleaser "Stars and Stripes" closed the first half. While the ensemble work showed spit, it could also have used some polish. Maria Jacobs-Yu and Moreno did the honors in the Pas de Deux.

One of this gala's aims was to raise funds toward the company's commitment to the production of live music -- an essential ingredient in quality ballet. Ironically, the orchestra's amplification, which apparently is considered necessary, was badly handled. Sweet-voiced soprano Kristin Clayton deserved better. George Daugherty ably conducted the Symphony Silicon Valley.