Rochester City Ballet's "Summer of Love," which had its world premiere on Thursday and continues through this weekend, is high entertainment for anyone who loves the music of the 1960's or wants to experience that time period captured on stage. Choreographed by RCB Artistic Director David Palmer and Yanis Pikeris, the show succeeds in evoking the emotions and styles of the turbulent summer of 1967 while showcasing some high energy dancing.
The performance features almost 20 songs from that summer and moves along at a fast clip connected by a loose narrative, making it appealing to audience members who may not be drawn to more traditional ballet. It also affords us the opportunity to see the range of Palmer's choreography and RCB's dancing.
The show opens with "Who Will Buy" and is performed by eight RCB couples. They appear to be representing the cool cats of the 60's, city slickers dressed in spangled mini dresses and suits, their dancing formal and contained. This piece has a Broadway feel to it, with lots of lifts and flare; slinky and slick.
Contrast that piece with "Aquarius" in which RCB introduces its interpretation of the Flower Children. They appear on stage with handheld lights, creating a feeling of spiritual birth with movements that are loose-limbed, free, and sensual. Costume designer Jorge Gallardo Miranda and costume constructor Kathleen Kittelberger deserve a nod for the women's floral mini dresses.
"We've Gotta Get Out of This Place" introduces the young couple -- Benjamin Rabe as James and Jessica Tretter as Linda, leaving the safety of Nebraska for a new life in San Francisco -- at the center of the narrative. Rabe and Tretter are accomplished dancers, and they do an excellent job of portraying the transformation of the couple as they become enmeshed in the California hippie culture.
"California Dreamin'" was an audience favorite Thursday evening. It features Rabe and Tretter trying to hitchhike their way to California as company members, using a couple of benches for props, mime driving cars and vans to help transfer the ebullient young couple closer to the City of Love. The choreographers do a great job at invoking humor through mime here, keeping the entertainment level high. Even the lighting -- designed by Eric Fliss -- made the audience laugh as headlight after headlight sweep across the stage, without the cars stopping to give the young couple a lift.
Megan Kamler solos in "Bang Bang." She is a gorgeous dancer and this work lets her show her range. She goes from sharp movements -- hands and feet flexed -- to more sinuous, sweeping motions. Perhaps, however, with Kamler miming being shot repeatedly, the choreography is a bit too literal here.
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" is one of the most grabbing pieces of "Summer of Love." Featuring the whole company, this piece throws together the Flower Children with more traditional society, and we get to see them start to merge and adopt bits of each other's styles. Take note of Michael Jurica and Caitlin Schwartz, representing the young, worldly, and wealthy of San Francisco. Jurica exudes arrogance and bravado and Schwartz bristles with privilege. Only reluctantly do they start to accept the Flower Children and begin to loosen their own movements and attitudes.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to include co-choreographer Yanis Pikeris