His ballet directive “Glissade, jeté, assemblé, sissonne, pas de bourrée” sends waves of dancers gliding and leaping from the corners of the studio. Lean and softspoken, Steven Wistrich, artistic director of City Ballet, watches and claps out the beats while a pianist repeats waltz rhythms.
Sequences grow more complex. The more experienced dancers take greater risks. They jump higher and farther. Several men just clear low beams in the Pacific Beach studio. And this is just the warmup. City Ballet has been rehearsing its all-Balanchine program since early January.
“Balanchine Spectacular,” on view at Spreckels Theatre March 6-8, preserves three of George Balanchine’s ballets: “Rubies,” “The Four Temperaments” and “Walpurgisnacht Ballet.”
“We’re working hard,” said ballerina Ariana Gonzalez, “and we’re ready for the run at Spreckels. “Sandy is very tough, and we love her. We get lots of notes because she wants everything to be perfect.”
She’s referring to Sandra Jennings, the Balanchine Trust repetiteur, who evaluates every aspect of the show — technique, rehearsal, lights, casting, even program notes.
Based in New York, The Trust guards all of Balanchine’s ballets. Only dancers deemed worthy may perform them. City Ballet danced its first Balanchine ballet in 1994. Now it has 18 in repertory. “I’m dancing ‘Rubies,’” Gonzalez said, “and I partner with Stefano (Candreva). The music is awesome and it’s extremely glamorous and athletic. It demands technique.”
“Rubies” is one of three acts from “Jewels,” considered Balanchine’s first full-length abstract ballet. “Emeralds,” “Rubies,” and “Diamonds” each have a different composer and are linked by jewel-colored costumes. “The music for ‘Rubies’ is Stravinsky,” said Gonzalez, ”so it’s very dramatic. The toughest part is finding the stamina. The costumes are brilliant red and ornate, with strips for a skirt.”
Gonzalez, formerly Ariana Samuelsson, grew up in this dance studio. Her parents, Steven and Elizabeth Wistrich, co-founded City Ballet in 1993. She danced with Atlanta Ballet and Joffrey Ballet, and returned to City Ballet in 2005. She recently married company dancer Geoff Gonzalez.
“Geoff and I love this dance company. When my parents are ready, we’ll take over for them. We have so many great dancers.” She nods to diminutive Erica Alvarado, who sits on the floor next to her.
“I’m dancing in ‘Walpurgisnacht’ and ‘Temperaments,’ and partner with Ryosuke (Ogura),” Alvarado said. “His technique is amazing, so fancy and precise.”
Balanchine choreographed “Walpurgisnacht Ballet” for a 1975 production of the opera “Faust,” composed by Charles Gounod. It’s the opera’s last act, when Mephistopheles brings Faust to watch the celebration of the eve of May Day, when the souls of dead wander.
“It’s neoclassical and romantic,” Alvarado said. “I rotate with Katie Spanoletti in that ballet, and she’s one to watch in ‘Temperaments,’ too.”
Created in the 1950s, “The Four Temperaments” is marked by dancers in simple workout clothes, repetitive gestures, and the dancer who arrives late and another who slips. “They are all challenging pieces,” said Alvarado. “We need those short intermissions so we can regroup and change costumes.”
“Oh yeah, we need a few minutes to breath and fix our hair,” said Gonzalez.