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Ballet Arkansas proved yet again that dance is alive and pirouetting in the Natural State with its annual spring concert Friday night, which included a splendid staging of George Balanchine's Who Cares? as the headliner.

If "who cares?" is more than just a rhetorical question, then the answer would certainly be everyone who enjoys the Little Rock arts community that is led by the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and Ballet Arkansas. It was a Friday night treat of strong performances in nearly every style, from classical and neoclassical ballet to contemporary, courtesy of former Hubbard Street member Greg Sample. His thoughtful Rerouting was at its most stunning and powerful in its intimate groupings.

But the night belonged to the Balanchine piece and its ebullient dancers, whose sheer virtuosity won over the audience. Flirty, fun, and full of technical prowess, the four performers -- Justin Metcalf-Burton, Amanda Sewall, Lauren Bodenheimer and Deanna Karlheim in this performance -- brought the house down.

Balanchine, considered the father of the neoclassical style of ballet, choreographed this work in 1970 and set it to the music of George Gershwin. A live orchestra was the only part missing from Ballet Arkansas' staging of this concert version.

Another revelation was Hilary Wolfley's bold Facade, the winner of the 2014 Visions Choreography competition. Angular and atmospheric, the piece was a promising start for the young choreographer.

Classical ballet also got its time to shine with a lively version of Marius Petipa's Raymonda with the excellent ensemble leaving the audience breathless. Leslie Dodge once again impressed, this time with the most mesmerizing port de bras since Swan Lake, while pirouette master Tom Mattingly excelled in his role.

The sweetest surprise was the gorgeously danced pas de deux Lady of the Camellias, with Sewall and newcomer Tony Sewer lighting up the stage.

The Who Cares? performance marks the first time an Arkansas-based dance company received the licensing to stage one of the legendary choreographer's works, which is handled the through The George Balanchine Trust in New York. A Balanchine-approved repetiteur, Michele Gifford, was brought in to stage the work in rehearsals. The studio time more than paid off with this showstopper of an Arkansas premiere.

Two more performances are scheduled, 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets are available through The Rep's online box office at tickets.therep.org.

Metro on 04/18/2015

Print Headline: Ballet alive in spring concert

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