Dallas — Even if we have seen Balanchine’s Serenade many times, it never fails to stir. The minute 16 dancers in gauzy pale blue dress stand still, right arm reaching upward, and then bring their arm to shield their face, we know that some mysterious and rapturous is about to take place. They fan out to move like the wind is sweeping them forward, as 15-year-old Katherine Hairston rushes through the ranks as though to stir the rest on.
This was the opening work of the second night of Dallas DanceFest at Dallas City Performance Hall. Although only the first section of a much longer ballet, the dancers in Chamberlain Performing Arts were perfect: young, lithe, intense but unaffected. They moved as one.
After Serenade, the program moved in different directions, from sunny to mystical to fierce to pathos. Not everything kept one’s interest, but Saturday night’s show far outdid Friday’s.
The sunny came from two sources: Jessica Lang’s Solo in Nine Parts for Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Repertory I, and Aadineye Kanna in the Indian classical style known as Bharatakalanjali, choreographed by legendary artists Shanta and VP Dhananjayan and performed by Alabama-based Natayananda.
The loose arms, the easy reversing on direction, and the over all exuberate mood in Solo in Nine Parts immediately reminded you of something from Paul Taylor, down to the hops with both legs lifted to form a diamond shape. Wearing simple white dresses with a purple band for the women and purple tights for the men, the 16 dancers run and leap, upper bodies lilted and arms curved. Vivaldi’s music stirs them on.
A very charming Smriti Krishnan, clad in purple, gold and turquoise, brought new life to classical Indian dance. Her eyes flash, her feet stamp, her knees bend, her arms trace intricate shapes in the air. But it is really her facial expressions—combined with finely detailed movements—that made it clear that she was telling us a delightful tale.
The three companies from Houston could not have been more different. Allie Kronick’s Where Angles Dwell for Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble was quiet, pensive and melancholy, featuring nine dancers in filmy white dress. They move on a diagonal path, spilling away and regrouping, lifting their arms as they swirl.
Against a dark background, six dancers flip and spin in Andy Noble’s A Motorcycle for Moses (performed by Houston-based NobleMotion Dance). They come and go, one dancer gyrating in front as two behind her wheel and pivot. In another brief section, a man upends a woman. She breaks free only to have him grab her ankle. These bikers are reckless but still in control.
In Kate Skarpetowska’s Consumed for Houston-based METdance the dancers all but fly apart. It opens with Kerry Jackson in distress: in black suit and tie, he twitches and flips to the ground, bounds up, and swirls in tight orbits as though trapped in a cage. He breaks free and propels himself in one dramatic moment out toward the audience. He is followed by eight others dressed also in black suits, white shirts and ties. They are agitated, moving in tight knots, constantly switching direction. Constraint drives them half-mad.
On a much quieter front, Joshua L. Peugh’s White Day has a dreamy feel, tender and yearning. Emily Bernet emerges from the right side of the stage tiptoeing very slowly with one arm stretched out, dropping rose petals as she goes. Kelsey Rohn follows, dropping yet more petals. Three men (Salvatore Bonilla, Chadi El-Khoury, Dexter Green) drawl forward from the other side of the stage, flipping to their backs and waving legs in the air. Ms. Rohr returns, tracing the air with hand and fingers, the image of a willowy nymph. The men return, and Mr. El-Khoury gathers up Ms. Rohn and they lie down, the two curled up like kittens.
Although it seems impossible to go wrong with music like Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Billy Preston, Shauna Davis’s Pour Out the Contents for Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble went nowhere.
Garfield Lemonious’s Memoirs for Dallas Black Dance Theatre had its moments—great, souring leaps, low bends, unison movement—but overall it was too much. Power never let up.
And then there was the incomparable Olga Pavlova paying tribute to her mentor, the famous Bolshoi ballerina Maya Plisetskaya in Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan. In black tutu and headdress, Ms. Pavlova is the image of pathos, bourréeing, bourreeing, bourréeing, as though unable to touch ground. Her arms undulate slowly, and then drop, and then come up again, as the swan struggles to stay live. At last, Ms. Pavlova drops in a graceful heap, lifts an arm, and falls. It is easy to overdo the pathos, but Ms. Pavlova offers a touching and yet subtle interpretation.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Read Margaret's review of the Friday performances here
» Read more about the 2014 DDF, including profiles of various companies and more in our special section devoted to the DanceFest.
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more images, click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at bottom left of your screen.