Richardson — It’s a weekend of ballet in Dallas! While Texas Ballet Theater shows off its classical and contemporary sides in downtown, Chamberlain Performing Arts treats North Dallas audiences to Focal Pointe at the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson. Guest artists from Ballet West bring a special treat. Principal Tom Mattingly and soloist Beckanne Sisk (a Longview native) are both featured on The CW’s reality show Breaking Pointe (which, disappointingly, was not renewed for a third season) and provide a truly professional touch to the performance. The students of Chamberlain, however, prove they can stand just as strong.
The opening work Etudes (by Lynne Short) is a series of exercises found in a ballet class, complete with a set of barres placed in the middle of a stage. This is a bold move. It’s not unheard of for a company to perform class exercises as a complete piece, but it’s especially brave for a pre-professional ballet company—who has students still refining a very precise, difficult craft—to perform basically an entire warm-up for an audience. Technique class hides nothing.
And that might be the point. The instructors at Chamberlain are incredibly confident in their abilities to prepare young dancers for a competitive professional field by building “Classical Foundations for Life.” What better way to show audiences what their school has to offer than to proudly display those fundamentals for all to see? The dancers do quite well with it, too. The older performers are obviously better at fulfilling the material, but the younger ones are fairly impressive. When they’re all perfectly in sync, it’s a beautiful picture. When they’re not, the random fluttering of legs definitely becomes cringe-worthy. Luckily, that doesn’t happen very often in the large group. Other across the floor and center partnering combinations appear fuzzy at times, though.
The first work from Sisk and Mattingly is the pas de deux from Esmeralda, using Marius Petipa’s original choreography. With her impeccable balance and flawless pirouettes, Sisk is absolutely radiant on stage. Her tambourine solo displays her incredible flexibility and beautiful sensitivity to music. Mattingly fares pretty well, but his turns sometimes seem unstable.
The concert then takes a 180 degree turn with Anastasia Waters’ Omnipotence, set to a cappella vocal arrangements of classical music by The Swingle Sisters and a beatbox song by Stephen Gilbert. Movement vocabulary mostly consists of a more contemporary style of modern, with falling knee hinges and low, aggressive movement. Concept, however, is quite fuzzy. A repeating motif where one dancer remains still while others move in unison provides some hint, but the multitude of blackouts, even during one song, proves to be confusing and quite an annoyance. The classically trained dancers manage exceptionally well with a different movement quality, and their performance level stays consistent throughout. More creative transitions between the segments will really make this piece stand out.
After intermission, the contemporary side of the concert gets a little softer with Lisa Hess Jones’ Veni Emmanuel, with music by Anne Dudley of the same name. Twelve dancers in white camisole ballet dresses with sheer skirts sweep and sway across the stage, creating some lovely traveling patterns. Battements, arabesques, and a multitude of turns accentuate the flow of the skirt, which adds to the ethereal effect created by the choral music. The dancers execute the complex contemporary maneuvers (which resemble those found in lyrical dance) pretty well, with the exception of the usual timing and precision issues that tend to pop up.
And of course, Balanchine pokes his head in. It wouldn’t be a mixed rep concert in America if at least one work from Mr. B. didn’t make it. The artists from Ballet West once again strut their stuff in “Rubies”, a segment from Jewels. Mattingly’s charm takes center stage, and Sisk’s jaw-dropping kicks astound. Signature Balanchine vocabulary is prevalent in this piece, with flexed feet and a plethora of hip isolations amidst the classical movements.
Instead of a firecracker piece to end the concert, the audience gets a calmer Mozart Piano Concerto by Carter Alexander to ponder at the end of the evening. Fifteen ladies and three men perform an incredibly long work in three segments. The length is both the most impressive thing about the concert and the worst. It’s in this piece that Doris Humphrey’s words “All dances are too long” start resounding. Even though the musical score does vary in rhythm and tempo somewhat, those variances aren’t enough to keep it interesting at the end of a concert.
Regardless, it’s still an impressive dance, even though it could be placed differently in the show. The choreographic patterns are beautifully complicated. Quartets turn into duets, which then turn into pas de trois arrangements. Solos meld into trios, circular floor patterns move into diagonals, and intricately executed leaps and petit allegro are regularly interspersed. The amount of organizational brain power required to keep these designs straight is staggering. The dancers mostly maintain their energy throughout the work, and I’m sure that the ending was a relief to all.