Plano — Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet heats up the stage with its season closer Scheherazade, presented at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano on Friday night. Saturday night’s performance traveled south to the Bishop Arts Theatre Center in Oak Cliff.
The ballet opens in the court of Shah Shahriyar, the Sultan of Persia (Brandon McGee). His brother Shah Zeman (David Sanders) attempts to convince his brother that his favorite wife Zobeide (Lea Zablocki) is unfaithful, and sets a trap for her in the Sultan’s absence. As the concubines attempt to free all of the slaves, Zobeide lays eyes on the Golden Slave (Michael Stone)—the trap has worked. The two dance a lusty duet, and the slaves and concubines dance in celebration of their freedom. But the party is cut short when the Sultan arrives and orders their deaths, and just like many famous ballets, this one has a tragic ending for the leading lady, as well.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s music is absolutely beautiful, and this performance illustrates the need for live music (although the number of musicians needed likely makes this impossible for such a small company). As with most ballets, the overture plays before the curtain goes up. It’s a stunning melody, but it sounds dreadful on the speaker system. Still, it’s a shame many in the audience were talking over it.
Sets and costumes are simple but elegant. A backdrop or background texture would have completed the picture, since the starkness of the cyclorama overwhelms the picture a bit, but once the main duet begins, set design is the last thing on the mind.
The duo makes the temperature rise in the room, making this reviewer wonder if a mild rating should have been placed on the program. Artistically, however, the performance is neither too hot nor too cold—it’s just right. The choreography is classically precise yet sensual. Their chemistry is feverish yet subdued, and their embraces steamy without being salacious. Stone’s typical stoicism works here and comes across as smoldering, and Zablocki’s extension create beautiful pictures.
Other notable performances come from a fiery and engaging Nicolina Lawson and a lively Martin Godoy. Sanders needs a stronger menacing quality, and while McGee has a commanding stage presence, his pantomime tends to be weak.
Since the ballet itself is rather short, the company preludes it with a mixed repertoire featuring a premiere, a few repeats, and guests Collin County Ballet Theatre and Danielle Georgiou Dance Group.
The premiere, Whirlwind, features the piano music of local composer Jordan Kuspa. Choreographers and co-directors Victoria Dolph-Tran and Emilie Skinner create a series of solos, duos, and trios consisting of a variety of classical ballet vocabulary and a few contemporary elements thrown in, a la Balanchine. The dancers show little emotion, and the movement is very placed, almost stiff at times. Since Kuspa’s music is a bit random, the choreography has somewhat of an odd flow to it. The beauty of it, however, is in the dancers’ execution. As indicated by the company name, the work is solidly neo-classical. The creators stripped extraneous elements away (even the costumes consist of a simple, short ballet dress) so the dancers can reveal their exceptional abilities.
Collin County Ballet Theatre throws out a huge surprise with the Spanish-themed Paso del Tiempo, and intriguing choreography by CCBT alumnus Jaclyn Sartore is only the beginning. Seventeen pre-professional dancers sway, spin, and soutenu around the stage with poise and precision. Some timing issues emerge occasionally, but overall, it’s a very tight and exciting piece. Even performance qualities (something most pre-pro dancers are still developing) remain fairly consistent. It’s a rigorous piece and some show signs of fatigue towards the end, but they pull out an impressive finish.
Six dancers from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group switch things up with These Arms Are Snakes, a contemporary modern piece with music by Future Islands. A black-clad Amanda Maraist begins a solo, which initiates with torso isolations that flow to the extremities. Five men join her on stage, and continue some of her same patterns with beautiful moments of stillness. Even though Maraist is a soloist, she’s not always the focus. The other dancers command just as much attention, and each has his moment in the spotlight. Choreography frequently follows the lyrics, but this is not a lyrical dance. It’s at once perplexing and stunning; one might not understand the meaning, but comprehension isn’t as important here.
Four works from their Loop performance in March make a comeback for this production: Skinner’s La Deesse de la Terre, Excerpts from the Carmen Suite, Dolph-Tran’s Constellations, and Addison Reed’s Fractured Night. All improve with age, making the evening of dance very enjoyable—albeit a bit long.