Richardson — Chamberlain Performing Arts celebrated its 30th year with a mix of neo-classical, contemporary and classical ballet Saturday night at the Eisemann Center. Opening the program was Serenade, a particularly brilliant choice when you consider that Balanchine created this work in 1934 for young and raw talent. It was his first work in America, and displayed his gift for geometric patterns and endless flow.
For all we know, the 17 dancers in Chamberlain’s company may have been better than Balanchine’s original cast. They certainly looked lovely in their long, pale blue gowns that billow like the wind. And Serenade does have that heady, headlong rush and flow, as dancers—while first standing still, right arms lifted to the moonlight in two diagonal lines—suddenly peel away to form new patterns. From the far edge of the stage, Katherine Hairston flies in, a late arrival, and the energy only intensifies. Brief as this version is (about five minutes of the original), it looked very polished.
The two short duets that followed, Bang Bang (2009) and First Fall (2012), were new and fresh.
Garrett Ammon’s witty Bang Bang featured former Chamberlain Ballet member Meredith Strathmeyer and guest artist Colby Foss, now both with Ballet Nouveau Colorado. Set to the music of Nancy Sinatra, Bang Bang pokes fun at James Bond films, opening with Foss careening around the stage in black suit and tie, leaping, kicking and sliding sideways. In the distance, an almost immobile Bond girl (Strathmeyer) in short brown dress and dark boots looks on with amusement.
The two connect in a playful duet, with the secret agent swinging the Bond girl aloft, her legs and arms shooting out to each side, her feet flexed. Naturally, Bond is going to use his gun. He aims and Strathmeyer falls—s-l-o-w-l-y, s-l-o-w-l-y backward—first at the end of the duet, and later during the song, “My Baby Just Shot Me Dead.” The couple is a perfect match with just the right amount of cool.
Intense describes Brian Brooks’ First Fall, performed by guest artist Wendy Whelan (New York City Ballet) and Brooks (Brian Brooks Moving Company). Whelan is no stranger to Chamberlain Performing Arts, having appeared many times as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the company’s annual Nutcracker. As for Brooks, he and his company made an impressive North Texas debut last November presented by TITAS.
The couple has a complex, wary relationship, expressed by arms that entangle and by one or the other ducking underneath. They keep sliding away from the other’s grasp. The stage is dimly lit, the music (Philip Glass) pulsating, and the action remains contained in a limited space. The last section is brilliant: they stand side-by-side, she falls back on him and he slides to the floor. There they remain as he revolves her body from one angle to another and another, like a sculpture brought to life. At the end, they fade from view in haunting stillness.
The intent behind staging Act III of The Sleeping Beauty was admirable, a way of showcasing dancers from age ten and up. But of all classical ballets, the scintillating style and grandness of the enterprise is so daunting that it is best left to the likes of the Kirov or The Royal Ballet.
In Chamberlain’s favor, the children in the opening waltz were charming (and very well coordinated), the Fairies delightful and Puss-n-Boots and the White Cat amusing as they paw and rub bodies together. Bethany Greenho as the Princess Florine in the Bluebird Pas De Deux is a standout in her smart half-turns on pointe, and the 12 Dancing Princesses quick. But without men in the waltz and mazurka the program was lopsided and the role of Princess Aurora and Prince Desiré beyond the reach of Hannah Mayer and Travis Morrison. Mayer shines in her solo where she hops on pointe halfway across stage and speeds through crisp piqué turns. Give her a few more years and then see what she can offer.
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.