Dallas — George Balanchine. Jiří Kylián. Ben Stevenson. With names such as these Texas Ballet Theater (TBT) is looking to wow North Texas audiences with its versatility and emotional depth at its Masterworks performance in Dallas this weekend. The most talked about work on the program is Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián’s tantalizing contemporary ballet Petite Mort. The 18-minute work, set to Mozart’s first two piano concertos, features six men, six women and six foils.
Originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater in 1991, Petite Mort which translates into ‘little death’ plays off the feelings leading up to an orgasm. “Yes, the ballet is suggestive, but in a very subtle way,” says TBT Principal Dancer Carl Coomer. “Kylián uses little subtleties and certain imagery to portray this sensuality.”
Coomer and the rest of the cast have been working with Rehearsal Director Roslyn Anderson in preparation for this weekend’s show. Born in Australian, Anderson danced with the Australian ballet before joining Nederlands Dans Theater where she met Kylián. She was his assistant from 1978 to 1994 and currently travels around the world staging 13 of his works. “It was neat to work with Roslyn because she was there when Kylián choreographed the piece,” says TBT soloist Robin Bangert. “She would give us actual images that he had told the dancers to use when he created the work. For example, there is one part where I reach my hands out in a certain way and Roslyn would say I want you to think that you are sending a message through your fingertips.” And when it came to teaching the movement to the dancers Bangert says Anderson was very patient with them. “She was really good about giving us time to get used to the movement and absorb it into our bodies.”
TBT Principal Dancer Carolyn Judson says she also found the whole process very enjoyable. “Roslyn let us figure out how to do the movement in a way that works for us, but still in Kylián’s view. We were able to put the movement into our own bodies and then experiment with it and see just how far we could go with it.”
The process also included finding new ways to connect with one another in the six duets that make up the core of Petite Mort. You would think partnering would come easily for the dancers, but Coomer explains that in the pas de deuxs in classical ballets such as The Nutcracker or Swan Lake the men are usually holding the girl around the waist or by her hand, and that is not always the way in contemporary work. “In Kylián’s work your hand can touch many different parts of the body to make your partner move. There is a lot more contact with each other and there is a feeling of compression when we push and pull against one another.” Bangert adds as that in some ways the partnering in Petite Mort is much more physical than a Balanchine work. “For example, instead of a guy holding you by the hand sometimes he is holding you with his thighs or by just the tip of your finger. So, it’s using different body parts in a way that we don’t use as much in a classical ballet.” Despite being more challenging for dancers steeped in classical ballet, the physical connections in the work did make it easier for the dancers to attain an emotional connection to the movement. “Because of the music and the movement there is no way that you can’t create your own story in your head,” Bangert says. “Carl and I have this strong connection and through that connection we are creating a story. It all feels very natural even though we are not portraying a specific character.”
The Masterworks program also includes Ben Stevenson’s Five Poems set to music by Robert Wagner with costumes by Jane Seymour. Coomer describes Five Poems as a passionate love story with phenomenal partnering. “In one movement there are three men carrying one woman around the stage and she never touches the floor the entire time. I have never seen that type of movement in another ballet before.”
The evening will end with Rubies from George Balanchine’s Jewels set to music by Igor Stravinsky. “The music is a real challenge in this piece,” Bangert says. “Because the corp is counting differently from the soloists, who are counting differently from the men, who are counting differently from the principals, so if anyone counts out loud we’re all in trouble.” Judson adds that Rubies really does feel like one big party and is a great closer to the show. “Once we got more comfortable with the movement then Stravinsky really hands it to us,” she says. “It’s very musical and you can’t help but to have some sort of personality when you’re dancing it, no matter what your role.”
Texas Ballet Theater’s Masterworks runs April 17-19 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The company’s season concludes May 29-31 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth with the same program except Five Poems will be replaced with a new work by up-and-coming British choreographer Jonathan Watkins, which is still unnamed, but it will feature an original score by Dallas composer Ryan Cockerham and costumes by Kari Perkins, who designed the costumes for Richard Linklater’s Ocar-nominated film Boyhood.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com