Plano — It’s always nice to step away from the professional dance scene in Dallas and see what the local dance community is up to. And if the Plano Dance Festival on Saturday afternoon was any indication, these pre-professional groups have been busy exposing their dancers to different techniques to add to their wheelhouse and build self-confidence. The festival, which took place at the Courtyard Theater in Plano, had an even balance of traditional and contemporary ballet pieces intermixed with other dance styles, including tap, modern and Chinese folk dance.
For hardcore balletomanes there was Marius Petipa’s La Bayadere solo performed by Avant Ballet Chamber company member Yulia Ilina, as well as Mikhail Fokine’s memorable Dying Swan solo performed by guest dancer Melian Izotova from Colorado-based Premiere Ballet. Ilina’s supple feet and lethal legs were a perfect match for Petipa’s slow, controlled bourres, alternating promenades and multiple arabesque holds. And Izotova completely embodied the role of the swan with her exacting point work and rippling arm movements resembling a swan’s wings.
Dallas-based professional dancers Lea Zablocki and Shea Johnson gave a spot on performance with August Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano. Like all classic story ballets, the movement in this pas de deux consisted of exaggerated gesturing and heart-felt embraces. Johnson’s control over his landings has improved, adding polish to his already clean technique. Zablocki excelled in her turning sections executing multiple pirouettes in quick succession without a hitch. The press-up lifts from the knees in the Romeo and Juliet piece proved challenging for Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s David Sanders, but he recovered to complete the passionate number with fellow company member Katie Stasse.
The most surprising classical performance of the afternoon came from the festival’s host company, Plano Metropolitan Ballet (PMB), in the opening number pointe number Meridian. Dressed in deep blue leotards and white tutus, the 14 dancers showed both technical and musical growth in this invigorating piece set to The Vitamin String Quartet and choreographed by Madelaine Boyce. Standard ballet phrases such as tombe pas de bourre soutenu, pirouettes, and alternating epaulement (shoulder, head and neck) positions were livened up with continuous formation changes and musically-timed cannon arrangements. Boyce’s choreography also adequately displayed the dancers’ proficiency in both allegro and adagio movement and was well received by the audience.
In the realm of contemporary ballet there was Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s You Are a Memory and Avant Chamber Ballet’s Endless Arc, a new work by Artistic Director Katie Puder. In the first, dancers Katie Stasse, Laura Pearson and Emily Gnatt performed a series of rudimentary ballet steps mixed with more contemporary movements such as flat-footed walks, hand gestures and body contractions. The two dancers dressed in white pulled the third, dressed in red, through a number of interweaving body positions before finally pulling away from one another. Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto and dim lighting only added to the somber tone of the piece. Puder’s Endless Arc was more aggressive compared to previous works, but still contained all the elements that we admire about her, including continuous traveling movements, abrupt direction changes and dynamic partnering skills. Both pieces were just peaking when they suddenly ended in a blackout.
The Gaudium Dance Movement captured the audience’s attention with its star-spotted back lighting and pillow props in Gina Lee’s Midnight. The dance started out promising with the four dancers traveling across the space on their backs using the pillows as leverage. The dancers then travelled around the pillows as they resisted the space with arm reaches and open-chested releases. The pillows are re-introduced at the end when the dancers pulled chains and rope from the pillowcases before the lights faded out, leaving the audience to question their significance.
Epiphany DanceArts performed excerpts from Balanchine’s Diamonds in which they acted out the effects bullying has on society through their signature lyrical movements blended with more sultry and staccato steps to music by The XX and The Piano Guys. Collin College’s Collin Dance Ensemble and Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Senior Performing Ensemble both demonstrated basic modern dance techniques (i.e. Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham) in Tread and This Place is a Shelter. The Dallas Black Dance Academy Seniors also performed a rhythmic African-infused piece entitled Confluence.
The program also included some wickedly fly and fun footwork from Dallas-based Rhythmic Souls Youth Residency and Choreo Records Tap Ensemble as well as some beautifully intricate Chinese folk dance from Jiaping Shi Dance School.
Festival coordinator and Plano Metropolitan Ballet Artistic Director Cindi Lawrence Hanson should be pleased with how her group and the festival have grown over the last 13 years. Audiences should look forward to what she has in store for next year’s event.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com
» Photos by Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more images, click the "View the Article Slideshow" icon in the floating menu at the bottom left of your screen