Review: Command Performance Gala | TITAS | Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House

With the Flow

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance and Lil Buck are standouts in the 2015 edition of the TITAS Command Performance, who signals a changing tide.

published Wednesday, May 20, 2015
1 comment

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Joshua L. Peugh and Alex Karigan Farrior in Critics of the Morning Song at the TITAS Command Performance Gala

Dallas — The glory days of Carlos Acosta’s leopard leaps from the wings in Le Corsaire are long gone from TITAS Command Performances, as well as its old title Command Performance of International Ballet. But change is inevitable, if only because there is a saturation point on how many times we can see Black Swan or Le Corsaire, 36 fouettés and barrel turns. 

Saturday night at the Winspear Opera House, we did get a dose of ballet: a competent Corsaire, a wooden Giselle and a stunning Diamonds. The anticipation centered on the new, and it was not ballet. The two biggest surprises came from street-dance artist Lil Buck and local dance phenomenon Joshua L. Peugh, both of whom have reshaped dance into something fresh as a spring breeze.

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Lil Buck in Swan at the TITAS Command Performance Gala

But first, everything else. 

Balanchine’s Diamonds cast a regal glow. Entering the stage on a diagonal, New York City Ballet principals Sara Mearns and Tyler Angle do nothing but walk, slow and stately, completely focused on one another. But what a walk! It is repeated, but now in reverse formation. It is the world of the court, a world of grace, decorum and a strict hierarchy. 

When Ms. Mearns does take her partner’s hand, she plunges into a deep arabesque and then lets go—like a diamond shooting off a brilliant reflection. And that diamond image shines throughout the ballet, most fully captured when Ms. Mearns dips low and Mr. Angle rotates her, her limbs shooting out in striking angles like facets. 

We have another pas de deux of sorts in Adam Hougland’s Awaken, a premiere commissioned by TITAS and featuring Clifford Williams and Albert Drake. They are all limbs, occasionally entwining, but most of the time keeping their distance. It didn’t quite gel. 

While MOMIX’s Tuu and Dreamcatcher are familiar, they keep their power by the dancers’ extraordinary control, this time Rebecca Rasmussen and Steven Ezra Marshall. In Tuu, Ms. Rasmussen wraps around Mr. Marshall’s torso and opens up like a flower.  The images of opening and shutting, of balance and support appear when, for example, Ms. Rasmussen balances for what seems forever on her hands, or when she spins like a top on her bottom, her body folded in. 

In Dreamcatcher they ride a gyroscope-style structure, leaning dangerously with limbs extended, coasting, slowing down, changing direction. Their derring-do is as smooth and weighted as mercury. 

Viktor Kabaniaev’s edgy Remix 03, set to Philip Glass’s Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra, brought together the cool and detached Janessa Touchet and Cervilio Amador (Cincinnati Ballet). On their own, they do fine—Ms. Touchet stalking on pointe, Mr. Amador covering space—but together, they were continually out of sync. 

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Yuan Yuan Tan and Clifford Williams in Dwight Rhoden's Ave Maria at the TITAS Command Performance Gala

Christopher Wheeldon’s This Bitter Earth had an edge too, and a poignancy, supplied partly by the music of Max Richter and Dinah Washington. It was really Ms. Mearns’ day, as Mr. Angle gets little to do but lift and support her, and on three occasions, swing her up and around, her legs shooting out. (He does it very well.) She gets the sustained arabesques, bourrées and upside down plunges, and she too, does her part as though floating. 

Yuan Yuan Tan (San Francisco Ballet) did not float in Giselle, her body too stiff for the part of the ethereal maiden, nor did her Albrecht (Davit Karapetyan) display joy at being reunited. 

Dwight Rhoden’s Ave Maria (which ended the program) suited Ms. Tan much better, displaying her ability to articulate every tricky maneuver she and her partner, Mr. Williams, were thrown. And that was the trouble with Ave Maria: complex but soulless. 

Every once in a while a gala offers humor, and it did so brilliantly with Mr. Peugh’s madcap Critics of the Morning Song, performed by his Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. Set to different versions of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” Alex Karigan Farrior and Mr. Peugh scamper, collide, glare at each other, stick a finger in a throat, changing moods as swiftly as clouds. But mainly, it is a sunny romp, the two holding hands and dancing with the freedom of children gamboling on the green. 

For surprise, Mr. Peugh’s only rival was Mr. Buck, who takes street dancing to a new level in two pieces set to classical music. Wearing large white sneakers in Brotsjor, Mr. Buck glides as if levitating on those shoes, his legs rubbery, his arms coiling and uncoiling like snakes. 

As in Brotsjor, in Swan he shares the stage with cellist Matt Epperson and harpist Juliette Buchanan, and again wears the same white sneakers. His version of the dying swan is as full of pathos and resignation as that of any famous ballet dancer, but in his version his undulating arms are more broken and uncontrolled, his feet looking as though at any moment that they will buckle under, and his final gesture, a collapse into a swampy heap. 

Maybe it is just the novelty of seeing a radical version of a well-known ballet, but even so, the new is always welcome.


» 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.

» Photos by Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more images, click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at the bottom left of your screen.

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Albert Drake and Clifford Williams in Adam Hougland's Awaken at the TITAS Command Performance Gala
 Thanks For Reading


ToscasKiss writes:
Wednesday, May 20 at 5:38PM

Damn! Missed it again. Haven't gotten to read the whole article yet, but wanted to note, I think the name is "Sara Mearns," with an "n" there, in the penultimate spot. Happy to read Margaret Putnam's and all the other dance coverage on TheaterJones. Thanks!

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With the Flow
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance and Lil Buck are standouts in the 2015 edition of the TITAS Command Performance, who signals a changing tide.
by Margaret Putnam

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