Fort Worth — A dance teacher will tell you that one of the greatest satisfactions of the job is seeing growth in the students, witnessing the metaphorical light bulb clicking on and the elements of the art form beautifully meshing together in the dancer. It’s also one of the best things about being a critic, especially when reviewing newer companies and those with younger artists. Dance is not solely about the pinnacle point of perfection, but rather the journey that happens along the way. The ups and downs of exploration, navigating the obstacles—then the joys of those light bulb moments. And while critics often focus on whether or not those pinnacle moments happen during a single snapshot in time, the pilgrimage to that peak is equally important.
On Saturday, at the W.E. Scott Theatre of Fort Worth, Ballet Frontier of Texas displayed a delightful light bulb moment of its own. Headed by Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng, Artistic Advisor Enrica Tseng, and newly minted Assistant Artistic Director and former TBT soloist Lainey Logan, the company begins an ambitious season with two added productions to their lineup. This season’s opener, Straight to the Heart (with Tchaikovsky) features a passionate and varied blend of ballet, with red being the color of choice for the first act.
A scarlet heart shines on the curtain as the show opens with the title work by Roy Tobias, a joyfully quaint piece for three couples with music by Fritz Kreisler. Ladies don empire-waisted dresses with cream skirts and lilac sashes, and men are dressed in black tights and white peasant shirts.
The dance begins with a pas de six then transitions into duets for each of the couples before ending in ensemble. Tobias’ Balanchine influence is heavily felt in this dance, with moments of parallel pointe work, playful hip sways, and other neo-classical stylings. While the ladies’ performance qualities appear hesitant during the opening segment, they eventually settle into the piece. Kreisler’s composition adds tango flair at times, accentuated by claps and snaps from the dancers.
A work like this serves as an excellent introduction to some of the more prominent dancers. Kenta Taniguchi dazzles with high-flying cabrioles, and James Vargas delivers an impressively grounded yet powerful performance. Gregory Brown not only proves his excellent technical skills but he is perhaps the most engaging male dancer on stage. Not to be outdone, the ladies display sharp legwork, and Mickayla Carr shines with a consistent, lively performance quality.
Red takes on a different meaning as the mood makes a sharp turn. A crimson light bathes longtime BFT dancer Dan Westfield, clad in a 19th century men’s formal coat, as he reenacts the last moments of P.I. Tchaikovsky’s life in Tseng’s Last Cup of Water, an older work from Tseng’s repertoire but a premiere for the company. Tessa Moore acts as his spirit, while a hauntingly stoic Kaylea Hudson treads across the stage as the figure of death, the fate that awaits him.
The piece consists mostly of a pas de deux between Westfield and Moore. As they navigate through a variety of fascinating partnering choreography, one cannot help but marvel at each dancer’s development and progress. Moore demonstrates a compelling fluidity, while Westfield stuns with effortlessly controlled leaps. A few years ago they would not have looked as polished, as captivating, and so utterly engrossed in their characters. While they’ve both exhibited commendable performances over the years, they deliver something truly remarkable this night.
Act One ends with Jay Kim’s Enraptured, an ensemble piece for the younger dancers. A ruby-toned background and Owain Phyfe’s “La Prima Vez” (which dancers might remember from Wim Wenders’ documentary Pina) set the stage for a fierce yet alluring piece. Cayce Diggs immediately draws attention with her fiery gaze and sharp quality.
It’s a surprisingly tight work, given the ages of the cast. Nice pirouettes, notable displays of flexibility, and consistent performances qualities make this one of their better pieces for the less experienced. Kim’s enchanting blend of contemporary ballet and classical modern, with a pleasing sequence of gestural and arm maneuvers, create a valuable experience for the performers to explore a greater range of movement and expression, a vital tool in the competitive world of ballet. Timing and placement issues still need some polishing, but it’s an excellent dance to keep in the repertoire.
Act Two brings back Tseng’s String Quartet No. 1, sans the live music from the 2012 performance. It doesn’t quite have the same magic without the musicians and the dancers aren’t as sharp as they were in the first half, but it’s still a lovely piece. Again, Balanchine influences abound, and Westfield and Moore produce another enjoyable duet, handling a few bobbles very well. Tseng’s beautifully intricate ensemble choreography is always a lovely treat.
Minus the expected timing and precision issues, the dancers deliver a memorable evening where the various elements of dance performance simply clicked.