Richardson — The fall dance season is upon us, and after Dallas DanceFest and Texas Ballet Theatre kicked things off on Labor Day weekend, DFW companies hit the ground running. Collin County Ballet Theatre, under the direction of Kirt and Linda Hathaway, takes the stage at the Eisemann Center in Richardson with Ballet Fete: The Drama and Flair of Dance. The annual event comes a tad earlier this year and only features one outside company, Epiphany DanceArts, who opens the show with Ivy Koval’s ballet tango, “Pride of Life.” The concert is a mixed bag, with stellar moments and weak areas alike.
Ruben Gerding makes his CCBT choreographic debut with Brahms & Dvorak Dances featuring the junior and senior company dancers of the Youth Ensemble. Classical steps pair with various repeating folk-type motifs, including the “Raymonda-style” gesture in which with a flick of the wrists, one hand lands on the hip and the other behind the head. Various technical bobbles create a fuzzy picture, which becomes a little worse as fatigue sets in.
Gentlemen generally fare better with the ladies in this one, as Kade Cummings and Jackson Fort each deliver a spectacular offering throughout the concert. Their partners, however, keep up pretty well. Isabella Furrillo and Abigail Linnabary distinguish themselves with clean pointe work and consistent expressions.
The pinnacle work of the evening, the American premiere of Tristan and Isolde, proves to be the most successful of the evening. Created by former Louisville Ballet director Alun Jones and featuring Richard Wagner’s music from his opera, the ballet stars Shea Johnson and Iuliia Ilina as the doomed lovers of Celtic lore who accidentally ingest a love potion meant for Isolde and her husband-to-be King Mark (Jason Fowler). Unable to escape the attraction, the two attempt to hide their affair but are ultimately discovered by Mark’s servant Merlot (Fort), who later kills Tristan in defense of his master’s honor.
Setting and lighting create a minimal yet elegant picture, with the black traveler curtain draped slightly open revealing a blue cyc and a fabric-covered platform on stage right. The ballet opens at the end of the story, with the lights brightening over King Mark and the servant Brangwen mourning the loss of the title characters. A chorus of dancers draped in black sway and step to a spellbinding cadence as they weave through geometric floor patterns, signaling a trip back in time to explain events leading to this tragic moment.
Johnson and Ilina dance the vast majority of the choreography, with some performed by Lauren Gonzales as Brangwen. The pair maneuvers through luscious partnering, although it’s tentative at first out of the guilt of their deception. Ilina epitomizes the pristine, hapless leading lady of balletic tragedies as her willowy figure flutters across the stage and flies into the air. Dramatic quality emanates from her enviable extensions and impossibly flexible feet. In typical ballet fashion, the choreography favors the female, but Johnson shines nonetheless with strength and intensity.
Their final duet of reckless abandon is sure to make the heart swell—then promptly crush as Tristan meets his fate. Fowler participates earlier in a pas de trois with the two lovers, but his greatest moments happen in commanding stances, captivating gestures, and piercing gazes.
Even with the robust performances, the ballet is incomplete. The enchanting presence of the chorus in the beginning repeats at the end, but otherwise they do relatively little. Dressed in long-sleeved leotards with long chiffon skirts, their look is reminiscent of Martha Graham’s corps in her narratives, and the work would be much richer with a more involved ensemble.
After a second intermission, the youth ensemble returns with a messy Trinity created by Jaclyn Sartore. With a Vivaldi score, dancers in green maneuver through contemporary and classical positions with weak upper body placement, inconsistent performance faces, and a growing sense of weariness.
Johnson returns with Michele Gifford for David Justin’s Just an Average Joe, a tribute to Joe Cocker. Gifford is known around DFW for her classical and Balanchine work, so it’s refreshing to see her in a rock ballet, thrashing about atop meticulous pointe work. Johnson shows off his contemporary chops as a “bad boy” character.
After a rough start for the classical Raymonda Variations, the pre-professionals pull it together to produce a clean ending to the evening.
Overall, there seems to be an even greater gap between the performances of the more experienced dancers and the budding pre-professionals. The latter as a whole constantly appear hesitant, looking like they’re just trying to make it through this first concert early in the season. Although their performances are not as good as expected, they’ll probably fare better with the more familiar material in Nutcracker. The Hathaways have consistently produced excellent artists, and this group just needs to find their footing for the season.