Dallas — It’s unusual to see a troupe of hip-hop dancers appear on stage during a Dallas Bach Society performance. But this was no usual DBS concert. It combined 18th-century music, contemporary music by Open Classical’s Mark Landson, classical ballet, a Haitian drummer, yes, hip-hop, and even a costumed Victorian-style fencing demonstration in the lobby before the show.
In fact, though the execution was sometimes a bit awkward, with bits coming off dancers’ costumes and a sudden transition to intermission that had a few audience members puzzled, the concept was brilliant. The ballet tells the story of Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de St. Georges, a mixed-race musician and composer living in France just before the Revolution. It primarily uses Bologne’s own music to tell this story. The performance features the members of the Dallas Bach Society and elegant mezzo-soprano Joanna Lynn-Jacobs and excellent Baroque violinist James Andrewes to bring the music, and thus the story, to life. The Chevalier’s compositions struck me as typical Classical-period French music—it didn’t do anything particularly innovative, but it was highly listenable, nonetheless.
A narrator, Brandon Chase McGee, told the Chevalier’s complicated story, while dancers from Contemporary Ballet Dallas enacted it. The dancers, a racially mixed group, took the parts of both the West Indian slaves of the Chevalier’s birthplace and the French aristocrats among whom he socialized as an adult. Darrell Cleveland’s turn as “The Soul of the Slave” was the most technically sophisticated and athletic dance performance of the evening, while Addison Holmes, the Chevalier’s love interest Marie Joseph, displayed sinuous lines and elegant footwork.
Contemporary interludes reminded us that we weren’t in the 18th century anymore—Mark Landson’s four short dance pieces and the aforementioned hip-hop dancers in the section “Identity” served to remind the audience that although the ballet represents historical events, the concept of identity, racial, cultural, and otherwise, is an ongoing conversation. Landson’s compositions combined some Classical ideas with contemporary ones reminiscent of minimalism—they worked beautifully here. What could have been a jarring contrast between the old and the new was instead a reminder of the progression between old and new.
Okay, the hip-hop dancers were a little jarring, in their raw athleticism a completely different vibration from that of the elegant classically-trained dancers. I’ve never seen hip-hop dancers on the same stage as a harpsichord, and may never again. Still, somehow, it worked.
This production was engaging, fascinating, and despite some heavy-handed call-to-action narration at the end, a delightful telling of what is indeed, for the most part, an “untold story.”