Fort Worth — Ballet Frontier of Texas closed out an ambitious season with Rodeo & Carnival of the Animals at the W.E. Scott Theatre last Friday in Fort Worth. With a company of mostly youth dancers, one of the biggest draws of each production is checking on the progress of each as they continue to refine and mature in the art of ballet. While the evening contained some remarkable performances, the works didn’t quite have the overall excellence displayed in previous times.
Rodeo started out the show. The original 1942 ballet comes from Agnes DeMille, an American ballet choreographer whose work and performance in the production solidified her status in dance and theater history as a diverse crossover artist. With a score by Aaron Copland which includes his most recognized tunes (especially “Hoe Down”), Rodeo is one of the earliest examples of American ballet and contains a sense of realism and theatricality that landed her the gig as the choreographer for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
BFT Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng took the basic story and essence of DeMille’s ballet but arranged the music to suit his original choreography. Annie (Anastacia Snyder) doesn’t fit in with the rest of the girls and aspires to be a real cowgirl, even dressing like one and mimicking the movements. She attempts to win the affections of Randy (guest artist Jordan Nelson), and succeeds in finding acceptance and love when she shows up to the dance in a dress, proving her uniqueness to all.
The work delivered a charm and lightness that kept the audience engaged, and Snyder displayed wonderful versatility as she executed the blend of cowboy movements with ballet and theatrical choreography, then switched to a more feminine quality at the end. Her skillful acting and fiery spirit demonstrated her growing maturity as an artist.
Pas de deux and portions of the ending ensemble provided notable moments, and the cast as whole exhibited a joyful energy. Andrew Coffey and Mickayla Carr stood out in their respective supporting roles.
Tseng proves over and over again that he has a propensity for dramatic storytelling, and it showed in the choreography. This performance, however, needed some overall stronger performers and more polishing. The cowboys, who danced ensemble features and provided partnering for the ladies, consisted of non-traditional performers, and while Tseng crafted more pedestrian choreography for them, the lack of training and experience among the group proved quite evident. Among the ladies’ group, timing issues frequently sprung up, and a sense of uncertainty during the more challenging choreography brought down the energy.
Carnival of the Animals rounded out the evening, with Roy Tobias’ original choreography adapted by Tseng. A large, colorful cast portrayed a mish-mash of characters, with choreography appropriate to each dancer’s ability and age. The Ring Master (Sofia Yarbrough) attempted to control the chaos, as an elephant danced with a tortoise, clowns bounced around, and a fox created all manner of mischief.
A work such as this created a perfect atmosphere for the younger audience members to become immersed in the world of ballet. Cutesy and sappy, it’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Choreography overall was not heavily technical, but performers had opportunities to deliver impressive maneuvers. Snyder and Nelson pair up again for a gorgeous, Petipa-style swan duet. Coffey’s performance as the Lion shows a precision and exuberance that belies his youth, and Jacey Thompson flutters beautifully around the stage as the Cuckoo bird.
Carr consistently delivers delightful performances, executing the choreography with a greater finesse each time and exuding an exquisite quality. Her role as the Medieval Girl only proved her continued excellence on stage.
Maria Howard as the Fox won the “Most Improved” award for the evening. She’s emerged from her sweet yet reserved cocoon to become an exciting ball of energy and passion. Her small frame stretched and jumped to fill up more space than what seemed humanly possible, and her acting range has taken an inspiring leap.
Overall, the evening lacked the amount of artistry and professionalism that has come out of the company recently, and the guest artists didn’t elevate the performance much. It’s a wonderfully family-friendly show, though, which is something the company continually strives for as it reaches new audiences.