Dallas — There was not a tutu in sight Friday night at Dallas City Performance Hall, where Texas Ballet Theater shifted gears to concentrate entirely on the modern. The ensemble reigned, the lyrical got short shrift, unisex costumes were the rage, and choreographers toyed with music. For a ballet company, the choices were pretty radical, especially when you are used to a steady dose of Cinderella, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
Instead, in this program called “First Looks,” we got Glen Tetley’s flashy Voluntaries (1973), the world premiere of Van Caniparoli’s earthy Without Borders and Ohad Naharin’s crazy Minus 16 (1999).
The program opened with Voluntaries, set to bits and pieces of Francis Poulenc’s Concerto in D Major for Organ, Strings and Timpani. If you expected the dance to offer substance, you would be disappointed, so better to just bask in the sheer sensual pleasure.
The dance takes place in its own extra-celestial universe, suggested by a giant pitted solar backdrop, bluish light that shifts to golden, and sleek unitards of dappled lime, blue, and purple. At the center, Carl Coomer and Allisyn Hsieh Caro emerge like butterflies emerging from a cocoon, heads titled back, fingers splayed, torsos curved, and limbs stretched to the limit. This image surfaces again and again.
The couple anchors the ballet; soon everyone is taking off with huge leaps and daring lifts, and rush, rush, rush. In one stunning section, Alexander Kotelenets and Brett Young carry aloft a brave Katelyn Clenaghan, transferring her seamlessly from one to the other. There are other spectacular lifts and some not so pretty: do we really want a crotch shot? The ballet ends pretty much the way it began: Mr. Coomer draping Ms. Caro in one languid lift over his body.
A different energy prevails in Without Borders, set to an eclectic mix of music by Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble. Against a rust-colored background, a single paper lantern drifts upward out of sight, while on the ground, 18 paper lanterns serve as a fence. The work has a vaguely tribal feel, suggested by bodies pitched forward and stamping low to the ground and the uniform movement. Men and women alike wear the same outfits: rose and coral colored shorts and filmy, multi-layered blouses.
Again, there is a couple at the center: Leticia Oliveira and Mr. Coomer, but two other couples join in (Ms. Clenaghan and Paul Adams and Ms. Caro and Andre Silva.) The slower moments drag a bit, but once the music switches to something like flamenco and then to everyone like pulsating Indian, the dancers let loose. The blouses come off (but not the women’s tops), Mr. Silva gets his chance to rip off some electrifying turns, and to slow things down, Mr. Coomer slowly rotates Ms. Oliveira while bending on one knee. In one last flurry of movement, the dancers fan out and the paper lanterns float to a starlit sky.
A dance as delightfully wacky as Minus 16, in its company premiere, is hard to imagine from its unorthodox beginning to its free-for all ending and carefully synchronized and repetitive rumble in the middle.
It opens before it opens: the house lights are still on when a man in black suit and white shirt (David Schrenk) lurches and wobbles in a drunken ecstasy, flip-flopping, sliding, shuddering and jerking, getting himself momentarily off the ground only to flop back. This goes on for a long time and slowly the audience—the house lights are still on—stops their chatter and delights at Mr. Schrenk’s loose-limbed, uninhibited exuberance.
The lights finally dim, and on the now dark stage, 20 figures (males and female) shuffle in wearing identical black suits, white shirts and hats, bent over so that their hats hide their faces. They bob and jerk.
The curtain drops. Loud and wild music blasts away, and next we see rows of the same dancers lined up on chairs, only to abruptly flip backward in perfect synchronized order, as the catchy Israeli folk music blasts forth. They do this again and again, wilder, more feverish, as Marlen Al keeps jumping up his chair and Jiyan Dai crawls and returns and crawls some more.
Suddenly, the hats come flying off, then shirts, and finally, pants. It is a nutty scene and invigorating. After this crazy scene, it’s a hard act to follow, but it only gets better. The dancers get dressed and with stony faces walk down the aisle, shanghaiing unsuspecting audience members. Back on stage, everyone lets loose with a lively, impromptu dance, with the 20 or so recruits—old, young, nimble, stiff—letting themselves go. At the end, all but one are escorted out, leaving 80-year-old Mary Anne Preston on stage alone. She stares out of the audience, flustered and a little bit delighted.
The program will be repeated May 27-29 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth; more info here.
» 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 courtesy Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image