Dallas — TITAS put on one hell of a show Saturday night at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House, and we hardly noticed that classical ballet was all but missing in action. The annual Command Performance seems to be drifting away from grand warhorses like Le Corsaire, star power and razzle-dazzle.
The program abounded in welcome surprises, the foremost being the most anti-ballet work imaginable: Robert Battle’s brilliant, searing In/Side. If ever there was a tour de force performance, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Samuel Lee Roberts provided it. He is a man in despair, floundering and flopping, lying in a torturous prone position—hip off the floor, one bent leg shooting skyward, arm reaching out like a drowning man hoping for rescue. Calm and resignation give way to bouts of wild spins, both airborne and flat on the floor. Giving the work even more power was the music: Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind,” so totally at odds with what transpires below.
If TITAS is to jettison classical ballet (only three of the 12 works on the program fit into that category), better make it good. Fortunately, Don Quixote, Swan Lake, and Giselle came across with flying colors, thanks to Houston Ballet’s Yuriko Kajiya in Don Quixote and Giselle and Ballet West’s Beckanne Sisk in Swan Lake. Ms. Kajiya is particularly a treasure, with incredibly long-held balances in Don Q—what need is there of a partner?—and a charming interpretation of the feisty Kitri. As Giselle she all but floats, sweetly urging Albrecht (Jared Matthews) to rise and fight for his life. And this is the man who betrayed her.
The contrast between classical ballet and its modern counterpart was striking in just about every way from costumes (jeans or flimsy outfits in the latter), music, style and most of all, the relationship between the sexes. There is more angst in new works, more tension, more mixed emotions. Lifts are intense and complicated: upward flips, plunges down, legs wrapped around each other, pretzel like entanglements. Couples break apart abruptly, go their separate ways, reunite. This was particularly true of Gregory Dolbashian’s Pierce the Veil and Sonya Tayeh’s The Space Between, both premieres and the second one commissioned by TITAS.
In Pierce the Veil, Navarra Novy-Williams and Billy Bell keep their distance, moving in a casual, unhurried manner and from time to time connecting. In The Space Between— again both dancers in socks—their movement is more sporadic. Mr. Bell becomes angry and agitated, shoving Ms. Novy-Williams away, and then thinking better of it.
In contrast, Gerald Arpino’s pop, vaguely oriental Light Rain is sleek and erotic. Fabric Calmels carries Sisk aloft like a golden goddess or else manipulates her like clay. Her legs shoot skyward, her back arches, she brings her feet to the back of her head. It ends with one juicy erotic embrace: Mr. Calmels lies down with his legs open like airplane wings as he slowly lowers the prone Ms. Sisk to the floor with her limbs mirroring his.
Back perhaps for the fifth time, Drew Jacoby from the Royal Ballet of Flanders returned to display her singular and very striking presence. At 5-feet-11, she fits no mold for a ballet dancers, but she has far more than compensated for what might be considered a shortcoming. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Fratres and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s One capitalize on her hyper-flexibility and tensile strength. She perches on pointe with wide-spread feet, indifferent to gravity. Matt Foley wraps her around in striking shapes and when they pull and tug like tense cords, it only exaggerates her independence.
You can count on something from MOMIX every year, and this time there were two works: the pretty but empty Alchemical Wedding and a mesmerizing Last Leaf Catches the First Snow Fall. The Last Leaf involved no dancing at all, letting a huge parachute-turned-fan-turned-float waft and swirl slowly and gracefully on high, changing from one gorgeous color and shape to the next while almost invisible below Eddy Fernandez pulls the strings.
The ending was an odd choice. Instead of the usual fireworks, we got a tepid rendition of Alvin Ailey’s Cry, that seminal work created for Judith Jamison. Alas, Rachael McLaren has the torso undulations called for, the head swinging backward, and curves, but not enough fire.
» 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.