Fort Worth — It’s not uncommon these days to attend a ballet concert and see very little of the sort. Crossovers, versatility, and blending are (and have been) all the rage, and Texas Ballet Theater’s season closer First Looks ventures further into the territory of blurred genres than ever before. Opening first at Dallas City Performance Hall earlier this month and concluding its run at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, the production includes Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries, Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, and Val Caniparoli’s commissioned debut Without Borders.
Really, the entire concert fits the latter title. Caniparoli borrowed it from the album containing the music for his piece, but the description and implication travel well beyond. No longer are professional dancers able to rely solely on one style, as demonstrated by reality dance television, modern dance ensembles such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and now, DFW’s premier ballet company. Choreographers seeking to innovate will continually find new ways to pop into an arabesque, balance in a turn, and simply get from point A to point B.
A historical look at Voluntaries aptly illustrates this idea. Before the 1960s, Balanchine was the epitome of contemporary ballet, but Tetley took the concept further by merging his classical modern dance training with ballet vocabulary. While the evening’s work (created in 1973) shows little that audiences would see as currently innovative, it opened doors for other choreographers to experiment yet still delivers a timeless quality today.
The work isn’t new to the company, and they execute the varied vocabulary with ease and precision. Duets shift to trios then transition to larger ensembles, and Carl Coomer and Allisyn Hsieh Caro maneuver through beautifully assisted pirouettes and effortless lifts. Swift leaps and remarkably sharp shapes create stunning moments throughout. Heavy, driving J.S. Bach orchestral and organ music overpowers at times, and the speckled costumes and backdrop feel out of place, but the movement is exquisite. It’s the most balletic of the whole evening, but classical it is not.
It’s hard to say whether Without Borders or Minus 16 has been the most anticipated, because they’re so different, so let’s stick with program order. The former comes from the creator of Lambarena, a TBT fan favorite from a few years ago that promised a mix of cultures. This new work, however, makes that fusion look simple in comparison. While the older one contained disparate elements that can easily be separated, the new work knits ethnic elements with ballet steps in a much smoother manner.
He seems to achieve this mostly by taking cues from the music, which is a collaboration between cellist Yo-Yo Ma and musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble. By mingling the similar elements of seemingly dissimilar music, the artists achieve a greater continuity. So it is with the choreography. Caniparoli expertly transitions each step by using the similarities between each one. Whether he includes flamenco, African, or Latin steps, the result is an intriguing permutation of contemporary ballet, one of which budding artists in the genre should take note.
With such careful thought to the choreography and its connection to the music, TBT artists had a difficult task, but this performance proves their willingness and success in rising to the challenge. The effortless quality from Voluntaries permeates through this work, with Leticia Oliveira and Carl Coomer partnering with exceptional beauty. The placed precision from earlier, though, gives way to a more organic, reckless cohesion, with the music demanding greater physicality and release. Andre Silva explodes with excitement and power in his solo, while a vibrant ladies ensemble rouses even more. Caniparoli’s ice skating inspiration becomes quite evident, with dancers sliding around the floor in their shoes.
The first two works choreographically obscure genre demarcations, but in the final, the company itself pushes past its middle name with Minus 16. Naharin, the acclaimed Israeli choreographer and creator of the movement technique Gaga, uses the idea of reconstruction to create the work, which is simply a reworked compilation of prior dances. The result is the most bizarre, humorous, and stunning mish-mash of movement and sounds that pulls surprises at every turn.
Riley Moyano grooves and flops about the stage well before intermission ends as a sign that the concepts of beginnings and endings mean nothing for this piece. The ensemble later joins, and the dance travels through sections so different from each other that they find an odd cohesiveness. Gone is the pristine, cookie-cutter ensemble of a ballet company, as they thrash around with abandon and yell at the top of their lungs. Fourth wall dissolves with audience participation, and several ending blackouts reveal little about the supposed end to the piece.
By stretching their range and expanding their borders, Texas Ballet Theater opens the door for an adventurous new season, yet one thing has gone missing yet again—the nurturing of new choreographers within the company.
» Read Margaret Putnam's review of the Dallas performance
» Read our interview with Val Caniparoli
» Check out Texas Ballet Theater's 2016-17 season