Richardson — Six dancers in silhouette fan out holding impudent poses. As the light begins to illuminate them, they scatter, strutting and swaying in their tiny black flared skirts.
Thus begins Collin County Ballet Theatre’s Effervescent, Christy Aumiller’s opening work of Ballet Fête 2016: Au Courant de Chorégraphie performed Saturday night at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts. It was one of several new works created for the occasion, and designed quite nicely to capitalize on student talent, for this is a company comprised entirely of students ages 12 to 18: seven students in the senior company, nine in the junior company and eight apprentices.
To give the evening a shot of glamor, guest artists performed sure-fire hits in Spartacus and Don Quixote. The guests illustrated just how brilliant—and demanding—classical ballet can be, a bonus for the audience. But just as important they gave the students a standard to aspire to. This is what ballet can be demonstrated most tellingly by Olga Pavlova in Don Q.
As one might expect from the 13-16 year-olds in the junior company in Jennifer Boren’s Enchanté, the footwork was a little messy, but curved arms and tilted heads, pretty pastel yellow costumes and ever-shifting geometric patterns made up for any shortcomings in the foot department.
Who would think of making a dance about Jane Eyre? Well, Albert Drake of Bruce Wood Dance Project did. Wandering Jane begins with six incarnations of our heroine Jane lying neatly in rows, exhausted after leaving Rochester and wandering for days without food or shelter. They are all but comatose in the early dawn. Lauren Huynh discovers “Jane,” pulls the limp body, only for “Jane” to slide back down. Ms. Huynh tries again with a different “Jane.” Same result. Eventually, as daylight appears on the horizon, the Jane figures rise and lumber, dazed and mystified, then gain speed and run, arms pumping. At the end, in silence, they repeat earlier gestures as the light fades.
In Jaclyn Sartore’s neoclassical The Nest for members of the Junior Company, seven dancers in filmy blue dress break away from their “nest,” return and leave again, swaying like seaweed.
The appeal of Sarah Matzke’s Let There Be Wolves is its simplicity. Wearing slippers rather than pointe shoes gives the nine dancers from the apprentice company (age 12-13) more freedom of movement. In long crimson dresses, they first appear lined up at the front of the stage, each one doing little more than turning a head or lifting an arm or sitting. Suddenly, they disappear and regroup in one tight mass, fan out and swirl, swinging their arms to propel their movement.
Olga Pavlova embodies the essence of what constitutes a prima ballerina, even if some of the partnering in Don Quixote was a bit shaky. Is she going to fall when Shea Johnson lifts her high overhead? That lift looked awfully perilous, and that is not the effect we want. But left on her own she captures the gay spirit of Kitri with brilliant footwork and dazzling piqué turns, and most importantly, an elegant clarity.
Mr. Johnson, too, does better on his own, with some impressive barrel turns and split leaps.
Instead of a better known flamboyant pas de deux from Spartacus, guest artists Kate Kadow and Jackson Steward chose a romantic version, with one silky lift after the other. The ending is beautiful: the two slowly fold over as they lower themselves to the ground.
Throughout the ballet, lighting was hit and miss, sometimes effective in dramatic spotlights, other times too dark, and yet other times distracting in changes of color.
The program ended on a giddy note with Lauren Gonzales’ Ballet Magnifique. Everything that can go wrong in a ballet received a brazenly comic touch. A neophyte knocks down a ballerina and her partner in the middle of a tricky maneuver—and does it again and again. Dancers bump into one another, a mischief-maker waves a selfie stick, a stagehand wanders in to mark the floor to show spacing. And so it goes, piling on one big gag after the other, pop-pop-pop, with no letup.
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.