Fort Worth — Performances of Texas Ballet Theater are, these days, the only way to hear the striking musicians of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra perform together with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. They are calling themselves the “Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth,” but they are the orchestra that we know and (should) appreciate. So I went to hear them play in the pit, and got to see some pretty amazing dance on the side.
The program included two dances, Carmen, with music of Georges Bizet as adapted by Martin Yates, and DGV: Danse à grande vitesse, with music of Michael Nyman. In Carmen, Georges Bizet’s famous tunes were supplemented by contemporary flamenco. The new music as well as the familiar was dispatched cleanly and elegantly by the Symphony Musicians of Fort Worth, especially considering that they have not been rehearsing together as frequently as they would under less trying circumstances. Concertmaster Michael Shih’s big, buttery sound floated serenely out of the pit for violin solos, while the percussion section glittered, with crisp castanets and tambourines, and Kyle Sherman’s trumpet solos shone. The ballet was over an hour long, a marathon of music, but the musicians never faltered. Indeed, the orchestra consistently channeled the sensualism of Carlos Acosta’s choreography to musically evoke Carmen’s seductiveness.
That choreography simplifies the original plot of the opera to a love triangle, making it possible to follow the action via the mime of dance, and in so doing, doubly eroticizes Carmen. Gone is the bullfight, replaced by a dancer with bull’s—or cuckold’s?—horns representing Fate. Gone is the smuggling subplot. The reduction creates a woman who, unlike in the opera, is subversive only in her overt sexuality. Early on, Acosta’s choreography depicts a company of male dancers vying for her attention by performing a striptease. She then escapes from José after he has arrested her. The choreography of the scene in which she frees herself is comic, as she unties herself only to bind José, both literally and metaphorically. But the erotic choreography, a pas de deux of bondage, is also reminiscent of a stripper’s pole dance. While this overt eroticism would seem to give Carmen more sexual agency than she has in the opera, the endgame is the same: Don José, danced on Oct. 8 night by Carl Coomer, ultimately stabs Carmen, sinuously danced by Leticia Oliveira.
DGV is a more abstract dance, incorporating Michael Nyman’s minimalist musical aesthetic and overlaying it with Christopher Wheeldon’s rivetingly complex choreography using a language dominantly that of contemporary ballet, with elements of modern dance, jazz, and even yoga. Again, the orchestra sounded excellent, despite occasional pitch trouble in the upper strings and woodwinds. They aptly conveyed the rhythmic propulsion necessary to make this brand of minimalism engaging.
It’s a shame we can’t currently hear the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra performing their regular season of classical and pops concerts at Bass Hall. But until they are able to end their contract dispute with FWSO management and their strike, we can at least hear them—if not see them—in the pit for Texas Ballet Theater. It’s a great chance to enjoy a terrific Metroplex orchestra, and get to see some thrilling dance, too.
Note: Assistance with dance terminology graciously provided by Erika Record, Adjunct Professor of Dance at Texas Woman’s University.