Fort Worth — The tutus are plastic. So are the fringe curtains. A moonlight glow bathes said tutus and curtains in a blue and silver light. The effect is slightly otherworldly, and that alone is enough to give Garrett Smith’s Imbue, performed by Texas Ballet Theater in its world permiere, Friday night at Bass Hall, an edge.
But there is far more to Imbue to give it an edgy quality than tutus and curtains. The hyper-energetic movement alone with its thrilling lifts and emphatic bourrées creates a heady tension. And then there are all the sudden appearances from behind the curtain, sometimes so rushed that the fringes flap wildly. There is also Philip Glass’s pulsating, driving music. Constant surprises await at every turn.
Imbue consists of six sections that play on combinations of groupings that range from ensembles to duos, trios, and quartets. Occasionally dancers move in tandem, but most of the time they are flying in different directions, coming and going. Only during a pas de deux (there are three), a pas de trois and a pas de quatre, does order reign.
These smaller groupings provide plenty of thrills, with each piece a study in complex intermingling. Take the first pas de deux for example: Carl Coomer slides, pulls, and flips Leticia Oliveira straight up, where she twists in the air. She’s back on earth for a second, only to find herself once again entwined with her partner.
That motif of complex interplay continues in different forms throughout the ballet, brought to a climax as seven men manipulate one woman, tossing her from one man to another, and only briefly bringing her to the ground. The ballet ends with the ensemble of 14 disappearing as they walk into the misty distance.
As the opening work, Imbue set a high standard for the rest of the program, with Avichai Scher’s A Full Life and Christopher Bruce’s Rooster to follow.
A Full Life was so opposite in tone from Imbue that it seemed to inhabit a different world altogether, one of decorum, tentative encounters, stillness. But it didn’t stay that way, moving from the tentative first encounters of four couples to playfulness, conflict, passion and then to a dreamy separation. The movement grows free and expansive, with arching lifts and runs, a race, a carry and sometimes, just a gesture.
Pianist Shields-Collins Bray, seated at the far side of the stage and playing Bach, Glinka, Mazzoli, Mendelssohn and Liszt, seems the one constant in an ever-changing landscape.
As the mood changes, so do the music and costumes: at the beginning, the four couples are clad in modest frocks or semi-transparent shirts, individually identified by rich hues of teal, blue, ochre, purple, mauve, mustard and navy blue. Scene by scene some part of their outfit comes off, so that at the end, everyone is down to striped corsets, T-shirts and briefs.
Next to the two premieres, Imbue and A Full Life, Rooster (1991) was a trip down memory lane, with memories flooding back as the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” “Paint It Black” and “Play with Fire” bore down relentlessly.
As the title suggests, Rooster is all about male swagger and strut, preening and showing off. The women are so much window dressing in drab black. Their role: to look on with ironic amusement, join in sporadically, and keep their emotional distance. The men, of course, are decked out in vivid colored jackets and pants.
TBT’s version emphasized the comic side; more than two decades ago, Houston Ballet’s version suggested that beneath the bravado lay an uncertain future, the sense that men are facing picket lines and cramped lives.
The men are indeed hilarious, with Jiyan Dai starting things off by taking long strides with his head jutting out, rooster fashion. His pals will soon have their day, jostling, cartwheeling, rolling to the floor and making mocking, exaggerated gestures. Fierce, elegant, highly stylized, this is a dance with bite.
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.