Lewisville — Over the last 30 years LakeCities Ballet Theatre has made a name for itself in the local pre-professional ballet community with its story ballet such as Dracula, The Nutcracker, Peter and the Wolf and Cinderella, which highlight the dancers’ strong classical technique and acting chops as well as the artistic team’s knack for cohesive narratives and original content. They also pack the seats! So, why would LBT chose to end its 2016-17 season with a mixed program instead of a popular story ballet? Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin shined some light on this notion in her introduction before the Director’s Choice performance on April 1 at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater. Lannin stated that while story ballets are a valuable part of history and a guaranteed success at the box office, LBT strives to give its dancers all the tools they need in order to become professional dancers. She added that it’s also exciting to see the dancers perform other styles of dance outside the classical genre.
I admit it was refreshing to see the dancers without their signature tutus and pointe shoes and in some cases with their hair down. Overall, the performance featured a nice blend of traditional and non-traditional ballet pieces such as George Balanchine’s Élégie, Vasily Vainonen’s The Flames of Paris pas de deux and Jules Perrot’s La Esmeralda Suite as well as more abstract works presented by Lannin and LBT staffers Shannon Beacham, Shanon Tate and Janet Waters. Every choreographer has their own idea of what contemporary dance should look like and Lannin, Beacham and Tate got the chance to express their take on the dance style in the first half of the show.
The evening started with Beacham’s lyrically-driven work Journey. As the only piece in the show to feature song lyrics, Beacham used this to his advantage with movement phrases that not only emphasized the instrumentals in Olafur Arnalds composition, but also played off the rhythmic patterns of the words themselves. Even though the foundation of the piece was largely balletic, Beacham did test the dancers’ stylistic boundaries with multiple chest releases, grounded foot work and off-center body positions, which paid tribute to his time with the Bruce Wood Dance Project.
Lannin took a more minimalist approach when it came to her choreography in And The Things That Remain which featured music by Ezio Bosso. In between quartets that showcased the dancers’ refined body lines and complex pointe work, the dancers would speed walk around the stage pausing intermittently before changing direction. Lannin beautifully blended standard ballet steps (i.e. arabesques, chaines, battements and bourrees) with more pedestrian movements such as walking, running, rolling and universal gesturing which were then layered with repetition, speed changes and stop and start action that kept viewers engaged from beginning to end. Company Member Carly Greene set the tone for the work in a dynamic opening solo which showcased her long legs, limber spine and impressive body control.
Whereas Journey and And the Things That Remain were driven by emotions and lyricism, Tate’s excerpt from Somewhere in Between was centered on individual relationships, more specifically the relationships between sisters. Dressed in white corset-like tops and ankle length pantaloons and sporting pink ballet slippers Ashleigh Eaton, Julie Fenske, Lauren Hunter, Kristina Lorelli, Mikaela Seale and Julia Tiller broke down the roles sisters play in each other lives in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. Tate did an admirable job of describing the complex dynamics among sisters through the use of subtle partnering, repetitive body ticks and fluid movement choices, which she paired with music by Antonio Vivaldi. Touch played an important role as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from one another while engaging in a number of unexpected embraces and seamless trust exercises. The use of ballet slippers helped anchor the dancers to the floor without hindering their momentum.
Carley Denton, Michelle Lawyer, Kelsey Rhinehelder, Fenske, Greene, and Seale displayed great technical grace and group awareness in George Balanchine’s romantic yet somber contemporary ballet piece, Élégie from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Suite No.3. With their hair down and outfitted in long, wispy dresses, the dancers took on a supernatural quality as they silently moved from one formation to the next. Tiller and Beachman nailed their roles as the star-crossed lovers with their breathy physical exchanges and lyrical posturing.
Senior company members Tiller and Denton both proved they are ready for the big leagues with their mature handling of the difficult choreography and complex nature of the lead character in Jules Perrot’s La Esmeralda Suite. In this condensed version of the original three-act ballet Denton and Tiller graciously shared the spotlight as the feisty and very opinionated Esmeralda. Divided into 11 sections the entire company came together to celebrate the Festival of Fools where a hapless romantic poet (Aaron Dolan) needed to win the hand of Esmeralda in order to save his life. But alas Esmeralda is in love with another who later betrays her.
The shortened ballet, staged and choreographed by LBT’s Deborah Weaver, featured all the things we have come to expect from the company, including innate musicality, authentic storytelling and exemplary allegro and adagio skills. Denton handled all the fast spins and sassy pointe work (bourrees with exaggerated hips and epaulement with flirty arms) in her solo with pizazz, while Tiller captured the character’s mixed emotions with her sustained arabesques and elongated body lines woven in between fast jumping sequences and multiple pirouettes. Adult company members Lawyer, Rhinehelder and Faith Jones rounded out the ballet with their superb role playing and classical prowess.
The most challenging piece of the night had to be the pas de deux from Vasily Vainonen’s The Flames of Paris with music by Boris Asafyev. The piece was all about showcasing the dancers’ classical virtuosity that was accomplished in a couple of fast-paced sequences. Guest Artist Steven Loch (Pacific Northwest Ballet) has grown more sure-footed over the last couple of years, a highly desirable skill that added more dimension to his endless leaps and tour en l’airs. Denton tackled the difficult choreography in her solo, which featured a plethora of spins, jumps and various travelling movements such as the reverse hopping step on demi-pointe into a an arabesque hold on pointe, with calm assertiveness and technical precision.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com