Dallas — Sometimes change pays off. For most of their 16 seasons, Contemporary Ballet Dallas has presented works either choreographed by local emerging artists or in-house dancers and directors. Beginning last spring, however, they made a shift to bring in established outside choreographers to challenge the dancers. And it’s working.
CBD’s Spring Concert at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas, their theater home for the last few years, presented a nice blend of works (all premieres) that displayed a step in the right direction.
Ballet Lubbock’s Artistic Director Yvonne Racz-Key collaborated with composer Amy Faris for 5, a neo-classical ballet for five dancers. Ladies donned sleeved leotards of red, white, and black, while men wore brilliant red pants. Hints of Balanchine and Cunningham appeared with shapes and transitions, and throughout most of it, few gender-specific dancing appeared, except for the occasional traditional lift. Racz-Key favored diagonals and circular floor patterns, with ripples fluttering through frequently.
Clearly executed choreography created a nice visual, but the piece felt fuzzy due to the inconsistency of the performers’ faces. The emotion of the music could have gone in many directions depending on how the dancers interpreted it, but there was no consensus. Are they supposed to be happy, fierce, sorrowful or pensive?
American Beauty by Amy Morrow (an Austin artist but frequent DFW face) referenced the 1999 Sam Mendes film, as Paula Ulery-Reynolds opened the work in the audience by keeping a plastic bag afloat with the use of a hair dryer. A noticeable departure from the neo-classical feeling of the first work, the curtain opened to show a dancer (Whitney Hart) with a plastic bag on her face.
The hair dryer was only part of the series of question marks that decorated this work. Ulery-Reynolds lip-syncing in high-heeled boots, more plastic bags, frequent lighting changes, and piano music accompanied by a drum line competed with the random movement choices for which is more puzzling. The dancers handled the shift surprisingly well, showing their growing diversity, and while the work was completely baffling, one has to give them credit for the jump outside the norm.
The premieres continued after intermission with Brian Stevens’ Memory is the Seamstress, and considering his background and current work in the studio competition world, the dance surprisingly avoided many of the commercial contemporary clichés. The influence was obviously there in the technically based vocabulary, gestural phrases, and emotional component, but it delivered a nice depth.
A red-clad Laura Pearson moved through a series of vignettes that pointed to different times in her life. A friend arrives for companionship, a mother looks on and provides comfort, and a love interest comes and goes. The rest of the dancers donned cream-colored dresses and acted almost as the ghosts of memory, vague figures that floated in and out of the clearer moments. Their complex staging proved to be the highlight of a dance that has great potential, but didn’t feel complete.
Pearson, for starters, has a nice performance face and decent technique, but her movement qualities are upstaged by stronger dancers. Secondly, the different segments and relationships introduced seemed hurried and underdeveloped, begging for more time to play out. Stevens introduced nice material, but there appeared to be no resolution.
The most high-profile guest work closed out the performance with a flash. Jillian Davis, a dancer with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, created the jazzy, athletic Temptation, which proved to be a challenge but one the dancers rose to conquer. A swingin’ tour through the music of Tom Waits gave the dancers a chance to shine in their respective roles. Some influences from Complexions’ artistic director Dwight Rhoden popped up here and there, especially with the different groupings and transitions, and the work provides a chance for the dancers to let loose. Inconsistent performance qualities and some rough partnering lower the energy a bit, though.
Overall, this concert showed a promising new direction for the company. The focus on stylistically diverse works and branching further out into the dance world is an admirable shift that’s sure to have exciting results in the future.