Dallas — The TITAS Command Performance has undergone a gradual metamorphosis over the last several years. Contemporary works appeared with more frequency, but one could always count on Petipa pas de deux and usually a Balanchine work as the solid anchors of each performance.
Not this time. Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote seem to have no place with this new Command, and Jewels and Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux receive the same snub. As TITAS celebrates its 23rd annual gala performance (the seventh at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House), Balanchine and Petipa are nowhere to be found.
In fact, the only semblance of classical ballet comes with the Romeo and Juliet Balcony Pas de Deux, a work that appears as such only in relation to the rest of show. Considering the ballet wasn’t even created until the mid-20th century (with this show’s choreography done by San Francisco Ballet’s Helgi Tomasson), it’s difficult to even label it classical. Such is the nature of an ever-changing art form.
TITAS (led by Charles Santos) hasn’t completely altered the form of its annual showcase, however, as MOMIX returns (I think Dallas audiences would revolt if they left the lineup) and an Alvin Ailey work opens the show. Overall, the evening provides a nice balance between the established and up-and-coming, so let’s start with the former.
Glenn Allen Sims from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater delivers the 1972 work A Song for You, with music of the same title performed by Donny Hathaway. Subtle yet forceful, Sims extends into arabesques then melts with ease into the next movement. Even with the expanse of the Winspear, his smaller movements timed perfectly with the piano notes speak volumes.
For this production, MOMIX favors raised surfaces. Steven Ezra delights in Table Talk, with suspended leaps, controlled flips, and overall effortlessness as he bounds on and off the table. Most of his shapes resemble popular yoga postures and gymnastics maneuvers, but one can’t help be mesmerized by his artistry. Equally captivating is fellow company member Sarah Nachbauer, as she slithers around on a ramp with a mirrored surface to music by Lisa Gerrard in Echoes of Narcissus, from Botanica. The doubling effect of the mirror is the obvious feature of this dance, but the precision lighting that allows the shapes to have their effect without getting in the way of the mirror is just as remarkable.
San Francisco Ballet principals Dores André and Luke Ingham display a flirtatious contemporary duet in Lolita (excerpted from Yuri Possokhov’s Swimmer) and then keep the romance afloat with the Romeo and Juliet scene in Act II. As the only dancers from a major ballet company, they handle both works with a breathless fluidity. In the latter, Ingham lands his jumps like it’s as simple as walking.
As they demonstrated last month at the ATTPAC Block Party, Bandaloop continues to prove the oft-explored concept that any space can become a stage, regardless if you can place your feet on it. In the aerial dance Inverted Duet, created by Amelia Rudolph in collaboration with the dancers, Rachael Lincoln and Melecio Estrella not only maneuver in and out of each other’s space, but (as the title suggests) they’re mostly hanging upside down.
The above companies could handily create a remarkable Command performance, but two factors set this one above the rest—women choreographers and local talent.
Three world premieres grace the Winspear this year, and all feature females at the creative helm. First is Beijing Dance Theater’s Wang Yuanyuan. As a woman leading the modern contemporary dance scene in China, her impressive resume includes choreography for top Chinese national events and prestigious international companies.
Her Command pieces Walk Alone and December in Beijing (both danced by a spirited Feng Linshu and the stunning Zheng Jie) demonstrate a fierce athleticism and fusion vocabulary that easily fit in with the top contemporary companies in the world. Ballet is the obvious technical base, as indicated by the dancers’ lines and ease with which they transition between difficult positions, but the modern dance influence strongly shows through, as well. Although she has a distinct flavor, portions of Walk resemble Stephen Petronio’s style, while December has an air of Dwight Rhoden. BDT is exactly the type of company Santos taps for TITAS seasons, so we’ll likely see them in the future.
The third world premiere involves local talent, as the newly minted artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre Bridget L. Moore presents Uncharted Territory, commissioned by TITAS Presents for this year’s show. Clad in abstracted tuxedos designed by Fernando Herndandez, Claude Alexander III and Kimara Wood (understudying for Matthew Rushing, but performed in lieu of him Saturday night) trade solos, partner each other, and dance in stunning unison. With a heavy Afro-Caribbean vibe mixed with traditional modern maneuvers, the men execute Moore’s choreography with a primal yet fluid quality adding a flair for the dramatic.
Closing the performance with a bang is Albert Drake in Rhoden’s Growth (A Part of a Bigger Picture). Since SMU Meadows School of the Arts Division of Dance is honored with this year’s Tom Adams Award of Appreciation, it’s only fitting that one of its alumni perform in the show. In person, Drake isn’t exactly on the tall side, but his stage presence and execution make him seem larger than life. The Bruce Wood Dance Project artistic associate frequently delivers excellent performances, but this has to be his best yet.