Fort Worth — Couples, families, and groups of young adults passed under the large metal archway that read, “The Heart of the Ranch,” and walked the winding gravel path through the trees until they reached a clearing. In the center of the clearing stood a massive oak tree with hanging lights radiating out from its branches. To the left of the perimeter lay the Trinity River, Austin’s Underdawgs’ brightly colored food truck, Steel City Pops’ umbrella cart, and a few wooden stands selling Ballet Concerto merchandise. The dancers warmed up on stage as the audience pitched their lawn chairs. Although the setting was informal the ambiance was as intimate as a concert hall.
On the evenings of June 22-25, Ballet Concerto performed its 36th annual Summer Dance Concert at The Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork. The venue was an upgrade from their past performances at the Trinity Park Pavilion. Under the awning of twinkling lights and encompassed by the woods, the stage was the focal point. The Heart of the Ranch was reflective of the company’s mission to promote community and provide exposure to ballet free of charge.
The Summer Dance Concert 90-minute repertoire contained four pieces alternating between classical and contemporary ballet. Due to the setting, it was the latter that exhibited the best.
In efforts to educate the audience on the range and evolution of ballet, the program opened with a condensed version of the 1898 Russian ballet Raymonda. The women wore traditional blue tutus embellished with gold sequins, pink tights, and pointe shoes. The men wore white tights paired with billowy-sleeved tunics. With the change of formations, the attention switched from the principle dancers to the supporting roles of the corps de ballet, but the ballet lacked etherealness. The shallow stage made the dancers movements appear truncated.
While the intentions behind choosing to perform Raymonda were commendable, the informal blue backdrop hindered the audience’s ability to be transported into the world of classical ballet. Without a set, it was difficult to follow the shorted version of the story. For audience members attending their first ballet, the narrative is essential to understand the why behind the structure of classical ballets.
Why does the corps du ballet come out to surround the ingénue? Why does a male dancer perform a variation often followed by another variation performed by a different male? Why is there a pas de deux? Why do all the dancers join in the final variation? Without the why the performance of the two classical pieces of the night, Raymonda and The Three-Cornered Hat (a premiere by Luis Montero, based on the Spanish book of the same name) felt more like a demonstration.
The transition between the first classical ballet to the contemporary piece was greatly welcomed. Inscape began with Emily Dixon and Shea Johnson entering the stage in powder blue unitards to Bartók’s harsh violin music. Immediately it was evident that Dixon outshined her partner with her clean lines and articulation of her upper body. Although the duo had musicality, the music didn’t enhance the beautiful and intricate choreography of Bruce Marks.
The world premiere of Ebb and Flow by local choreographer Elise Lavallee closed the show. The contemporary ballet set a different tone as the trance like music of Alt-J opened the piece followed by a diverse genre of pop and haunting electronic music. Whether it was because the music was popular or because the movement resonated with the dancers, the company danced with more commitment and passion than displayed earlier in the show. David Schrenk Jr. moment alone on stage was particularly breathtaking and he leaped and punctuated the height of his arabesques with the bass of the music.
As the performance (reviewed on Saturday) continued, dusk gave away to night, the cicadas started to rattle, and the lights overhead shined brighter. Throughout the audience faces glowed of appreciation and pride knowing that in a city as big as Fort Worth they were in community experiencing live art together.