Dallas — What choreographer can resist the challenge of Boléro?
Apparently the newest choreographer willing to give it a try is Christopher Dolder, former soloist with Martha Graham Dance Company and member of the Southern Methodist University dance faculty. His version of Ravel’s Boléro made its debut on Nov. 8 at the Bob Hope Theatre as part the Meadows Dance Ensemble’s 2017 Fall Dance Concert.
Given that Boléro was commissioned by the exotic dancer Ida Rubinstein and made its debut Nov. 1928 at the Paris Opera House, it is no wonder that so many choreographers have had a try, the most famous being Maurice Béjart’s taut version featuring a woman standing atop a long red table as 20 bare-chested men surround her. There are tame, student-performed versions, sensual belly dances and factory street skirmishes. But for pure dramatic wallop, nothing can rival Bruce Wood Dance Company’s ever-so decadent version with its stacks of chairs, its tight-up, bare-chested man, its mannequins and the dancers that slink, dive and explode like fireworks.
To capture a repetitive theme so simple but driving, that builds to great cascading crescendos, Mr. Dolder wisely used a cast just large enough to make use of repetition and tight enough to create individual characters. All wear identical white unitards with black stripes down the side. Without reading the program notes, however, you would be hard put to recognize who represents Hope, Unity and Innocence. About Discipline and Temptation there was no such problem.
The ballet opens with a single figure wrapped around the top of a towering spire, an orb at its tip. She is barely visible in blue moonlight. On the ground, there are two slanted platforms, which we discover serves a prefect platform for daredevil leaps.
As Hope (Lydia Krull) descends from the spire others emerge from below, inching their way forward with their heads down. As they begin to right themselves, one dancer rushes to the top of the platform and does a dramatic dive. She, as it turns out, is the figure of Discipline. Victoria Walker makes the most of her role, intimidating and cajoling the others to get into formation.
In a much smaller role, Temptation (Hayley Tripp) perches herself on one of the spire’s toeholds, undulates belly-dancer fashion, and then kicks off a man who has climbed up.
It ends fittingly: dancers climb the towers, leap off and roll to the ground as just a sliver of light hits the spire’s orb.
As Boléros go, SMU’s version comes close to capturing the intoxicating drive of the music.
Also on the program were Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson’s Ascension and E. Moncell Durden’s jazzy Drop Me Off in Harlem. Mr. Rhoden and Mr. Richardson, co-artistic directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, favor complex and angular contortions as well as harsh music. The harsh music got into play in Ascension, but the movement was relatively simple, with a few bouts of flamboyant leaps by the men (but out of sync) and women on pointe running and quite daringly, sliding.
Direction and energy shift quickly, as does the number of dancers. As ensembles however, cohesion is not their strong point.
By far the best part of Ascension was the somber duet between Kendell Miller-Roberts and Haley Tripp, set to gratifyingly quiet and plaintive music. In a complex interplay of falls and capture, the duet turned out to be the only part of Ascension that lived up to the title.
On an upbeat front, Drop Me Off in Harlem paid tribute to the great jazz bands of the 1930s and 40s: Artie Shaw, Bill Elliot Swing Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and others. Mr. Durden has the feel of the times down pat, giving a bevy of dancers a chance to strut, stomp, slide and slither, with action low to the ground, relaxed and causal. The only handicap it that some of the scenes call for as many men as women, but the entire cast is female.
“Norma, Mabel, and Dawn” sets a sunny mood in the opening work, where Takia Hopson, Sara Magalio and Jennifer Nelson let loose with some sassy shoulder rolls and rocking hips. In “St. Clair’s Girls,” five women in black hats and suits look sleek and cocky, playing the tough guy.
The dance moves from the street to the theater and then to a nightclub, with each setting offering slightly different moods and styles. To liven things up in a nightclub, the host brings out showgirls to strut their stuff. Soon the floor is covered with couples (all women) dancing, and it ends with one big exuberant show of unchecked energy.
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.