Dallas — Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet, led by artistic director Emilie Skinner, has seen plenty of success and innovation in the last few years. As they forge their own path through the Dallas dance community, they provide audiences with a look back through dance history, create new opportunities for collaboration among multiple disciplines, and constantly search for unique inspirations.
The premise of their spring mainstage show Cosmic Fiction, viewed March 17, offers promise and intrigue, especially with the release of their 2018 quirky calendar “Ballerina Space Girls.” Composer Lane Harder and the SYZYGY music ensemble from SMU join the company again at Moody Performance Hall, in addition to filmmaker and composer Dutch Rall, for an evening of dance inspired by science fiction. Another interesting fact to note is the creative distribution of the six works on the bill, as no one choreographer appears twice in that role.
The company’s efforts to present an out-of-this-world performance, however, fall flat, mostly because that world needs to be somewhere other than the Moody. It’s the main issue plaguing the performance (although not the only one), but on the other hand, their creative setup does have certain requirements, including areas for an orchestra, projections, and of course, the dancers. On the surface, Moody seems to be an obvious choice, but at the risk of a bad pun, the theater has too much space.
The vast landscape of the cyclorama proves overpowering for the first two dances, which include Rall’s films projected. Quantum Connectivity (choreographed by Adrian Aguirre) opens with reflective images as the backdrop for five dancers in stunning blue leotards with ring-shaped tutus (also created by Aguirre). Rall’s enticing composition “Entanglements Part I” creates a mysterious atmosphere for a work exploring ways which objects are moved or changed without being actually touched. Marissa Pyron adds hauntingly beautiful vocals, which she performs live.
The film remains abstract, at times dizzying, but the choreography and performances simply can’t compete. Maneuvering through a blend of neo-classical vocabulary and contemporary stylings, the dancers appear to just hit the poses, with fuzzy transitions and a lack of timing dynamics. Solos and duets mix with unison work, and overall the dancers look uncertain. Overall, it seems like more simmering time in rehearsal could overcome the hesitancy and precision issues.
Skinner’s Revenir suffers from the same projection issue. Based on the 1962 French sci-fi film La Jetée (which inspired 1995’s 12 Monkeys), it delves into time travel and romance with a startling conclusion. Harder’s score lends a dramatic tone to the choreography and the film. Michael Stone and Lea Zablocki appear on screen and the stage, but it’s difficult to concentrate on both. Projected close-ups of the two drown out their exquisite duet on stage.
Stone’s entry in the concert, Circus Alius, finds obscure inspiration from a novel about circus folk on another planet. The lighthearted, cutesy nature provides nice change in tone, and it allows Tristan Rodney to show off some playful theatrics, as he directs various circus performers to entertain an excited Zablocki. Harder provides compositions that sit alongside others from 20th-century avant-garde composers.
Luckily, there’s no projection with which the dancers must compete, but the segments lack continuity and parts of the ballet feel rushed. No discernable sci-fi theme or imagery plays out, leaving the audience to make the connection solely from the program synopsis.
Erin Boone’s Beyond the Reach of Time delivers a loose narrative and is one of the more cohesive works in the show. Her choreographic range expands with slinkier movements paired with her usual ballet vocabulary. Fascinating watercolor-style costumes add a dreamy quality to the variety of movement styles. Boone displays a strong traveling segment, and Hannah Rae Kleimeyer presents a powerful solo.
Again, though, the space is a hindrance, as the choreography and the dancers’ execution aren’t expansive enough to fill the theater. Many arm patterns lose their dramatic effect and lack distinction from the rest of the choreography.
A curious short film recites (in French) Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem L’Apre-midi d’un Faune as a precursor to the final work. In their commendable effort to keep historical works alive, DNCB saves its most peculiar entry for last, with Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun. The 1912 scandalous work gets a 21st century reset into the realm of space, while keeping the original choreography.
The production elements come together quite nicely. A simple but colorful projection of space provides the setting, and a minimal black set provides the platform upon which the faun (Michael Stone) begins and ends the performance. Instead of Léon Bakst’s original costume design, Nicolina Dancewear & Design employs futuristic colors and lines for the faun and nymphs. Claude Debussy’s score of the same name finds new instrumentation with the SYZYGY ensemble (a recorded version, conducted by Nicholas Leh Baker) and delivers a synthesized sound.
The piece likely only appeals to dance history nerds, however, as the odd two-dimensional postures and movements look as bizarre today as they did over a hundred years ago against the typical maneuvers of ballet. Stone and the nymphs fare decently well with the material, though, given its eccentricity and counter-intuitiveness.
As a whole, it feels like the components just didn’t fit together for this concert, but another puzzling thought remains. Is there such a thing as being too interdisciplinary?