Dallas — Petipa returns!
But only briefly. One of the ongoing themes of TITAS’ annual Command Performance presented at the Winspear Opera House has been a greater diversity of works, moving further away from the classical and neo-classical standouts. After a year without the names of Marius Petipa or George Balanchine on the bill, the organization, led by Charles Santos, brought one of them back.
And it was glorious! Freelance ballet artist Adiarys Almeida (a frequent Nutcracker guest in DFW) and Joseph Gatti (standing in for an injured Taras Domitro) light up the stage with the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote. Almeida’s lightning-fast turns spice up any role she performs, but they deliver an especially delicious spark in her Kitri variation. Gatti defies the laws of physics with his pirouettes and allegros.
Way to start the show with a bang. Since this variation is usually the firework finale of its ballet, one can only wonder what’s in store for the rest of this performance. Six sets of artists fill this year’s bill, with all but one presenting a double-dose of fantastic athleticism and exhilarating visuals.
Dandara Amorim and Omar Román of Ballet Hispánico flip the mood to serious with a tense Catorce Dieciséis. Set to Vivaldi’s choral Stabat Mater, the excerpt displays Amorim struggling against Roman’s partnering, and the choreography by Tania Pérez Salas allows Amorim’s delicate articulation to shine alongside her emotional execution. The only downside is that Roman seems to be merely the one who lifts and guides, as we see only a glimpse of his full movement potential.
Nicole Loizides of MOMIX delivers the oft-performed Aqua Flora, and dazzles the audience with her endless rotations. Next up is the powerful Desmond Richardson in Dwight Rhoden’s Imprint/Maya. One can always expect displays of inspiring flexibility and explosive actions, yet the most poignant moments come in stillness, offering quiet suspense.
Every year TITAS endeavors to commission world premieres for Command, and this year’s works come from Wang Yuanyuan and Beijing Dance Theater. She intrigued audiences at last year’s performance, and now she’s back to whet our appetites for their full company debut in the upcoming season.
Both of her works feature spoken word and poetic inspiration (an ongoing theme in this performance), and first up is Facing the Ocean, with Linshu Feng and Jie Jheng. Feng begins on a revolving stool, then Jheng enters for their dynamic duet. Playful and slightly seductive, they maneuver through outstretched postures with seemingly impossible fluidity, as Feng handles pointe work like it’s as simple as walking. Although it’s unclear how the poem connects, their execution of the contemporary vocabulary and connection prove remarkable.
MOMIX isn’t the only prop-based company on the bill, as Australia’s Strange Fruit brings a delightful and awe-inspiring excerpt from The Spheres. Choreographed by Philip Gleeson, the performance begins oddly with the recessed Moody Chandelier lighting up. Three fabric spheres slowly rise from the orchestra pit, then white-clad characters pop out of each as the structures rise even higher.
Perched on (and likely well-secured to) towering sway-poles, Angelica Cassimiro, Jay Carlon, and Daniel Lupo bend, lean, and spin, creating an adrenaline-inducing experience through their breathtaking visuals. Inspired by a Henry Vaughan poem, the work brings a touch of the impossible to an already virtuosic evening and displays the creative and daring spirit of the company and its artists. Let’s hope they’re frequent visitors to Dallas.
Ballet Hispánico’s second offering is a snippet from a piece they brought in September, Con Abrazos Abiertos by Michelle Manzanales. Amorim and Román again display a somber mood with stunning athleticism. Desmond Richardson returns to the stage with Rhoden’s Goldberg, and his movement interpretation of the piano notes of Bach’s “Goldberg Variation” played by Glenn Gould proves immensely satisfying.
Yuanyuan’s next premiere, Beyond the Smoke, takes cues from Lo Fu’s poem of the same name. The vocabulary leans a little more towards classical technique, with a sweeping, graceful quality. Feng and Jheng seem equally comfortable in this style as in the other.
Almeida presents a sultry Carmen variation, a last-minute addition since her originally-scheduled duet with Domitro couldn’t happen. Sound quality issues detract a bit, but Almeida wows once again.
MOMIX closes out the performance with Millennium Skiva, another audience favorite. Loizides and Todd Burnsed don head-to-toe silver and hop onto snow skis for an ungulating, sinuous, and daring ride.
TITAS Command performances are always a sight to behold, but this one especially highlights the universal appeal of watching amazing physicality combined with seemingly endless creativity. It’s one of the many reasons dance has the power to uplift, connect, and inspire.