Dallas — The slow metamorphosis that Contemporary Ballet Dallas has demonstrated artistically comes to fruition with a complete rebranding as Ballet Dallas. Their home theater, the Latino Cultural Center, welcomes this change with the official launch of the new name for their spring concert. Valerie Shelton Tabor still helms the troupe and promises exciting things in store.
Kevin Jenkins set two works for Act I, the first a premiere. Fortissimo begins the evening with the music from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro. The footwork (danced in flat slippers) remains fairly classical, with contemporary and neo-classical variations of the upper body, including a ubiquitous use of flexed hands. Fernando Hernandez’s costumes mimic the precision of the choreography, as the distinct red, black, and white panels create a sharp color block.
Overall the choreography delivers a satisfying musicality and dynamic floor patterns. Dancers maintain beautiful smiles, and although some areas reveal timing issues, the picture proves stunning when they all move as a tight ensemble.
Jenkins second work, Falling Light, displays a stunning, well-rehearsed duet between Jennifer Warren and Mike Stone. Ludovico Einaudi’s composition “Divenire” provides a sweeping, emotional backdrop for an intense connection between the two dancers. They maneuver through the intricate, quick-moving partnering effortlessly, with Stone shining as the ever-attentive partner.
Local guest artists Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of the up-and-coming Bombshell Dance Project challenge the members of Ballet Dallas with a radically different composition than the others found in Act I. Backbite begins with the dancers standing upstage of the light shining across the downstage area. Clad in navy short and gray T-shirts, they walk into the light, some defiant, some stoic.
As the work progresses, the only hint that these might be ballet dancers comes as they extend arms and legs in the balletic style. The remarkable vocabulary and intriguing spatial patterns allows each dancer to explore a range not usually seen in ballet, but their classical training appears to be almost vital in order to successfully navigate the precise transitions with the attention to detail needed.
A varied soundtrack includes a snare drum that gradually increases speed, a Beethoven composition, a heartbreaking Dolly Parton song, and a minimalist tune from Justin Hurwitz. While the dancers communicate a variety of pensive moods to the audience, their relationship with each other is tense and competitive, as evidenced by subtle pushes and intense stares.
Act II opens with live music to Carter Alexander’s premiere Deux Poémes, as musician Martin Morgan plays his original composition with vocalist Hilary Werthman. Samuel Beckett’s poetry provides the impetus for the lyrics and choreography. While live music always seems to complete any dance performance, the manner in which this one is staged highlights the special relationship musicians and dancers have when performing together and delivering the right timing.
Several times in the 10-minute work, Werthman and Morgan seem to exaggerate their gaze towards the dancers before beginning a new measure or segment, and the dancers demonstrate an excellent ability to make their music come to life. It’s a beautiful picture of that symbiotic relationship that is fortunately becoming less rare in North Texas. Merlot-toned costumes and ladies en pointe add another layer of richness to this story of Stone and Diana Crowder discovering each other over and over again.
The middle work of Act II changes from Thursday to Friday. Thursday’s show displays Scene Unseen, Danny Buraczski’s jazz work from April’s spring concert at SMU featuring Albert Drake and Adrian Aguirre (of Bruce Wood Dance). Friday night has Drake and his wife Emily Perry Drake (also of BWD) delivering an exquisite duet how divine is this thing called skin, with music by Olafur Arnalds.
With an elegant blend of partnering, unison, and solo work, the two depict separate parts of a whole, which appears beautifully poignant given their relationship. They maintain similar movement qualities in the unison work, yet when it comes to partnering, Albert illustrates a sense of grounding with a deliberate quality, while Emily finds more spirited dynamic in her choreography. Put together, the two styles and vocabularies complement each other magnificently.
The company ends with fireworks as the entire company whirls around the stage in Hailey von Schlehenried’s Subconscious Motion set to Ezio Bosso’s string music. Hues of red appear to be a popular choice for costuming throughout the evening, and this dance explodes in a stunning picture with nine dancers donning fire engine crimson.
Of all the works, it moves the quickest, but still makes room for the dancers’ precise shapes to shine through. Swirling chaîné turns and luscious grand jetés occur seamlessly alongside intertwining floor patterns. Crowder’s proves her worth as a frequent here and in other pieces, as she finds a lovely balance between explosive and delicate.
Everything seems to click, except for a puzzling end, when Crowder returns on stage clad in a scarlet leotard for the remaining ten seconds of the dance. The questionable ending, however, does nothing to detract from the remarkable work from the rest of the piece.