Fort Worth — New year, new venue, new works for Ballet Frontier of Texas. In the freshly constructed theater of I.M Terrell Academy, the company presented its Director’s Choice program featuring returning guests DBDT: Encore! and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. Appropriately themed “East Meets West,” the evening led audience members on a journey through a richly cultivated collection of dance. Truly varied in style, subject, and mood, this year’s Director’s Choice both surprised and engaged viewers.
The first of three Ballet Frontier pieces, Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng’s Bamboo Flute Concerto centered on a delicate composition from Ma Shui Long. Trilling high notes resounded through the auditorium as dancers in green unitards pricked the floor with their pointe shoes. Perky turns and flexed wrists established a lively opening while small groups of dancers tip-toed in and out of shifting formations. Projections of bamboo forests played on the cyc to provide additional context and setting. However, at times, these images overshadowed the movement of the dancers. The combination of the music, costumes, and dainty steps were certainly enough to produce the desired tone.
Jolting the theater into a high-intensity performance of Phoenix, DBDT:Encore! company members kicked, leaped, and turned with ferocity. After viewing this particular work multiple times in various performances, I still found myself awed by the fierce athleticism and dedication of the dancers who transcended Philip Glass’ already dramatic accompaniment. As stunning and technically impressive as Zac L. Ingram’s piece is, I found myself craving more varied touring repertoire from the company.
Ballet Frontier’s Lee Wei Chao brought the program back to a more serene tone in Lost & Found. The dancers began with slow, elongated stretches as they broke into individual silhouettes. Swirling hips, snaking arms, and skittering feet ushered in mysterious, lucid motifs and aesthetically stimulating shapes. The work relied heavily on a strong musical connection—visually displayed in the pulsing chests and accented movements of the dancers. Capitalizing on the heavy underlying rhythms, unique gestures, and the choreographer’s ability to use the strengths of his company members, Lost & Found stood out as one of the best works I’ve seen from the group. My only wish was to see these themes further developed—the ending seemed to come too quickly.
Of all the numbers of the evening, I was most surprised to see Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Bud on the program. Having attended the premiere of this work in DCCD’s Winter Series last month, I wondered how the company would transfer this interactive, multi-disciplinary performance into a traditional theater setting. For this piece, choreographer Joshua L. Peugh collaborated with visual artist Brian Kenny to create a kinesthetic commentary on masculinity, gender norms, and sports culture. With the absence of Kenny during this show, the dancers were left to draw on themselves and each other—adding an interesting new role to their individual characters. Although I missed Kenny’s insane abilities on the giant chalkboard, I also enjoyed this new approach because it unified and clarified the performers’ relationships. The spiraling twists, comical gestures, and expansive, fluid steps served as a refreshing shift from the more codified styles of the night.
As for the audience favorite of the program, Ballet Frontier’s Rodeo was the clear winner. Set to Aaron Copland’s score, cowboys, saloon girls, and other eccentric wild west characters filled the space with lively, lighthearted energy. Focused on a cowgirl’s (Elizabeth Villarreal) struggle for love and acceptance, the ballet recalled classical tools of pantomime and narrative. Well-rehearsed cowboys lifted and twirled their partners with ease as Villarreal galloped, cartwheeled, and clicked her heels in defiance. Genuine, cheeky, and relatable, Villarreal embodied her role perfectly—her sweet smiles and shy partnering won over the hearts of the viewers form the start.