Dallas — Even when it’s not October, Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and artistic director Emilie Skinner still manage to sneak in the eerie and ominous with Myth and Magick, presented at Sammons Center for the Arts. The performance of two Ballet Russes pieces and an original standalone musical composition touched on just about everything DNCB is known for—historical works, unique costumes, and most notably, collaboration.
SYZYGY, under the direction of Lane Harder, joined them again, as is now the spring custom. For this performance, Sarah Klein conducted the contemporary music ensemble of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, a fitting choice given the casting of the second act. Another hallmark of the company is its use of a round seating arrangement in Sammons, allowing for an intimate viewing experience for the audience and creative opportunities for entrances and exits.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, as a lighthearted comedy opened the evening. With music by Erik Satie, the 1924 ballet Mercure moved through three vignettes with Mercury, the mischievous god of commerce and trade (Tristan Rodney) at the center of each. This version was choreographed by Erin Boone, with a lovely costume collaboration between her, Maddie Hill, and Linda Mallar.
Rodney was an ideal choice for Mercury, as his acting and dramatic range have matured nicely. Even when he lurked on the fringes of the stage, all eyes were drawn to him, especially when he peered around audience members, moving them to the side as if parting branches of a bush to spy on the other dancers. His allure, however, didn’t just lie in his performance, but his technical execution. Clear petit allegros and fluid transitions added another impressive layer.
A contemplative and calming composition by Alex Shawver closed out the first act. Featuring Patrick Charters on euphonium and Shawver on vibraphone, the song provided a nice bridge from the humorous ballet to the harsher work of the second act.
Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring was the main attraction of the evening, with Skinner’s distinctive twist befitting the company. A group of nine women portrayed witches preparing for the arrival of spring, waiting to see who the chosen sacrifice will be. The High Priestess (Lea Zablocki) oversaw the ritual, in which the Chosen One (Erin Boone) danced to her death. Heather Lynn’s black costumes featured uniquely painted tops, while Amanda Dunnavant’s makeup design added more individuality to the dancers. To distinguish her role even further, Zablocki created two elaborate, foreboding headpieces.
Placing this dance in the program after a more traditional work made the choreography appear even more odd, perhaps recreating the piece’s initial 1913 Paris reception when it premiered after the lighter Fokine ballet Les Sylphides. Containing no formal ballet steps and awkward shapes with abundant repetition, Nijinsky’s choreography is still perplexing, even more than a hundred years later. In restaging the ballet, Skinner and company member Whitney Hart found intriguing ways to display the choreography on a much smaller group and with an all-female cast depicting ranks of witches, rather than male-female partnering and segregated ensembles
Execution is a mixed bag, as some dancers don’t physically invest in the movement (however repetitive or simple) as much as others. Boone absolutely nails her role, delivering frantic qualities in her final dance yet still displaying fragile, raw emotion in her stillness upon realizing her fate. Zablocki’s usual delicate grace was nowhere to be seen, and although her role didn’t dance as much as the other performers, her imposing walks and chilling stares were enough to put the audience back in the Halloween spirit.
The four-handed piano arrangement contributed to the curious nature of this particular work. SYZYGY members Victor Diaz and Akari Mizumoto played the score with an impressive dynamic range and excellent timing. The dissonance inherent in the score, however, was magnified when the notes that typically come from multiple instruments (as in most arrangements) were heard solely on the piano, like two people tried to play different songs on the same instrument. On the other hand, the minimalism allowed for more of the score’s subtleties to shine through.
Overall, the piece was bizarre, yet somewhat satisfying and almost expected of the company. Given their creative interests and ambitions, it might be nice to see an original interpretation of the ballet from them in the future.