Review: Four Last Songs + Twilight & Esmeralda + L | Texas Ballet Theater | Bass Performance Hall

Power and Precision

In Texas Ballet Theater's second mix repertory program of the spring, Ben Stevenson's Four Last Songs stood out.

published Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Photo: Steven Visneau

Fort Worth — As the leading professional ballet company in the DFW metroplex, I always expect great things from Texas Ballet Theater. Under the artistic direction of Ben Stevenson, O.B.E. for 16 years, the company’s repertoire reflects Stevenson’s value of perfection, entertainment, and theatrical techniques. In this mixed repertoire performance, the combination of remarkable technique, the luxurious setting of Bass Performance Hall, and exquisite visual elements added another outstanding show to TBT’s legacy.

In the most compelling work of the evening, Stevenson imagined a dreamy movement score to accompany composer Richard Strauss’ pensive music. Divided into four movement sections, Four Last Songs beautifully captured the composer’s angsty, ethereal melodies through tender partnering, breathy falls, and floating balances. This atmosphere enhanced by a spectacular display of billowing, white fabric draped above the stage—providing a celestial setting for an already mesmerizing piece. The nude unitards of the dancers allowed for a heightened focus on their delicate movements and airy gestures. Paige Nyman and Carl Coomer’s elusive duet teemed with desire as Coomer chased his partner across the stage, matching the melancholy and emotional tones of the vocal accompaniment. In the final section, Katelyn Clenghan’s stand-out solo broke away from the circular shapes and drifting momentum of the earlier phrases. Her spry jumps and frantic upper body exemplified the themes of loss, longing, and despair. This extraordinary conclusion finished with the falling of the white fabric over the still dancers—a truly breathtaking sight.

Still reeling from such a sensational opening, I found Stevenson’s next work, Twilight, to be a tranquil transition. The duet featured the lovely Alexandra Farber and steady partner Alexander Kotelenets. Their impressive partner-work included complicated turns involving threaded, interwoven limbs and seamless, soaring lifts. In fact, the dancers performed their pas de deux perhaps too well—fooling the audience into seeing their technically difficult steps as effortless.

A brilliant Samantha Pille stole the stage in Esmeralda. Accompanied by Jiyan Dai, Pille’s flashing eyes, emerald green tutu, and sharply articulated brushes established a playful, seductive tone. While Dai’s solid partnering deserves mention, it was Pille’s flirtatious presence and 180 degree split balance that held the attention of her audience. Dai did manage to excite during his solo with springy leaps and fast turns. But once again, Pille surpassed her partner by kicking her tambourine en pointe across the floor in her own variation.

L shifted from classical ballet themes into a fun, jazzy piece comprised of an all-male cast. According to the program note, Stevenson created this work as a tribute to the great Liza Minnelli. Reflections of Minnelli’s vivacious personality are apparent in the precise, linear shapes, explosive jumps, and spirited jazz hands. Performed alongside a live percussion ensemble, the peppy number was broken into eight sections—each booming with theatrical expressions and hard-hitting stops. Despite the spicy beats, not all sections maintained the energetic fervor of their musical accompanists. At times, the repeated phrases became monotonous and predictable, in contrast to the dynamic of the percussionists. The transitions also prolonged this tedious feeling due to the long silences in between sections. However, not all segments dragged along—for instance, Jomanuel Velazquez’s comedic display in “Boogaloo” was both dynamic and engaging. Velazquez attacked each step with meticulous power but showed versatility in sudden swiveling hips and groovy chest rolls. Thanks For Reading

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Power and Precision
In Texas Ballet Theater's second mix repertory program of the spring, Ben Stevenson's Four Last Songs stood out.
by Emily Sese

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