Dallas — Collaboration can surprise and delight in unexpected and thrilling ways. It’s a foundational aspect of Avant Chamber Ballet (headed by Katie Cooper), and every season brings something new and remarkable. For their season closer Fascinating Rhythms presented at Moody Performance Hall, the company overall delivers a striking, technically solid performance, with a winning combo for the concert-closing world premiere.
It’s been a custom of the troupe to present a George Balanchine work about once a year, and this season sees the return of the popular Who Cares? with music by George Gershwin, staged by Michele Gifford. For the jubilant opening number, guest performer Ronnie Underwood, principal dancer and ballet master with Oklahoma City Ballet, partners with Juliann McAloon, Melissa Meng, and Shannon Quirk for a vibrant performance of the well-known ballet. The uplifting opening number features brilliant smiles and precise petit allegros from Meng, McAloon’s stunning turns and flirtatious vibe, an impressive attention to detail from Quirk, and Underwood’s charm and ease of execution.
Second on the bill is Café Victoria, and its opening aesthetic sets up an intriguing picture. A ballet barre on stage left holds four dancers, three of them on stools, while musicians Jeffrey Bradetich, Sara Sasaki, and Anastasia Markina are set on stage right. While the dance has its good moments, overall, it’s dated and a bit cringe-worthy. The musicians are by far the highlight of the piece.
Choreographed by Paul Mejia, this tango en pointe follows four siren-like ladies as they seduce and tempt. Black leotards, sheer black tights, and black pointe shoes help bolster the image of women’s power over men; however, the high-cut line of the leotard leaves very little to the imagination whenever the ladies spread open their legs, a frequent motif. Other postures and positioning also contribute to the overtly sexual but awkward mood, and they reference (albeit poorly) several Fosse musical moments.
Glenn Kelich dances the role of an unfortunate chap who realizes he’s stepped into The House of the Rising Sun. Quirk is probably the most believable temptress of the four, and she dances her part with precision and fire. Many in the audience get into the action, as they cheer and clap, especially when the women rip Kelich’s shirt open before he goes stumbling offstage.
The final piece does a much better job of elevating the role of the female. Let’s start with the dancing.
Sisterhood opens with six dancers on stage alongside the Baumer String Quartet against a brilliant green background. Donning various styles of peach and green athletic wear from local Dallas clothier Outdoor Voices, they exude a calming pedestrian quality, even in their pointe shoes and ballet vocabulary. A positive vibe permeates the first section, which makes lovely use of duet and trio choreography. Generous uses of parallel break up the traditional steps, as does a frequent crouch to the ground to change up the level.
Kelich joins Madelaine Boyce and Meng for some lively allegros, making for a perplexing second section. Giddiness from the previous section continues and they’re all excellent dancers, but if there’s a point to be made with Kelich’s inclusion (such as a statement about gender), it doesn’t come across.
The third segment makes up for it. Soloist Juliann McAloon remains in pointe shoes, while the other five dancers switch to white sneakers. It provides a moment of reflection and honesty amidst the happiness, as McAloon searches and displays a sense of dejection, only to have the ensemble lift her off the ground. Squad goals on display. They end with a buoyant section, with McAloon joining them in sneakers, featuring more pedestrian steps and some solid unison segments.
ACB has no shortage of stellar musicians at their fingertips, especially with music director David Cooper’s connections. From the seven-member ensemble conducted by Brad Cawyer that plays for Who Cares? to the trio for Café Victoria to the Baumer String Quartet (who has an intriguing organizational model) for the last work, this concert’s musicians are exceptionally fantastic. To make things more exciting, Sisterhood featured a world premiere from Quinn Mason, a brilliant composer just barely in his 20s who seems to make waves wherever he goes. His String Quartet No. 2 features pleasing melodies, luxurious harmonies, and a dynamic range, all of which seamlessly meld with Katie Cooper’s choreography and could easily work with ballet and contemporary modern genres. Hopefully we’ll see more of his work featured on North Texas dance stages.