Dallas — It was a bittersweet night on Saturday for Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s second annual Blind Tiger. To kick off summer right, they delivered an upbeat, light-hearted evening of ballet, but it was also Artistic Director and co-founder Emilie Skinner’s last production before she moves to California. A round stage setting at Sammons Center for the Arts allowed to company to do what it does best—present intimate, accessible works of ballet and contemporary dance with a strong historical basis and plenty of opportunities for collaboration.
Let’s start with the dancing. Opening the evening devoted to the 1920s was Skinner’s The Bugatti Queen with music by George Gershwin and additional choreography by ballet mistress Erin Boone. It tells the story (both verbally and physically) of Hellé Nice (Boone), a dancer, model, and race car driver.
Charming choreography and whimsical execution were highlights, for sure, but this was a piece where acting took center stage. Tristan Rodney as the Director narrated the segments between dancing, berating his unfortunate assistant (Javier Hernandez) which evoked many giggles throughout. Boone’s portrayal of Nice as a glamorous model, ballet student, and showgirl transitioned nicely into more grounded movement qualities typical of men’s ballet choreography. As she danced through the racing portion Nice’s life, she maintained a sharp balance between the styles and displayed an admirable dynamic range.
Moving on to more traditional ballet vocabulary but still with a strong character focus was guest choreographer Rubén Gerding’s Pulcinella, based on the story of Leonide Massine’s work of the same name. The original work performed by the Ballet Russes (to which DNCB frequently pays homage) featured scenery and costumes by Pablo Picasso and music by Igor Stravinsky, both frequent collaborators with the early-20th century French company. For this performance, seven cast members enchanted patrons with a tale of mischievous characters, jealousy, revenge, and light-hearted forgiveness.
With its emphasis on story and character, Gerding’s version might have had more pop with some extra visuals, but his staging fit beautifully within the concert’s aesthetic. All dancers demonstrated a fine attention to details, and they had plenty of opportunities for their acting chops to shine. Whitney Hart Weaver handily maneuvered through Fourbo’s athletic vocabulary, and Lea Zablocki and Diana Crowder were positively charming with delicate technical precision. Walker Sims is one to watch in future shows, as his execution and performance qualities impressed in this work and the previous.
To close out the evening, Skinner brought back last year’s comedic ballet A Day in the Life of Florence Louise, in which the main character (danced by Zablocki) must deal with her lover’s wandering eyes and playful spirit. She turns the tables on him in the end. Using various music from the 1920s, it’s all laughs and enjoyment. Ballet vocabulary mixed with vernacular dance from the era (with additional choreography by Weaver), and Rhythmic Souls Tap Company made a guest appearance in the nightclub scene.
If Skinner is going to leave, best to go out with a bang. Her ideas had no limits, and she had a knack for gathering like-minded artists to bring something wholly different to the ballet world. Eschewing the usual Christmas stuff for the creative possibilities that Halloween could bring and breathing life into lesser-known (sometimes almost unknown) historical works, her concert ideas always piqued interest.
Going forward, Erin Boone will be the Artistic Director and her husband Daniel will step into the role of Executive Director. Let’s hope the same spirit continues.