Dallas — In spite of the stormy clouds and flooded roads, TITAS/Dance Unbound fought through the brooding Dallas weather by putting on an explosive show to culminate their 2018/2019 season on June 1. The prestigious Command Performance is a highlight on many arts-lovers’ calendars. Each year, the Command Performance brings a handful of guest companies and artists from all over the world to the Winspear Opera House for one last celebration of dance.
As Alonzo King LINES Ballet opened TITAS’ season last June, it was only fitting that the company begin the evening with a pas de deux from Art Songs—a sinewy duet featuring Adji Cissoko and Shuaib Elhassan. True to King’s aesthetic, Cissoko extended her elastic limbs into awe-inspiring lines—creating stunning visual shapes as her partner carried her through the space. A malleable quality grew from their duet as Elhassan manipulated her in and out of fragile, sometimes destructive positions. Although the dancers did not lack for chemistry, I did wish for Elhassan’s role to take on more than just support for the lovely Cissoko.
Multi-genre choreographer DJ Smart upped the intensity in his solo Intrusion. The flashing lights, breathy sounds, and pulsing contractions presented a hip-hop style piece reliant on hard hits, weighted shoulder collapses, and tutting arms.
In a shift to classical ballet, Ashley Bouder (New York City Ballet) and Joaquin De Luz (former New York City Ballet member) graced the stage with Rubies—a pas de deux from Jewels. It’s always a delight to see the great George Balanchine’s works live—a good reminder of how well his choreography ages. Bouder and De Luz illuminated the timelessness of his work in their careful, precise partnering, ambitious leaps, and sassy heel steps.
Transformation invited audiences into the shadow world of Pilobolus. Behind a large screen, Krystal Butler transformed from a girl into various magical shapes with the help of her two partners, lighting, and shadow play. While their visuals could be considered novel by first time viewers, the general shadow aesthetic becomes a bit played out for those familiar with the company. It will be interesting to see what new works Pilobolus brings to TITUS in the future—hopefully a show that pushes outside the boundaries of shadow puppetry and displays a more technical side to their choreography.
In another portrayal of technological effects on movement, MOMIX’s Last Leaf Catches the First Snowfall wowed viewers as Jason Williams stepped out wearing a massive wave-like structure on his back. Nearly reaching the lights above him, the white, billowing fabric changed in appearance as projections of shimmering blue and fiery red cast a kaleidoscope of visuals onto the prop. Willliams twisted, bent, and walked subtly in order to alter the shape of his fabric, but as I watched I found myself questioning the piece’s relevancy to the program. Visually thrilling, yes, but fit for a celebration of dance performance? Not so much.
The jam-packed show continued after intermission with the most memorable work of the night: The Calling, an excerpt from Splendid Isolation II. Jessica Lang’s choreography centered on Kana Kimura in a cascading white dress. Kimura stood facing away from the audience as her crisp dress flooded in a circle around her, swallowing her feet and lower body as if she remained trapped within her own garment. Throughout the solo she twisted, bent, and reached—bit by bit pulling the edges of her costume closer to her center. Kimura’s strained stretching arms and fluid spirals emitted an atmosphere of desperate strength and angelic power.
The Alonzo King LINES Ballet duet returned with another pas de deux from Migration. Once again, Elhassan served as a solid support for the undulating Cissoko—leading her through spidery steps en point, wilting falls, and quick turns. Unfortunately, just as Elhassan began to showcase his individual strength, the piece came to an end.
Along with partner Tiffany De Albaof of Cirque Du Soleil, DJ Smart took the stage in Emerge. Heavy beats mirrored the duet’s sharp upper body shapes and quick head tilts. Contemporary partner-work featured aggressive spins and climbing motifs. Due to the short length of the work, however, these themes were unable to develop.
The NYCB pair reappeared for another delightful Balanchine number: a Tchaikovsky pas de duex. Soft pink costuming, delicate arm gestures, and suspended lifts portrayed a lighter, romantic partnership between Bouder and De Luz. The two attacked the difficult jumps and intricate partnering with professionalism and expertise. Their solo variations highlighted their technical abilities as De Luz impressed with buoyant leaps and Bouder captivated with nimble, complex footwork.
As the curtain rose for Dreamcatcher, a large, curving sculpture rocked back and forth with Jason Williams and Heather Magee hanging from its structure like a child on the monkey bars. MOMIX’s final performance explored positive and negative space as the dancers wove in, around, and above the see-sawing oval with ease and precision. Visually captivating, the performance mixed acrobatic feats with elements of danger and surprise.
In another throwback to the beginning of the season, TITUS welcomed back a David Parsons favorite: Caught. This 1982 classic has continued to astound audiences thirty years later. In his signature work, Parsons captured moments of flight with the help of strobe lights and athletic jumps. Clifton Brown gave a powerful rendition of the work thanks to his powerful leaps and crisp landings.
For their 2019 Command Performance, TITUS/Dance Unbound cultivated an engaging, entertaining program that brought together a group of highly talented artists and performers. Featuring well-established companies and audience-favorite pieces, the evening succeeded at maintaining viewer attention. However, in the future, I’d love to see a more relevant collection of works that both appreciates concert dance history and pushes the boundaries to include artists who are exploring the future of dance.