Review: Morphoses | Avant Chamber Ballet | Moody Performance Hall

Mighty Morphing

Avant Chamber Ballet opened their season with breathtaking works by Katie Cooper and Christopher Wheeldon.

published Friday, September 20, 2019

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Katie Cooper\'s Sisterhood


Dallas — While there’s no shortage of ballet companies in Dallas, Avant Chamber Ballet stands out as one of the most consistently entertaining — always featuring fantastic live accompaniment, innovative choreography, and relevant themes. Not only did Morphoses display world renowned ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s work of the same name, but the production also gave Artistic Director Katie Cooper the opportunity to premiere her long-awaited Brahms Trio. With three works of varying tone, style, and energy, the evening offered audiences a wide range of delectable ballet to consume.

As she stated at the beginning of the night, Cooper’s original desire to choreograph a ballet to the classic Brahms composition began many years ago. With husband David Cooper on the horn, Alexander Kerr on violin and Fei-Fei Dong on piano, the live trio unleashed rich, luxurious sounds upon the group of dancers in brown and copper bodices. In diagonal formations, the ballerinas struggled to match the intensity and complexity of the accompaniment in their movements—lacking a cohesive focus and unified presence. However, in the second section, a quartet gradually crescendoed into a more enthusiastic dynamic.

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Christopher Wheeldon\'s Morphoses

Brahms Trio continued as Juliann McAloon and Alexander Akulov performed an angsty duet. True to classical partnering, Akulov presented his partner with steady support — stepping aside while McAloon tilted and stretched her limbs into magnificent holds.

A surge of energy flooded the space through Cooper’s fascinating spatial patterns. Oftentimes classical ballet can get stuck in repetitive formations and structural arrangements. But Cooper maintained audience attention by arranging her dancers throughout the whole stage in intentional, intelligent designs.

The final movement welcomed each group of dancers back onstage in a flurry of exits and entrances—resulting in the most visually appealing section due to the fast-paced movement and quick steps of the dancers. Matching the plucky sounds of the musicians, the ballerinas bounced and hopped with renewed energy — displaying an overall cheery, vivacious opening.

Ballet genius Christopher Wheeldon shared his artistry with Avant Chamber Ballet in Morphoses — a quartet only shared with two other companies (New York City Ballet and Washington Ballet). Embracing the contemporary side of the art form, two men and two women in bold red leotards began in a symmetrical cross formation on their backs — rolling, sliding, and weaving off the floor and into the negative space around their bodies. Using their limbs as puzzle pieces, the dancers tangled together and fell apart in hypnotizing shapes.

The group furthered these intricate visuals by dividing into alternating duets — inviting an increasingly foreboding atmosphere through their creature-like gestures. Paired with the dissonant sounds of Gyorgy Ligeti’s score, Kara Zimmerman transformed her balletic turns and holds into creepy extensions and prickly spider crawls while Akulov supported her in manipulative partnerwork. Motifs of slouched shoulders, heavy lifts, and blossoming imagery supported Wheeldon’s themes of change, development, and evolution.

McAloon’s duets with the magnificent Marlen Alimanov set aside this ominous tone for a more aggressive approach. Alimanov exuded power and control through a set of enthusiastic leaps, offering a welcome dynamic change. Later, the two waltzed into peculiar shapes with flexed feet, pricked toes, and curvy spatial patterns for a paradoxical, mesmerizing aesthetic.

Returning to the quartet to finish the work, the dancers stepped into blocky formations with uncomfortable pauses before thrashing, pulling, and spiraling into a chaotic climax. The only disappointment was seeing the piece end with a retrograded version of the opening.

Circling back to the company’s spring show, Sisterhood completed the program. Bright faced ballerinas in pedestrian athleticwear and bouncy ponytails used stretching gestures, gentle weight shifts, and unhurried rolls to develop a calm, leisurely atmosphere. Quinn Mason’s enthralling score added to the uplifting, easygoing mood of the work — pairing perfectly with Cooper’s charming, balanced choreography.

Unison phrases connected the all-female “sisters” together until Tom Attard-Manche made a brief appearance in the second section — producing an unresolved commentary on the idea of sisterhood.

But this distraction was soon forgotten thanks to McAloon’s dainty solo. Scrapping their pointe shoes for white sneakers, the cast supported McAloon’s sorrowful bends and dejected balances — lifting, holding, and pulling her through the space.

Their encouragement resulted in an explosion of happy skips, cheeky turns, and flashy slides during the fourth and final section — sending audiences off with one last burst of joy. Thanks For Reading

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Mighty Morphing
Avant Chamber Ballet opened their season with breathtaking works by Katie Cooper and Christopher Wheeldon.
by Emily Sese

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