Richardson — Amidst the plethora of Nutcrackers and other seasonal shows going on around the Metroplex, Contemporary Ballet Dallas offers the most varied holiday dance performance of the year. Nestled in the intimate Bank of America Theatre at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, the company manages to fit in neo-classical ballet, modern-contemporary, classical modern dance, and a sampling of The Nutcracker.
The latter takes place in Act III, featuring the youth ensemble of CBD. Allison Watson-Festner restages the divertissements of Act II into its own ballet, Clara’s Dream, where Clara’s doll collection comes to life as she sleeps and hopes to one day be a beautiful ballerina. The professional company members dance a few roles, like Rebecca Grove as a dazzling Sugar Plum Fairy and Laura Pearson as the sultry Arabian, but the youth ensemble performs the vast majority of the choreography.
Act I presents two premieres. The first is Carter Alexander’s L’Inverno, using Antonio Vivaldi’s Winter. It’s a fairly straightforward interpretation of the well-known music. Six dancers en pointe and clad in white dresses maneuver through defined postures and a varied ballet vocabulary that contains the occasional neo-classical quirk. The performers find connection through focus, touch, and duets and trios. Brilliant chaine turns illustrate the flurry of snow (just in case Dallasites have forgotten what that feels like), and precise allegros end abruptly with a circle formation.
Pearson shines in her best performance of the year, and Kaley Jensen (enjoying a busy holiday dance season after her appearance as the Snow Queen in Collin County Ballet Theatre’s Nut the previous weekend) lights up the stage with her smile. Overall, company members present more deliberate execution than in previous years. Emily Gnatt demonstrates lovely petit allegros, but her performance quality needs improvement, as she appears too withdrawn.
Her hardened, concentrated expression, however, serves well in Pearson’s I Felt, a remarkable premiere and the best work of the evening. Set to music by Olafur Arnalds and Philip Glass, the lights slowly rise on six dancers in black with their backs to the audience. The somber mood immediately permeates the theater, only heighten by the performers’ hunched postures. With a slow, satisfying build, their movements grow larger, as they reach out only to quickly draw back in. Mixed feelings and a sense of turmoil pervade through impressive lift transitions and admirable petit allegro sequences.
Eduardo Castrejon (a regular face in Dallas, formerly of DBDT: Encore!) delivers a remarkable performance, as usual, and Jensen proves her diversity with standout execution. Grove and Kayla Giard demonstrate a mature handling of the gestural phrases, while Michael Sanders displays a sumptuous fluidity.
Sandwiched between the premieres and the nuttiness lies a touch of classicism, with Robert Beard’s Ceremony of Carols, sharing the name of the music, a 1942 Benjamin Britten composition. Beard’s Martha Graham influence infuses the work (as he was a Graham company member and on SMU faculty), with distinct postures and tilted battements. The rich scarlet dresses by Fernando Hernandez add a touch of regality to a pleasantly simple picture.
Anyone who’s performed this type of vocabulary, however, knows that its execution is anything but easy, and the quintet of dancers deliver it with grace. It’s a welcomed contrast to the whirlwind modern contemporary we’re used to seeing.
The evening turns out rather nicely, although Act III crawls a bit. The concert easily could’ve stood on its own with the other three works, but there are valid benefits to including the youth ensemble. Overall, it doesn’t damper the fact that CBD continues to show strength in their new trajectory.