Dallas — Texas Ballet Theater offered a bang-up program in Masterworks Friday night at Dallas City Performance Hall. The three ballets ranged from the serene Five Poems to the combative and sensual Petite Mort to a saucy Rubies.
Like his Four Last Songs, Ben Stevenson’s Five Poems has a dreamy, pensive tone. Against a serene blue landscape, couples enter on a diagonal, the men lifting women aloft again and again like delicate objects, the women’s legs walking on air. In the second movement (the ballet is set to Wagner’s Wesendonck Songs), Simon Wexler and Marlin Alimanov leap and swoop, leaving the stage like gliding airplanes, their white Lord Byron silk blouses billowing. In the fourth movement, three men carry, flip, and swing Heather Kotelenets aloft, dolphin-style, her feet never touching ground. That image appears throughout the entire ballet: dancers soar, dive, swoop and rebound, defying gravity.
How dramatically different in tone was Jiři Kylián’s witty Petite Mort: aggressive and sexual. The “small death” of the title refers to the French term for the culmination of sexual intercourse. Here set to Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 23, the dance involves six men, six women and six fencing foils. The stage reveals men holding gleaming foils over their backs, balancing the foils on one finger, before parrying and thrusting in swift and dangerous action: symbolic perhaps of the complicated maneuvers that will later take place between the couples. In the distance, barely visible, are the women.
If the men have their weapons, the women have their shields: voluminous, stiff Baroque dresses that eventually glide away on their own. When not shielded by their caged, steel-reinforced dresses, the women (like the men) wear tight-fitted, champagne- colored undergarments. Twice, yards of fabric sweep over the dancers like a tidal wave, enveloping them and just as suddenly, disappearing. The duets that follow are like calculated duels, complex and swift, with intertwined limbs, splayed legs, slides to the ground and quick springs back. The angles and counterbalances are so striking that each could be stop-framed and offer an arresting image of its own.
Balanchine’s Rubies, set to Igor Stravinsky’s propulsive Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, opens with four men and nine women lined up holding hands high. In a blast of discordant sounds, the men rock forward and the women sway backward on pointe, a showy sign of the coiled-up energy ready to burst into action and never let up. From then on the dancers prance, paw, strut and rock off-balance like so many frisky fillies or colts. Naturally the women’s tutus and necklaces are the color of rubies, as are the men’s fitted jackets.
The ballet is all sharp angles, rhythmic intricacies and long legs shooting skyward, of daring penché arabesques (performed with great aplomb by soloist Betsy McBride) or even more daring arabesques where Mr. Wexler lets go of Leticia Oliveira’s hand and she stands on one pointe shoe for what seems like forever. Jazzy, devilish fast and fierce, Rubies gives the dancers an opportunity to dazzle, and they do.
You can catch Petite Mort and Rubies again, May 29-31, at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. There will also be a world premiere ballet from British choreographer Jonathan Watkins, featuring an original score by Dallas composer Ryan Cockerham and costumes from Kari Perkins, who designed costumes for the film Boyhood.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Photos by Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more images, click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at the bottom left of your screen.