Fort Worth — Texas Ballet Theater gambled by commissioning a new ballet, and it paid off this weekend at Bass Performance Hall (I saw the Saturday night performance).
British choreographer Jonathan Watkins’s wistful and melancholy Crash brought together a motley crew of 17 dancers, confused, yearning and finally uniting. Wearing pants and slips of dark blue, gray and rust, they first appear in scattershot formation (costumes by Austin’s Kari Perkins, who has seven Richard Linklater films on her résumé). They suddenly disappear, again and again, their bodies illuminated by Tony Tucci’s atmospheric light.
The dancers gather and regather, in solos, duets, small groups and the entire ensemble. Sometimes several dancers repeat the same step, but at different angles as though unsure of their connection. The duets—performed by Leticia Oliveira and Carl Coomer, Heather Kotelenets and Alexander Kotelenets, Robin Bangert and Thomas Kilps, and Angela Kenny and Mason Anders—are silky smooth, swift at one moment and languorous at another.
In keeping with the dance’s stops and starts and groups who form a mast in long, surging, sea anemone like-waves, Dallas composer Ryan Cockerham’s music switches from discordant to haunting.
Near the end, Mr. Coomer appears alone in flesh-colored shorts, a figure of a man reborn and wiser. He reunites with his partner, and together with the rest of the group (also in flesh-colored clothes) they appear in starburst formation. Once again, their limbs undulate like tender tendrils reaching out to the sun, calm, somber and eerie.
The program also featured two works performed in April at Dallas City Performance Hall: Jiři Kylián’s clever Petite Mort and Balanchine’s flashy Rubies.
Set to Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 23, Petite Mort takes us back to the baroque era where duels, fitted garments, and ornamented dance partners were the rule. But Petite Mort is no period piece but a sly comment on human sexuality (the title refers to the French term for the culmination of sexual intercourse) and the action aggressive and intricate. The ballet opens with six men brandishing gleaming foils over their backs, flicking and parrying them in choreographed unison, symbolizing the complex maneuvers to take place between the couples.
Waves of fabric sweep over the men as six women emerge from behind. The women, in voluminous, stiff black dresses, glide as on ice. The steel-reinforced dresses serve as both weapon and shield.
The dresses disappear, gliding away on their own, revealing dancers in tight-fitted, champagne-colored undergarments. The duets that follow are like tiny duels, with entangled limbs, men quickly flipping their partners over, and abrupt slides to the ground. All of these sharp angles and counterbalances mirror swordplay.
The program closed with Balanchine’s Rubies, set to Igor Stravinsky’s propulsive Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. Naturally, the tutus and jackets are ruby red and the action scintillating. Full of coiled-up energy, the ballet displayed a reckless Betsy McBride in daring penché arabesques and sassy back-and-forth rocking movement on pointe. (On a sad note, Ms. McBride is leaving the company after this weekend.) As for the lead couple of Ms. Oliveira and Simon Wexler , they dazzled.
» 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.
» The video above, shot and edited by Robert Hart, features an interview with Jonathan Watkins and footage from rehearsal and a dress rehearsal of Crash. The photos are also by Robert Hart; to see more, click the slideshow icon on the floating menu at the bottom left of your screen.
» Read our interview with Watkins