Dallas — Appropriately named, Beauty & Bach was the epitome of grace, artistry, and elegance. From the live orchestra to the intricate combinations of ballet technique, Avant Chamber Ballet’s show last weekend at Dallas’ Moody Performance Hall was nothing short of magnificent. Under the artistic direction of Katie Cooper, the company presented three lovely works that tantalized audience members with their charm.
Cooper opened the evening with a special performance of George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco. Consistent with the Balanchine aesthetic, the dancers wore simple white leotards with short white shirts. Eight dancers stood in two parallel lines facing the audience in a compelling beginning. Their arms drifted softly in accompaniment with the undertones playing from the orchestra pit while two soloists, Emily Dixon Alba and Bethany Lowrie, battled playfully in the center. Their fast footwork mirrored the dueling violinists and captured the lighthearted relationship between them.
Both the corps dancers and the soloists embodied Balanchine’s motto “See the music, hear the dance” through their precise formations, elongated extensions, and close-knit relationships with one another. The introduction of male dancer Shea Johnson brought an even stronger physical connection as the ballerinas linked arms while Johnson lead them through the space in intricate patterns. This motif continued when these linked arms became tangled and the dancers had to unwind without breaking contact. Circular themes were replicated in the constantly changing spatial arrangements interrupted by sprinkles of diagonal lines. A powerful unison section allowed the piece to end on a joyous and harmonious note.
The Texas premiere of Appalachian Spring showcased Cooper’s own choreographic brilliance. As two kneeling dancers faced away from the audience, they slowly pushed and pulled against each other in the shadows. Their long black skirts assisted them in blending in to the dim lighting, creating a mysterious tone. In a change from the rigid motions of the previous piece, the dancers let down their hair and softened into the floor, revealing a more relaxed demeanor. As the lights brightened, one could see a hint of orange and red fabric hidden under the sheer black skirts as four more dancers graced the stage with lively reaching arms and buoyant leaps.
Cooper highlighted her company’s technical abilities through her use of profound dips, endless leg extensions, and articulate partner work. When Bryan Cunningham lifted Alba high into the air in a fetal position, the audience members gushed with awe—enveloped by the duet’s sense of support and care. Another stunning moment occurred later in the piece when six dancers in three lines held still for a breathtaking second before they burst into parallel duets, linking hands circling together. This feeling of togetherness carried through to the end as the dancers turned to walk away from the audience, back into the shadows with hands held.
For the grand finale, Avant Chamber Ballet brought fairies, princesses, and the big bad wolf to life in Aurora’s Wedding: Sleeping Beauty Act III. One word to describe the spectacle? Magical. A combination of Ann Boyce’s elaborate costumes, Tchaikovsky’s famous score, and the sheer number of dancers onstage transported the audience into a wondrous world of enchantment.
The stage was flooded with rich shades of pinks, purples, blues, reds, greens, and whites as a mass of characters gathered to welcome Princess Aurora, played by Alba, and Prince Desire, played by Johnson. The student cast joined the company as Forest Sprites and Lilac Attendants, filling the space with colorful characters. Each group of magical creatures had a chance to present the engaged couple with a special mini performance. Graceful and romantic characters like the Lilac Fairy, the Precious Stones, and Cinderella swirled around with sweeping arm gestures and airy waltzes. Meanwhile, more comedic partners such as Little Red Riding Hood & Wolf and Puss in Boots & The White Cat caused chuckles throughout the audience with their sneaky steps, clawing jabs, and playful banter. Aurora and Desire’s pas de deux featured seamless partnering in their daring fish-dive holds and fast turns. The chemistry between the couple floated around them in Aurora’s flirty swivels and her prince’s confident jumps. This grand display left audience members bathed in the vast beauty of the evening and yearning for more.