Dallas — Ballet Dallas indeed blossoms and grows with their season closer Bloom, presented at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas on May 10 and 11. Last year’s rebranding presented a new and exciting direction for the organization, which co-founder Valerie Shelton Tabor began in 2000 as Contemporary Ballet Dallas. Carter Alexander came on with Tabor as co-artistic director last August, and it now seems the sky is the limit.
In the pre-show speech, Alexander boasted of the dancers’ ownership and commitment to the choreography and rehearsal process, and that dedication pays off. They appeared comfortable with the choreography in each of the five pieces on the bill, transitions were smooth, and timing was impressively tight. This is most definitely a completely new company from just a couple of years ago.
The audience was treated to live music for the first two works. Trio for Six opened the evening, choreographed by guest artist Durante Verzola. Dancers began on stage with Open Classical’s Mark Landson (founder and director) on violin, Sebastian Kozub on cello, and Sunny Heesun Yun at the piano, playing three Mozart piano trios.
Four ladies dressed in light periwinkle, knee-length dresses began with duets, then two gentlemen donning matching traditional tunics joined in. Verzola’s vocabulary fell on the classical side of neo-classical, and the dancers rose to the technical challenge. The sequences were logical but playful, always deliciously musical. Variances in the performers’ facial expressions were a nice touch, and their subtle use of the torso and épaulement completed the image of elegance and sophistication. The ladies delivered picture-worthy arabesques and effortless turns, while the men impressed with controlled allegros.
A stellar start, for sure, and the second work was even better. Alexander’s Sarabande, restaged for a company premiere, delivered a vastly different but welcome mood. Alizah Wilson and Ethan Slaughter shared the stage with violinist Caleb Mallett for a somber, slightly tense duet. Clad in black, the two dancers maneuvered through smooth lifts and clean lines, for an aesthetic that beautifully mixed ballet and classical modern dance. Precise, deliberate execution, plus Wilson’s stunning displays of flexibility, made this one of the highlights of the evening.
The main attraction, however, was George Skibine’s Romantic Encounters, set on the original Ballet Dallas in 1979 and restaged by Thom Clower for its 40th anniversary. The romantic here doesn’t refer to a sensual, intimate desire or a pristine, quaint sentimentalism, but rather a fierce longing, wistfully reminiscent of the mid-19th century yearning that Romanticism brought into the modern world. Green, watercolor-style dresses with a subtle ruffle across the shoulders for the ladies and the men’s more pedestrian look of muted green pants with a button-down shirt created a splash of color against a matching background. Benjamin Britten’s suspenseful Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (which would have been amazing if played live) heightened the breathtaking choreography, as solos, duets, and trios found brilliant life then just as quickly dissipated and dissolved into the next segment.
Quick-paced, yet smooth as silk, the dance provided the ideal challenge for the dancers. Wilson, Lea Zablocki, and Diana Crowder breezed through attitude turns and light-as-air leaps and shone in the poignant still moments, as well. Slaughter, Adrian Aguirre, and Matthew Bejarano foind excellent harmony in a men’s trio and meticulously partnered the ladies. It was dramatic and heartbreaking, as none of the encounters seemed to last.
The third act of the evening demonstrated the effect of show order. Perhaps it was logistically vital for Skibine’s work to fall in the middle of the program, but the two works following it faded in comparison. Individually, Tabor’s leave her…loving and the world premiere of Alexander’s Petites Danses en Noir et Blanc were commendable dances. The former presented contrasting moods, with Dave Matthews Band emanating from the speakers, rather than classical music. Zablocki and Michael Stone executed slower choreography with some nice partnering.
The final work, a series of 14 dances set to Darius Milhaud’s 6 Petites Symphonies, displayed a bit of chaos, at times disjointed, but allowed the dancers’ admirable technique to shine through. Within the company’s repertoire, it’s a remarkable piece but doesn’t stand out in this concert as much as it might in another context.
Last year they launched; this year they bloomed. What will happen in the 2019-2020 season? Dallas should be eagerly watching.