Dallas — Something that draws audiences back to Dallas Dances year after year, is the promise of a wide sampling of styles. While I applaud the Dance Council of North Texas’ effort to highlight both professional and pre-professional companies, shows like this also expose the imbalance of technique, maturity, and experience that occurs when these dancers share the same stage. Powerhouse groups like Bruce Wood Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) reveal the high caliber level of artistic maturity and refined talent thriving in the DFW area, while pre-professional ensembles don’t quite measure up. Imagine if future Dallas Dances embraced a professional-only model that celebrated Dallas’ flourishing dance scene! As much as I appreciate student companies, their growth is ongoing — meaning that their abilities quite simply can’t be compared to the artists who are more saturated in their creative processes. It would be more satisfying to see these groups separated in future performances.
However, some pre-professional companies like RIFF Dallas and Ballet Frontier of Texas took this opportunity to push themselves closer to the realm of professional dance. unNamed revealed an enormous amount of growth on the part of Ballet Frontier of Texas. Dan Westfield exuded refinement, strength, and elegance in his duet with the lovely Sarah Gresik. The couple covered the stage effortlessly, experimenting with innovative floor lifts and dynamic changes.
In terms of tap technique, RIFF Dallas is a tough act to beat. As a Dallas Dances veteran, not only are they known for complex, syncopated rhythms and stylistic excellence, but the group also steals the prize for entertainment value. This year, Keep It Low was no different. Between their furious footwork, soft shoe patterns, and jolting accents, only their young appearance reminded viewers of their pre-professional status.
Despite these exceptions, most student artists of the night performed exactly as expected — full of talent with the promise of future growth. Ballet Ensemble of Texas’s restaging of August Bournonville’s Tarantella from Napoli Act III was a classical arrangement of lighthearted hops, bouncy turns, and friendly partnering. For such a large stage, I wished to see the cast of 18 dancers arranged in roomier formations. In the flurry of skirts and tambourines, some dancers got lost in tight spatial arrangements.
Thankfully, Natyanjali Kuchipudi Dance School presented a shift from the ballet-heavy program with Rhythms of Kuchipudi. In a display of Kuchipudi, a classical South Indian dance technique, dancers of varied ages stomped into symmetrical formations as their arms, elbows, and fingers jutted from one mudra (symbolic hand gesture) to the next.
Elite Classical Coaching’s Ava Arbuckle demonstrated the flexibility and strength found in competitive/studio-based movement. One wowed the audience with acrobatic extensions and impressive leaps, but remained surface level in terms of innovation and complexity.
In my round-up of the professional companies, Ballet Dallas and B. Moore Dance are on my list of groups to watch. Ballet Dallas’ Sarabande exposed choreographer Carter Alexander’s inventive take on contemporary ballet. As a special treat, the duet performed their moody partnering to live violinist Caleb Mallet’s interpretation of Bach. While both dancers weaved through the intricate partner work with finesse, Addison Ector simply outshined his female counterpart in weightless inversions and effortless lifts.
Although B. Moore Dance is relatively new to the Dallas dance scene, Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore has had her fingers in a number of Dallas choreographic projects (including former artistic director of DBDT) over the years. In her excerpt of NISSI, the B. Moore Dancers dove into crisp, rapid turns, enthusiastic body shakes, and agile lifts. Their jazzy aesthetic and sharp focus snapped viewers out of the balletic atmosphere of previous pieces. But as engaging as their snappy movements were, I craved more dynamic diversity and climactic balance from the piece as a whole.
Hailey von Schlehenried, another familiar name amongst the Dallas dance community, showcased a quartet filled with lifts, contemporary partnering, and ballerinas gliding en pointe. As a whole, Reverie worked as a balanced exploration of two partnerships — but it moved so quickly that these technical feats almost went unnoticed. In constant motion, the dancers had few to no movements of stillness or pause — causing the steps to blur together unintentionally.
Performances from DBDT, Texas Ballet Theater, and Bruce Wood Dance rose to the top of the list. Pulling from their Spring 2019 show, DBDT’s Execution of a Sentiment: Movement III captured the company’s virtuosic, emotionally charged aesthetic. Guest choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s use of ebb-and-flow duets cultivated a constantly shifting puzzle of spatial patterns and illustrated the continuous momentum of the athletic group.
It is now time to mention the always captivating, always professional, always technically exquisite: Texas Ballet Theater. In a preview for their upcoming run of Sleeping Beauty (opening at the Winspear Opera House this weekend), Alexandra Farber and Jiyan Dai dreamily drifted through the space in a delightful pas de deux from Act III. The flawless duet shifted from tender brushes into a fantastic pirouette sequence in which Farber jumped out of her turns and into a dynamic fish lift. This glimpse of the classic story ballet certainly left me ready for this weekend’s debut!
Yet the most innovative work of the night came from Bruce Wood Dance in the form of an excerpt from Forbidden Paths — set on the company this summer by guest artist Garrett Smith. The synchronicity, groundedness, and determination of the movers combined with the gestural choreography and intensity of the musical accompaniment generated a sensorial masterpiece. In their powerful ending, the dancers stood in a straight line across the front of the stage while they stomped, flung their arms, and stared intensely into the audience as the music faded — revealing a perfect balance of emotion, movement, and unity.