Fort Worth — Ballet Frontier of Texas once again opens their season with a strong start at the W.E. Scott Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Past company members boast new developments in their artistry and new dancers are introduced to patrons. Artistic director Chung-Lin Tseng and his creative staff have attracted talent from all over the world, with several countries represented just among the main company dancers.
Each of the five works on the bill has a different choreographer, so the evening contains a pleasing stylistic diversity within the realm of ballet. Two outside guest choreographers present works, and they share a few similarities. Entrance by LeeWei Chao (which opens the concert) and Sentience by Jay Kim (sandwiched in the middle of Act II) are the most contemporary of the five, use music by Max Richter (albeit with different accompanying artists), and end way too abruptly with much potential to explore in each.
Chao’s piece begins with dancers running across the stage in pink and purple dresses. The rest of the choreography unfolds into striking shapes, displaying an intriguing balance of contemporary and classical steps. The vocabulary’s arrangement creates surprising moments with unexpected transitions. The details in execution are a little fuzzy where it seems like more precise placement is needed, but this is definitely one the company should repeat.
Sentience is another excellent piece to keep for its challenges in movement qualities, although as the most abstract of the night, it might not appeal to everyone. The program note lists it as a work depicting how “the mass of humanity can find freedom from suffering through the mindful realization that it possesses the power within to engineer consciousness.” With such an amorphous concept, the description is most helpful if one wants to make sense of it. The movements and execution, however, stand strong apart from the work’s meaning. Angular gestures, undulating bodies, deep plies, and fierce expressions add another dimension to the dancers’ performances across the evening as a whole.
Tseng’s String Quartet takes up most of the first act, although it sadly lacks the live quartet which played Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s music when it debuted in 2012. Set in four sections, it’s an incredibly demanding piece that blends together classical ballet, neo-classical, and contemporary movements. The dancers mostly rise to the challenge, with a few timing bobbles and some awkward transitions, but overall, the work boasts more positives than negatives.
Layla Terrell proves she is a force to be reckoned with, not only in this piece but the entire evening. She’s articulate in her technical skills, confident in execution, and displays an unwavering performance quality. In the second movement, long-time company member Dan Westfield and Hannah Wakefield deliver a stunning duet, demonstrating strong, supportive partnering and excellent chemistry. They garner quite a bit of applause, which is only outmatched by the men’s quartet of the third movement. Each dancer’s unique movement style is quite remarkable, both in their solos and unison work.
Act II opens with Westfield’s choreographic debut. unNamed features an emotional duet between Nerea Barrondo and Kaito Yamamoto (Saturday night’s casting), with intense music by Gustav Mahler. Yamamoto seamlessly transitions between the longing pedestrian movement and ballet vocabulary that switches between classical and contemporary. Barrondo effortlessly dances the white-clad apparition, whether she’s the one he never had or the one he had and lost. With beautiful lifts and great technical execution, it’s a safe yet satisfying work for Westfield’s creative entrance into the dance world.
It wouldn’t be a Ballet Frontier concert without choreography from Tseng’s mentor and former company director, the late Roy Tobias. The sprightly Wedding Party closes the evening with a peppy, character-driven work featuring all talent levels in the company. Scott Joplin’s ragtime music provides a nice change from the string-based instrumental tunes of the other four pieces. With Elizabeth Dennen and Jacob Sebastian as the bride and groom (respectively, Saturday night’s casting), it’s an entertaining look at festivities and light-hearted drama during a wedding celebration.
Offering a plethora of groupings and character roles, it’s structured much like festival or wedding segments in full-length classical ballets (Coppelia, for one). Solo, duet, and small ensemble work allow the more experienced dancers to display their skills, other group character parts give younger dancers a chance to shine, physical theater offers some comedy, and the large number of total dancers create exciting visuals in unison work.
With the company’s growth in its professional and youth companies, both in numbers and artistic caliber, the future looks bright for ballet in Fort Worth.