Richardson — The world of ballet is an interesting paradox. Women comprise the vast majority of its participants, and the general public mostly perceives the art form as feminine. Yet since its inception in the Renaissance, men predominately control the stage, as choreographers and company directors. The art has seen great strides in a more egalitarian leadership over the last few decades, and Katie Cooper, artistic director of Avant Chamber Ballet, works to continue that growth in North Texas.
The Women’s Choreography Project, now in its second year, commissions ballet works from up-and-coming female choreographers. This year’s concert, presented at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson, featured pieces by Southern Methodist University grad Shauna Davis and Canadian-born Janie Richard, as well as two Cooper creations. Saule Garcia and Sercan Danis returned as pianist and violinist, respectively, and Dominic Na was the cellist.
Opening the show was Cooper’s Harliquinade, a cutesy love story in which Harlequin (Eugene Barnes III) captures the heart of Columbine (Emily Dixon), much to the chagrin of her guardian Pierrot (Tagir Galimov). Pierrot’s wife, Pierrette (Christy Martin) and Columbine’s friends support her and eventually win Pierrot over to their side. Set to music by Riccardo Drigo, it oozed Petipa classicism with precise shapes, traditional vocabulary, and exaggerated acting. It even had a Nutcracker feel, not only with the character names, but also with the Polichinelle segment featuring a children’s cast.
After the bright and cheerful traditionalism of the first piece, Davis’ Eject swung the pendulum heavily to the contemporary modern side. Dim lighting and suspended mirrors greeted the audience as the somber notes of Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 floated from the instruments.
Four dancers stood behind the mirrors, while Kirsten Conrad began a solo. The expansiveness of her body and release of the torso communicated an urgency that stood in stark contrast to the placed idealism of Harlequinade, which provided variety to the concert. Davis incorporated gestures and facial expressions to communicate abstract ideas about technology and self-worth, while interweaving ballet and contemporary vocabulary. At times, the five dancers pierced the space with intensity, and at others, glided across the floor with an enchanted feel.
While Davis created a nicely varied work mixing passion and breathtaking shapes, the dancers’ execution proved to be an even greater achievement. After a season of mostly classical and neo-classical works from Cooper, they surprised and delighted with a delicious fervor and attack in this modern piece.
The energy of the second act followed the first. Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nos. 17 and 5 provided the inspiration for Cooper’s Piros, a solo for Emily Dixon. Fiery colors and lively music from Garcia and Danis lifted the mood, but the choreography didn’t quite meet it. Dixon struck a lovely balance between pristine shapes and impassioned delivery, but the choreography itself moved too slowly, not quite utilizing the music, and contained too much repetition.
The second guest work, Richard’s L’Inverno, created ethereal pictures on stage to Vivaldi’s “Winter” variation from Four Seasons. Five dancers in sleek, white costumes and white gloves began on benches in the upstage. As they transitioned to simultaneous solos, the intricacy of the work grew more apparent. Although it fell squarely in the contemporary category, it contained more traditional vocabulary than Davis’, even being danced en pointe.
Like the other guest piece, it stretched and challenged the dancers, this time with quick maneuvers and intricate transitions. A nice sense of space and breath made some segments a joy to watch, while the energy in others waned a tad, as some dancers still need to discover a more organic quality with the contemporary vocabulary. Ensemble precision, though, has improved impressively over AVB’s last few concerts.
The Women’s Choreography Project has a bright future ahead and provides an excellent service to the North Texas community. Aside from the obvious goal of providing commissions for female ballet choreographers, it lengthens the reach of the DFW dance community as the company makes connections outside our borders.
» Read our feature on Women's Choreography Project
» Photos by Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more photos, click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at the bottom left of your screen.