It was a Carl Coomer event. A busy man, he did double duty Friday night, first as a mortal choreographer and later as a god in Apollo, in the opening of the first weekend of Texas Ballet Theater's Portraits Ballet Festival at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Wyly Theatre. (At Sunday's performance, he'll also appear in the third work, Bartók Concerto.)
The comparison was all the more striking as Coomer came out for a bow at the end of his new work, Evolving, wearing jeans and untucked blue shirt, looking very much a mortal—granted, a very handsome mortal. In Apollo, he appeared in the briefest of white diagonal-cut toga that showed off every taut muscle. Bold gestures described a god very much in command.
What made the comparison even more interesting is that the two works dealt with birth. In Evolving, an infant quickly grows from a wide-eyed limp bundle into a girl discovering a world of play. Apollo, also newly hatched, gives life to three muses. (In Balanchine's 1928 version, Apollo first appears in swaddling clothes.)
Evolving opens with Alexander Kotelenets barely visible in a shaft of dim light. The light then captures Leticia Oliveira several feet away, also bent over. Husband and wife eventually connect, somewhat warily, and then with growing tension. Oliveira tries opening the door of a building that stands in the middle of the stage. Kotelenets disappears behind the building, opens the door and comes out holding a curled-up baby, Heather Kotelenets.
Gere is where the story gets interesting. As the newborn, Ms. Kotelenets is the picture of frailty, all wobbly limbs and bright-eyed eagerness. Soon she is investigating her toes with the same delight she shows later when three girls invite her to play. Boys invade the space, looking a bit formidable, but quickly find partners. Joamanuel Velázquez takes a fancy for Ms. Kotelenets, and soon they too are dancing, with the young girl radiant with joy.
For a work that starts out as rather dark and mysterious, it turns into a delightful romp, with Ms. Kotelenets the brightest of twinkly stars. You cannot keep your eyes off her.
Nor could you fail to admire Coomer as Apollo, giving every moment the spare, architectural clarity the ballet demands. Whether swinging his lute in wide arcs high overhead, legs firmly planted, or swinging legs back and forth as he turns his torso and head from side to side, he seems to declare: this space is mine.
When the three muses—Terpsichore (Carolyn Judson), Polyhymnia (Katelyn Clenaghan) and Calliope (Lainey Logan)—bourrée in from three sides, he summons them to take on the instrument suitable for their new roles.
Each one creates striking patterns and elegant angles, repeating the same spare geometric shapes again and again, but Calliope's writing does not impress Apollo. Nor does Polyhymnia—as the muse of mime—do better, when she mouths a shout. Terpsichore, however, is perfect.
At the end they gather to lean on Apollo's chest, creating one of the most striking tableaus in all of ballet: legs shoot up to form three different angled spires as the light cast a golden glow.
The program ended with Ben Stevenson's exuberant Bartók Concerto, giving Ms. Oliveira's a chance to display her lightning fast turns.
◊ This program repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 21, and 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22; the Portraits Ballet Festival will have a second weekend with a new program. On April 27-29, catch Ben Stevenson's Image, Val Caniparoli's Lambarena and the world premiere of TBT company member Peter Zweifel's The Finding.
◊ Read our interview with Carl Coomer here.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.