Except for the mosquitos and muggy weather, Thursday was a beautiful night to head to Trinity Park Pavilion in Fort Worth for Ballet Concerto’s annual Summer Dance Concert.
It was nice to get away from the theater and get a fresh perspective on ballet. It was also nice to see so many couples and families taking advantage of this free outdoor event.
With its audience in mind Ballet Concerto put together a lively and diverse program which included Fernando Bujones’ Jazz Swing, Luis Montero’s Carmen and Michael Vernon’s Western Sweet. The concert also featured some stand out performances by Michele Gifford, Brandon Nguyen and Shea Johnson.
The concert opened with Jazz Swing, a toe-tapping number to music by Louis Prima. The company sashayed across the stage on pointe to such familiar tunes as “Sing, Sing, Sing” and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).” While at times the dancers appeared off beat and not in sync with one another their pointe work was efficient and body lines unbreakable. The male trio of Nguyen, Johnson and Ruben Gerding was the most memorable. They won the audience over with their multiple tours and sky high jumps.
The highlight of the evening was Luis Montero’s captivating Carmen adapted from the opera by Georges Bizet. Set in a small Spanish town the ballet tells the story of Carmen (Gifford) who gets herself caught in a love triangle with Don Jose (Johnson) and Escamillo (Nguyen). Gifford completely embodies the role of Carmen. Every step and hand gesture exudes confidence and sauciness. Her internal musicality is not something you can learn in the classroom, and when she battements her leg stretches forever.
Johnson had just the right mix of arrogance and vulnerability in his role as Don Jose. He easily transitioned from a powerful solo to a sultry pas de deux with Gifford that raised the temperature outside a few degrees. Unfortunately their relationship ends in tragedy when Don Jose stabs Carmen with a knife.
Nguyen dominated the stage with his cape whirling and macho aire. Every move was well thought out and executed to a “T.” He has the ability to woo Carmen with just a look.
The other members of the company stepped up their game in Carmen. Their musical timing was better and expressions genuine as they stomped, clapped and whipped their shawls during the opening and closing scenes.
The evening concluded with Western Sweet, a piece everyone in the audience could relate too. This Texas tribute was choreographed by Michael Vernon with songs that included “My Love,” “Lonesome Billy,” “Shenandoah” and “Down at the Twist and Shout.” Dressed in denim bottoms, plaid shirts and cowboy hats, the company did a lot of knee slapping, skipping and do-se-doing. While the choreography wasn’t overly-technical the spirit of the piece got the crowd going and shouting "yeehaw!"
◊ Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com