Solemn to sunny sums up Texas Ballet Theater's program Friday night, a fitting tribute to two of the company's supporters, Nancy Bass and Van Cliburn, who died this week. In between, three lovely pas de deux—all created by the company's artistic director Ben Stevenson—reminded us that Valentine's Day was not far back.
The program opened with Glen Tetley's stirring Voluntaries, originally created in response to the sudden death in 1973 of the choreographer and artistic director of Stuttgart Ballet, John Cranko. The 27-minute ballet, set to the powerful music of Francis Poulenc's Concerto in G Major for Organ, Strings and Timpani, put the dancers through a rigorous workout of sustained lifts, daring runs and sweeping, angling turns.
It opens in silence on a dim stage, as Carolyn Judson stands with her back to us facing Lucas Priolo. She turns and the two slowly walk forward into the light. Then she extends a leg and falls backward as he raises her so that her upper body is draped over his head. The music then begins, and a long series of lifts and suspended falls follows, with Priolo often swinging Judson up and around in two graceful, daring arcs.
As he carries her away, two men shoot out from nowhere, covering space with huge leaps. Women join in, and now there are suddenly six couples, repeating the high lifts and careful descents executed by the lead couple.
The intensity of the dance—propelled by the music—never flags, suggesting that the dancers have embarked on a long journey, one that affirms that there is life in the face of death. [Click on the slideshow icon between the photos and factbox to the right to see photos from dress rehearsal of Voluntaries.]
The three pas de deux that followed were, in contrast, an affirmation of love. In the tender and romantic Ave Maria, Heather Kotelenets swoops about carrying a long, filmy scarf. The scarf billows and flows as though it is partly responsible for her silky movement, until it wraps her in the arms of her husband Alexander.
It is a given that in Laila and the Swan Pas de Deux that Laila (Judson) will succumb to the seductive power of the Swan (Carl Coomer), who flaps his long wings slowly, so as not to frighten her. At the end, he envelops her with those wings, and her body is all but invisible.
While Allisyn Hsieh first evades the advances of Simon Wexler in Sylvia and bourrées around him, in no time the two are embarked on a series of fancy maneuvers to see who can outdo the other. For her, it's hopping delicately on pointe and covering space with easy leaps; for him, it's barrel turns and fast spins. It's exhilarating, and the two are in their element.
Van Caniparoli's Lambarena takes the company in a new direction, combining saucy but still elegant African style hip gyrations and low-to-the-ground struts, along with pinwheel turns and undulating arms. The ballet switches easily from traditional African songs with a Caribbean flavor to selections from Bach, with the mood changing appropriately from jaunty to reflective. Delightful costumes of green, yellow, blue and rose, and constantly shifting background colors that go from dark to light, add to the exuberant atmosphere.
Note: The 8 p.m. performance on Saturday, March 2 was canceled because of a small fire in Bass Hall. No one was hurt, and there was no structural damage. The performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3 will go on; and tickets from Saturday night's show can be exchanged for tickets to any performance at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas, May 3-5, when Voluntaries and Lambarena will be performed again, along with Balanchine's Theme and Variations. Call 877-828-9200, Ext. 1 or visit www.texasballettheater.org
◊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.