What, no Le Corsaire?
The TITAS Command Performance has tried to wean its ballet fans from a steady diet of triple fouettés and barrel turns so amply provided by the likes of Le Corsaire, Don Q and Black Swan, offering instead more modern works, works with an edge.
So Saturday night's fare at the Winspear Opera House included not one, but two, aerial ballets: one ballet that certainly deserved to be called "edgy," three contemporary works, a neoclassic, a classic and only two works of the spectacular stripe.
It's probably just as well to drop Le Corsaire, for without Carlos Acosta, what's the point?
[Click the slideshow link to the right to see Sharen Bradford's awesome photos from the event.]
Certainly, the opening work Fall from Grace had its surprise component. Jenny Mendez and Joshua Dean (Lisa Giobbi Movement Theatre Company) hang suspended from ropes and from there drop, slide, walk or swing—quite carefully, as the danger is palpable. And that is the problem: we are too aware of how Mendez tries to find a safe foothold.
Since the gala capitalizes on pas de deux, Viktor Kabaniaev's Remix set itself apart by deliberately keeping Janessa Touchet and Cervilio Miguel Amador (Cincinnati Ballet) apart. Each moves in his or her own orbit, keenly aware of the other. Like a pent-up panther, the bare-chested, jeans-clad Mr. Amador slides to the floor and bounces up and then whirls about. Ms. Touchet just watches. When he comes to a halt, she does a kind of rocking movement on pointe and skirts the stage, stabbing the floor. Philip Glass's music contributes to the edgy feel.
Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain comes close to edgy with minimalist music by Arvo Pärt and equally minimalist unitards.Wendy Whelan (New York City Ballet) and Desmond Richardson do connect, moving in tandem like metronomes at the beginning, and later connecting with Mr. Richardson supporting Ms. Whelan as she stretches limbs out at impossible angles. The ballet ends with a quiet and touching scene as Ms. Whelan bends over backward and Mr. Richardson slowly slides beneath her, and the two fold in together.
If you want touching, however, then look no further than Jessica Lang's Among the Stars. (Among the Stars was commissioned by TITAS when it made its 2010 premiere performance.) The story involves two lovers kept apart, one the star Vega and the other the star Altair. Only on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month are the lovers allowed to cross the Milky Way together.
The curtain rises as Yuan Yuan Tar walks on a diagonal path trailing a long, flowing train of silk while her lover (Damian Smith) lies on the opposite side of the stage. She suddenly drops the fabric (which represents the Milky Way), and her lover leaps over it. They embark on a series of lifts and gentle embraces, knowing their time together is limited. At the end, in surrender, she wraps the fabric over her arching torso and arms as her lover looks on desolate.
Ms. Tar's supple body and articulated movement made Among the Stars all the more arresting, but it is her performance as Odette in the pas de deux from Swan Lake that is so riveting you felt you were seeing Swan Lake for the first time. She is a marvel at capturing the Swan's desire, fear and ultimate surrender to Prince Siegfried (Mr. Smith)—her trembling arms, fast-beating feet, and languorous backward falls into his arms executed with heart-stopping clarity. While he rotates her in arabesque, it feels as though time is now moving in slow motion, so defined is every angle and gesture.
It was the kind of performance that reminds one how rare and beautiful great ballet can be, and that ballet goes well beyond mere technique and flash.
But let us not decry flash, because ending the program with pas de deux from Flames of Paris and Don Quixote was meant to provide the much-anticipated fireworks. In Flames, Mr. Amador turns like a fireball, while Ms. Touchet hops on pointe in a display of tremendous control. As for Don Quixote, it was a one-woman show, for while Karel Cruz could whip out some impressive turns, it fell to Carla Körbes to capture the Spanish flare with shoulders thrust forward and a flick of the head. Can anyone hold an unsupported arabesque as long? Or do double fouettés as she whips open a fan on every fourth turn? Not likely.
◊ 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.