In a very fitting tribute to soldiers who have lost their lives in combat and the friends and family who carry on without them, Texas Ballet Theater closes out its season this Memorial Day weekend with Theme and Variations and Mozart Requiem at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Wyly Theatre. Consisting of only two works, each very distinctive, the concert proves the importance of proper venue.
The company performed Balanchine’s Theme and Variations two years ago at the Winspear, which turns out to be a much better venue for the piece. With large, grandiose music, the work is meant to be a tribute to the era of Russian ballet that blossomed under the country’s Imperial rule. Heavily adorned classical tutus and magnificent displays of ballet technique are supposed to give it a magical sparkle.
A few characteristics of the Wyly faded that shimmer somewhat. First, with the close proximity of the seating, it’s easy to see how much work the dancers put forth with the difficult choreography, when usually they do so well with making the art form look effortless. Second, the smaller stage size makes for some tight spacing during the larger ensemble sections, which makes the dancers’ movements seem smaller and more hesitant. Lastly, the beauty of the intricate floor patterns doesn’t read quite as well. Overall, it looks less polished than their other performances.
Regardless, the dancers still exhibit some excellent moments. Principal couple Lainey Logan and Alexander Kotelenets (evening performances) display a beautiful regality, especially with Logan’s développé series at the beginning and Kotelenets’ smooth performance. Men soar in magnificent jumps, and the ladies shine with quick pointe work.
The intimacy of the Wyly works well for the second piece, Ben Stevenson’s Mozart Requiem, set to the historic composer’s moving choral work of the same name. Before the performance, Stevenson explains his inspiration for the 2007 creation. A television news story had highlighted a grieving mother of a fallen soldier who, according to her, had wanted to be a musician. That combined with the gravity of Mozart’s music provided the perfect combination for a piece about the struggles, sacrifices, and emotions of those serving our country.
The dance begins with the image from the program cover: 10 men dressed in grayish-blue shirts and slacks with dog tags around their necks all reaching towards the sky. As they spread from the central gathering point and begin unison choreography, one element resonates. While they all exhibit a controlled power, each dancer retains his unique movement quality. We see the same motions but with ten distinctly human ways of expressing them.
The structure of the dance is the same as the music, with 14 sections that convey variations on a singular solemn mood. While Stevenson tends to stick with movement motifs and emotions, some segments do illustrate a narrative. Several motions repeat, such as reaching and pleading towards to sky to a higher power, looking at the hands wondering what they’ve done, and reaching outward. Emotions tend to stay on the side of grief and anguish but occasionally branch out to triumph and acceptance, and various soldier relationships are explored.
Whatever these men might have held back during Theme is completely let loose here. Through the leaps, rolls, turns and stillness, they fully illustrate the weight, the hurt, and the passion experienced by those touched by the reality of war. Lucas Priolo excels as usual with his ability to perfectly fuse his technique and acting abilities. Thomas Kilps and Drake Humphreys maneuver through two sections of impressive partnering. Paul Adams, Brett Young, and Kotelenets deliver moving solos, but the best one comes from Philip Slocki. As he leaps higher into the air than any other, he exemplifies a helpless youth who meets a tragic end.
The work is rather lengthy, which could be good or bad depending on one’s reaction to the other elements. Compelling performances are enough to keep one hooked, but the same emotions grow a little monotonous. Slocki’s dramatic solo and the subsequent ensemble section, though, are enough to neatly tie the piece together.
The season as a whole has been a little different. Stevenson tended more toward shorter contemporary works rather than a load of traditional story ballets. While October’s Peer Gynt was a narrative, it definitely wasn’t the conventional sort, leaving the perennial Nutcracker as the only one. Spring saw no evening-length stories and even seemed a bit repetitive.
Next year swings the pendulum back with Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, the usual holiday Nutcracker lineup (Nutty-ness included), and Balanchine’s Serenade with Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria. Although we’re thrilled at the addition of a live Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for Swan Lake, one thing seems to be missing from this year’s season and next: original choreography from up-and-coming artists.