Call it the Mejia complex. When artistic directors load the repertory with their own works, it can end up with something splendid (think of Balanchine and New York City Ballet)… Or with something that never makes liftoff, which was the case Saturday night at Montgomery Arts Theater where Avant Chamber Ballet presented “New Works,” all but one the creation of artistic director Katie Puder. Like Paul Mejia, former artistic director of Fort Worth Dallas Ballet and later co-artistic director of the now-defunct Metropolitan Classical Ballet, Ms. Puder (a former dancer with Metropolitan Classical Ballet and clearly a disciple of Mejia, just as Mejia was a disciple of Balanchine) certainly has the gift of neo-classic clarity and restraint, of brisk footwork and musical acumen.
And to her credit, like Balanchine and Mejia, she puts a premium on live music. Even more to her credit, she commissioned a new work, Faces of the Sun, by a promising young composer, Chase Dobson. The program opened with Mr. Dobson’s prelude, I Am a Cloud, which unfolds from calm into driving rain and then into dissolution. If something of a musical maelstrom, it challenged saxophonist Noelle Fabian to the limit and she played divinely.
The program ended with Mr. Dobson’s Faces of the Sun. Like I Am a Cloud, it meandered from a leisurely pace to tumult to calm, depicting the power of the sun as the day moves from sunrise to sunset. But this was a dance piece too, which layered the music with a clear structure. Standing at the forefront was the tall, lanky Yulia Ilina in silver and white leotard, holding a suspended arabesque with solemn assurance. Her legs radiate like spokes on a wheel, as though made not of bone but iron. She appears at random, sometimes joined by dancers in black see-through chiffon skirts or pants, who dash and swirl, and disappear. At other times she holds the stage to herself, a commanding figure whose steely presence takes a dramatic turn when she pitches forward and lets her arms fall into broken bits, much like a puppet whose strings break.
Ms. Ilina holds the ballet together, but the ensemble of seven women and two men provide a warmth and free-flowing feel that makes a sharp contrast to her cool and formidable control.
Ravel Trio capitalizes on counter-action between Madelaine Boyce, Emily Igoe and Rayleigh Vendt. Dressed in black velvet heart-shaped bodices and stiff skirts, the trio appears in solos, duets and only at the end, as a trio. The dance requires sharpness and speed that only surfaces in short intervals. It could benefit from some serious pruning.
Elizabeth Gillaspy’s Lorelei, set to a piece by Brahms, was in contrast short and succinct. In loose, flowing white gown, Michele Gifford captured the romantic allure of the siren of the Rhine and her eternal isolation, making every gesture and pause rich with meaning. It is a lovely work, full of pathos and beautifully executed.
The chief pleasure of Ms. Puder’s Bewegt (German for “with movement”) came in spurts, and mainly from the sunny dancing of Juliann Hyde. She moves like a gazelle.
◊ 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.
◊ Photography by Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image