“Clann” is a spry and charming collection of short scenes that relies on Scottish-Irish clichés without turning into Riverdance.
By MANUEL MENDOZA Special Contributor
Texas Ballet Theater presented fledgling choreographer Carl Coomer with a daunting task this weekend: Follow Balanchine.
The longtime principal dancer answered the challenge with the premiere of Clann, a spry and charming collection of short scenes that relied on Scottish-Irish clichés without turning into Riverdance. It rose above those clichés with a well-delineated structure and organic, lighthearted choreography that the company made look effortless.
Inspired by a Seamus Heaney poem about the legend of a girl murdered for committing adultery — only directly addressed near the end of the piece — Clann had the 13 dancers arranged at Dallas City Performance Hall in four groups, each with its own personality.
Lucas Priolo, Katelyn Clenaghan and Carolyn Judson played the main roles Friday night in front of a green-lit silhouette of a meadow, accompanied by traditional Gaelic fiddle music adapted for classical violin and harp. One performance remains Sunday afternoon.
Priolo, in brown pants and open vest, comically enacted a peasant’s struggle with the bottle when he wasn’t struggling with Clenaghan, whether pulling her down by the neck or cradling and rocking her in his arms.
In other vignettes, Simon Wexler and Shane Howell raised their fists to launch a horseplay session; the kilted Riley Moyano, Alexander Kotelenets and Brett Young engaged in ancient rituals, their chests and backs ringed with diagonal tattoos; and Heather Kotelenets, Paige Nyman, Jennifer Huerta and Nicole Von Enck, clad in short purple skirts, skipped and lightly stamped their feet.
Clann made a dark, soulful turn with the flittering entrance of Betsy McBride in a raggedy white dress and short blond wig, representing the murdered girl of lore.
McBride’s haunting, vampiric countenance was riveting.
Coomer’s second work for Texas Ballet Theater followed Balanchine’s elegant Serenade, the first piece the Russian émigré created in the United States, in the “Balanchine and Beyond” program.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and inspired by a School of American Ballet dancer whom Balanchine saw shading her eyes from the sun, the 80-year-old work opened with 17 female dancers in blue moonlight and long tulle skirts, each extending an open palm in front of her face.
It was a study in simplicity and volume, a gaggle of young women moving through the most basic of classroom techniques to overwhelming, eye-pleasing effect. Much of what Balanchine would accomplish at New York City Ballet is contained in the piece, including his amazing ability to gird ever-changing formations with structural integrity.
The program closed with artistic director Ben Stevenson’s sweaty, all-male Liza Minnelli tribute, L, a crowd-pleaser steeped in muscular poses, bravura leaps and spins, and moments of slapstick humor, set to a brilliant, pure-percussion score by Don Lawson.
Manuel Mendoza is a Dallas freelance writer. He blogs at dfwdance.wordpress.com.