Dallas — Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Nope, we’re not talking about a wedding. It’s Texas Ballet Theater’s debut at Dallas City Performance Hall as they present Balanchine and Beyond: L, Serenade, and Clann.
The catchy bridal tradition doesn’t precisely fit, since the program consists of three pieces instead of four, but that’s still what audiences receive with this varied program. George Balanchine’s Serenade was his first full-length ballet created in America (old, borrowed) and features a large cast of women in simple blue dresses. Carl Coomer revives his role as choreographer with the world premiere of Clann, and artistic director Ben Stevenson brings back his Liza Minnelli tribute L, featuring a group of men donning (you guessed it) blue.
The first bars of Peter Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings opens the show before the curtain rises on a formation of pastel-clad dancers. Balanchine’s signature neo-classical stylings intricately combine with various complex patterns and groupings. Set in four sections, the ballet is plotless, but not. Although it has that distinction in ballet history, the plethora of partnering and gestures illustrate a general connection between the dancers rather than the straightforward narrative, for which ballet is so well-known.
The various poses and sheer number of dancers on stage create a wonderful aesthetic, and numerous points during the work turn into picture-perfect moments. The cast does contain six men, and although soloists Carl Coomer and Alexander Kotelenets produce some favorable highlights, this piece is all about the ladies. Principal dancers Carolyn Judson, Leticia Oliveira, and Betsy McBride shine in each of their solos, but the rest of the cast has plenty of opportunity to display their skills. It’s truly a beautiful work, one that deserves its illustrious status.
After an intermission Coomer displays his growth as a choreographer with the Irish-themed Clann, set to traditional Gaelic music by Jordi Savall and Andrew Lawrence-King. It’s a welcomed change from the familiar classical music, and the opening hazy image with three dancers lit only by their individual down lights sets a completely different tone from the previous work.
In his interview with TJ, Coomer explains his process and the Seamus Heaney poem that serves as the basis for his inspiration. Drawing on the more general idea of family and relationships, the work is a series of vignettes portraying various emotions and people in different situations. Lucas Priolo and Katelyn Clenaghan demonstrate a playfully passionate yet sometimes tumultuous relationship with moments of exciting partnering. The former also executes a dramatic yet humorous solo as he battles the temptation of the bottle. A trio of kilted, fierce men (Riley Moyano, Alexander Kotelenets, Brett Young) leap, kneel to the ground, then bound back up again.
With a series of skillful petit allegros, Simon Wexler and Shane Howell demonstrate an amiable brotherly friendship. Later, they use that same congeniality to grab the attention of a quintet of ladies clothed in short, Irish step dance-inspired dresses and performing movements in the same style. Betsy McBride charms the audience with a whimsical solo, and a lonely woman in a tattered dress (Carolyn Judson) has a brief, troubled duet with Priolo, then retreats later to her own conflicted solo.
A couple of issues make it a bit incomplete or perplexing. First are the kilts. Yes, the Irish did wear kilts, but since they’re typically associated with the Scots, they seem a little out of place. Second is Judson’s character, who seems to be the one most closely related to the poem. She exudes a forlorn hopelessness that stands in stark contrast to the other characters, but she needs a bit more development. Overall, though, the piece is an engaging blend of Irish-inspired dance and contemporary ballet.
Closing out the performance is the explosive L. Set to a completely percussive score, the work takes eight sections to showcase the dynamic athleticism of the men of TBT. The movement qualities range from jazzy to more balletic to Latin, and finally ends with a series of unbelievable leaps. The best one comes from Joamanuel Velazquez, as he soars into the air and shapes his legs into a retiré, while beautifully arching his back.
The only thing that could bring down this piece is the general facial expression throughout the piece. The guys have such cheesy grins on their faces the entire time, that they look like they’re featured in a bad 1980s aerobic video. That’s forgivable, however, due to the amount of vigor and stamina exhibited by the men. It’s that kind of passion and power that makes dance so majestic to behold.