Star-Telegram, February 26, 2016
It’s unusual to see a Texas Ballet Theater mixed repertory production and leave feeling like the Balanchine was the so-so work on the program. But so it was with the “Classic Combination” program, which opened Friday night at Bass Hall for the first of four performances.
The legendary choreographer’s 1956 Allegro Brilliante, set to Tchaikovsky music, opened the three-ballet performance. He famously said it’s everything he knows about classical ballet in 13 minutes; it’s certainly an excellent representation of his focus on form and pattern over showiness. Leticia Oliveira and Andre Silva were solid as the principal couple, surrounded by eight dancers working in exemplary unison.
It was the next piece that brought the house alive: Jerome Robbins’ 1956 The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody), using music by Chopin. This is the first time TBT has done a Robbins work, surprising considering his solid placement as one of the 20th century’s great choreographers — even if he’s known to general audiences more for his musical theater work.
To call The Concert comedic is an understatement. It’s wacky and whimsical, silly yet meaningful. A pianist (Shields-Collins Bray of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) comes on stage, sits at the piano bench, has some comic bits, and begins to play. Then the dancers, playing various stock characters, bring out their chairs and watch.
Two Gossip Girls make a big motion of crossing their legs on pointe, a husband (Carl Coomer) and wife (Paige Nyman) have spats, and a hat-wearing ballerina (Carolyn Judson) hugs the piano. When her chair is pulled away, she keeps the sitting position, on pointe, for a remarkably long time. By the work’s end, the players wear butterfly wings and flutter about, more graceful than any creature that’s just emerged from a chrysalis that you’ve ever seen.
Dancers are used to perfect timing, but in this, their deftness with comic timing added to the audience’s enthusiasm. It’s rare to laugh this much at the ballet, especially in a work that’s not full-length.
The best was saved for last: Harald Landers’ Etudes, which begins with the dancers warming up at the barre and ends with a series of showy dances that gave dance lovers the athletic, heart-racing moves they love.
The male principals (Silva and Jiyan Dai) were thrilling, and Oliveira proved that she has the fastest set of fouettes around. This is not an easy dance to pull off with this much care and precision, but TBT did it.
The fact that the symphony accompanied the dancers the entire time — which hasn’t happened for a mixed-rep program in a long while — made it all the better.