Stage: Wednesday, May 03, 2006
With ’Love Thing,’ a tribute to pop songstress Tina Turner, Texas Ballet Theater dancers took advantage of the chance to, um, get down.

Our impressive dance power here was manifest in a spate of recent productions by the three heavy-hitters.


Though North Texas overflows with great dance companies, performers, and productions, their combined strength was never fully felt until last week, when the stars aligned and the area’s three major companies performed over four days both here and in Dallas. Given extra luster by a gala in Big D presented by TITAS (Dallas’ long-running nonprofit dance and music outreach institute), the convergence did more than reinforce the notion that North Texas is a major regional dance center. It gave those who partook the rare opportunity to evaluate the companies essentially side-by-side, throwing into relief never-before-realized qualities — good and bad.

Texas Ballet Theater is known primarily for evening-length excursions into the classics, but the company manages to trot out shorter works in a single program about once a year. TBT treated Fort Worth to a collection of them and to guest star Carlos Acosta a couple of months ago, but Dallas had to wait more than the typical week for the pleasure. Seems that the only time the Royal Ballet dynamo could perform in North Texas again was last weekend.

The Dallas venue — the Majestic Theater, an old, elegant vaudeville house in the heart of Big D’s business district — was packed.

Which was the general idea. Since deciding to embrace Dallas several years ago, the Fort Worth-based TBT has been performing in the cavernous State Fair Music Hall, which does nothing but underline the fact that Dallasites have yet to warm to the company. Save for The Nutcracker at Christmas, Dallas productions in the future will be held in the Majestic until TBT moves into Dallas’ new performing arts center, due to open in 2009. The Majestic is comfortable, with 1,800 seats and excellent sight lines. However, there is no orchestra pit, and the stage is small. Really small. During the Le Corsaire pas de deux, Acosta had to do two leaps instead of three at the crossovers — a third would have put him out in the street.

Acosta didn’t have his partner from Fort Worth, the National Ballet of China’s splendid Zhang Jian, who had scheduling conflicts and could not make the Big D performance. But the panther-like intensity he brings to every role was intact, and his new partner, American Ballet Theater’s fiery Paloma Herrera, matched him tit for tat in the acrobatics department. She jazzed up the obligatory 32 fouettes with double- and triple-turns, even managing four — count ‘em, four — revolutions in one variation. Was it art? No. Was it exciting? Yes, and the audience responded with whoops and hollers at the end.

A new ballet created by artistic director Ben Stevenson for the occasion, Preludes for Van, featured Joyce Yang, silver medallist of the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The ballet, an homage to Fort Worth’s classical music legend, is set to three piano preludes and an elegy by Rachmaninoff. Yang performed upstage and was so heavily miked, she might as well have been on tape. The opening prelude showcased four male dancers who were high on energy and low on finesse. Preludes didn’t settle down until two wonderful duets by four of the company’s strongest partners, Enrica Tseng with Michael Clark, and Julie Gumbinner with Lucas Priolo. They were also given some of Stevenson’s classiest steps, and the foursome put meat on the ballet’s slender bones. A trio danced by Corrina Peterson, Alexander Kotelenets, and Dana Lanz-Ross that came out of nowhere was filled with unexpected angst, but it still ended up being enjoyable.

The program closed with Stevenson’s assistant Tim O’Keefe’s inaugural ballet, Love Thing, a setting of seven of pop legend Tina Turner’s well-known tunes in a Broadway style that never flags or runs out of ideas. The star was Andre Silva, whose speedy turns equaled Acosta’s.

While TBT has taken on a look that reflects Stevenson’s London background and love for the Royal Ballet, the Metropolitan Classical Ballet has remained Russo-Balanchine-oriented. The company’s spring program in Bass Performance Hall didn’t feature any Mr. B but did revive co-artistic director Paul Mejia’s Brahms Waltzes for piano from the composer’s Opus 39. As with other lengthy ballets set to one or a couple of instruments, the sameness of sound becomes tiring. Even though the waltzes were played lovingly by the exceptional Alexei Melentiev, your ears eventually beg to hear something ... different. The execution of the choreography, however, redeemed the monotony. Dancing the familiar, bittersweet lullaby with her husband Yevgeni Anfinogenov, principal Olga Pavlova was lovely and enchanting as usual. The only major problem with the performance came from the audience — hopefully, there’s a special ring in hell for parents who refuse to control their young wailing spawn in public.

Co-director Alexander Vetrov was once a leading light at the Bolshoi Ballet, but he’s in his 40s now and doesn’t perform much. Last week, though, he dusted off his dance shoes and revived Bonjour Brel with Pavlova. Created for the pair a few years ago by Canadian choreographer Eddy Toussaint, founder of the Ballet de Montreal and first artistic director of the Sarasota Ballet, the piece is set to five songs by the popular Frenchmen Jacques Brel. The result is pure Parisian romance. The two dancers found their own music in the vintage, Hollywood musical-like moves.

On hand last weekend for the American premiere of his Les Promenades was Vladimir Vasiliev, a Bolshoi powerhouse from the 1960s and ‘70s and later director of the Bolshoi Theater. Vasiliev was also Vetrov’s mentor in Moscow, and the younger man was obviously moved by the great Russian’s presence here. Based on music by long-ago French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, the 1978 ballet is a charmer that pokes gentle fun at dancers and choreographers alike as it explores the courtly music of another era.

Of all the performances, the ones by Bruce Wood Dance Company left some of the greatest impressions — the namesake modernist just seems to get better and better. But audiences, here and in Dallas, still haven’t caught on. Featuring two works chosen by a previous audience for revival, Follow Me and Rhapsody in Blue, the program last week at Bass Hall played to a lot of empty theater chairs.

The one new work, Dust, Texas, was emblematic of Wood’s increasingly introspective style. Set in West Texas during the early years of the last century, the ballet clothes the dancers in simple farm outfits, and the lighting points up the emptiness all around. The music, sophisticated versions of folk tunes, finds Wood in a minimalist mood. His adagio work was almost static. Two dancers approached each other in slow motion but then stopped about two inches apart. She then slowly leaned her head forward, gently turning it sideways to lay on his shoulder. He dropped his head against her cheek. An arm raised, slowly again, and rested on the other shoulder. They then turned. As the section unfolded and other dancers joined the couple, you couldn’t help but notice that all of the movements were simple and easy, but the imagery was powerful. It raised thoughts of family, of a sense of community, of love, of what keeps people going in an unforgiving land. Nothing has happened, really, except that Wood found a way to tap into a universe of emotion in just a few strokes.

Maybe the words “modern” and “dance” scare folks away. Still, Wood’s company deserves better than what it’s getting.

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