Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective.
Traditionally, ballet performances are accompanied by live musicians; however, in recent years, many companies have been moving away from that due to financial reasons and the lack of adequate rehearsal time with the orchestra. Many ballet purists believe that you need to have live accompaniment to make a performance memorable, and as a dancer, I can appreciate the presence of live music. But I also know how difficult it can be to get the musicians’ and dancers’ schedules to match up. A majority of the time, the dancers are working from a recording of the music and very rarely get a chance to rehearse with the live accompaniment until the week of the show. The dancers are used to a certain tempo in rehearsal, and no matter how professional the recording, live music always sounds different. On the other hand, the musicians are used to following their conductor, not the choreography. When they finally meet, the result can either be a success or a disaster.
In the case of Texas Ballet Theater’s Russian Masters program this past weekend, the lack of live music did not deter from the production. In fact, it was less distracting and allowed the audience to focus fully on the masterful technique and lovely drama of the works. It also forced the dancers to perform beyond their fullest to sell the show. When live music was used, in Artistic Director Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes, it was a happy meeting of the minds.
Created in 1969 and now celebrating its 40th anniversary, Three Preludes was a pleasantly surprising and realistic portrayal of love. The staging was just right: a stark, bare stage, a foreboding black background, with a lone ballet bare, a piano off to the side, and the dancers in white and gray. The chilling simplicity of it allowed for the emotion to shine through. Carolyn Judson and Lucas Priolo delivered passionate and believable performances in the “First Prelude” as two young dancers who begin to realize their feelings for each other. Stevenson’s use of the barre as a barrier between to the two was inventive: he had them climbing over it and under it and dancing on top of it. He kept the audience guessing at every lift, slide and pirouette. The “Second Prelude” exhibited even more inventive choreography with interesting inversions of traditional lifts. Judson and Priolo wove in and out of each other seamlessly, and at times looked to have melded their bodies into one fully realized sexual creature. While the first two sections had a voyeuristic feel and were very insular, the “Third Prelude” was a celebration of love, freedom and trust.
While their re-staging of George Balanchine’s Serenade left me entranced by the graceful quality of the dancers, they missed a few details vital to Balanchine’s technique. In his style, precision and an honesty of emotion is key. At times, the piece felt under-rehearsed: the allegro quality of the pointe-work dragged, the synchronicity was off, and the subtlety of the slight gestures were over-performed. The gesturing hand motif introduced at the beginning is supposed to be rather flat, but some of the dancers slipped into this loose, wiggling gesture, changing the motif entirely. We were not left wondering if the dancers were gesturing a “hello” or shielding their eyes from something. For Balanchine, it is all in the details. Nevertheless, the seductive quality of the movement was chilling, and it was an overall powerful performance.
As was Lainey Logan and Lonnie Weeks’ pas de deux from Flames of Paris. It was a bravado filled showcase of the two dancers’ technical mastery of their craft. Logan exhibited full control as she completed a series of one-legged bourrées, pick-up pirouettes and 40 fouettés. Weeks countered with 180-degree split leaps and triple tours.
What was extremely powerful and appropriate was Michel Fokine’s Polovtsian Dances. It was interesting to see the classical ballet setting – a fairy tale scene and props – juxtaposed against traditional Russian garb and movement, and for the dancers to not wear pointe shoes. In 1909, when the piece first premiered, Fokine pushed the boundaries of classical ballet by having the female dancers perform either in ballet slippers or bare feet; TBT’s interpretation stayed true to Fokine’s vision, and it was a nice way to show true technique. These are all very well trained dancers who don’t need wooden blocks, toe pads and tutus to prove they can dance. Moreover, I was happy to see a cultural representation of Russia at the “Russian Masters.” You can’t call a show that without acknowledging an important historical element. It was a great ending to a night of masterful dancing, because gone was the bravado of solo dancing and we were invited to see how wonderfully TBT works as an ensemble. They have a great sense of humor, drama, and they love what they do.
TBT definitely has something to prove after their financial troubles last year, but after this weekend’s performance of Russian Masters, they are well on their way to solidifying themselves as the resident ballet company of both Dallas and Fort Worth. This weekend got them one step closer to finding their identity.