(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)
Ballet Austin’s 2016-2017 season is beginning with an exciting first: the company’s first-ever tour of China. The company’s season opener at the Long Center Sept. 23-25, “To China, with Love,” included two short ballets the company will perform abroad.
It is clear Ballet Austin wants to highlight the range of both its dancers and the choreography they perform in this tour to the other side of the world.
The two pieces on the bill by artistic director Stephen Mills are opposites in many ways.
In Mills’ three-part “Wolftanzt” (which first premiered in 2011), set to Mozart’s Piano Concerto #12, a classical vocabulary is punctuated with the odd contemporary move. Hues of grey and pink swirl together as the 15 dancers lyrically mix, the image of a rose projected behind them — but it’s the untraditional moments that stand out.
A step as classical as an arabesque en pointe may give way to a roll to the floor, the women pausing on their backs to kick their feet in the air. In another section of slow lifts, the women’s pink-chiffon skirts float over their splayed legs, held aloft in wide a la seconde. “Wolftanzt” ends with the dancers linked in two lines, hand-in-hand, across the stage, in a coordinated quick-fire petit allegro.
In contrast, Mills’ “Liminal Glam” (2008), set to Philip Glass’ “Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra,” is sharp, stark. Flashes of bright light stun our pupils, highlighting the bare legs of the women donning no-frills, Space Age-esque planar tutus that resemble slinkies, attached at the abdomen like an orange peel; there’s no tulle here. Each dancer’s outfit has a lone ribbon of color that twists around the body: red, blue, purple.
At Sept. 23’s performance, Aara Krumpe was the leading lady with Oliver Greene-Cramer as her partner. The fast-paced partnerwork had Greene-Carmer assisting Krumpe through slides on her toes. In the ensemble sections, the women dove into their partners’ arms like targeted grenades of energy, inciting audible gasps of awe in the audience. The fast-paced ballet came to a conclusion with one last flash of light.
An addition to the ballet’s season opening program was New York City-based modern dance choreographer Lubovitch’s “Dvorák Serenade” (2007), a blissful contrast to “Liminal Glam.”
Where “Liminal Glam” is concerned with edges, “Dvorák Serenade” wholeheartedly embraces curves. The soundtrack, Dvorák’s Serenade in E major played live by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, is a simply gorgeous piece of music that seems to flow effortlessly from out of nowhere.
Indeed, this is the spirit captured by the choreography, danced beautifully by Ballet Austin with dancers Ashley Lynn Sherman and Green-Cramer at the helm. The reverberating quality of the score, especially in the second movement, is visually represented by having the large ensemble dance in canon form — one after another — in a kind of echo pattern. The soft lighting and loose-fitting white costuming contribute to the sense of melancholic peace.
“Dvorák Serenade” feels like a nostalgic lullaby. Limbs yearn and intertwine; torsos stretch backwards and forwards; and, finally, a lone couple lifts its arms skyward, looking up into the great unknown, on the precipice of a new world — much like Ballet Austin.
To China, they go.