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Ventana Ballet hurdles into agile ’Leap’

Michael Barnes,
Atticus Griffin in "Leap" from Ventana Ballet. [Contributed by Farid Zarrinabadi]

Ballet is not customarily an intimate art form.

Viewed through the lens of aesthetic distance in a large proscenium theater, we see shapes and movement. Sometimes we make out faces, expressions and personalities. At times, the dancers in big ballet companies are overshadowed by scenery, costumes or lighting.

No so with Ventana Ballet, which specializes in intimate performance spaces. Pop-up ballet has joined the rage for pop-up opera, theater and classical music in Austin spaces such as the studio on East Cesar Chavez Street where A.J. Garcia-Rameau’s Ventana performs “Leap,” a 45-minute thematic response to leap year.

(The final performance is 8 p.m. Feb. 29.)

Two rows of folding chairs are arranged in a U-shape around a blank, rectilinear performance space. There’s no room for error here. One can almost hear the dancers’ heartbeats.

In an exhilarating sequence near the end of the show, each dancer performed one or more leaps in succession — another reference to the concert’s title? — landing extraordinarily close to audience members on the front row.

The numbers in “Leap” are divided into comic and serious scenes. The humorous ones, announced to the noise of kazoos, involve frogs (more leaping), a leap-year birthday with balloons, and so forth.

Ventana is better at serious dance and every single member of the small company is skilled at contemporary variations on ballet. A memorable trio featuring two males and one female early in the show swung along to the live music with effortless grace.

A costumed duo elicited a guffaw at first because the male dancer wore an identical high wig and whispery train as his female partner. The audience, however, quickly realized that comic drag was not the point: The gathered trains highlighted the dancers’ flowing movements and the wigs suggested an aristocratic posture for their dignified, adapted social dancing.

We cannot tell you who designed or danced these pieces because no printed program was provided.

Individual bravura aside — and there were some stand-outs — Ventana excels at group dances, which are all the more miraculous because of the limited stage space.

Somehow, they adapt. Swimmingly.