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Review: Ballet Austin’s “The Glass Project”

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Over Valentine’s Day weekend at the Long Center, Ballet Austin delivered emotional performances in “The Glass Project,” an evening of three works set to music by Philip Glass that included two reprises and the world premiere of “CARBON53.”

Artistic Director Stephen Mills’ contemporary ballet choreography, which showcased the dancers in duets, trios and quartets throughout, was marked by a human dimension.

In “Liminal Glam” (2008), the fast-paced choreography complemented the driving rhythm of Glass’ “Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra.” The full company, led by principal duo Aara Krumpe and Frank Shott, didn’t miss a beat — both physically and musically. The men’s choreography involved beats of the legs and pirouettes, while the women sashayed their hips. The women’s pancake-flat, spiral-layered tutus (the work of Susan Branch Towne) revealed bare, muscular legs as they thrust their lower extremities into overhead leg extensions. For both the men and women, each gray outfit was punctuated with a twisting line of color: red, orange, blue or purple. All entrances and exits were made through a beaded curtain upstage that rippled at the touch.

The music for “Angel of My Nature” (2010) was a medley of five pieces alternating between Bach and Glass compositions, performed live by Austin Chamber Music Center’s Dr. Michelle Schumann on piano. One could not help but notice that Schumann’s interpretation of such pieces as Bach’s “Goldberg Variations, BWV 988: Aria” and Glass’ “Metamorphosis: Metamorphosis One” inspired an emotionally intimate quality in the dancers’ movements. In particular, a trio for two men and a woman offered up an opportunity to fall under the mesmerizing spell of human connection, where weight shifts in the form of leans and tosses went fluidly. At the piece’s conclusion, literal fluid rained upon a group of dancers donning flesh-colored undergarments as they reached their arms skyward, heads thrust back in wonderment.

The evening’s final work, “CARBON53,” was set to staccato rhythms by Steve Reich and Glass, with much of the choreography done successively (or “in canon,” as it is called) to reveal a movement-based carbon-copy effect. Monica Guerra’s costume design followed the carbon-copy theme: White long-sleeve unitards were splotched with ink marks. Throughout the piece, the 18 dancers crossed the stage in a vertical line with a perfectly synchronized walk, pausing at moments to thump a heartbeat rhythm on their chests. Pairings broke out of the vertical line, only to be absorbed back into it with subsequent crossings.

At the conclusion, all returned to the vertical mold, ready — we imagine — to begin their work in canon once more.