by Bethany Adams
Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School had their 25th annual Spring Performance at SMU McFarlin Thursday, June 9. School Principal Lyndette Galen and Office Administrator Barbara Bredemeier, both lovely women, (trust me, I don't need to flatter them; if the opposite were true, my lips would be zipped), orchestrated an impressive program chock full of great music and choreography, that ran the entire style spectrum from classical ballet to finger-snapping jazz. They should also be commended for their multicultural approach that was showcased by the influence of African and Indian dance. Overall, when I wasn't busy dodging the woman's head in front of me who thought it was appropriate to sit her 9 year-old daughter on her lap (Sec C Row O Seat 7, you know who you are), I had a blast. And I've been to plenty of recitals to say they're not all created equal in terms of artistic vision and talent presented. These are some of the highlights I feel made their 25th recital memorable.
Opening was "Mozart", choreographed by Jan Miller, and performed by the School's Senior Ensemble. The Dallas School's Senior Ensemble is one of the best I've ever seen. It's as if you're watching the company. At one point, in the middle of the piece, six dancers exited into the wings leaving two, Tiffany Byrd and Rachel Kivlighan. Quintessential ballerinas with legs that started at their neck, they delighted the audience with a brief duet. Kivlighan whipped up some furious fouettes that blew me away. From the moment they took their places on stage, they had the gait of professionals. In fact, before the show even started, Galen stepped out in front of the curtain to speak to the audience and offer special thanks to her staff. In an effort to pitch the company's performance of Don Quixote that is being put on this weekend at Bass Hall in Fort Worth, she said in her Aussie accent, 'How can we expict our giirls to lerrn how to wolk, stand, and dance like ballerinas if we niver take them to see a live performance?' In line with her reasoning, it was obvious throughout the program that her students had been properly trained. From the Senior Ensemble trickling down to the lower levels, every dancer, no matter their build or degree of adolescent gangly-ness, demonstrated good posture with straight backs and pointed toes. And if "Mozart" was any indication, those girls got a regular diet of live performances throughout their upbringing.
In the arena of obscure modern, I liked "Facades" by Darrell Cleveland. I instantly recognized the music from Philip Glass' Glass Pieces and was very pleased. It's one of the most intriguing scores by a modern composer. My absolute favorite piece of the night was Cleveland's "Paradise". I had the opportunity to take class and rehearsal warm-ups with Mr. Cleveland in the past, and the guy is a dynamo. Never boring, he conjures up fresh choreography that gives you tunnel vision. "Paradise" opened to the silhouettes of the Senior Ensemble in front of an ice blue backdrop. When the lights came up to wild ponytails and colorful sarongs, it was a full-blown tribal affair. The rhythmic beating of drums got the dancers moving in ways beyond the tutu, gyrating and shakin' what their mama gave them. And I loved, loved, LOVED, the booty-pop on all fours. Well played.
"I've Got Rhythm" was a fun and flirty twist on George Gershwin with choreography by Lyndette Galen. Nine ballerinas en pointe boureed out of the wings from stage right carrying the only male, Quinton Tompkins, who held his own in a sea of pretty ladies. It was a clever entrance that got giggles from the audience. Laced with upbeat piques and a flurry of turns, it gave ballet a jazzy spin reminiscent of George Balanchine's Who Cares? also set to Gershwin.
Kim Bredemeier's "Dog Days Are Over" and "Locomotion" were her best work. "Dog Days Are Over", set to the high-energy song by Florence and The Machine, had the dancers expressing that energy in a way that made you want to get up and jog along with them. "Locomotion" was a saucy update of the original by Grand Funk Railroad, with hip-swinging ladies dressed in dazzling emerald green sequined unitards that made them sparkle with every move. Look up "Fabulous" in the dictionary, and you would've seen a photo of those sensational costumes.
"Tango" and "Tchaikovsky Waltz", both choreographed by Lyndette Galen, were wise choices for the respective age groups dancing them. "Tango" opened with the silhouettes of dancers executing steps in front of a fiery red backdrop. Finally coming forward in sharp Castillian Spanish uniforms, the exacting steps that a tango requires you to perform made the legion of young ladies look mature. The high caliber "Tchaikovsky Waltz" transformed young teenagers into women. The dark blue lighting, combined with frosty purple and white dresses, adorned the smooth classical choreography making it feel of an enchanting winter night.
Terry Wolton's rendition of "Footloose" as a tap routine is what I have reference to when I talk about keeping things fresh. "Footloose" as a jazz number has been so overplayed in recitals and competitions past that it was refreshing to see it done in tap shoes. The dancers wore hot pink, neon green, and bright blue leotards, striped leggings that looked like the Where's Waldo? books, adding a touch of humor when they topped it off with bouncy tutus. Some of the girls even had tap shoes that looked like sneakers!
Kudos to Fee Paterson's "Jai Ho". Being that TBT's Dallas School is located in Richardson, a suburb with a prominent Indian community, it was a thoughtful and appropriate ode to the culture. A burst of orange, red, yellow, green, and blue came in a group of dancers sporting Bollywood-inspired saris, bobbing their heads and twirling their wrists. Curry anyone?
"Namwhaa", choreographed by Gregory King, and performed by the never-disappointing Senior Ensemble, was fascinating to watch. The dancers took you on a safari of inhibition, wearing leotards that eluded to zebras, whipping their loose hair maniacally. The burnt orange backdrop reminded you of the setting sun in the plains of Africa. "Into the Spin", a contemporary duet by Fee Patterson featured Tiffany Byrd and Rachel Kivlighan, who carried themselves like seasoned professionals. Not to mention they looked like twins (at least from where I was sitting). Sparse, calculating, but at times fluid, the dancers combined gymnastics and dance with their acrobatic handstands and simultaneous mastery of classical technique.
Concluding the 2-hour long evening was the "Grand Finale", with a cast boasting of Junior and Senior Ensembles accompanied by a sidekick group of younger dancers. Jan Miller knows what she's doing. As evident in her staging of "Mozart", she is an architect of classical ballet. At one point, a line of five Senior dancers did a series of tour jetes upstage, and with every landing, their luxuriant white tulle skirts fell in whisper-like layers, making them look positively radiant. But tying all this grandiosity together was a sense of obligation to each other. To the see the harmony despite the age differences tugged at my heart strings. Coming together for a picturesque ending pose, the Senior Ensemble showed themselves to be good role models to the youngest generation, and the greenest of dancers demonstrated their dedication.
Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School deserved every round of applause. With a staff churning out such a notable variety of work, and a class of students as talented and hardworking as theirs applying themselves to performance, we can look forward to the 26th annual recital of Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School with confident anticipation.
-June 11, 2011