It was touch and go for a while, but Texas Ballet Theater finally came up with enough money to open its season last week, and the audience at the Majestic Theater in Dallas approved enthusiastically.
Artistic director Ben Stevenson began the program on an introspective note. In his setting of Wagner’s Five Poems, the plaintive, soaring melodies were seen in drifting combinations of dancers, who traced the musical lines with a gentle awareness of their overpowering sadness and longing. It is one of Stevenson’s most personal statements, and his dancers responded to the melancholy vision with remarkable sensitivity.
Carolyn Judson, who missed most of last season nursing a hairline vertebra fracture, returned perkier than ever to dance the first of four classical duets, the “Esmeralda Pas de Deux” with Lucas Priolo. The highlight of a 19th-century full-length chestnut based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, “Esmeralda” was reset by Stevenson in 1982 and has pretty much become the standard version danced outside of Russia. The ballerina has a tambourine to bang and some tricky choreography to maneuver, and Judson – ably partnered by the sturdy Priolo – found great joy in the piece.
Another excerpt from “Esmeralda,” the divertissement “Diana and Acteon” – a 1935 addition to the rarely seen ballet – was danced by the Brazilian duo of Leticia Oliveira and Andre Silva. The engaging Oliveira, usually letter-perfect and full of fire, did not look entirely comfortable here and showed some rough edges. Silva, on the other hand, reveled in the bravura showpiece. His high-speed turns both onstage and in the air are becoming legendary around these parts.
The popular “Bluebird Variations” from Sleeping Beauty were strikingly danced by younger members of the company, Heather Crosby and Lonnie Weeks. Crosby is a charmer, with lovely arms and nice extension, and tall, lanky Weeks – only 17 years old – is phenomenal. When he executes a leap, he hangs sky-high in the air for what feels like a couple of minutes before finally descending without a sound. He trimmed some of the arm fluttering normally found in the piece but gave us most of the meat.
Nestled among all of the high-flying displays was “Romance,” a lyrical piece set by Stevenson to Rachmaninoff’s piano music, movingly danced by Julie Gumbinner and Carl Coomer. Both dancers excel in adagio dancing, and the performance was a welcome change of pace.
TBT also has another gifted choreographer on staff, associate artistic director Tim O’Keefe, whose “Love Thing” brought the evening to a rousing close. Set to the music of Tina Turner, the piece has been seen before, though this time it was much smoother, as the dancers explored such Turner songs as “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” “Rock Me Baby,” and “Nut Bush City Limits,” a number that showcased Silva in a kaleidoscope of high-voltage moves and rapid mood changes.
All of the music was pre-recorded, which is nothing new for TBT at the Majestic – the theater’s orchestra pit is microscopic. Nevertheless, the musicians’ union was outside picketing in protest of TBT’s recently announced plan to use pre-recorded music throughout the entire season. Right now it looks like the company will open its season in October at Bass Performance Hall with a live orchestra and a chorus in Stevenson’s setting of Mozart’s Requiem.