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Spring in their Steps

Publication: 
Theater Jones

The Texas Ballet Theater opens its Springfest with Glen Tetley's Voluntaries, Val Caniparoli's Lambarena and other works.
The first weekend of Springfest, presented by Texas Ballet Theater, brings the company in for a closer look as they finish their season with a mixed bill at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Wyly Theater. Like last year, the intimate setting provides the audience a glimpse into the dancers’ personalities through movement subtleties that are usually lost in larger venues. This weekend’s performance is an encore of their March performance at Bass Performance Hall.

Opening the evening on a sorrowful note is Voluntaries, Glen Tetley’s 1973 tribute to Stuttgart Ballet’s John Cranko. Beginning in grief, Lucas Priolo and Carolyn Judson maneuver through a sustained but powerful duet. With sweeping floor patterns and transitions, the ballet moves through various groupings that include a pas de trois and six other couples.

Tetley found his fame in the 1960s by blending ballet and modern techniques in a way that hadn’t been seen before, and this work definitely showcases that mixture. Intriguing choreographic choices and breathtaking partnering transitions are highlighted by the dancers’ exquisite technical execution. Unison work remains tight, and the men defy gravity with an amazing number of leaps.

Priolo and Judson display their usual outstanding performances, but the pas de trois (Betsy McBride, Alexander Kotelenets and Brett Young) equally stands out in excellence. Newcomer Young holds his own with technical dynamites McBride and Kotelenets.

After a brief intermission, sweet and innocent love rules the stage with three pas de deuxs. For the first, Ave Maria, husband and wife team up for a duet of longing and adoration. Although the bell-shaped tutu is gone in favor of a simple white ballet dress with a short skirt, Heather Kotelenets channels her inner Romantic-era ballerina as the sometimes unattainable creature for which Alexander Kotelenets would do anything. With white chiffon attached to her fingers, the fabric appears like a wedding veil at times.

Creature roles are reversed in Laila and the Swan Pas de Deux, with Carl Coomer as the powerful swan and Carolyn Judson as the human enchanted by him. While a few feathers adorn his minimal costume, Coomer holds a white fan in each hand to simulate the appearance of them. Throughout the entire duet, which is sweetly humorous at time, he maintains a grip on those fans even through the partnering.

While Laila is based on a Greek myth, it’s the duet Sylvia which looks the part with Simon Wexler dressed in a short, one-shouldered tunic. Donning a light blue dress, his partner Allisyn Hsieh shows off her acting skills as she playfully runs around him for the first part of this work structured as a grand pas de deux. Wexler moves as powerfully as a god for his solo and the coda, performing intricate leaps and blazing fast turns. Not to be outdone, Hsieh executes quick footwork completely en pointe.

From Voluntaries to Sylvia, the excitement and mood crescendos, but it finally peaks for the last act, Val Caniparoli's Lambarena. TBT premiered this classical-tribal fusion at the close of last year’s festival at the Wyly, and it quickly became an audience favorite. Many of the returning cast members seem more comfortable with the African movement this time around.

Katelyn Clenaghan dances the solo role, and while she maintains a great connection with the audience, it’s Hseih and Michelle LeBoeuf who achieve the greatest depth of movement among the ladies. The men fare pretty well with their choreography, as well. Coomer demonstrates a more varied performance quality. He seems to have come out of his shell a bit more this season.

Join TBT again in two weeks for the closing weekend of Springfest. With Balanchine and Requiem on the menu, it’s sure to be a lovely feast of dancing.