Dance review: Ballet Austin’s “Director’s Choice”

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Ballet Austin II's "Season of Innocence"

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christin Spera.)

Ballet Austin presented a mixed repertory program at the Long Center this weekend, collectively titled “Director’s Choice.”

Ballet Austin performed Jennifer Hart's "To Here." Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Ballet Austin performed Jennifer Hart’s “To Here.” Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Featuring works by guest choreographers Jennifer Hart and 2014-2016 Princess Grace Award Winner Jimmy Orrante, as well as a piece by Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills, the selections allowed the dancers to demonstrate a range of movement styles and emotions.

In Hart’s “To Here,” the stage was encapsulated by three screens. Projections of brightly colored wildflowers (think: spring in Texas) seamlessly gave way to a desolate desert landscape, then a rocky beach and, finally, bright white ice. A classical score by English composer Gavin Bryars featured the violin.

Susan Branch Towne’s costume designs reflected these changes: In the beginning, the women wore floral-watercolor chiffon dresses in vibrant pinks, oranges, greens, yellows, blues and purples; as the mood shifted, the 10 dancers re-emerged in white outfits that were ever-so-lightly splattered with gray. The projections behind them mimicked rain on a glass window before resolving into ice.

The path of the dance — from there, “to here”— recalled the cycle of life, from youth to old age. The last portion, where the stage was filled with whiteness as dancer Jamie Lynn Witts opened her palms to the sky, embraced the unknown.

The second piece of the evening, Mills’ “One / the body’s grace,” highlighted three couples, each discovering how to meld their individual lives to become one. In particular, Saturday evening’s Ashley Lynn Sherman and James Fuller embraced each other in grace, curiosity and intimacy; their emotive faces made the choreography all the more believable.

Sherman, poised atop her toes in pointe shoes, melted down onto Fuller as he lay on the floor. Then, standing up, she was embraced by him as he leaned backwards. The barely-there costuming by Christopher McCollum — tight tanks and bike shorts in a neutral color — revealed the minutiae of their musculature as they came together and separated; in the end, Fuller placed Sherman on the ground and walked away. She watched him leave her behind.

Stephen Mills' "One: The Body's Grace." Photo by Tony Spielberg.

Stephen Mills’ “One: The Body’s Grace.” Photo by Tony Spielberg.

The final piece of the evening, Orrante’s “Threads of Color,” was set to music by Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Five couples whirled about the stage, the women donning long, black mesh skirts and white scarves around their necks, the men in simple black pants and tops (the work of costume designer Alexey Korygin). The scarves floated lazily behind the women as they moved to the spicy music.

The “threads” may have been the scarves, but the “color” was definitely the movement, inspired by the deep energy of Piazzolla’s compositions. The solid backdrop changed colors to reflect the mood of different moments. Meanwhile, arms sliced through the air and feet scurried. The women tossed the scarves from around their necks and the men caught them, before tenderly replacing them.

“Director’s Choice” was an evening of contemporary ballet that, although technically plot-less, told its own abstract stories.


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