Tag Archives: Shea Johnson

Soluna Review: Avant Chamber Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet performs for the Soluna Festival. Photo: Amitava Sarkar
Avant Chamber Ballet performs for the Soluna Festival. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Avant Chamber Ballet makes a rousing tribute to American Ballet at the Soluna Festival with guests from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Dallas — There’s nothing like hearing live music at a classical ballet performance. It adds some spontaneity to an otherwise technically fixed art form as well as a layer of anticipation for both performers and audience members. It was this anticipation that had audiences on the edge of their seats as Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) broadened their artistic range in a near flawless performance Tuesday evening at Dallas City Performance Hall in conjunction with the Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival. Staying within the margins of the festival’s theme “Destination America” Puder put together an exciting program that included some of her favorite American ballet choreographers, including George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Paul Mejia, and also showcased the company’s ever growing versatility and musical awareness.

Having been brought up on the Balanchine style it came as no surprise that ACB’s restaging of Balanchine’sValse Fantaisie paralleled the technical fortitude of the original. Glinka’s driving composition, arranged by ACB’s composer in residence Chase Dobson, guided the five females and one male through this whirlwind that can only be called pure dancing. As was Balanchine’s custom, leg beats and rises on and off pointe were accentuated with subtle head tilts and arm changes. Natalie Anton, Madelaine Boyce, Kristen Conrad and Kaitlyn McDermitt performed the springy corp steps without hesitation and beautifully captured the musical nuances with their elongated arabesques and breathy arm transitions. Christy Martin was a spitfire in the lead role with fellow dancer Peter Kurta. Martin showcased exquisite control as she stepped into a lengthyarabesque hold after completing a vigorous entrechatvariation.

Kurta ate up the stage in his traveling jump sequences and maneuvered Martin through a series of assistedpirouettes and rotating body positions without qualm. Musicians Miika Gregg (violin), Lydia Umlauf (viola), Jennifer Humphreys (cello), Kara Kirkendoll Welch (flute), David Cooper (horn) and Saule Garcia (piano) partnered beautifully with the performers on stage with changing tempos, volumes and styles generating the same energies in the dancers.

Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A challenged ACB’s Natalie Anton, Emily Dixon, Yulia Ilina and Rachel Meador with its musical intricacies and scrupulous technique. Choreographed in four parts, each section uses a different part of the body to highlight the nuances in this illustrious Stravinsky composition. The long-sleeved white leotards and matching ballet belts enhanced the dancers’ lines and did not detract from the detailed movements seen in the work. Right away the eye is drawn to the dancers’ upper bodies as they contract and release on different counts.

These constantly changing counts made the simple plies with wrist flicks and back arches appear fresh and exiting. In the third section the fast tempo was accented by the dancers’ hips as they quickly tip-toed on the balls of their feet around one another. Pianist Garcia slowed the tempo down in the final section as the dancers focused on raising and lowering their arms to different counts and rhythms.

Just as the title states, Puder’s new work Endless Arc was a continuous array of wide arcing movements, contracted torsos and explosive leg extensions. By breaking the piece into five parts the audience could fully appreciate Puder’s interweaving formation changes, complex petite allegro sections and push and pulling partnering skills. In the first section, Sarah Grace Austin set the tone when she performed a series of slow side bends and tendue steps with an inverted hip swivel. As Bela Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 picked up tempo Austin and the other five dancers on stage exploded into a number of running jetes which led them off stage.

In the second and fourth sections, Madelaine Boyce, Kirsten Conrad and Christy Martin made easy work of the traveling chaine turns and double pirouettes that came in between their running patterns, which had them circling close to one another before shifting directions. The simple rotating bourrees and slow walks which spread the group across the stage in the third adagio section was one of the most visually arresting moments of the whole piece. The audience was also pleased to see Tagir Galimov handling the classic partnering skills (i.e. rotatingarabesques, pirouettes) with more assertiveness and continuity.

The piece came to a satisfying conclusion as the entire company executed a series of high powered traveling jumps and alternating battements before ending in diagonal spanning the stage. As they pivoted to the front with one arm curved up and the other down the stage went dark. Throughout the piece Charlton Gavitt’s bold color choices and abrupt lighting cues meshed with the sharp changes in the music and helped round out the work.

These more traditional works were separated by two contemporary duets choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. In The American pas de deux Michele Gifford clung to Shea Johnson as he manipulated different parts of her body. Flexed feet, broken arms and a contracted torso made up most of Gifford’s movements as Johnson swept her across the floor in a number of over the head lifts. The counterbalance holds and sustained lifts, which made up a bulk of the work, tested Johnson’s control and consistency with positive results. WhereasThe American was light and buoyant, Wheeldon’s There Where She Loved was grounded and tense with Gifford desperately reaching and arching away from Johnson as he dragged her across the floor on the tops on her feet. Soprano Corrie Donovan’s soul stripping rendition of Kurt Weill’s Je ne t’aime pas as well as her physical presence on the stage gave the couple courage to fully let themselves go which in turn made their performance more dynamic and believable.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Review: The Nutcracker, Ballet Ensemble of Texas

Going Nuts!

Ballet Ensemble of Texas delivers delicious dancing and sumptuous surprises in its production ofThe Nutcracker

Irving — Oh, the weather outside was definitely frightful, but thankfully Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) presentation of The Nutcracker was worth the perilous drive that many performers and audience members surely braved. The company gave an engaging performance on Saturday to a packed house at the Irving Arts Center, complete with little girls in cute mice costumes, an abundance of young male dancers, a poetic Waltz of the Flowers and a dynamite grande pas de deux by guest artists Michele Gifford and Shea Johnson.

The production began at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party where their daughter Clara receives her beloved Nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer (Allan Kinzie). While the stage dressing was a little bare (a couch, chair and clock were the only props) it did provide the children and adult party guests with plenty of space to dance. Choreographers Lisa Slagle (also BET director), Allan Kinzie, Tammie Reinsch and Allison D’Auteuil Whitfield kept the party scene moving with basic yet visually pleasing ballet steps for the youngsters and clean pointe work for Clara (Kristen Wright) and the life-size dolls (Alise Newman, Victoria Pardo and Jimena Flores-Sanchez).

Even though she kept the same facial expression for most of performance, Wright is the most technically proficient Clara I have seen this season. Her strong, supple feet enabled her to execute multiple turns and pique arabesque holds with pizazz. Newcomer to BET William Sheriff was a pleasant surprise as the Nutcracker Prince with his great control over his long, limber body; as he becomes more mindful of his feet, Sheriff will be one to watch for.

The battle scene had everything you’d expect, from well-rehearsed sword play, bright lighting and smoke machines to twenty or so little dancers scampering across the stage in cute mice costumes. The action was quick-moving and transitioned smoothly into the snow scene. Snow Queen Natalie Tsay’s pointe work was a little clunky in some parts, but she made up for it with her captivating stage presence. Her Snow King (Blaine Quinn) was a solid and trustworthy partner. He executed those tricky traveling lifts with grace and confidence. The Snowflakes really stole the scene with their breezy movement, uniformed arm and leg placements and exquisite technique.

The second act displayed more of the company’s versatility especially in the Arabian, Chinese, Hungarian and Russian sections. Melissa Anderson, Kendall Glasgow and Sam Chadick showed they could handle the slower, more controlled movements required in the Arabian dance. Anderson and Glasgow also got to display their flexibility with their alternating floor splits. It was a challenge for power jumper Adam Rech to control himself in the Chinese dance, but he did it and even managed to get his heels down when he landed. While the timing was off in some parts of the Hungarian number it did show the company’s understanding of folk dancing which includes a lot of unified stomping and clapping.

Now, what BET has that a other companies don’t is a strong group of young male dancers. This was made abundantly clear in the crowd pleasing Russian dance. Roman Mejia, Aldrin Vendt, Akihiro Yoshimoto, Adam Phillips and Kei Jay Takahashi pulled off an exhilarating number filled with double tour en l’airs, turns in second and round houses.

Like the snow scene, the Waltz of the Flowers was truly poetic. The dancers simply skimmed across the floor in a series of bourrees. The choreography was packed with constant direction changes and opposing head and arm movements; giving off the illusion that we were watching moving snapshots. Masumi Yoshimoto (Dew Drop Fairy) and demi-soloists Abby Granlund, Breanne Granlund, Ripley Mayfield and Yuki Takahashi gave solid and soulful performances.

The highlight of the show was the technically flawless performance Michele Gifford (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Shea Johnson (Cavalier) gave in the grande pas de deux. Gifford and Johnson nailed every turning arabesque hold and difficult shoulder lift without a qualm. Gifford’s unending extensions and Johnson’s boundless amounts of energy in his turning grande jete section earned applause from the audience. It was a great night for both these seasoned professionals.

This was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.