Review: ‘Steps in Time’ melds dance, history in artistic package

‘Steps in Time’ melds dance, history in artistic package

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |
October 10, 2011

The concept proved to be inspired: present an evening of three ballets, each the work of a distinguished and distinctive American choreographer. The execution of that concept: quite remarkable.

The Indiana University Ballet Theater opened its season in the Musical Arts Center over the weekend with a feast titled “Steps in Time,” consisting of creations by George Balanchine, Dwight Rhoden and Paul Taylor, each a master of movement. The label turned out to have a double meaning. The ballets certainly required integrated dancing in which each member of the company kept to time with the music and each other. But “Steps in Time” also had to do with history. The works chosen represented artistic history and, in the case of the closing piece, Taylor’s “Company B,” American and world history.

Appropriately, the showcase began with Balanchine, arguably the most influential choreographer of the 20th century. “Concerto Barocco” was the chosen vehicle, a famously brilliant sample of classic dance premiered in 1941 that actually originated as an exercise for students in the School of American Ballet. The music is Bach’s, his Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins. The rhythmic beat is pronounced and persistent; it requires precise step work on pointe.

Friday’s performance received exactly that from a corps of eight well-coordinated and ever-graceful ballerinas. The three soloists excelled, too: a lithe Samantha Nagy-Chow and a pliable Mary-Quinn Aber, the latter lifted time and again by Morgan Stillman, a slim young man who, in so doing, revealed amazing strength and stamina. Student conductor Nick Hersh proficiently led a pit ensemble of 19 string players plus two fine soloists from IU’s pre-college program, Brian Allen and Amy Lidell. Thus, with this staging by guest repetiteur Sandra Jennings, both Balanchine and Bach were justly celebrated.

Evident throughout the evening was a sense of assurance, of self-belief, of dancers trained not only physically but mentally, of youthful artists obviously still learning but aware of what they already can accomplish, of an ensemble motivated to produce in viewers an impression of professionalism.

Also evident was the flexibility of the performers. From the traditional “Concerto Barocco,” they seemed with utter abandon to switch attitude, awareness and approach for “Dear Frederic,” a blend of contemporary ballet and modern dance set to music of Chopin, plus one introductory transcription of a Chopin sonata by the late British composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji.

This exciting 2008 creation by Dwight Rhoden for his Complexions Contemporary Ballet, simply but smashingly staged here by dancer/choreographer Juan-Antonio Rodriguez, calls for hyperactivity from the dancers, all moving barefoot through maneuvers of sometimes acrobatic difficulty and almost everything to Chopin at his fastest rather than his dreamiest.

One had long come to expect quality dancing from the women in the IU ballet program. But of late, the men have excelled as well, meaning not just one dancer of note but a corps. That corps, often working individually in both “Dear Frederic” and “Company B,” included the previously mentioned Morgan Stillman along with Christopher Lingner, Matthew Rusk, Christopher Scruggs, Jacob Taylor, and Gregory Tyndell. Their splendid female partners were Caroline Arnold, Sarah Crock, Chloe Duryea, Kelsey Gibson, Carly Hammond, Mara Jacobucci, and Elisabeth Martin. The bunch of them mastered manic contortions and maneuvers, virtually without pause, as pianists Chappell Kingsland (in the Sorabji) and Evelyne Brancart (in the remaining, preludes, etudes, and sonatas) unleashed their keyboard barrage.

“Company B” is Paul Taylor’s thoroughly captivating evocation of pop music and jitterbug dancing in the World War II era. Nine songs by the Andrews Sisters make up its score. They’re bouncy, for the most part, but meant by Taylor to reflect far more than lightheartedness. Men went off to war back then and again in 1991, when the ballet was premiered. They left loved ones behind, often forever, a reality powerfully highlighted in the song, “There Will Never Be Another You,” dramatized by Iver Johnson as the boy who departs and Colleen Kerwin as the girl who waits in vain for his return, this while — in shadow — the other men in the company march like faceless victims across the rear of the stage, an image both subtle and stunning.

The staging by Constance Dinapoli, who danced in the Taylor Company’s premiere, was nostalgic and vibrant. So, too, was the dancing, with credit for still another male, a leaping Justin Barbour as the girl-chased “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!”

Copyright: 2011

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