REVIEW: IU Ballet’s season opener lives up to high expectations

Dance Review: ‘Light and Shade’

IU Ballet’s season opener lives up to high expectations

By Nicole Brooks 331-4232 |
October 1, 2012

IU Ballet Theater set the bar high with an evening of works by revered, iconic choreographers, presented this past Friday and Saturday in the Musical Arts Center.

The university dance majors lived up to the high expectations.

The Fall Ballet, “Light and Shade,” opened with Twyla Tharp’s “Sweet Fields,” choreographed in 1996 and consisting of 10 dances set to 18th and 19th century hymns.

It is a work that demands so much of its performers and gives so much to its audience. The Shaker hymns, performed by the University Singers in the orchestra pit, were alone a great gift.

The dancers dressed in white, the women in shorts and men in pants, all in filmy, flowing shirts and flesh-colored ballet shoes.

“Sweet Fields” demands precise technique, and the student dancers exceled at the sharp footwork and languid upper body movements.

Tharp’s work is a reminder of how a night of dance can be good for the soul. “Sweet Fields” isn’t just pleasing to the eyes and ears — we get to see people being kind to one another, lifting each other, cradling, rocking and supporting one another.

One section found the men, shirtless so the fabric wouldn’t get tangled, carrying one of their group high over their heads. The one held aloft changed, and there was much awe-inspiring flipping of human bodies. The feat was done with confidence, care and subtlety.

Up next was Peter Martins’ “Eight Easy Pieces,” from 1980. It was a visual trip to the candy store, with three ballerinas leading the way.

Every night of ballet should have at least one dance that shows off beautiful legs in pink tights and pointe shoes, and this frothy piece did that. It was simple fun. Being a Martins piece, it called for great balletic technicality, and the trio pulled off moments of brilliance — with 100-watt smiles on their faces.

Martins’ “Eight More” followed, and the candy-colored fun continued. Danced by three men this time, “Eight More” calls for comedic acting chops and great spirit. It is ballet making fun of itself. Justin Barbour, Christopher Lingner and Gregory Tyndall fight for the audience’s adoration, with long pauses at the end of a solo and very, very slow walks off stage when they’d finished dancing. The men try to one-up each another, with turns, impressive batterie and jumps that defy gravity.

The energetic piece was the crowd favorite, bringing many in the MAC to their feet.

To finish the night, IU Ballet staged its first Martha Graham work, her 1944 masterpiece “Appalachian Spring,” set to that instantly recognizable, gorgeous Aaron Copland score, performed by the Ballet Orchestra.

Eight dancers — playing the bride, the husband, the pioneer woman, the revivalist and his four followers — enter at the beginning of the piece and remain on stage for nearly the entire duration.

Not for one moment did these young performers drop the storyline. College students who text and email transformed into brave, faithful pioneers starting a life together on a 19th century farm.

There is a lot of story in “Appalachian Spring,” and it’s a shame the program notes were so lacking. After the final curtain, several people in the audience remarked they didn’t follow the intricacies of the plot.

But the story could be broadly understood thanks to the crisp, emotive dancing. Carly Hammond as the Bride was nothing short of lovely, and if there’s a more romantic and complicated relationship in fiction than that of the Bride and her Husbandman, danced by Jacob Taylor, bring it forward.

“Appalachian Spring” ends on a quiet, hopeful note, with the couple alone (yet not, as they have the support of their preacher and community), looking to the future.

Dancers with the Indiana University Ballet Theater rehearse Martha Graham’s classic work “Appalachian Spring” in the Musical Arts Center. The student dancers performed the piece as part of the Fall Ballet, “Light and Shade,” on Friday and Saturday. Courtesy photo

Copyright: 2012

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