There probably hasn’t been so much excitement for a mixed repertory Texas Ballet Theater program from the local dance community in who knows when. It’s not because the Masterworks concert, which opened Friday night at Dallas City Performance Hall, features Ben Stevenson’s Five Poems or George Balanchine’s overdone Rubies.
It was all about a much-studied 18-minute ballet from one of the world’s greatest living choreographers, Czech-born Jiri Kylian. His 1991 masterpiece Petite Mort has had the local dance world abuzz, partly because it’s the area premiere of the work, and the company’s debut of a Kylian piece. But mostly because the work is so stunningly innovative.
TBT did not disappoint.
Set to music from Mozart’s first two piano concerti, it is famously choreographed for six men, six women and six foils. The men, bare-chested and in flesh-colored bottoms, begin in silence, studying and then wielding their foils, the sound of the blade slicing the air the only sound. They music begins and the men run upstage to pull a large black cloth to the front, and then back, as the women — previously seen in black mourning dresses — emerge from the frocks in flesh-colored corsets and bottoms.
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The title (“a little death”) refers to orgasm, but the sexuality of the piece is light to the touch, which makes it all the more sensual. Taught to the company by repetiteur Roslyn Anderson, the company nailed Kylian’s angular arms and legs, with especially great, focused work from Joamanuel Velazquez and Betsy McBride.
The scene with the “floating” dresses hit the right comic strokes, and the end visual, which reveals the artifice of it all, is one of neo-classical ballet’s great images.
It was nice to see Wagner-set Five Poems again, which features a painted backdrop of stormy clouds by the actress Jane Seymour. The five movements are each somber, almost spiritual in tone; with the pas de deux between Carl Coomer and Leticia Oliveira especially striking. The fifth movement, with the entire company, showcased the strength of TBT’s ensemble.
Rubies, from Balanchine’s ballet Jewels, and set to Stravinsky music, is always a crowd-pleaser. The vibrant costumes (ruby red, natch) only play second fiddle to the uptempo ensemble movement, a nice contrast to the intimate pairings and small groups of the other two works.
Oliveira and Simon Wexler proved to be almost as formidable as the Oliveira/Coomer pairing — her extension is insane — and McBride wowed with a solo segment. Rubies may not be one of Balanchine’s best creations, but it proved to be a lovely ending to this showcase.
But everyone left talking about Petite Mort.
If you can’t see it in Dallas, the program repeats May 29-June 1 at Bass Hall, except that Five Poems will be replaced by an as-yet-unnamed world premiere from British choreographer Jonathan Watkins, with original music by Dallas composer Ryan Cockerham.
Texas Ballet Theater
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
City Performance Hall
2520 Flora St., Dallas