Fans of local dance can think of Ben Stevenson’s decade-plus tenure at the Texas Ballet Theater in waves.
First, there was the introduction of his work and aesthetic while building the talent in the company. Then came the Great Recession, which put nearly every major American arts group in survival mode; for TBT, it meant the loss of live music and safe programming choices.
In the past two years, it has been about recovery, most notably with the gradual restoring of live music to full-length ballets.
Next up: exploring Stevenson’s bolder side.
“We’ve become a little bit more stabilized, and we can be more adventurous about what we can bring into the repertoire,” Stevenson says. “We’re in more of an important position now than we’ve been in.”
The 2014-2015 season has had two full-length ballets featuring the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (The Sleeping Beauty and The Merry Widow). As for more adventurous programming, audiences are about to witness it.
Next weekend, TBT presents the first of two mixed-repertory concerts, the first at Dallas City Performance Hall.
The “Masterworks” program, April 17-19, features TBT’s first venture with one of the world’s greatest living ballet masters, Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian, best known as the former artistic director of Holland’s Nederlands Dans Theater. It’s his 1991 piece Petite Mort, in a weekend that also features Stevenson’s Five Poems, which has been performed by TBT once before; and George Balanchine’s Rubies.
“I think it’s one of his major works,” Stevenson says about Petite Mort. “It’s an exciting work, and a great one to introduce Jiri to our audiences; it stands out.”
The 18-minute work, set to music from Mozart’s first two piano concertos, was created to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death and debuted in Salzburg. The title translates to “small death,” and there is a theme of death in the work, but there is also something to be said for one of the common usages of the phrase “a little death”: an orgasm.
“When you look at it, it’s sexual in a way; it’s subtle but it’s in there,” Stevenson says. “I think it’s about people and about death, but it’s not gloomy; it’s positive, and the way he uses the music is fabulous.”
So fabulous that not just any company can secure rights to a Kylian work. Stevenson staged Kylian’s work at his previous post at Houston Ballet, but for TBT to be approved, a representative from Kylian’s estate had to visit Fort Worth and make sure the company was up to its standards.
Getting that approval puts TBT up there with the best of American companies, including American Ballet Theater and San Francisco Ballet.
The work uses six male dancers, six women and six foils, which become part of the ballet, as opposed to dancers fighting with them.
“Balancing the foils takes a little bit of a challenge, but it’s not dangerous, it’s a skill,” Stevenson says. “…It has to be exact, so it really has taken a lot of rehearsal to be where it has to be. It is tricky, but it should also look like anyone can do it, like something danced by Fred Astaire. I think it’s one of my favorite pieces.”
The season closes May 29-31 at Bass Hall in Fort Worth with the same program, except that Five Poems will be replaced by a world premiere from young, acclaimed British choreographer Jonathan Watkins. The name of the piece has not been announced yet, but it does have music by Dallas composer Ryan Cockerham.
“He’s obviously classically based, but he takes it into the neo-classical and contemporary movement,” Stevenson says of Watkins. “I’ve just seen tapes of his work, not in person, but I love his work. I called him and asked if he wanted to create a new work for us, and it is happening.”
Patrons can look for the commissioning of new works from major choreographers to continue, as the 2015-2016 season will have a premiere from San Francisco Ballet’s Val Caniparoli, whose work Lambarena TBT has staged in recent years; this along with ballets by Jerome Robbins, Harald Lander, a return of Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries and, of course, a Balanchine.
And in case longtime fans are concerned that TBT has dropped new work from its own budding choreographers, such as Peter Zweifel and Carl Coomer, Stevenson says the hope is to keep developing them, and others.
“I want to do more stuff in the studio so we get more performances, and I’m hoping we can do choreographic workshops,” he says. “You can’t just do it with one work, you have to develop them as a choreographer, and that takes time.”
▪ 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
▪ City Performance Hall, 2520 Flora St., Dallas
TBT 2015-2016 season
Texas Ballet Theater’s next season will include two full-length ballets performed with a live orchestra (Dracula and Cinderella), and a world premiere by a world-famous choreographer, Val Caniparoli. It also signals an extension into Dallas County, with performances at three venues — and interestingly, one of the performances is not The Nutcracker, which will only happen at Bass Hall.
The season begins with Ben Stevenson’s frequently revived Dracula. It begins with two weekends in September at Dallas’ Winspear Opera House (accompanied by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Sept. 4-6 and 11-13), and then at Bass Hall (with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Oct. 16-18).
Next is The Nutcracker, Dec. 11-27 at Bass Hall, with the parody The Nutty Nutcracker on Dec. 18; 2016 kicks off with another Bass Hall-only performance, a mixed-repertory showcase called “Classic Combination,” Feb. 26-28.
Then comes Stevenson’s version of Prokofiev’s Cinderella, with performances March 11-13 at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson and March 25-27 at Bass Hall. The Bass Hall performance will feature a live orchestra. The season closes with another mixed-rep program called “First Looks,” May 6-8 at Dallas City Performance Hall and then May 27-29 at Bass Hall. The final concert will include the Caniparoli premiere.
The season at a glance:
Dracula: Winspear Opera House, Sept. 4-6 and 11-13; Bass Hall, Oct. 16-18
The Nutcracker: Bass Hall, Dec. 11-27 (Nutty Nutcracker, Dec. 18)
“Classic Combination”: Bass Hall, Feb. 26-28
Cinderella: Eisemann Center, March 11-13; Bass Hall, March 25-27
“First Looks”: Dallas City Performance Hall, May 6-8; Bass Hall, May 27-29
Subscriptions and tickets: 877-828-9200; www.texasballettheater.org