Arts & Culture

Review: Texas Ballet Theater’s ‘Crash’ a smashing success

Dancers in Crash. Texas Ballet Theater's dress rehearsal at Bass Hall of Petite Mort, Crash and Rubies, all part of Artistic Director's Choice
Dancers in Crash. Texas Ballet Theater's dress rehearsal at Bass Hall of Petite Mort, Crash and Rubies, all part of Artistic Director's Choice Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH If the plan for Texas Ballet Theater’s season finale, Artistic Director’s Choice, was to offer something new and different for its audiences, consider it a smashing success.

Jiri Kylian’s 1991 masterpiece Petite Mort, also seen in April in TBT’s Dallas mixed rep program, is dark and witty with its use of foils for the men, an inventive costuming trick for the women and not-so-sly sexual innuendo. It is set to parts of two popular Mozart piano concertos. In the ensemble segments, the company hit the timing, which is intentionally not in perfect sync. There were a few bobbles on Friday, but it’s the kind of piece you want see more often.

The big news was the world premiere of British choreographer Jonathan Watkins’ Crash, which he has been setting with the company for a month. If audiences thought the movement in Petite Mort was new for Fort Worth, Crash most definitely was.

The lights slowly come up on the ensemble in a big clump center stage, outfitted in nude, each dancer moving frantically with wild limbs like a rubber band ball gone wonky. Dallas composer Ryan Cockerham’s original music pings with electronic sounds over plaintive violin and piano, giving a feeling of being disconnected and confused.

Then groups of dancers — singles, couples, trios and groups of couples now wearing simple skirts and T-shirts and shorts in darker tones of blue and gray — appear in and out of Tony Tucci’s dramatic lighting in specifically lit sections of the stage. These scenes are often switched suddenly, with a stop and complete restart of the music as if dropped phone lines are picking it back up.

With the duos — Alexander and Heather Kotelenets; Leticia Oliveira and Carl Coomer; Thomas Kilps and Robin Bangert; and Angela Kenny and Mason Anders — Watkins shows his skill with classic ballet lines, lifts and angular patterns. It’s in the negative space between movements where the work is more modern, and Watkins’ idea of these moments that build into something urgent before crashing back down take shape.

He occasionally surprises with a line of four or five dancers, moving almost in unison but keeping their individuality, still not quite emotionally connected to those around them. A standout visual is of various dancers taking a quick step as if trying to get away and then pivoting and doing the same step in a new angle, capturing the idea of running forward but still in an inescapable circle.

There are several points where it feels like an incomplete ending, but then Cockerham’s soundscapes kick back in. Then, in the end, the dancers slowly re-emerge in nude tones (costumes are by Austin’s Kari Perkins, who is Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater’s go-to costumer) and back into the ball of confusion.

No matter how well things are going, physical and emotional crashes are a recurring fact of life. Watkins’ stunning but emotionally draining work proves he’s on his way to a major career.

The evening ended with George Balanchine’s popular Rubies, but it was not viewed for this review because of deadline (it was reviewed in Dallas in April). After the nude and dark tones of the first two dances, the bright red of Rubies must have felt like Technicolor.

The same casts perform Saturday night, with different casting at the Saturday and Sunday matinees.

Artistic Director’s Choice

▪ 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

▪ Bass Hall, Fort Worth

▪ $15-$80

▪ 877-828-9200; www.texasballettheater.org

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