Before Ballet Frontier of Texas’ 2015-16 season finale, Artistic Adviser Enrica Tseng said that this has been a “steppingstone season,” noting the company’s increase in public performances and audience sizes.
You could say the company has become more artistically ambitious as well. There’s still much room to grow in that area, as the selections remain pretty safe; but with the premiere of Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng’s Rodeo and a reprise of his staging of Carnival of the Animals (after Roy Tobias and Sofia Yarbrough), the company shows it can attempt fun while showcasing the technique of its pre-professional dancers and occasional guest pros.
Aaron Copland’s music for Rodeo was most famously made a ballet by Agnes de Mille. Tseng gives it a new story, focusing on a cowgirl named Annie (Anastacia Snyder) who wants to become a lady like the beautiful saloon girls dancing with the men through the show. It’s easy to tell the older men throughout, and not just because they’re wearing real cowboy boots (the younger dancers wear false boot shafts on top of dance shoes).
They are perhaps former ballet dancers, not quite as athletic as their younger counterparts.
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They’re definitely having fun, though, more so than other dancers in this ballet, who have a more difficult time exhibiting joy. Snyder and guest dancer Jordan Nelson (as Randy) are both terrific, with excellent technique. Imperfect unisons bring down the overall performance, though.
In Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, having fun is requisite. How can you not when most of the cast is dressed as animals, including monkeys, a lion, kangaroos, chickens, turtle, elephant, etc.?
These creatures are part of the Ring Master’s (Sofia Yarbrough) circus, filled with subplots of mischief — from the Fox (Maria Howard) of course — and love letter stealing by the Cuckoo Bird (Jacey Thompson) and Chick (Anneliese Vogl). A Conductor (Jordan Nelson) and two Clowns join in the shenanigans, too.
There’s a lot going on with this piece, and Tseng keeps the performers reined in, never making the staging too busy — we have the colorful, fantastical costumes for that. Nelson and Snyder (as the Swan) are standouts again, only overshadowed by Howard, delivering fast spins and sly humor as the Fox.
It’s a good, family friendly performance on which to end the season; it’s too bad it was only one performance.