Love in all its complicated, glorious infectiousness was on display at the Dayton Ballet Romance Series performance. While it was not a perfect concert there was enough of a incipient charm that kept me going as a lover of dance.
In talking about showcasing “relationships” in ballets, George Balanchine may have made a matter of fact observation. “ You have a man and woman, How much more story do you need?” In this cynical age in which people can get married and divorced in seventy-two days (the Kardashians immediately come to mind) we are all holdouts for true love. And this slightly imperfect showcase held steadfast to this premise.
The concert began with Stephen Mills Red Roses set to a musical score of the incomparable Edith “The Sparrow” Piaf. The work, which began perfunctorily with group unison partnering, while very well crafted held no surprises. When we moved into the solo danced by Erika Cole set to La Vieux Piano, the energy of the ballet ramped up considerably and more nuanced work began to emerge. We started to embrace the familiarities of couples falling in and out of love, because it showcased how love is complicated and unpredictable in an accessible way. The highlight of the piece was the comedic juxtaposition of the couples in C’est Peut-Etre Ca (The Apache), with an inspired full throttled performance by Abby Phillips along with Paul Gilliam, Erika Cole and Justin Koertgen.
The world premiere of Between Heaven and Earth by Gina Gardner-Walther was a beautiful meditation on a love that matures and transcends the shadows. Beautifully costumed in shades of plums, violets and lilac this was a work that challenged the dancers to work with choreographic material that was contemporary and allowed us to see the dancers in a fresh light. As I was watching the ballet the textured choreography of Mark Morris came to mind. The sensitive gestural movement vocabulary and the subtle caressing and framing of the face by the dancers spoke poignantly to this reviewer. This was a work that suggested the weathering of a very personal storm that only committed couples in love can overcome. For all of you single people out there this is the point you are trying to get to in any relationship, a real place. This sensitive and mature choreographic work was an excellent showcase for the contemporary movement ability of Case Bodamer. When I see works like this presented on the stage I am giddy with anticipation at what this company is truly capable of. My only quibble is a technical one. The ladies need to smooth out there landings in pirouettes, which were a little clunky. Overall this is a work that invites repeated viewing.
The Butterfly Suite as choreographed by the artistic director Karen Russo Burke had moments of theatricality that made me sit up and take notice and then there were moments that did not add up artistically. Because the libretto of the Madame Butterfly, in my opinion, is iconic and instantly identifiable even to those who may not have seen the opera, the viewing of this particular ballet is hampered by this previous knowledge. This is a work about grand passion and the huge emphasis needs to be on the “grand”. The opening and closing segments delivered on the grand passion and heightened theatricality. The middle section lost something in translation. I think Ms. Burke is on to something here and I think if she were to look at maybe re-working the mid-section of this ballet, I think it can be an even stronger work.
As I was watching the plight of Cio-Cio San, beautifully danced by Erika Cole, I immediately thought of the plight of Giselle, another ballet character sacrificed on the alter of love. As Giselle progresses we as an audience are made aware of what is at stake for her character almost immediately which allows us to embrace the tragic journey that she subsequently takes us on. I needed to viscerally feel and see what is at stake for the character of Cio-Cio San in the same way and in my opinion this is what is missing from Butterfly Suite. Fundamentally this story is all about navigating the difference between love and lust and the dangers that not knowing the difference exposes one to in relationships. It is also about the tragedy of searching for that knight in shining armor, who turns out to be a cad. I think that there is a goldmine waiting to be explored in this ballet and I have faith that Ms. Burke has the capacity to bring it out. In the final moments of the ballet when Cio-Cio San has resigned herself to commit suicide and seek redemption, the staging of the finale was in my opinion nothing short breathtaking. This story is about how the grand passion of love can tragically carry you to heights of unforeseen passion. If we as the audience had been transported to that place, the pay off would be magnificent.