FORT WORTH -- An evening of short ballets can be a hard sell for traditional ballet lovers, who appreciate lavish costumes and spectacle as much as solid dancing. Texas Ballet Theater gives the audience all of that in its "Mixed Repertoire" program, which opened Friday at Bass Hall.
The spectacle comes in the third ballet, George Balanchine's Theme and Variations. He wasn't necessarily known for splashy on a large scale, but this 1947 work, staged for TBT by Ben Huys of the George Balanchine Trust, was his ode to traditional Russian ballet. It uses the music of Tchaikovsky, the composer who made the biggest mark on classical ballet, and has ornate costumes for men and women.
Principal dancers Leticia Oliveira and Eddy Tovar danced a pas de deux beautifully and popped up between variations by a huge corps of nearly 30 dancers. In the corps sequences, timing was a bit off, but by the grand last movement, a polonaise led to an epic finale, and the legs of the men and women gave us brilliantly synchronized motion.
It was a huge departure from the first work on the program, Ben Stevenson's fascinating and somber Four Last Songs, using Richard Strauss music. Overhead, a large, gauzy tapestry billowed in different cumulus shapes for each of the four movements.
On the stage, eight dancers in flesh-colored, rib-baring unitards (costumes by Matthew C. Jacobs) danced in groups of two, three, four and sometimes five, using graceful but swift and fierce lifts, dips and jerks. Offering the ultimate farewell, two male dancers carried off the body of a woman (Oliviera). It was powerful, dripping with emotion, heartbreak and sorrow -- and ultimately unforgettable.
The piece bridging the Stevenson and Balanchine was a world premiere that also deals with loss, Love Always Remains by TBT dancer Peter Zweifel. Using an unsettling mix of contemporary rock (by MGMT and Wolf Parade) with classical (Vivaldi and Arvo Pärt), the dancers moved feverishly under a large, modern snowflake chandelier, as one dancer (Lucas Priolo) gazed into it for answers.
The first two movements were messily danced, but it came together by the end. Zweifel has consistently shown himself to be a young choreographer to watch, but there's nothing particularly interesting about this one.
Thank goodness the show ended on a grand note with the Balanchine.