Last weekend's Texas Ballet Theater performances at Bass Hall, it was announced before the show on Friday night, are dedicated to two Fort Worth arts giants we lost recently: Nancy Bass and Van Cliburn. And although they couldn't have planned for such a devastating loss, the order of this program was perfect for the mood.
It opened with Glen Tetley's Voluntaries, which was created in 1973 in honor of the Stuttgart Ballet artistic director who had passed away the previous year. Tetley's work in general is very physically demanding, and although this work uses solemn and dramatic organ, strings and timpani music by Poulenc, and there's a reverent tone, the physicality of it was awe-inspiring, even death-defying.
Friday night's cast, led by Carolyn Judson and Lucas Priolo, danced it beautifully. The requirements of sustained lifts and feats of strength from the men and weightless flexibility for the women were ably met. When paired with men, the women seemed to be off the ground more than they touched it. In one particularly stunning solo by Priolo, his quick arm and leg movements resembled da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. The one downside was that the male ensemble's timing was slightly off, and at times they looked taxed; but the women corps nailed it.
The second section featured three pas de deux, all choreographed by Ben Stevenson. The first two, Ave Maria (performed by married couple Alexander and Heather Kotelenets) and Laila and the Swan Pas de Deux (Carolyn Judson and Carl Coomer) were both thoughtful and gorgeously performed. Then, Sylvia, with Allisyn Hsieh and Simon Wexler gave us the big showy ballet fireworks we had been waiting for. It brought thunderous applause.
That set us up nicely for Van Caniparoli's thrilling Lambarena, which has the audacity to mash up music by Bach with traditional African songs and percussive rhythms. It doesn't stop there; the dance is a fascinating mixture of classical and West African, with rigid, swinging arms and crouched body position.
Led by Katelyn Clenaghan, the cast (Heather Kotelenets, Hsieh, Coomer, Priolo and Adam Boreland in the main parts) proved that they can effortlessly adapt to movement vocabulary that's outside of the classical ballet toolbox.
It has a celebratory air that was a fitting way to end an performance that, though unexpectedly, was dedicated to two beloved figures, both locally and worldwide.