It is a rare occasion for a dance critic to be welcomed into a rehearsal, particularly of a new ballet — perhaps before it has been polished to perfection. Here, in the large white studio space, dancers had just finished rehearsing choreographer Peter Zwiefel’s new ballet, “Love Always Remains.” They were given a five minute break during which they engaged in idle chatter, stretching their limbs, taking a few sips of a drink or using the time to work through some movement phrases for the next rehearsal. Before you could blink, Texas Ballet Theater’s Artistic Director Ben Stevenson signaled for the music to begin and there was a sudden rush of dancers casually slinking their way onto the designated performance space. The ensemble perfectly mimicked the jazzy music with syncopation and suspension, bound flow, undulating rhythms and sultry characterization. “Jazz Lovin’” is a new creation by the renowned choreographer that will have its world premiere in a performance by members of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts Jazz Ensemble on February 19 at Bass Hall as part of the company’s “50th Anniversary Celebration: A Weekend of Dance.’ It will repeat only one time on March 5 at the Winspear Opera House. The ballet is part of a special abbreviated performance series called “Taste of Dance” conceived to, as the marketing materials profess, “introduce new patrons to the wonders of dance for only $25 regardless of seating.”
This new work is a ballet in 5 parts: The ensemble, female solo, men’s section, pas de duex, and coda. While there are clearly structural and thematic elements to the construction of this work, it has an ease about it that lends itself to individual aesthetic experience rather than any sort of contrived narrative.
When asked about his choreographic process, Stevenson said the piece was conceived in response to the music.
“It was totally about the music,” Stevenson said. “When I heard the music, it reminded me of a Television show I used to dance for in the 1960’s called ‘Saturday Night At The Palladium.’ So, the dance sort of took on that feel, that period in choreography.”
And it does. There’s a constant flow of action on the stage, dancers moving in and out of the percenium as if it were a soundstage with a two dimensional front facing magnetic demand compelling them to stay within the frame of reference. Not only will there be live musicians accompanying the dancers, but these musicians will occupy the stage along with the dancers.
Is Ben Stevenson nervous about the high school ensemble?
“No!,” he responded emphatically. “They came over here to rehearse with us. They are very good musicians. It all seems to work out quite well.”
This ballet is a great presentation of classical technique and virtuosic bravura. The ensemble is precise, clean, dynamic and energetic. With few exceptions the men present themselves with confidence and masculinity. But the gem of the ballet is the pas de deux, danced by Carolyn Judson and Lucas Priolo. Ben Stevenson is an innovative genius regarding pas de deux lifts and intertwining limbs, dancers sharing and transferring weight. This pas is no exception, laden with complex twists and turns, overhead presses, lunges and splits one after another in a seamless amalgamation of intricate balletic devices.
The pas de deux is technically very difficult, said Judson.
“You kind of have to find a point in the choreography to relax,” the dancer said. “I’m still in the process of finding my character and I suppose those are the moments when I close my eyes. It’s all part of a romance.”
For Priolo, the romance is rooted in Stevenson’s ability to infuse the piece with gripping dramatic tension.
“This pas de deux evolves nicely,” he said. “Ben’s choreography constantly moves through positions. You’re never standing on solid footing. He takes us to the precipice, where it seems Carolyn is about to fall but she never does.”
The Dallas performance of this work will be honoring Fredrick Franklin surviving member of the Ballet Russe. The full two hour “Mixed Bill” performances, which will not include “Jazz Lovin,'” will be at Bass Hall February 18 & 20, Winspear March 4 & 6.
Photo: Liza Kaczmarek (Credit: Ellen Appell for Texas Ballet Theater)