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Tulsa Ballet

Legends in Motion

by Gretchen Collins

April 1, 2007 -- Tulsa Performing Arts Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Achieving a 50th anniversary is a major milestone for anyone or anything, but doing it with the consummate style and professionalism that Tulsa Ballet has mastered is another. The company is moving quickly into its next 50 years. On April 19, these artists from 14 countries and eight states, set out on their second European tour including stops at the Croatian National Theater in Zagreb, the Nis Opera House and the Belgrade Drama Theatre.

In 2002, Tulsa Ballet was hailed as “One of the best companies in the world,” by the international press of Portugal at Ballet Nights in Sintra. The company will likely collect a few more accolades this time around.

The final performance in Tulsa for its golden anniversary season was “Legends in Motion,” consisting of Robert North’s “Troy Game,” Nacho Duato’s “Por Vos Muero” and Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs.”

Testosterone laden “Troy Game” opened the matinee performance with an audible grunt as the men of Tulsa Ballet came out from behind the tutus in an apocalyptic jamboree of tubular bells gone mad. This athletic and arduous--sometimes humorous--ballet was a hoot! The pounding Brazilian music, the male bonding, then the male un-bonding, made for fascinating watching as the dance unfolded.

At times, North’s body movements resembled drawings that might be found on ancient ruins. The choreography ranged from cordial to menacing as North integrated dance with martial arts. And yet, it had the whimsy of a Tinker-Toy formation. There are elements of “Keystone Cops” in “Troy Game” along with physical comedy much as silent movie actor Harold Lloyd performed. Segments of this performance can easily remind one of Charlie Chaplin’s  “Modern Times” as the dancers worked their way through the cogs and wheels of this happy trek through guy-dom.

Corps dancer Mugen Kazama once again showed off his comedic side by being the guy everyone picked on. He just could not stop dancing and mugging for attention. Both soloist Michael Eaton and demi-soloist Rupert Edwards got in some nice leaps in this very satisfying macho work.

The pace slowed for the tender and touching “Por Vos Muero”in its Oklahoma premiere. Nacho Duato choreographs emotional works set on atmospheric stages. His choreography includes angled elbows and knees, stooped postures and eclectic manipulation of dancers’ hands and feet.  Spanish music from the 15th and 16th centuries contrasted with the contemporary movements. Duato chose to costume the women in long dresses and aprons. During one sequence it appeared as if the servants of the manor were having a great time in the master’s absence. In a beautiful and mysterious scene, the men wore cloaks and carried censers, bringing to mind religious symbolism.

The use of masks brought both a playful mood and a sense of concealed urgency. But Duato threw us a curve when the masks were abandoned. Later, the masks were held against the walls of what appeared to be ancient passages where they cast ominous shadows. This was both striking and curious but its significance wasn’t clear. We wanted this scene to linger, without knowing quite why. It made us ask: Where did these hallways lead? What did it mean to walk their paths?  It was an endearing piece to watch in free flow, just allowing one’s senses to soak it up. The members of the company deftly made each transition with grace and purpose. Poetry by Garcilaso de la Vega, and recited by Miguel Bosé, added dimension and acted to separate the vignettes, but without a translation, many members of the audience were left wondering what they missed.

“Nine Sinatra Songs” was a great choice for the finale, because it’s difficult to go any further up than Frank Sinatra’s meaningful ballads. Twyla Tharp’s choreography is ballroom dancing taken to a higher level. Unfortunately, there were times when it seemed she tried to include too many intricate steps, but Tulsa Ballet’s dancers took the breakneck speed in stride.

In cocktail swank and tuxedo, soloist Alexandra Bergman and principal Ma Cong were delicious in “Strangers in the Night.” Bergman was excellent in this sensual dance and Cong, who we love to see soar, was beautifully understated in this legendary love song.

There was great appreciation for “My Way,” danced by demi-soloist Maria Victoria Ignomiriello, corps member Ricardo Graziano, soloist René Olivier, demi-soloist Rupert Edwards, soloist Alexandra Bergman and principal Ma Cong. Even if you’re not of Sinatra’s generation, it’s difficult not to get caught up in the bittersweet of this song. The lyrics brag of a life lived on its own terms, while the music belies the bravado. There were moments when Tharp’s choreography seemed to echo this. This was an obvious--and sentimental--favorite of the crowd.

A couple of pairings stood out.  Soloist Ashley Blade-Martín and soloist Wang Yi performed “All the Way” in a romantic and dramatic fashion, while demi-soloist Megan Keough and corps de ballet dancer  Mugen Kazama performed “Forget Domani” like the two dynamos they are. I would like to see these twosomes do more work together.

“That’s Life” was a sinful dessert. Performed by principal Alfonso Martín and soloist Karina Gonzalez, it was physical with plenty of thrilling tosses and twists. There was so much going on we didn’t want to blink. It was the end that caught us by surprise and left us gasping. Martín swaggers across the stage pulling on his jacket and catches Gonzalez as she dives through the air. He didn’t even look! Gonzalez might as well have been a casually thrown towel instead of a gorgeous woman. Now, that’s trust! And, it brought down the house.

It’s been a golden season in northeast Oklahoma, and Tulsa Ballet did it their way.

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