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The reviews are in: ‘Meadows at the Winspear’ was 'exhilarating'

From TheaterJones

Spring Dance Concert

The following is from the May 3, 2013 edition of TheaterJones.

by Cheryl Callon

Dallas — In what could easily be one of the best arts events so far this year, the Meadows Dance Ensemble and the Meadows Symphony Orchestra of the SMU Meadows School of the Arts presented an outstanding collaboration of live music and dance at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House on Wednesday.

The school lives up to its international reputation as an institute for artistic excellence. Throughout the evening, it was easy to forget that the sounds coming from the orchestra pit and the beautiful movements emanating from the stage come from college students. This encore performance of the Dance Ensemble’s earlier performance in April served as a benefit for the Meadows Scholars Program, which recruits talented artists from across the nation.

Variety characterized the program, but it wasn’t so eclectic that the evening had no cohesion. Opening the first act was a Balanchine work, Valse Fantaisie. Featuring brisk choreography, the piece had a light “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” feel, but contained enough slow moments to balance it out.

A current style of contemporary ballet is on display with Adam Hougland’s breathtaking duet, Watershed. Intriguing gestural and arm patterns open and close the piece, and the dancers (Raven Ross and Dexter Green) demonstrate a beautiful articulation in their arms and legs.

Danny Buraczeski steps back to a clean, classical jazz style with In the City, set to music from On the Town by Leonard Bernstein. Set as a general dance expression of the music rather than vignettes like the sounds suggest, the work moves through three distinct sections, with the last one being the most explosive. Ladies fare better than the gentlemen here in timing and precision, but they all exhibit a lovely enthusiasm.

While every work was performed to live music, the main feature of the evening, a new Rite of Spring by guest choreographer Joost Vrouenraets, benefited the most from this rare treat.

The first part of this Rite seems like merely a slight reimagining of the classic by Vaslav Nijinsky (which we saw in January with the Joffrey Ballet). A large raucous group of dancers dressed in various styles of school uniforms pulse their bodies, fling their arms, jump, glide, and run across the stage. Chaos rules the day, and like the original, the pristine lines and controlled grace of classical ballet and other similar techniques are nowhere to be found. Male and female partnering, similar to that found in Pina Bausch’s version, show up frequently with an often violent edge.

And what choreographer could resist those movements? The music demands it.

The costumes, while somewhat perplexing at first, give a modern context for this story of sacrifice and enhance the youthful hunger exuded by the dancers. The moveable glass houses act as safe places, barriers, entrapments, and mirrors.

The Chosen (Julie Kaye), however, is no ordinary willing maiden who helplessly accepts her fate as the sacrifice, albeit with some grief. From the very beginning, we know her identity and anxiously watch to see how her expected end will come about. Although she dons scant pieces of nude-colored cloth in the opening scene, she later joins the mob in a school uniform of her own. She doesn’t always follow the crowd, though. Occasionally she breaks from the group choreography with a keen awareness of being different.

After a puzzling transition between the first and second sections, Kaye is again the focus, only this time, she is preyed upon as she breaks away from the others. Then it shows up.

The program notes hint at a puppet playing a role in the journey of the Chosen, but this character is nothing like an Avenue Q or Mr. Rogers-style figure; it’s more of a marionette. A simple gold-plated figure standing a couple of feet tall “walks” out of one glass houses. Its appearance, however, is not as frightening as its movement. A handful of men each holding two rods manipulate the puppet’s joints to give it an eerily realistic movement pattern, as much as a doll can have. At times it’s easy to forget that it’s merely an inanimate object.

The figure travels up and down a few of the women, trying to find the “right” one, which is obviously Kaye. This is where Vrouenraets turns the story around. In escaping the puppet’s clutches, the Chosen strips away her uniform to reveal the costume in which we first found her and refuses to accept her sentence. In a dramatic fight, she defeats the doll and in the process, liberates the group.

The layers and symbolism entrenched in this work are too much to write about in this one column. Let’s hope that Meadows Dance presents this one again soon. Its complexity begs multiple viewings to piece together all the intricacies it holds.

May 2, 2013

From The Dallas Morning News

The following review by Classical Music Critic Scott Cantrell appeared in the May 2, 2013, edition of The Dallas Morning News.

Scott Cantrell
Classical Music Critic
The Dallas Morning News

Every once in a while, usually when you least expect it, a “mere” performance widens your eyes and quickens your heartbeat and respiration. That’s how it was with Wednesday night’s “Meadows at the Winspear” program at the Winspear Opera House.

Long an annual showcase for SMU’s excellent Meadows Symphony Orchestra, the annual fundraising event has sometimes added performances by choral and dance programs at the Meadows School of the Arts. This 20th installment had the Meadows Dance Ensemble onstage in four works, all accompanied by the Meadows Symphony in the pit.

Paul Phillips with SMU orchestraLed by Paul Phillips, the orchestra has been responsible for some of the most memorable symphonic performances around here. The surprise this time was the virtuosity and versatility of the dance students. In introductory comments, Meadows dean José Antonio Bowen noted, sadly, that this was only the second ballet presentation with full orchestral accompaniment since the Winspear’s 2009 opening.

New choreography by Joost Vrouenraets for The Rite of Spring replaced the original 1913 scenario of ritual sacrifice in pagan Russia with a modern drama of desperation, terror, cleansing and final defiance. Deconstructed, spun around and reassembled, designer Russell Parkman’s complex of Plexiglas mini-houses served alternately as confinement and protection. Steve Woods worked wonders with lights.

Costumer Eugenia P. Stallings dressed the substantial corps of dancers as a tribal force for today: uniformed prep-school kids. Movements were angular, athletic, at times desperate, and performed with fearless abandon. Part One ended with the whole ensemble lined up across the stage apron, as if facing something horrible, in what seemed an interminable silence.

In Part Two, a sinister little metal puppet, manipulated by five men, menaced then discarded one woman after another. Finally, though, the Chosen One, danced brilliantly and full-out by Julie Kaye, dared to fight off the advances and finally triumphed.

One now usually hears Stravinsky’s score polished into an orchestral showpiece. Phillips, by contrast, dug into its sheer weirdness and savagery. It wasn’t always the sleekest performance, but it was hair-raising — and probably closer to what Stravinsky originally had in mind.

A duet from Adam Hougland’s Watershed, fluently executed by Raven Ross and Dexter Green, was a study in liquescent suspensions and clutchings — paralleling those of the achingly beautiful Sarabande from Chrisopher Rouse’s Friandises. Soloists Aubry Neal and Alex Druzbanski and an ensemble of four women demonstrated fine classical ballet training in Balanchine’s Valse fantaisie, to a gently sprung waltz by Glinka.

Danny Buraczeski’s In the City, to Three Dance Episodes from Bernstein’s On the Town, was generic urban exuberance and atmosphere, with the women in bright dresses, the men in khakis and plaid shirts. Stylized projections of downtown Dallas buildings added a nice touch.

Start to finish, this was an exhilarating evening. But next year, let’s give the spotlight back to the Meadows Symphony, at the Meyerson Symphony Center.