Avant Chamber Ballet Review: ABC Unplugged
October 30, 2021 | Sammons Center for the Arts – Dallas, TX
Following a 2020-21 performance season that was abbreviated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dallas’ Avant Chamber Ballet returned to the stage on October 29th and 30th to open its 2021-22 season with ACB Unplugged, a three-part mixed repertoire program that included the world premiere of Artistic Director Katie Puder’s neo-classical ballet Metamorphosis.
Rather than open at its normal home at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas’ AT&T Performing Arts Center, ACB chose the Sammons Center for the Arts for its season premiere. Housed in the former Turtle Creek Pumping Station, which was constructed in 1909 to provide water to the expanding city of Dallas, the Sammons Center for the Arts serves as an arts incubator and performance venue.
One positive thing that has come from the last eighteen months is the willingness – born from necessity – on the part of artistic directors and choreographers to utilize non-traditional venues for their live, bubble, and virtual productions and make those venues and settings instruments of storytelling. The theater in the Sammons Center is small, and allowed ACB to, “[break] down the fourth wall and [provide] an up-close experience with the dancers and pianist Mikhail Berestnev.”
The intimacy of the theater space and the introductions and commentary by Puder prior to each part of the repertoire made ACB Unplugged feel more like an exclusive donor event than a regular season opening weekend. Puder’s goal was to provide the audience with the experience of viewing the ballet up close and at eye-level, as she does in the studio. She definitely succeeded in that endeavor!
The opening ballet was Act 3 from August Bouronville’s Napoli. This romantic and joyful choreography benefited from the space and invited the audience to feel as if we were part of the wedding celebration for Teresina and Gennaro. This vantage point highlighted the dancers’ intricate footwork and partnering skills.
Next was the premiere of Metamorphosis, choreographed by Puder and featuring a score by Philip Glass. This pensive, contemporary piece was markedly different from the celebratory ballet that preceded it.
While Napoli was rich in story, Puder did not want to impose her story or inspiration on the audience. Instead, her choreography, although quite vivid and emotive, allowed the viewer to interpret the movement through their own lens and experience.
Caroline Atwell opened the ballet with a powerful solo effort. Shrouded in blue light, Atwell did an excellent job commanding the space with movement that was elegant, forceful, and vulnerable.
Eugene Barnes, Melissa Meng, and Kaylee Skelton later took the stage. All ACB veterans, Barnes’, Meng’s, and Skelton’s experience showed through their powerful solo moments as well as their ability to bolster each other with conjoined movement.
Puder’s choreography, simple costuming, the dramatic score, purposeful lighting, and the theater space itself all combined to allow these four dancers to interact with each other and the audience in a way that was much more exposed and personal than usual.
The final piece of the evening was a reprise of Ragtime, also choreographed by Puder to a familiar score by Scott Joplin. Ragtime brought together members of both the ACB principal company and members of the apprentice company in a ballet that transported both the performers and the audience back in time to the turn of the 20th century.
Once again, the space became part of the story and, with the presence of pianist Mikhail Berestnev on the floor and the dancers’ interactions with him, brought all of us right into the middle of the burlesque.
Following the effervescent Napoli and the thought-provoking Metamorphosis, Ragtime was a wonderful opportunity to simply enjoy the dancers and the juxtaposition of their classical movements to music that was not composed for a ballet stage. Where the first two works of the night required the performers to adopt characters and roles, it was evident from the energy and smiles in the room that Ragtime provided a chance for the dancers to enjoy the music and choreography and play with their surroundings.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Berestnev’s immense contribution to the evening. ACB always features live music at its performances and for Unplugged, Berestnev provided the accompaniment for all three ballets. His talents did not go unnoticed; his presence supported the dancers and enriched the experience for everyone.
ACB will next take the stage back at Moody Performance Hall in December for Paul Mejia’s Nutcracker.
Featured Photo for this Avant Chamber Ballet review of Kaylee Skelton. Photo by Richard Hill.
Leave a Reply