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Voices

In this mixed-dance program weighted with angst, skill and innovation were lacking

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., April 15, 2011

Arts Review

Voices

Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd.

April 9

In another of Ballet East Dance Company's grab-bag programs, the presiding mood was angst, and the most popular position was the backbend. Also, there was hair, volumes of it being whipped forward and back and around.

There's a lot to love about Ballet East: Its performances are vehicles for independent and emerging choreographers, dancers of color often grace its stage, and founder/Artistic Director Rodolfo Mendez leads what is probably the largest dance outreach effort in the city, teaching dance to schoolchildren on the Eastside. But performance is another story, and in many of the nine pieces presented in Voices, skill and innovation in dancemaking were lacking. The dancing itself ran the gamut; a few dancers, like the strong and stretchy Hailley Schwartz, had the technique and conditioning of professionals, while one or two looked like they rarely set foot in a dance studio.

After a first glance at the program, I was excited to see a solo choreographed and performed by Schwartz, the impressive dancer, as part of a work called "Hollow." But while some movements, like the repeated gesture of wiping the fingers over one side of the face, piqued my interest, Schwartz couldn't resist throwing in penchée arabesques and high kicks to the side to show off her fabulous extension. Her range of motion and the way she extends her limbs outward, higher and higher, instead of just kicking them up, is fabulous, no question. But by the end of the program, in which she and her extension were featured in five of the works, I was downright sick of seeing those battements to the sky.

Another solo in the despair-driven "Hollow," choreographed and danced by Elizabeth Palmer, was less interesting. The two dancers came together, dancing in unison and in partnering sequences in a third section by Melissa Villarreal, but the relationship between them was unclear, and there was no apparent concept behind the pairing of the two rather different dancers.

"Stand by Me," choreographed by Sheila Cruz, was excruciatingly literal. (Remember, dance is best when it says things that can't be said in words.) Not only did a program note explain that the dance was about homelessness, but when the song "Cancion para un niño en la calle" began, a real niño in a torn tank top appeared onstage. The niño, a charming 11-year-old named Austin Meiteen, enchanted me with his joy in movement, his sincerity, the clear deliberation and also freedom with which he performed the steps. Even when the choreography required him to whip off some out-of-place tricks – turns à la seconde, in a dance about homelessness? – his carefree nature and honest face made it all better. May Meiteen keep these qualities and meet a future in dance that develops beyond this kind of work.

"Funk and Roll," a piece by Villarreal that seemed to be about five shallow whores, wasn't as cool as the Beastie Boys rhythms it was set to. "Cinco Mujeres," a Spanish-themed work by, you guessed it, accomplished choreographer Gina Patterson, was surprisingly uninspired. But Sharon Marroquín's "Journey #5," a dance-theatre piece that is part of The Materiality of Impermanence, a work in progress based on her experiences with breast cancer, was engrossing. In "Journey #5," a woman deals with baggage, a literal suitcase she must lug, carry, hoist, rest upon, and peer into. It's a striking – yet completely accessible – metaphor, and Marroquín's performance, with silent-film-style video by Todd V. Wolfson, was solid and whole.

The namesake of the program was the final work, "Voices," by Ballet East alum J.P. Flores. The voices were those of the insane, played by six women in the high-energy, driving work. Though the subject was one-dimensional and dynamics were avoided in favor of one high gear, I appreciated Flores' attention to costuming – he had the good sense to have only the two most toned dancers in tight shorts and tops; the rest wore flattering, flowing pajamas – and the detail with which the unison sections had been rehearsed. Flores is very young – in his early twenties, I believe – and based on this debut for Ballet East, he may be one to watch.

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