The Glass Project

The music of Philip Glass in the three works of Ballet Austin's program provided more thread than theme

Exhibitionism
Courtesy of Tony Spielberg

Dell Hall at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside
Feb. 15

A common composer, like a common choreographer, is a thread but not a theme. Each of the three dances on Ballet Austin's Philip Glass program, all choreographed by Artistic Director Stephen Mills, was contextually self-sufficient. But wasn't there a thesis, an overall takeaway? Maybe: I sensed resignation in the ballets themselves, though there was unanimous resolution in the dancing. And though all three works benefited from deft yet innovative lighting by Tony Tucci, they were hampered by costuming that seemed misdirected.

The first work, "Liminal Glam," is aptly titled: It's neither here nor there and illusorily attractive. Without underlying substance, the "glam" in this 2008 romp for seven couples is already fading. Set to a recording of Glass' Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, the dancers, cold neoclassical pinups and cavaliers, seemed to look for luxury in the wrong parts of the music. In Susan Branch Towne's teal costumes wrapped with day-glo spirals, the women bouréed to jiggle their Frisbee tutus, while the men did their best to match the regal in the music despite their cartoonish unitards.

Costuming also seemed to manhandle "CARBON53," the premiere that ended the program. Accompanied by recordings of Steve Reich's Clapping Music and Pendulum Music (the latter the result of the feedback sounds that result when suspended microphones are allowed to swing back and forth over speakers) and Glass' Songs for solo cello, the piece was a study in ash-white and charcoal for the 18 dancers encased in Monica Guerra's severe, long-sleeved leotards. A bar of white light crossed the backdrop like the lamp of a copier, tracking a line of dancers that dropped off and picked up members of their cohort with each return. Duplication and the carbon cycle suggested a choreographic cycle in which there is nothing left to be discovered: Each element of contemporary and neoclassic ballet was reused and will once again be recycled.

Yet this fatalism was relieved in the middle work, Mills' 2010 "Angel of My Nature," especially in the central section, which has malachite hues (innocuous leotards chosen by Mills himself) and a subterranean mood. In "Liminal" and "CARBON53," the dancers were strong and slick; "Angel" allowed them to explore richness and depth, too. In duos and trios, they amalgamated in organic vignettes, curious and welcome diversions from arrow-straight manipulations and overt athleticism in the other dances. Austin Chamber Music Center Artistic Director Michelle Schumann was there to play the music, piano pieces by Bach and Glass. Conjecture: Perhaps it's the (once again) return to the piano, that humble instrument that coaxes the ballet dancer's body awake to the art in daily class, which makes for the depth, care, and focus of this piece.

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