Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan / Carmina Burana and Kai

Completeness from Delfos Danza Contemporánea, mixed results from Ballet Austin

Arts Review

Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan

Bass Concert Hall

Sept. 23

Carmina Burana and Kai

Dell Hall at the Long Center

Sept. 24

In Austin for a single performance, the Mexican company Delfos Danza Contemporánea brought a work that integrated a fully explored artistic concept with dance (when we so often see one but not the other). Cuando los Difraces se Cuelgan (When the Disguises Are Hung Up), choreographed by artistic directors Claudia Lavista and Victor Manuel Ruiz (in collaboration with the dancers), was whimsical yet substantial and left me feeling I had witnessed something complete.

Using costume devices, well-incorporated video, and contemporary movement by strong, supple dancers, the piece explored disguises or identities and the self. Set to music by Robert Schumann, J.S. Bach, Mario Lavista (Claudia's father), and others, the work demonstrated real craft and depth of thought, as each section was a worthy, self-sustaining part of the whole. In one section, subtle video (by Renato González and Ricardo Arzola) seemed a quick-dissolving emanation of both sound waves and the dancers' bodies. In another, a masked female dancer, her costume dripping with ribbons, suggested innocence and puppetry as two male dancers carried and gently manipulated her to a cello piece so lovely my forehead hurt. In a wonderfully whimsical section, a winged figure reminiscent of a bee pollinated the dancers with golden shoes that they then wore on their hands. Video helped carry the concept through to a surprise ending in which the dancers' clothes seemed to dissolve into birds, freeing both.

The following evening, Ballet Austin opened its season with two works by Artistic Director Stephen Mills, Carmina Burana and Kai. (These works premiered in 2005 and 2007, respectively, but I had not seen either before.) While the ballet's collaboration with the Austin Symphony Orchestra and Conspirare in Carmina is laudable, the dance fell flat in comparison with the music. The work lacked editing, and both the choreography (preparation, pirouette, preparation ... yawn) and the dancing were uninspired. The flurry of groupings, entrances, and exits made little structural sense, and the weakness of the male dancers continues to be a serious problem, one that was highlighted by this male-centered work.

I was pleasantly engaged, however, by Kai, an abstract work set to John Cage's percussive Three Dances. It has been said that the best of George Balanchine's work elevates viewers' understanding of the music by allowing them to "see" it through the dance. Kai also offered this kind of enriching experience. In the lead female role, dancing with Frank Shott, Jaime Lynn Witts was lovely, strong, and fresh. The softness and fluidity of her arms and the care taken with her upper body – a result of training and continued attention to detail – sets her apart from the rest of the dancers in the present company. Her face is always relaxed and her expression genuine (unlike the forced smiles and sneers that sometimes plague others), and when she gets tired, she dances bigger, giving more, when lesser dancers begin to shuffle and wilt. This quality is wonderful and cathartic, and I'm so glad we have her.

As the cherry on top of this report of the weekend in dance, I offer a tangential anecdote: Leaving the ballet, the crowd herding toward the Long Center's single staircase was slowed more than usual as people stopped to marvel at/photograph/tweet about the aerial dancers from the Blue Lapis Light company who were stationed atop the ringed pavilion, rehearsing for the Sept. 27 premiere of One. One sensibly shod, gray-haired woman seemed unimpressed, though: Stopping in her tracks for a second, she shook her head. "They're out of their bloody minds," she barked to no one in particular, and hustled away.

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Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan, Carmina Burana and Kai, Delfos Danza Contemporánea, Ballet Austin, Stephen Mills, Conspirare, Austin Symphony, Jaime Lynn Witts, Blue Lapis Light, Long Center

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