Between Heaven and Hades

Far from the purgatorial stasis of the title, Ballet East's program revealed significant journeys

Hailley Schwartz
Hailley Schwartz (Courtesy of Sandy Carson)

Between Heaven and Hades

Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd.; Nov. 30

I have to bicker with the title of Ballet East's latest program. While the company has historically been an in-between place for dancers and choreographers, there's nothing purgatorial or stagnant about it. Rather, it's a place where artists try out new ideas, build confidence, and develop quickly. People don't get stuck there. Sometimes, they move on before you're ready to see them go.

Over three decades of performances at the Dougherty Arts Center, company director Rodolfo Mendez has presented dances by many choreographers – including Sharon Marroquín, Andrea Ariel, and Gina Patterson – who have gone on to successfully produce their own work and have been tapped for projects on national and international levels. For others, like Dixon Mena, who has recently returned to Austin after several years in New York to be the company's resident choreographer, the journey eventually led them back to Ballet East. And then there's associate director Melissa Villarreal, for whom the journey became the destination: Mendez has been her mentor since she began attending his free classes in East Austin at age 14.

Reverence for the journey was a theme shared among the seven dances. Villarreal's "Transcendental Conversion," to music by Dead Can Dance, opened the program with an explosion of diversity – not just ethnic diversity but also individuality in expression and inflection. In a section peppered with African-inspired movement, Sadé M. Jones was powerful, dynamic, and luscious. In "Persephone," a haunting solo choreographed by dancer Hailley Schwartz and Eric Midgley, Schwartz showed not only gorgeous lines and expansive extensions but also nuance and maturity. A simple twisting gesture, reaching one arm behind her back, seemed to take up the entire stage. Mena's "Circulo Vicioso" transcended the dance-with-chairs cliche by way of manhandling: After peering out at the audience, the dancers slammed, kicked, and nearly threw the metal folding chairs, delightfully furious.

After intermission, five women in brightly colored tunics danced Schwartz's "Bury Me to the Sky," a reflective piece based on Native American themes. The concept behind Mena's trio "Female," however, was as vague as its title. A guest performance by five teenage members of the new Ballet East II – something of a bridge between Mendez's outreach programs and the performing company – was basic, but sweet and exuberant.

In "Credo," J.P. Flores' choreography was as dramatic and in-your-face as ever in depictions of faith and temptation. It's too bad for us that Schwartz and Flores, both new to the company's roster just a few seasons ago, now parse their loyalties between Austin and New York. Yet dancers like Jones and Leslie Castillo, whose delicate arms and stoic, fiery energy rendered lovely complexities throughout the program – and the relative novelty of having three men onstage (including the BE II dancers) – assure that significant journeys are still to be witnessed through Ballet East's programs.

More Austin dance
Jonelle Seitz's Top 10 Brave Dance Artists of 2016
Jonelle Seitz's Top 10 Brave Dance Artists of 2016
The year revealed how much courage and inspiration can be found in Austin's masters of movement

Jonelle Seitz, Dec. 30, 2016

The Theorists' <i>Hiraeth</i>
The Theorists’ Hiraeth
A sprawling evening of art and community organized by Amy Morrow and company showed the challenge of editing in our age

Jonelle Seitz, Sept. 23, 2016

More Arts Reviews
<i>Woman in Black</i> at Scottish Rite Theater
Woman in Black at Scottish Rite Theater
Skilled actors and atmospheric design combine to make this co-production a spine-tingler ideal for Halloween

Shanon Weaver, Oct. 20, 2017

Zach Theatre's <i>Singin' in the Rain</i>
Zach Theatre's Singin' in the Rain
This stage take on the silver-screen musical really comes alive when it breaks free of the familiar film's grip

Robert Faires, Oct. 20, 2017

More by Jonelle Seitz
Forklift Danceworks' My Parks, My Pools, My City
Forklift Danceworks' My Parks, My Pools, My City
With Bartholomew Swims, Allison Orr's dance company plunges into Austin's pool problem

July 28, 2017

Performa / Dance's <i>Midsummer Offerings</i>
Performa / Dance's Midsummer Offerings
The three dances in this mixed program all turned on the difficulty of making connections

June 30, 2017


Between Heaven and Hades, Austin dance, Ballet East, Rodolfo Mendez, Sharon Marroquín, Andrea Ariel, Gina Patterson, Dixon Mena, Sadé M. Jones, Hailley Schwartz, Eric Midgley, Melissa Villarreal, J.P. Flores, Leslie Castillo

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)