Saturday, February 20, 2016

Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet

I didn't grow up dreaming of being a ballerina. That wasn't even in the realm of possibilities in the small rural Tennessee town where I grew up. Not when I was growing up anyway. I was probably in my late teens before I saw a live ballet performance. In fact it may have been Ballet Memphis annual performance of the Nutcracker. I grew up wanting to be a gymnast, like Nadia Comaneci. An equally impossible prospect by the way. Although when I was 10 or 11 a couple moved to town that taught gymnastics and I was able to take lessons and feel the narrow width of a balance beam beneath my feet. I can still do a decent cartwheel, although at nearly 48 it takes a toll on my body such that I choose not to do it often.

Still PBS brought culture into my home and through that I fell in love with Mikhail Baryshnikov when I was a kid. This was probably as much because of his daring defection from the Soviet Union and his stunning good looks as his talents as a dancer. I loved White Nights, which probably makes the folks I'm reviewing films with doubt my judgement, although it did really well at the box office. Actually I've always been more drawn to the male dancers, perhaps knowing that no matter if I did weigh 90 pounds (not since grade school) I would never have the requisite body type to be a ballerina myself. Baryshnikov, Hines, that guy from Riverdance...Michael Flatley...I love watching these guys do what they do. The combination of grace and strength is mesmerizing.

So when Melissa Luck offered three free tickets to Ballet Memphis' Places for Saturday night I couldn't wait to go. By the time I will get a round to posting this it will be too late for those of you who haven't already to go and see it and that is a sad thing. Three new works representing a place in time; Future, Present and Past each separated by a short intermission, Places was wonderful. I don't know enough about dance to claim to know what was actually going on but I will tell you the way things connected and touched me. What I received out of what was being transmitted.

The first piece, "Elapse" reminded me of the Kabuki dancers I saw at the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville. All angles and with a very strong feel of the Japaneses Kabuki and the Thai Khon style style of dance. The costuming, by Christine Darch, evoked three of the four elements, the only one not obviously present being "Fire". Three large sand glasses served as props markers of the passage of time. There was a very mechanical feel, almost as if the dancers were all part of a machine, at times. It was intriguing.

"Glory", the second work, was a hip-hop ballet fusion piece with a strongly tribal element to it. Bruce Bui's amazing costumes evoked tribal tattoos or body paint and provided a strong graphic element to a piece that used media as a part of the story being told as well as the dramatically strong dance elements. The racial diversity and pairings of the dancers seemed to speak to what is going on presently with #Blacklivesmatter and the things being unmasked in our community and our nation that perhaps we thought had already been dealt with. It was challenging.

The final piece, the nostalgic "Sweet Boy Slide" seemed to be the crowd favorite. With its Stax music and joyful choreography it was a welcome respite from the "heavier" pieces it followed. I wanted every one of the beautifully done dresses Bruce Bui put his ballerinas in for this "sock hop" feeling piece. It was really fun to finally get to see my friend Elizabeth Mensah do that thing she does.

For those of you that missed it I'm sorry. It was a beautiful show.

Until Tomorrow, Peace.

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