It was a small but enthusiastic audience in Tacoma’s Theatre on the Square last Saturday night to see a dance renaissance – Tacoma City Ballet blooming like spring daffodils with an evening’s worth of inventive and often brand-new choreography, all home-grown and sparkling with new ideas, live music and mostly skillful execution, in the Spring Dance Extravaganza.
Ballet schools all over Tacoma hold shows in spring. For most of them it’s a chance to show off what students have learned during the year, and that’s true of TCB also; its corps de ballet is comprised of school-age dancers still learning the trade. But the difference comes with the principals: all seasoned, all skillful, and worthy of the creative choreography thrown at them. The choreographers, meanwhile – TCB’s director Erin Ceragioli, assistant director Joel Myers and long-time dancer Travis Goldman – mostly came up trumps with seven ballets that pushed the company beyond its usual kid-themed story ballets.
From Ceragioli came two works that made clever use of props and costumes. “Angelus Angelorum,” a seven-movement work inspired by Venetian angels, stayed in the realm of traditional ballet vocab but fused costume and movement. Ceragioli’s ‘angels’ wore Chihuly paint-spattered unitards and (for the women) fluttering fabric wings; side lighting picked up the glitter and threw the wings into spotlight, while the choreography created formal tableaux with aloof, asymmetrical movement echoes, all to minimalist New Age piano music by Tacoma local Elizabeth Naccarato (unfortunately relying way too heavily on moody seventh chords and endless IV-I changes). Alisha Cushing, with beautiful extension and affect, opened with an emotionally charged pas de deux with Joel Myers, and the male duet by Myers and Alex Koleber exuded strength and style through marvelously virtuosic beats, pirouettes and leaps.
Ceragioli’s “Whale Songs” was another winner, her dancers moving slowly with well-supported lifts under a gauzy, ocean-like fabric.
Goldman’s work wasn’t quite up to this pitch: in “Adnama” his demure Greek goddesses had expressive arms but bodywork that didn’t recognize the complexity and emotion of his Bach music; while “For Suzy” surrounded endlessly technical lifts with a boring corps to an even more boring cello composition played rather incompetently by TCB dancer Taryn Tieu.
But the real glue of the evening was Myers’ work, fusing ballet with modern, hip hop and even breakdance moves, along with live music, to jolt this company into a bright new feel. “20” moved a dozen dancers in prison-bar lighting and blood-tinged costumes by Lisa Fruichante through choreography that had the elegance of ballet and the flexed-limb attitude of hip hop, all to Buddy Ross’ classical harmonies over hip hop beat. “Grand Hotel” achieved a certain comedy in its tale of ditzy maids and flirty patrons, though not as much as it could have with a tighter corps.
“Songs for my Father,” however, was everything you could want from new ballet. Alex Tapia supplied raw, emotional vocals and a drum-heavy band live on stage, while Myers, Natalie Berg, Ashley Phan, Jennifer Rudsit and Danielle Wester danced out a joyous prayer meeting. Old-time dresses, serious faces (except for Wester’s usual infectious sparkle) and powerfully descriptive gestures combined for a ballet that perfectly expressed the faith in a triumph beyond the grave.
If this is where TCB is heading, then Tacoma ballet fans are in good hands.