What defines a ballet company? Repertoire, style, women en pointe? These days, there’s so much cross-over between ballet, modern dance and jazz idioms, you’re likely to see a blend of these genres in the choreography presented by any company performing contemporary work today.
Pointe shoes were nowhere to be seen in Chicago Repertory Ballet’s “Bolero and Other Works” (March 13-15 at the Biograph Theater). A company of decisively contemporary leanings, CRB presents as a classic modern dance troupe with a particular, although not exclusive, interest in narrative form and classical music. “Bolero and Other Works” offered a varied program of seven works, including four premieres, impressive for a company only two years in the making.
The five choreographers represented on the program shuffled a mix of conventional ballet and modern dance idioms with some creative flair, with dancing that was clean and competent, if not inspired.
Exceptions were Sarah Olson and Ruben Medina in a nuanced duet set to a voice-over of French dialogue in Tenley Dorrill’s premiere "Still Life," winner of CRB’s first Choreographic Competition. The French, sensual and suggestive in tone and subtext, revolved around the male partner’s musical talent, his recent concert performance, and the woman’s insistence that he play the Schubert Bagatelle in C Minor for her. Reluctantly, he accedes to her request, but the physical interplay leading up to this embodies higher stakes for their relationship in a dramatic blend of human discourse and the emotional fabric of dance.
Lucas Crandall’s gauzy "Lullaby," a company premiere, opened the program with a fascinating human sculpture, a fleeting abstract image one wished to see developed further, but the dancing floated swiftly on through lyrical combinations of balletic dreaminess, set to Bach piano variations.
Artistic Director Wade Schaaf’s "Wasteland" (premiere) released seven lost souls into an apocalyptic landscape of smoke and shadows, distant train whistles and religious rants. Like human leftovers from some cataclysm, the isolated refugees navigate their desperate plight in slow motion to sentimental strains of Chopin until they coalesce in a moment of human contact.
Kristina Isabelle’s "Unfinished Work" (premiere) puts a different cast of equally lost characters in the underbelly of an urban setting. Inspired by Charles Ahearn’s 1991 film documentary, “Doin’ Time in Times Square,” the piece capitalizes on character archetypes--the wino, the druggie, the disenfranchised of the world--and movement clichés that shed no new light on a lamentable but all too familiar scene.
Schaaf’s “Bolero” (premiere) is the most choreographically complete and satisfying work on the program. It takes some courage to tackle Ravel’s iconic 20th-century masterpiece, made popular in the hit movie “10” with Dudley Moore, but Schaaf puts a whole new spin on the music with a whimsical take on flirtation and spring-time fun. The company is at its best dancing in this piece as well, looking crisp and energized by Schaaf’s snappy theatrical variations and clever movement invention. Rolling rose-covered panels, deftly woven into the choreography, delight and surprise as they hide and reveal the dancers in their cat and mouse escapades of courtship, which culminate in a rousing finale that dares to match Ravel's orchestral abundance.
Also on the program were Jacqueline Stewart’s male/female duet "It’s Not Enough to Close Your Eyes" and Schaaf’s solo for female dancer, "Dancer, Net (3)".