Sunday, March 4, 2018

Fringe Festival ballet in the off-season: IB's 'New Works Showcase'

Among the many burgeoning local arts groups given the chance to hone their craft at the annual IndyFringe Festival has been Indianapolis Ballet, now becoming full-fledged on the basis of a thriving school headed by Victoria Lyras.

Tango pair: Chris Lingner and Kristin Young Toner
Underlining the productive liaison, IB's "New Works Showcase" has taken up residence at IndyFringe's Basile Theatre the next two weekends, exhibiting up close the breadth of the company from apprentice to professional levels.

The centerpiece of the program is an expansion of Lyras' excursion into the tango. Working from a suggestion of Fringe director Pauline Moffat, Lyras has developed a suite of ballets based on that celebrated Buenos Aires dance form, whose artistic claims were most notably put forward by Astor Piazzolla.

"TangoX6" shows Lyras' tango inspirations in full flower, now a bouquet of six dances ranging from solos and duets to the full company of about a dozen dancers. The suite has characteristics that are a gratifying aspect of Lyras' choreography: There is never a wasted gesture or a gratuitous variation. You might think that of course that's easy in a program of short works. But it's not hard to come across ballet or modern dance that settles into a groove or seems etude-like even within a short range.

At the other end is choreography that can be so energized by the music that it launches a huge arc that can feel snipped off when the music's over. Lyras' work errs toward neither extreme. The six parts are concise and telling each in its own way, and in full tribute to the expressive range of the tango. The variation in tempo, the rhythmic spectrum — from sharply defined and abrupt to smooth and flowing — and the shifts in ensemble texture are all complemented in these dances.

I particularly admired the pathos of "Imperial," a solo both plaintive and assertive by Kristin Young Toner. "La Cumparsita," a wonderful duet for Toner and Chris Lingner, saluted the traditional close-quarter precision of authentic tango. There was excitement in the sudden, swooping lifts and dips the couple executed, and the flair of leg movements such as quick kicks from the knee out to the side. Another duet explored the slow side of tango: Xavier Medina and Camila Ferrera gave a sustained lyricism to Piazzolla's famous tune "Oblivion." And there were three ensemble dances, each of them exhibiting the controlled flamboyance of the tango in a different way.

The program's first half includes another look at the Lingner-Toner partnership. "Habanera" made a contrast to the immediate rapport of the tango duet. Set to an instrumental version of Carmen's declaration of independence in the Bizet opera, it made much of a push-pull interplay of resistance and attraction, like that between the gypsy and the soldier foreshadowing the opera's tragic outcome.

Four's company: In "The Meeting" three friends gradually welcome a newcomer.
In "New Works Showcase," Lingner is also giving the premiere of a solo he learned at the Cincinnati Ballet but never got a chance to present publicly, according to Lyras' oral program note: "Prohibition Condition" is a cocktail send-up of the reality and the fantasy of inebriation. Staggering, eye-rolling and mimicked belching are niftily threaded throughout a dance that also puts a premium on well-controlled spins and leaps. Lingner's comic virtuosity in this work by James Cunningham was first-rate Saturday night.

The apprentices got things off to an attractive start with Roberta Wong's ballet to "Take Five," the
theme song of the classic Dave Brubeck quartet written by its alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. The five dancers coalesced around the tune at beginning and end. Brief solo and duet turns were suitably folded into Joe Morello's drum solo, as Brubeck's piano vamps in the background. The collegial zest of the music was matched by that of the IB dancers. "Take Five" set the stage for the  concise, fully formed communicative force of everything on the program.

It remains to mention the comedy-of-manners charm of "The Meeting," by associate artistic director Paul Vitali. The crisp narrative outlined by the four dancers, beautifully costumed in summer dresses, traces the gradual inclusion of a reserved stranger into a circle of three friends. A movement from Claude Debussy's string quartet provides the soundtrack to a happy tale of welcoming. "The Meeting" is a delightful caprice whose initial hint of social isolation is then neatly countered in movement and gesture as the trio of friends gets to know the new person. If only all social bonds could be so gracefully formed!