Monday, December 21, 2020

Ballet 22

Roberto Vega Ortiz and Christopher Kaiser in
Joshua Stayton's Juntos
Breaking Ground
Streamed Dec 11th-20th 

I vividly remember getting my first pair of pointe shoes. I remember being taught how to sew the elastics and ribbons as well as the proper way to tie them on the ankle and calf. I remember the first time I felt strong enough to let go of the barre on full pointe. And I remember plié-ing in fourth position, both excited and terrified, to try my first pirouette in center.

I wonder if the artists of Ballet22 have those same remembrances. Because Ballet22 is all about pointe, specifically about upending the gender norms that surround pointework. A new East Bay-based troupe, led by the creative team of Artistic Director Roberto Vega Ortiz and Executive Director Theresa Knudson, Ballet22 seeks to make pointe an inclusive experience, and provide opportunities for mxn, cis-gender, transgender and non-binary artists to showcase their incredible skill and talent as pointe dancers outside of an ‘en travesti’ context. This month, they debuted their first virtual program, Breaking Ground, a potent collection of six short works, many of which were filmed at the ODC Theater by the Concept 04 team of Natasha Adorlee, Max Sachar and Rob Suguitan.

Fittingly, the mid-December offering began with a little bit of Nutcracker, reimagining the grand pas de deux as Fritz’s Dream Pas de Deux, danced by Vega Ortiz and Donghoon Lee. The pointework was grounded throughout; the lifts, buoyant. And such a strong sense of equality was present in the partnering. Instead of it seeming that one dancer was ‘being partnered by the other,’ the duet struck a more egalitarian tone - the two were clearly working together to achieve all the steps and shapes.

Breaking Ground’s second work, Metamorphosis, featuring an international cast of dancers in a mélange of studio and outdoor spaces, was my favorite on the program. As the camera panned from one dancer to another soloing en pointe in their respective spaces, the joy was palpable. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time. Aptly titled, the work was truly transformative, and as a viewer, I knew that I was watching the field shift in real-time. 

Dancemaker Joshua A. Stayton explained in the introduction to his piece Juntos that the multi-chapter ensemble work was about the idea of togetherness. To that end, abundant unison work informed the challenging choreography, which ran the gamut from classical ballet syntax to more contemporary vocabulary. Swirling spins and soaring carries were handily interpreted and communication by six dance artists, though it was the moments of whimsy and fun that grabbed one’s attention, like the shaking of the head at the top of a lift.

That theme of togetherness continued in the second half of Breaking Ground’s bill, as the company joined forces to communicate through their pointework (as well as in the moments where they weren’t on pointe). Before the World Ends brought another collage of artists from around the globe. Swan Lake Pas De Huit, staged by Vega Ortiz after Lev Ivanov, examined the balance, grace and elegance of Odette and Siegfried’s duet, embodied by four different couples. Breaking Ground concluded with the most contemporary work on the program, Mi Pequeñito Sueño by Omar Román de Jesús. From start to finish, Mi Pequeñito Sueño felt charged and full of abandon. Formally, it was like a marriage of ballet and Dance Theater. And like any Dance Theater composition, repetition abounded, particularly in parallel jumps. As the performers rebounded over and over again on the stage’s surface, the desire for levity and suspension rang true. 

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