IU Ballet Theater presented a momentous evening of three icons — Twyla Tharp's “Surfer at the River Styx” (music by Donald Knaack, Coda by David Kahne), George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” and Paul Taylor’s “Musical Offering”.
George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” (Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins by J. S. Bach) elegantly twins dancers with violins and a counterpart chamber orchestra. Paul Taylor’s “Musical Offering” (Bach Opus 85) embodies celebratory ritual with majestic physicality, challenging dancers to do the impossible.
At the pre-performance talk Michael Vernon described this as his “dream program” and indeed it encapsulates his tenth anniversary of exquisite leadership as the artistic director of IU Ballet Theater.
The unifying element between the three works was the way in which the principal and solo dancers introduce their work, and the way in which the corps dancers carry it through. The dramatic tension of jazz dancers unfolds as a living in-the-moment event. Yet it is the music’s rhythm upon which each choreographer developed innate moments building toward the wholeness of universality.
Being “one degree removed from the original creation of masterworks,” is part of the excitement said Vernon. Benjamin Bowman, who staged “Surfer at the River Styx,” danced in its 2000 premier. Nilas Martins, who staged “Concerto Barocco,” has a 30-year association with the works of Balanchine. Constance Dinapolis, who staged “Musical Offering,” joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1986, the year the work premiered.
Tyler Dowdy and Kenneth Shelby displayed non-stop turbulent energy as they tried to outstrip each other even while being tormented and mimicked by a splendid quartet symbolizing the River Styx. When peace finally is restored, it’s an bravura moment of a female dancer being carried high off-stage in a stream of light. One can hope this is the meaning of the Coda so eloquently embodied in Tharp’s vision. The troupe included Julian Goodwin-Ferris. Jared Kelly, Margaret Andriani, Sophia Brodin, Anna Barnes, Elizabeth Yanick, with Nicholas Gray and Darren Hsu.
Oct. 2, Cara Hansvick and Allison Perhach danced “the violins,” played in the pit as first and second violin by Jimin Lin and Evan De Long, as distinct personalities. Andrew Copeland partnered the soloists while a corps of eight reflected the melody in movements of interconnecting shapes and scenes.
Taylor’s “Musical Offering: A Requiem” required the most exacting attention. It is atmospheric throughout, with costumes, background and lighting evoking a distant place and time reminiscent of Polynesian rites. Death is imminent yet life is glorified. Taking turns as soloists and in groupings, 14 dancers depict layers of emotions and reactions to the unfolding sagas. We are left wondering if this community can survive the death of a revered member.
Turning in superlative performances were lead dancers Ryan McCreary and Kenneth Shelby along with Caroline Atwell, Grace Koury, Colin Ellis, Imani Sailers, Anna Peabody, Leah Gaston, Megan Noonan, Eli Downs, Andrew Copeland, Jared Kelly, Antonio Houck, Nicholas Gray.
Joseph Stepec conducted. Lighting design was by Aaron Bowersox.