Nevada Ballet Theatre, alongside dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, produced “The Tried and True and the New” on March 4, 5 and 6 at Artemus W. Ham Hall. True to its name, the concert included original works by George Balanchine, enthralling modern dance classics and the world premiere of an arresting new ballet by James Canfield.
Timeless choreography to Gaetano Donizetti’s “Variations” was an auspicious start to the performance. The company, clad in in pastel pinks and magentas, executed the demanding steps well and did justice to the notorious (and sometimes notoriously nasty) choreography of Balanchine. Although changements en pointe are not enjoyable things to execute, Allisa Dale managed to perform them not only proficiently but gleefully, which is a feat in and of itself. Grigori Arakelyan pulled off the same trick with traveling pirouettes, consecutive tours and the like. They are difficult steps, and the audience knows it. The artistry comes in when the dancers can perform them effortlessly.
The corps was captivating in its cohesiveness, lending the intricate choreography a sense of stability but remaining interesting throughout the piece. Musicality was undeniable; several sections showcased counterpoints, with one group placing an accent on the downbeat and another group doing the same on an upbeat. Too often, the results of this are muddy and incoherent. In this case, this was sleight of hand at its finest: it surprised the audience and was neatly concluded before spectators had fully come to grips with what had just happened. The effect was delightful.
The straightforward unison sections were another high point in the variations. Watching Dale step gallantly in front of a corps of polished ballerinas executing nit-picky steps in sync was a thrilling and revitalizing experience, and one that is not easily accomplished. This also justifies the longevity and persistence of Balanchine’s work.
“A Song For You,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey and danced by Matthew Rushing, followed “Variations” and was both a shift and a continuation. Horton may not be classical ballet, but the presence, control and quality of movement remained the same. The modern energy, underscored by dramatic lighting changes, brought dimension to the show from the beginning and left the audience ready to clap at a moment’s notice. Rushing obliged with attenuated lines and committed stillness, completing the number with a bow of undeniable sincerity.
In the second act, NBT divested itself of classical sensibilities and followed through with Rushing’s trajectory. “Still,” accompanied by live music and choreographed by NBT’s Canfield, was an unpredictable foray into a world that was intriguing in its strangeness. Mary LaCroix, who partnered with Arakelyan, seemed to be enamored with the experience herself, maturely escorting onlookers through this foreign, unfamiliar thing. Arakelyan was strong and understated in the pas de deux work, which was utterly contemporary. The tasteful lighting, almost Victorian set and fabulously embellished music completed the emprise.
Rushing joined Clifton Brown, also of Alvin Ailey, for a duet from “Concerto Six Twenty-Two,” choreographed by Lar Lubovitch and performed to a track by Wolfgang Mozart. The men mirrored each other with incredibly synchronization for much of the piece, synthesizing a tranquillity that could hardly have been more pleasant. The white costuming was classic Ailey and the blue wash of the lighting created an ethereal, spectral quality. Nearly flawless technique was the cherry on top.
“At the Border,” the final piece, was a crown jewel set in a concert of differences. The number was choreographed by Matthew Neenan and was an NBT company premier in this performance series (it was originally performed by Pennsylvania Ballet.) This represents a propitious step for the company for a number of reasons. The piece was made possible by the Jerome Robbins Foundation as part of the New Essential Works (NEW) program through the same, which gives second-tier companies a chance to develop and perform works of exceptional quality. (Canfield acknowledged this graciously during intermission, expressing gratitude to NEW program director Damian Woetzel.)
Forget the Balanchine. As a company, NBT absolutely sparkled in “At the Border,” filling a bare stage with insouciant energy, arcing jumps and far-flung limbs. Vitality radiated from the red- and blue-clad dancers and proved that, while they are fully capable of Balanchine classics, perhaps a contemporary groove is more fitting. Athleticism stood stoically beside technique and showcased the group at its finest.