REVIEW: TBII “On Your Radar,” with Tulsa Ballet II, celebrating 10 years in 2015

By Glenda Rice Collins, Arts Columnist
Published August 25, 2015, For GlendaRiceCollins.com

TULSA–“People come and go so quickly around here,” said ‘Dorothy,’  during her dream world escapades in The Wizard of Oz film classic. It  can also be said about current, sought-after choreographers at Tulsa Ballet and Tulsa Ballet II, their leaders, and their audiences.

Under the leadership of Tulsa Ballet’s Marcello Angelini, the George Kaiser Family Foundation Artistic Director; and TBII artistic manager Alfonso Martin, the former distinguished Tulsa Ballet principal dancer from Spain, TBII’s fast-paced reach is ever-expanding, globally, — much like world-class Tulsa Ballet.

I suggest you keep them ‘on your radar.’

“TBII On Your Radar” Tulsa Ballet Studio K Premieres

As I entered the familiar Tulsa Ballet Studio K performance theater Friday night, I chatted briefly with Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong, who had just flown in from other engagements for the Oklahoma premiere of his spiritually-inspired Angeli. (Angels), set to the music of Alessandro Grandi, Salve Regina; and to Antonio Vivaldi’s Largo from Sonata for Cello and Basso Continuo.

My inquiries were brief because Ma Cong was jetting off again to China the next day, to continue his current international choreographic work for the National Ballet of China in Beijing. (Read more about Ma Cong’s international career, in new articles coming soon to this website).

As I breathlessly settled into my theater seat after a rushed commute from Bartlesville, I met up with Sharon Kelley, the mother of new Tulsa Ballet II member, Caroline Dougherty, who performed with enlightened precision in all three diversely demanding  ballets Friday night, including: Italian choreographer Paolo Mohovich’s Passages, a world premiere set to the mechanically rhythmic Body Tools music of Amador Castilla; and evolving into the emotionally-elevated Adagio from Piano Concerto No. 1 by Ludwig von Beethoven — plus the Oklahoma premiere of Joshua L. Peugh’s rousing and memorable international Slump, a novel romp  set to diverse contemporary and traditional music, as inspired by his playful days with friends in Korea.

On the Move Globally

I caught up with Mohovich and Peugh later for a brief post-performance chat, but Mohovich was leaving the next day to return to his work in Italy. Peugh and I exchanged business cards, hoping for more time later to discuss the international flavors of his choreography, the distinguished global career of  Tulsa Ballet co-founder, the late Roman Jasinski from Warsaw, Poland; and the influence of free-spirited Isadora Duncan, who danced barefoot, with attitude, years ago.

Peugh is the imaginative founder and director of Dark Circles, a contemporary company based in Seoul, South Korea, with a new branch based in Dallas, Texas.

(Read more about Joshua L. Peugh, Tulsa Ballet’s international history and reach, Isadora Duncan, and the Jasinskis, in articles coming soon to this website).

Ms. Kelley had experienced delays during her flight to Tulsa from Pennsylvania last Friday, and was relieved to be present on time to see her daughter perform in the three exciting works of the distinguished international choreographers in these Oklahoma premieres, — and for the first time with  Tulsa Ballet II. (Read more about Caroline Dougherty, a former Houston Ballet Academy dancer, in articles coming soon to this website).

Such is the scene for the new-age world of dance.  For meaningful work and exceptional experiences, Tulsa Ballet and TBII are exemplary in rapidly contributing to dancers’ resumes.

Contemporary Ballet Celebrated in Oklahoma

TULSA, Okla., August 21, 2015 — As the curtain rose on Paolo Mohovich’s Passages, an army-like squadron of dancers assembled gradually, in silence.  Their evolving, rigidly choreographed movements were devoid of expressed emotion, and somewhat regimented, appearing to symbolize the constraints of a society dedicated  to the uncertainties of communicating with digital devices rather than ‘face to face’ encounters with feelings and truth exposed.

PASSAGES

This new-age mentality translates into their implied, youthful experiences and experiments with impressing members of the opposite sex — little real feeling, lots of emotional distance, and harsh reality reflected in a seemingly brutal world.

Nonetheless, the men and women posture, and try to relate by jockeying for position, rather than bringing real emotional honesty forth.

Castilla’s  Body Tools music is eventually evolved into the clear. luminous, masterful passages of Beethoven’s serenely elevated Adagio from Piano Concerto No. 1,  presumably to pull emotional clarity onto the surface, from those who dance to represent society’s desire to hide real feelings, for fear of emotional injury.

The women, many times ascend “en pointe” appearing to desire elevation from the mundane, yet in a rushed, contemporary style — no tutus and tiaras here. The music lifts us to Beethoven’s clarity of the cerebral, spiritual realms, giving breadth to thought..And gradually, the “passages” begin to expand.

Mohovic‘s choreography speaks as clearly as sociologist author Gail Sheehy analyzes cultural  realities in her series of well-known Passages-themed best-sellers about “predictable crises of adult life.”

Notable quotes: “Growth demands a temporary surrender of security…If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living…To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist…The delights of self-discovery are always available.”  — Gail Sheehy, investigative author

Born in Bologna, Italy, Mohovich has received ongoing awards, such as the 1st Prize for the 1997 Prix Violinine in Paris; and the 2001 Prix Italian Choreography in Salerno Danza. and beyond. He is a former student of the late Oklahoma Indian ballerina, the influential Rosella Hightower, at her acclaimed Center International de Danse in Cannes, France.

ANGELI

The Oklahoma premiere of Ma Cong’s Angeli (Angels), brings an uncluttered, spiritual work, in soft ballet shoes, that is exemplary of his genteel mastery with streamlined, contemporary minimalism, and his perceptive use of space to maximize musical contrast and impact. Cong’s choreography unfolds with  a skilled dancer’s visionary vocabulary.

One need only refer to Cong’s brilliant 2006 Carmina Burana masterpiece, his powerful  choreography for the emotionally demanding Carl Orff score, ( premiered by Tulsa Ballet during its 50th Anniversary year) to experience the full range of his tools for dramatic impact, via his fluent style with organically contrived gestures and shapes that speak volumes.   Pure artistry!

With his Angeli, Cong also uses impeccable timing and contrasted understatement to maximize the crescendos and climaxes that so beautifully relate to the music and his elevated vision. spoken through dance as eloquently as the sacred sounds imagined of rustling angels wings before taking flight, and with the same spiritual effect, as set to the soaring music of Grandi and Vivaldi.

Notable Quote:

“Ballet…It produces an angelic race.”
— Impresario Lincoln Kirstein.

SLUMP

A quick look at the TBII current posters showing a couple from Joshua L. Peugh’s ballet, Slump, and I would expect it to be a retro version of perhaps 1950’s dance themes.  It is NOT!

Set to the intriguing music of:  Freylach #15, Ot Azoi and Freylach #8, by Klezmer Juice; Gopher, by Yma Sumac; and Yesterdays, by Ella Fitzgerald , Peugh draws his inspiration from what he calls “playful days with friends” spent in Korea, and from Korean national folk dances, putting his distinctive spin on the musical mix with unique international charisma.

The opening segment of Slump is reminiscent of some strenuous, Polish national dances I have seen.  Later musical passages evoke high-spirited Jewish dances from Russia.  The TBII women dance barefoot in a free-spirited manner.  Both men and women bring lots of Slump  cross-cultural ‘attitude,’  costumed in attire reminiscent of the 1950’s — ruffled, crinoline petticoats under perky, lace dresses for the women & plaid shirts for the men, with trousers.

Peugh’s entire ballet is a celebration of aloof individuality breaking free, within the inspiration of the high-spirited music. It’s a rousing, grand finale piece, with passionate zest for life — a great contrast to the opening robotics  in Mohovich’s Passages.  Once again, the arts express an  evolving international language, with posh fluency.  Bravo!

After graduating from Southern Methodist University, Peugh joined the Universal Ballet Company in South Korea, since then creating new works for festivals in Asia, Europe, and North America. For his award-winning international work, he rates inclusion on  the Dance Magazine 2015 “25 to Watch” list.

Slump was premiered June 6, 2012 at the Montgomery Arts Theater, in Dallas, Texas.

Points to Ponder

During a Q & A session following Friday night’s performances, Peugh shared that he selects his inspiring music, based on “anything that makes me want to dance.” He also explained that during the choreography of Slump, and later rehearsals, he does not allow dancers to watch (and critique) themselves in the mirror —  a useful habit that would be hard to break, for most dancers.

The result reflects the “dance like no one is watching” mentality — sheer joy in expressing one’s unique and musically-driven attitude of the moment, yet keeping within the framework of the innovative choreography. Bravo TBII!

Notable quotes:  “I built the house…you live in it.”
“I used to think in black and white…Things are very gray now.”
–Joshua L. Peugh, international choreographer

# # #8-25-15Glenda Rice Collins

Photo by Aqua Vita, courtesy of Tulsa Ballet. Shown are TyLeigh Baughman and Kevin Cosculluela, in Joshua L. Peugh’s Slump,  a 2015 Oklahoma premiere during TBII: On Your Radar.

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