Houston Ballet dancers Karina Gonzalez, Harper Watters and Chandler Dalton dance in Justin Peck's "Reflections," a ballet that premiered just days before the pandemic shutdown theaters. (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
Many of us will remember this summer as the great reunion – a return to places we love with people we love.
Among the great reunions is that of the ballet dancer with the stage. For months during the pandemic, they toiled in living rooms and kitchens trying to maintain their strength and technique.
At Jacob’s Pillow this week, sadly the last for the 2021 festival, ballet dancers from around the country prove their efforts at home were not in vain. Not only did they show they can endure, but also grow as artists.
That is clear in a thoughtful program with dancers from three major companies – Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet – on the outdoor stage. Going under the moniker of Ballet Coast to Coast, the group presented five short works that ensure audiences that ballet’s evocative beauty, despite the pandemic, continues to be relevant.
Being a balletomane, I must say this was one of my favorite programs of the summer. But beyond ballet, it’s the fact that the dancers aren’t showing off an individual prowess (something we saw a lot this summer at the Pillow). Instead they are relating how their unity with and sensitivity toward each other creates something that resonates.
Most impressive was Houston’s Harper Watters and Karina Gonzalez in Stanton Welch’s “Sons de L’Ame.” To music by Chopin, the piece begins to a waltz with Watters who is sheer perfection. Watters becomes the Slavic-flavored music with his exquisite lines, balances and turns.
And then Gonzalez appears and the two melt into each other to a Chopin nocturne in a way this is both gentle but shimmering. These two have a rapport is unique and sends the work – that might seem banal on other dancers – to its zenith.
The program also featured a world premiere by Helen Pickett for a trio of dancers from Boston Ballet. The piece reflects life at home – it’s highs and lows – with floppy boredom and burst of silliness playing a part. While cute and showed off the dancers – the supple Lia Ciro with Paul Craig and My’Kal Stromile – well, it’s a curiosity for its time.
Disappointing was Justin Peck’s “Reflections,” also danced by Houston Ballet. To music by Sufjian Stevens, the piece demonstrates Peck’s ability to move dancers into configuration that always surprise. However, “Reflections” loses something in the staging, which happens often in the stripped down Pillow stagings outdoors.
Certainly, that is the case with Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels,” performed by a Pacific Northwest quartet. Still the ballet, to Richard Einhorn’s “Maxwell’s Demon,” startles with dancers in red, taking flight like warriors in the battle for good and evil. It remains powerful.
The program’s finale is also potent – Alejandro Cerruda’s gorgeous “Second to Last” to music by Avro Part. In a series of duets for all of the Coast to Coast dancers, Cerruda’s succulent suite seems to mark the minutes of the pandemic in the most sobering terms. Its message: every moment is precious, so love fully.
Ballet Coast to Coast runs through Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow.