On April 24, the premiere of Tulsa Ballet's About Tango marked Studio K-Kivisto Hall's inauguration as Tulsa's newest, grandest artistic dance venue. The invitation-only event, extended to the Ballet's major donors, aimed to introduce patrons to the international prestige which Tulsa will now enjoy.
Paul Ben-Itzak of Dance Insider recently said, "Fortunately, where many of the large ballet companies have failed to [innovate], the companies we big-city types used to condescendingly refer to as "regional" (as in, 'not bad for a regional company') have come through, commissioning new work with traction... [and] encouraging untested voices. At the top of this list are Marcello Angelini's Tulsa Ballet and Graham Lustig's American Repertory Ballet (in New Jersey)."
About Tango, a compilation of three separate works, represents that vision of "new work" and "untested voices" with excellence, and Kivisto Hall is exactly the right place for it.
Studio K is an intimate 300-seat black box theater, sacrificing a stage pit in favor of maximum contact between audience and dancer. The reduced orchestra plays from onstage, against the upstage wall. Its presence onstage does not distract from the dancers' performance. Indeed, the opportunity to view the instrumentalists as they perform makes the production more raw and immediate.
And what dance is more raw and immediate than a tango?
The production's aim is to introduce audiences to the tango form and its various emotional charges. Most of the choreography takes tango as its starting point and experiments.
The evening's most sizzling moment, however, may be the traditional Argentine Tango performed by Fernanda Ghi and Guillermo Merlo. Their performance alone justifies the price of admission.
There is so much more to see, though, and upon seeing it, the staggering amount raised by Tulsa Ballet's donors suddenly makes perfect sense. Jackie Kouri, head of Tulsa Ballet's Exceeding Expectations fundraising campaign, unveiled the final sum collected by the organization. The original goal had been $5 million, which was quickly surpassed. They set their sights higher, nearly doubling the goal to $9.5 million. Again, they met that goal, and reached for the stars.
The final sum raised was $17,358,988.
The massive total funded not only the construction of Kivisto Hall itself, but all costs included in the ambitious three-phase project. Studio K represents the project's successful conclusion.
Tom Kivisto praised Tulsa.
"You have infused this company with your special brand of generosity," he said.
He contrasted his fundraising experiences elsewhere in the country with the positive experience he found in Tulsa. Parties amongst the upper-class members of Wichita took place at private homes, and were mostly about networking.
"But if you're going to go party [in Tulsa], you're going to raise money for some great charity."
Both Angelini and Kivisto, the project's primary contributor, were on hand. Together, they pulled down the curtain and unveiled the Hall's entryway.
Nearly 300 guests packed the new lobby, the final touches having just been added that day. Attendees were reminded occasionally to mind the wet paint in places.
After complimentary hors d'oeuvres, champagne and wine, all guests were invited to a ceremony in Kivisto Hall itself, followed by the first performance of About Tango.
Former Miss America and Tulsa resident Jennifer Berry praised Angelini's talent, and thanked him for bringing that talent to Tulsa. She also reminisced about her youth spent learning ballet with Angelini at the Tulsa Ballet, and reminded the attendees, that without a strong education in dance, she would not have been as well-prepared to win the pageant's talent competition.
After "generosity," the word of the night became "talent." Three separate choreographers created the dances in the evening's three pieces, Tango Is..., Blood Rush, and This Is Your Life.
Tango Is... provides a neat gateway into the evening's tangos. Each dance within the piece introduces us into a dominant mood which tango can express: wistfulness, jealousy, comedy, youthfulness, and so forth.
Blood Rush knocks the audience off-kilter after the parceled and measured dances of the preceding piece. It's a study in contrasts and extremes. Its alternately symmetrical and asymmetrical images provide no quarter, no solace. Late in the piece, the dancers stalk the audience like predatory, sinister beasts. It's dangerous, frenetic, gripping.
This Is Your Life breaks from tradition and presents a preface with dialogue, during which we meet each character and hear a little bit of their life story. The device works well as it is not taxed, though the final monologue could be excised without harming the production. The show, being a ballet, should end with dance, not words. After all, the dialogue is merely serviceable; it's the dance which takes us on such an amazing journey.
The dance was strong enough to shine without that prologue, but, on the other hand, if we were to do without it, we would miss the opportunity to hear these dancers speak in their native language. When they spoke on the Tulsa stage, Kivisto Hall became an international stage.
Tulsa Ballet has been first rate for a long time, but now it finally has the facilities that will allow it to shine its beacon worldwide.
About Tango plays until May 4. Check tulsaballet.org for showtimes and ticket information, or call 749-6006.
Share this article: