In the four years since it began, Tulsa Ballet's annual "Creations in Studio K" series has become one of the most anticipated arts events of the season.
Seeing its international cast of "athletes of God" (as Albert Einstein called dancers) up close in the company's own 295-seat theater, performing works created just for them by some of today's most exciting young choreographers, is a thrilling experience.
This year's program features new ballets by Ma Cong and Tony Fabre, as well as a second chance to see Cong's Blood Rush, which was part of the very first Creations program in 2008.
A hit from its opening moments, Blood Rush takes its inspiration from the intimacy and passion of tango. Artistic director Marcello Angelini said the piece "encompasses the energy of that particular time during the history of Tulsa Ballet."
"It accomplished the last goal I set up to achieve when I first came to Tulsa 16 years ago: that of ultimately becoming a creating force in the world of dance," Angelini said.
The piece was also a milestone for Ma, whose work has matured.
"The ballet flows well, the music is captivating, the costumes engaging, and the dancing authoritative," Angelini said. "It's definitely a work that deserves a second viewing."
Cong set his new creation, Tethered Pulse, to the emotionally intense music of cello-looping pioneers Zoe Keating and Joan Jeanrenaud.
It's a ballet in five movements that explores the different paths relationships can take, from dreamy and romantic to dramatic and aggressive. Cong has had an exciting year, creating ballets for Smuin Ballet in San Francisco and Richmond Ballet, among others, as well as being invited to collaborate with local arts organizations like Light Opera Oklahoma and the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra on the opening ceremony for the new theater at the University of Tulsa.
"I gave this piece a very earthy feeling by using grounded movement and unique body and hand shapes, while at the same time exploring a dream-like vision of a love heaven, working with big spaces and distances through which the most romantic, passionate, and pure love can be brought to the audience," Cong said of his Tulsa Ballet piece.
By creating waves of emotion through formations of dancers, Cong's Tethered Pulse uses movement to illustrate what he calls "life rhythms."
Tulsa audiences got a taste of Tony Fabre's choreography in 2009's seAthrough, part of the "Mediterranea" program at Studio K.
Fabre performed as a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet in London and with the Compania Nacional de Danza in Madrid, Nacho Duato's former company, and now travels the world staging the work of the greatest contemporary choreographers.
"His ballets use the quality of dancing, shapes, and lines that are honed in classical ballet dancers with a fluidity of movement, dynamics, and use of space intrinsic to modern dance," Angelini said.
Fabre described his new ballet, Blur, as "an ensemble work with the lead couple representing the struggle confronting every human being -- that of choosing between instinct and conscience. That is when life becomes a bit of a 'blur' and one struggles to find peace." This incarnation of the "Creations in Studio K" series will be notable for something in addition to cutting-edge choreography. It marks the final performances of newly promoted Principal Dancer Ashley Blade-Martin, who will retire this summer after 12 years with Tulsa Ballet.
"Ashley has been one of the backbones of this company for over a decade," Angelini said. "There is no other company in the US, and I suspect in the world, with a similar budget that is able to handle a repertoire as ambitious as ours. If we are able to tackle this kind of 'tier one' repertoire, it is because of people like Ashley. They grew with each season, widened their range and artistic scope, their expectations of themselves and, in the process, set the standards for every dancer in the company. I see this group as my partners in the project we all call Tulsa Ballet."
Blade-Martin has danced everything from Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine to Jiri Kylian and Nacho Duato. She is a classical ballerina who has lately found the most pleasure dancing in contemporary ballets that were once a challenge to her natural way of moving. She credits the Tulsa Ballet artistic staff and especially Tony Fabre, who has set several Duato pieces at TB, for giving her the chance to show what she could do in a contemporary ballet.
"The challenges I have faced (as far as repertoire) are how I've continued to grow," Blade-Martin said. "I'm convinced I would not be the dancer I am today without those opportunities to dance such diverse works."
Blade-Martin said she could never really stop dancing -- "it is innate to me and very much a part of who I am" -- but she looks forward to starting a family with her husband, TB Principal Dancer Alfonso Martin, and to serving the community in a new way: she has enrolled in nursing school, after a lifetime of admiration for doctors and nurses who have helped her and her family over the years.
"Audience members have told me that I touch them when I dance," she said. "I'm hoping to do the same thing as a nurse, touch people's lives."
Tulsa Ballet's "Creations in Studio K" stages Thursday-Sunday, April 28-May 1, and Wednesday, May 4, and May 5-8 at the Tulsa Ballet Theater, 1212 E. 45th Pl.
For tickets and more information, call 918-749-6006.
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