There are some great things about spring. There's driving with your windows down; there's the folding up and putting away of sweaters; there's the return of Daylight Saving Time. And there's Tulsa Ballet's annual Spring Trilogy, and this year, it's Balanchine and Beyond.
Legendary choreographer George Balanchine co-founded the New York City Ballet following World War II and went on to create more than 400 ballets. His work is perhaps best known for its musicality; it has stood the test of time.
Victoria Simon Wion travels the world staging the legend's work, so she's come to town to do just that for Tulsa Ballet. The show itself, she said, is interesting not just for the ballets included in it.
"There is no real common thread, which is what I find so interesting," she said, noting that there is no thematic connection, no thread running through the music, or even a choreographic tie-in.
"The first on the program is Classical Symphony. It's in tutus, but they're very contemporary tutus. And it has some quirky movements in it," Wion said. The work is performed to the music of Sergei Prokofiev, and this marks the piece's Oklahoma premiere.
Artistic director Marcello Angelini attended Classical Symphony's world premiere, and liked what he saw.
"It is probably one the most challenging new works I have seen in the past decade," he said. "It uses purely classical technique strongly influenced by contemporary aesthetics. The result is a work as exciting and fresh as spring itself."
When he was there, he noted that he wasn't the only happy viewer.
"The audience leapt to their feet when it ended," he said.
A newer work called There, below follows the Oklahoma premiere of Classical Symphony.
The piece was last performed by Tulsa Ballet in the 2010-2011 season, Angelini said.
"It was an instant audience favorite during the 2010-11 season," he said, again referring to a visceral audience reaction. "It prompted one of the fastest standing ovations during my time in Tulsa. I can truly say that this piece is back by popular demand."
The last ballet in the show is the Balanchine piece, called Four Temperaments. And while it's the oldest of the three works, in many ways, Wion feels it is the most contemporary of the trio.
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"It's a Hindemuth score, so the music is modern, and the movement is quite modern," she said. "I think that Balanchine at that point was breaking new ground. And these other choreographers have all learned from Balanchine. It's a fascinating program."
Okay, so maybe there's a connection, after all.
As always with a Tulsa Ballet Spring (and Fall) trilogy, the diversity of the evening's proceedings is probably the best thing about it.
"The whole program has wonderful variety. It shows the dancers off really beautifully, but what I particularly like about a triple bill is the variety that you get," Wion said. "You get to see so many dancers do individual roles. In a full-length ballet, sometimes only one or two dancers get to shine. But this variety -- it's like a wonderful meal."
One new wrinkle for Tulsa Ballet's spring trilogy is its new location. Performing for the first time at the University of Tulsa's Lorton Performance Center, Tulsa Ballet takes advantage of the new venue.
"This is their first time at the Lorton," Wion explained. "I think they were trying to do for these triple bills to try a new space. The big advantage is that because it's a smaller house, they can do more performances and get all the subscribers taken care of."
While this is the first time Tulsa Ballet has used this particular space, Wion said she felt like it wouldn't be the last.
"It's a new venue they're trying out. I think if it works out, they'd love to continue performing there," she said.
She certainly has a history with the company, going back many years. And Tulsa Ballet is just one company she visits as she travels the world. ("Last week, I was in Buenos Aires. I was at the Bolshoi last year," she said.)
"I come to a company and I teach the ballet from scratch," she said. "I physically show the dancers what to do, and then I stay and make sure it's all ready and for opening night. It's a bit like a director, a bit like a conductor, a bit of everything."
And it's barely been a year since she was last in town for our own company.
"Last year, I was here and did Apollo for them, and the year before I did Theme and Variations," she said. "I was even here when the Jasinksis were running things."
So yeah. She's got some history with us, alright.
Balanchine and Beyond opened last week, and closes this weekend, with shows Friday and Saturday, March 22 and 23 at 8pm, and a Sunday matinee on March 24 at 3pm. The University of Tulsa Lorton Performance Center is located at 550 S. Gary Place, and tickets start at $20 and are available through tulsaballet.org or by phone at 918-749-6006.
Out of Africa(n America)
A largely African American dance tradition comes to town this Saturday night in the form of Step Afrika!, the first dance company in the world devoted solely to the dance form that uses the body as an instrument, and presents pretty much the most rhythmic thing you'll see in 2013. My father the percussionist, for instance, will likely be on the front row.
Anyway, the form is called stepping, and it has grown over the years out of black fraternities and sororities, and seems to gain popularity with each passing year. It remains a large part of our country's cultural heritage.
In addition to the show itself, the company will hold a community workshop (wear your dance duds and come try it yourself) Saturday afternoon from 1-2:30pm in the Norman Theater. Designed for dancers of all ages and abilities, the workshop will cover basic steps, styles, and techniques included in step dancing, as well as a bit of the history of the form.
Step Afrika! stomps into the John H. Williams Theater downstairs at the Performing Arts Center on March 23 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $28 and are available at tulsapac.com or at 918-596-7111.
One O'Clock Rock
The TCC Jazz Festival kicks off its fifth annual celebration on Wednesday, March 27. While the festival will showcase more than 20 high school jazz bands from Oklahoma and surrounding states, the big deal is what closes the festival on Thursday night: arguably the best jazz band in the world, the One O'Clock Lab Band from Denton's University of North Texas.
This is a college band that has six Grammy nods under its belt, and has played at the behest of the president. Of the United States. And pretty much anyone who plays in this band during their stay at UNT goes on to play with pretty much anyone they want to. In fact, if you've ever listened to music from Harry Connick, Jr. or any of the Marsalis brothers, you've heard a bunch of One O'Clock alums. Dudes play everywhere.
Steve Vento, who serves as director of bands at TCC, said that the UNT group's presence adds prestige to an already impressive jazz festival.
"It's the largest jazz festival in the state of Oklahoma," he said. An added benefit is the students who come to perform get a look at a music college at TCC that keeps on getting better and better. "These high school students come from a three-state area for the festival and learn about the music education opportunities for music majors at TCC."
The TCC Jazz Festival runs March 27-28 at the VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education at the TCC Southeast Campus located at 81st Street and Highway 169. Daytime performances are free to students, while tickets for the One O'Clock Lab Band performance are $15 for adults and $10 for students. The band plays at 7pm Thursday night. Ticketing information at 918-595-7777 or at myticketoffice.com.
In the Land of Cotton
Once again, something awesome awaits you downtown on your Wednesday lunch break.
Sometime ago in the 1980s, local trombone wizard Steve Ham put together a Dixieland jazz band for a Kentucky Derby party, and since then, Hambone, as he's known to area musicians, and the Jambalaya Jass Band have been going strong.
And what they do is so much fun. The group evokes the sounds of the French Quarter, as well as the old days of Dixieland -- far enough back that there were no Zs in "jazz." You'll be sorry you missed this.
Jambalaya kicks off in the Kathleen Westby Pavilion at the Tulsa PAC on Wednesday, March 20 at 12:10pm, and you're not going to find a better price. Because it's free.
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