As the title “A Concert of Classics and Contemporaries” suggests, the two-week run of the University of Oklahoma’s Oklahoma Festival Ballet features a mix of established and modern pieces. “The four ballets provide a challenging variety of styles and themes that is sure to please,” said OU School of Dance faculty member Jeremy Lindberg, whose original work, “Foxes,” opens the performance.
Inspired by his childhood studies in horseback riding and hunting, his contemporary piece evokes imagery of jumping fences and riding along the countryside on horseback.
Created by Ben Stevenson, artistic director of Texas Ballet Theater, the haunting “Camouflage” features an allmale cast of dancers. It takes audiences into the lives of soldiers during the Vietnam War, starting slow and escalating to a powerful, shocking conclusion.
Music by Howard Hanson provides an eerie, unsettling and frantic backdrop.
Mary Margaret Holt, School of Dance director, noted that instead of visualizing war’s violence, “Camouflage” focuses on the emotional states of men placed in an environment of fear, courage and despair.
“The men have taken to the ballet very well, especially because they are about the age of the soldiers who faced the terrors of the Vietnam War,” said faculty member Steve Brule, who adapted the piece for this performance.
The evening’s featured work is “Fandango,” by renowned choreographer Antony Tudor and set to a piano score by Antonio Soler. Holt said she has wanted to stage “Fandango” since seeing it five years ago.
A departure from his melancholic, psychological ballets, “Fandango” is a spirited piece set in the main square of sunny Spanish city, where five women playfully vie for attention via dance.
“It’s high-energy, very full of distinct personalities and interactions that make the ballet a pleasure to watch,” Holt said.
The work has been brought to OU by former American Ballet Theatre dancers Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, who were determined to stay true to Tudor’s original choreography, Holt said.
“They were demanding, as they must be for such a ballet, but they were also caring and patient as the dancers absorbed the movement and musicality required to perform the ballet,” she said. “I think it was very inspiring and exciting to learn such a complex ballet from Amanda and John. It really stretched their technical and creative instincts.”
The performance closes with the aptly timed “Graduation Ball” by David Lichine. This lighthearted work, with music by Johann Strauss II, takes the viewer to the titular event at a Viennese ladies’ school filled with eccentric students and a group of visiting cadets, adding potential for romantic sparks.
Holt said the ballet takes the viewer on pleasant journey, complete with a stunning ballroom set decorated with sparkling chandeliers.
“‘Graduation Ball’ is like the frosting and candles on a birthday cake,” she said, noting its placement in the concert as a whole.