The Tulsa Ballet came to town ready to show off and did everything that I wish visiting regional companies would do. They were authentically themselves and stuck to what they do best. The program featured new repertoire that was created for them by choreographers who played to their strengths. They didn’t try to do Balanchine ballets or showpieces that might expose technical shortcomings or cause them to be unfavorably compared with top tier companies. As a result, they looked polished and professional in everything they did.

Demi Soloist Jennifer Grace, of Tulsa Ballet
© Jeremy Charles

The first piece was Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Shibuya Blues, featuring standout ballerina Maine Kawashima, a terrific, powerful dancer. I noticed something about Lopez Ochoa’s choreography in this piece. She gives many steps to women, most especially jumps, which are more typically given to men in ballet. It gives her work a distinctive energy and is one of the many reasons she is so much in demand. Kawashima took all those leaps and flew around the stage with ferocious energy. Shibuya Blues started with Kawashima as a lyrically balletic outsider among a uniform crowd that moved with militaristic precision. I can’t remember the last time I saw a troupe of dancers work together with such perfect synchronization. Kawashima's isolation was indicated by a gesture: her index finger touching her upturned palm and then describing a circle around her hand. She moved through the community trying to find a place for herself. She tried to fit in, inserting herself into a pas de deux with Jaimi Cullen and Joshua Stayton with bourrées of poignant longing. The company moved so well in unison and with such dynamic power that this was the strongest piece on the program.

Meŏal (Among), a recent work by Helen Pickett, was a more emotional piece led by Daniel van de Laar who moved frenetically. The level of feeling occasionally made this piece look ragged but it was well done. I couldn’t tell you what it signified but I enjoyed Pickett’s patterns of movement and the challenging, modernesque steps. Company principal Madalina Stoica stood out in this piece, partnered by Cavan Conley. Watching her, I couldn’t escape the notion that she was about to break into dancing Swan Lake. She’s that steeped in a background that seems to have been full of Russian training. Stoica is a wonderful dancer but she seems not to have had the degree of diverse training that American dancers typically receive. Jennifer Grace danced beautifully with Joshua Stayton in their duet as well.

Ma Cong’s Glass Figures closed the program with a bang. There’s a phenomenon common to ballets that are choreographed to Philip Glass’s music. I think of it as Shift Dancing. Glass’s music is driving in tempo and throbbing with relentless, pent up energy. Choreographers inevitably end up bringing on a group of dancers for a minute or so of super-fast dancing and then they have to go off for a breather while a new shift comes on to keep up the pace. The crews keep changing until the end is near and you know it’s the end because everyone comes back on stage for one last exhausting go round before it’s over. That was this ballet in a nutshell. I was a bit worn out just from watching all the extreme tricks and turns in this piece but everyone seemed to be having a good time and where’s the harm in a little bit of showing off?

Bravo to Tulsa Ballet for doing everything that they needed to do for a successful appearance at The Joyce. This was one of my favorite shows of the year so far. These are strong, versatile dancers and they are well worth going to see.