The Review Is In!
MISTLETOE, the holiday presentation of Alabama Dance Theatre (ADT), is like all the best gifts---the more you unwrap them the greater your enjoyment grows. The variety, the polish, and the palpable reward of hard work make this performance a joy to experience each time. From the opening strains of “The First Noel’ to the last note of Handel’s masterpiece, there are seemingly endless delights—some in truly surprising, very familiar, places.
The curtain at the Davis Theatre again rises on the lovely wintry setting of FAVORITE DANCES OF CHRISTMAS. The simple, yet elegant, backdrop created by Buz Crump, still delights—it can appear frigid or it can glow warm as a blazing Yule log. Josh Monroe’s lighting designs always create mood, propel action, or can isolate and heighten the importance of a moment. His is such a distinguished contribution to the overall success of this production. He truly makes magic with the limited lighting resources at the Theatre. Lovely costumes throughout the entire performance prove an aspect of beauty and make powerful statements about the works themselves.
Much of the choreography for these FAVORITE DANCES is by Kitty Seale, ADT’s Artistic Director for over 25 years. This piece features the entire company in dances that have been created over a number of years and encompass a wide variety of dance styles. The makeup of this set of dances changes somewhat each year, but the caliber of the choreography and the quality of the dancing remain constant. The performance is tailor-made for dancers and audience in each of its iterations.
In “The Little Drummer Boy” young dancers costumed as drummer boys executed lovely pointe work and accurately captured the attitude and precision of their craft. There is a delightful sassy trio in the middle of the piece and an equally delightful appearance by the title character in the end. In the humorous “Sleigh Ride”, many of the same dancers became skaters and ponies, led by Jordan Ricks as their Driver, responding to the rhythms of the familiar arrangement. These dancers were given appropriate yet challenging movements and they executed them with technical accuracy and style. “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” features cute as buttons little angels, older guardians, and a gorgeous swath of white silk, used fetchingly.
The folk dance inflected “I Saw Three Ships” was, as always, an audience favorite. Beautifully danced with élan and perfect timing, it featured Catherine Cobb, Destiny McGhee, and Lauren Taylor. The middle-eastern inspired sound and look (the backdrop glows orange and red from Monroe’s wonderful light) of “We Three Kings” was wonderful. With absolutely gorgeous costumes, it is especially effective with its undulating, long-limbed extensions and lovely port de bras from Aloria Adams. Amelia Felder, Francie Hill, and Virginia Perry. Many an audience member was reduced to tears by Sara Sanford’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’ danced to Josh Groban’s version of the song. Seen again this year, there was great depth to the movements which suggest longing and joy, as well as missed connections. Safiya Haque, stunning in red, and guest artist Nick Hagelin, her handsome soldier, were the excellent, effective partners in this dance.
Sanford also created a simple but effective dance to a Mannheim Steamroller version of “Stille Nacht.” She used her dancers to maximum advantage here (young and older) and in a wonderful new dance to “Mary, Did You Know?” Beautiful costumes, meaningful but metaphoric movement, and strong commitment form the performers marked this piece.
Janie Alford’s choreography has such joy in it. One of Alford’s pieces is a celebration of the holiday on a Hawaiian beach. Performed to Bing Crosby’s recording of “Mele Kalikimaka,” the dance features three women (Esosa Aghedo, Oroboso Aghedo, and Cobb) who just want to relax taunted by three pesky boy children (Cameron Caldwell, William Dillon, and Charlie Hill). Alford created a powerful, modern dance solo for Ke’Yana Robinson to Mahalia Jackson’s version of “Precious Lord.” The choreography is wedded beautifully to both score and dancer—it was thrilling to watch Robinson perform with such technique and commitment. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” with choreography by Alford featured young dancers in elf costumes in candy cane colors. Highly energetic and fun, these young performers execute their dance and gymnastic moves with aplomb and accuracy, really dancing not simply dressing the stage. These are wonderful dances, performed well.
Sanford also contributed her take on “Snow Scene” from THE NUTCRACKER. The pas de deux, danced by the lovely Virginia Perry and Raul Peinado, guest artist, was sensitive with warm emotion and very assured. There was a hint of flirtation between the two which added depth to the roles and heightened their growing partnership as the dance progresses.
Soon snowflakes, led by Robinson and Haque—both stunning in this section—are fluttering, spinning, and airborne. There is constant motion and nice well-rehearsed ensemble work, yet the sense is that these snowflakes are each individuals in an elegant choreographic storm. Finally, “real” snowflakes are falling on the scene while the beautiful pas de deux couple spins even as the lights fade. This is a wonderful ending to this delightful amalgam of dances.
Handel’s MESSIAH is ubiquitous this time of year. However, to experience ADT’s version, lovingly choreographed by Amelie Hunter, is to re-hear this masterpiece. Hunter takes a fairly literal view of the text and responds fairly literally to the rhythmic pulses of the score. Her special gift is to find the emotional heart of the words and the pulses and render them visible in her movement. The beautiful, mostly jewel-toned costumes and Monroe’s exquisite lighting that reflected those colors created further visual reinforcements of Hunter’s vision.
Accompanying ballet is a notoriously dicey proposition. The Montgomery Chorale Ensemble, selected soloists, and a small instrumental group—all led by Dr. James Seay—negotiated the shoals of that task. The Chorale Ensemble sang well throughout. Their diction was impeccable and balance was generally good. The soloists were effective. There could be a bit less amplification of the choir, in general.
The opening, “Behold the Lamb of God,” set in front of a triptych of stained glass windows, was formal and ritualistic. The chorale ensemble and the dancers, especially Karen Licari & Peinado and O. Aghedo & Hagelin, were exceptionally effective in “Glory to God.” “Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion” was playful and exuberant. Led by Cobb, a female ensemble captured the depth of that joy. “All We Like Sheep,” featured E. Aghedo as a long-suffering shepherd trying to herd a group of rowdy sheep. There was a good deal of humor on display here from both choreographer and performers—even a “little lost lamb.” This is an entertaining momentary diversion.
Mabs Seay, soprano, and dancers--Perry, Adams, O. Aghedo, and F. Hill--were elegant and profoundly moving in their interpretation of the exquisite choreographic meeting of music and movement in “How Beautiful Are The Feet.” Unrelenting energy characterized “Why Do the Nations So Furiously Rage Together?” The motivic nature of the music for “Let Us break Their Bonds Asunder” was mirrored in the movement of the excellent ensemble: E. Aghedo, Cobb, Haque, Licari, and Maya Pegues. Corey Galloway was the full-throated tenor soloist for “Thou Shalt Break Them.” In what proved to be one of the loveliest moments in a lovely whole, Robinson dressed in royal blue was profoundly moving in the power of her commitment to the repeated motif of slapping her thighs that represented breaking. Music and movement, singer and dancer, were most perfectly melded in this section.
This work ends with “Hallelujah.” The palette changes to all white and we are again viewing a ritual. They have come together, musicians and dancers, to celebrate the joy of release anticipated in the opening of this wonderful collaboration.
This performance possesses such depth, such powerful impact, and is effective on so many levels that it is easy to forget the youth of these dancers and that this is an avocation for almost all of them.