Choreographer Dwight Rhoden, in a question-and-answer session following Thursday’s preview performance of “Creations in Studio K,” said that a program such as this is unique.
“I long for something like this in New York City,” said Rhoden, the artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. “I had to come to Tulsa to find it.”
This is the ninth year for Tulsa Ballet’s annual program devoted to world premiere ballets, created for and debuted by Tulsa Ballet, and it continues to be one of the company’s most enjoyable and challenging productions.
This year’s program includes new works by Rhoden, Jorma Elo and Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong.
Elo’s work has been performed by Tulsa Ballet in the past, but “Creatures of Prometheus” is the first work Elo has created for Tulsa Ballet.
Set to the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Elo’s ballet starts out as almost an exercise in neo-classical dance, but quickly evolves into something richer and more playful.
Neo-classical dance often has an austere quality, an emphasis on line and form, shapes and patterns. Elo’s work has that in abundance, though these elements transmute with kaleidoscopic ways. But at the ballet’s heart is a sense of pure, absolute joy.
The way Elo twists and contorts the basic vocabulary of neo-classical dance has — in spite of the technical difficulty of Elo’s way of moving — an intensely playful quality, a knowing send-up of convention.
Even when Beethoven’s music turns dark and threatening, mournful and disquieting, the energy, lightness and joyous physicality of the movement is always there.
The dancers themselves appeared to be having a great time with this work. Rodrigo Hermesmeyer and Madelina Stoica engaged in a duet full of flashy moves and buoyant charm, while Jennifer Grace and Arman Zazyan engaged in a playful kind of duel in their duet, the expressiveness of their dancing belying its difficulty.
Rhoden’s “Ballad Unto…” is the longest work on the program, set to works by J.S. Bach — a solo piano transcription of the Fantasia in G Minor and the Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 for solo violin.
The ellipsis in the title — that sense of incompleteness — echoes the emotional impact of this ballet, in which 14 dancers, whether in ensembles, as couples or solo, appear to be wrestling with ideas of isolation, the desperate need for some sense of real connection, the yearning to experience a moment of peace shared with another person.
Rhoden’s style of movement seems to originate in the dancer’s core, the energy spiraling up and out from that center, so even the most casual of gestures — a flick of the arm, a turn of the head — involves the dancer’s entire body to articulate.
Yet the rawness of the physicality — wonderfully encapsulated in the whiplash duet between Grace and Hyonjun Rhee — is matched by Rhoden’s intense musicality and inventiveness, the way the piece keeps unfolding in sharp, surprising and emotionally resonant ways.
“Ballad Unto…” also featured a dynamic lighting design by Les Dickert that alternately embraced and isolated the dancers.
And Rhoden’s choreography brought out the best in company members Hermesmeyer, Youhee Son, Cavan Conley, Diana Gomez, Andrew Silks and Jaimi Cullen.
The evening concludes with Ma Cong’s latest work for the company, “Just Be(autiful).” Compared to some of Cong’s more recent creations, this is a compact and deceptively simple ballet — another variation on neo-classical vocabulary getting transformed into something new.
In this work, Cong makes a point of emphasizing the trust necessary in dance — for a ballet to work, everyone involved, regardless of the size of the role, has to do what is expected of them.
As the choreography grows more complex and the pace of the dance increases, that sense of trust becomes even more important. And when it is there — for example, in the almost ecstatic pas de deux between Grace and Rhee that ends the first section — the results can be sublime.
“Creations in Studio K” continues with performances through Sept. 20 at Tulsa Ballet, 1212 E. 45th Place. For tickets: 918-749-6006, myticketoffice.com.
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478