Ballet Bellevue, Bellevue City Opera, and Orchestra Bellevue teamed up to stage a refreshing mixed bill of dance and music at the Meydenbauer Center last weekend, April 15-16. Offering contemporary dance and ballet with original musical scores alongside orchestral performances of classic operas by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, and Purcell, Opera + Ballet in the City provided the audience with a rare opportunity to enjoy two forms of performing arts that don’t intersect often enough.
The program opened with Rachael Lincoln’s Thieves and Beggars, a “contemporary fable” choreographed for and performed by guest artists from the University of Washington. The curtain opened to reveal one dancer dressed as a raven lounging in a red leather chair, flipping distractedly through a magazine. Behind her, a projector screen showed a living room wall, papered in green damask with a window and a view of leafy green trees. Another raven joined her shortly, followed by two mischievous foxes and two graceful white stags. As the dance progressed, the screen slowly changed to a scene of winter trees, and eventually a white fog. The costuming and set design created an entrancing world, but the piece wanted for a cohesive narrative arc. Still, the choreography brought the characters to life, in strange and unexpected movements of the raven’s wrists, the stag dancers holding their hands behind their backs like short white tails, and the foxes crouching and somersaulting, both playful and sinister. The work also sparkled in moments of duet, especially between the ravens and stags, with interesting interplay between the birds’ sharp, frenetic movement and the stags’ steady control.
Next, the orchestra took center stage to perform Mozart’s Overture to Cosi Fan Tutte, after which the two star vocalists of the evening, Tess Altiveros and Eric Neuville, joined for a song from Verdi’s La Traviata. Though the staging of the singers felt stiff and inauthentic, the selections provided a lighthearted jolt of classicism.
Dreamers Often Lie, an excerpt of Amber Willett’s choreography for Ballet Bellevue’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet rounded out the first act. In it, we see Juliet, danced by Chessa Chalmers, on the night before her intended wedding to Paris. While the piece began playfully, it turned dark as Juliet descended into her dreams and nightmares. The movement took on different qualities in each character; strange angular movements for three fairies who shepherded Juliet into her dream, classical and pompous for Nathan Cook’s Paris, strong and even-keeled for Romeo, and smooth and lilting for Juliet. While it didn’t seem to suit all of the dancers, it held up well on Chalmers and David Strong as Romeo.
Jennifer Porter crafted two pieces for the second act, separated by highlights from Puccini’s La Bohème performed by the orchestra and vocalists. In Disconnected, dancers performed in unison, with solos and duets juxtaposed against the main group. This spatial composition and the linear structure of the piece reflected the premise that we are often isolated from the people around us, even when part of a group. Much of the choreography felt like a ballet class, down to pirouettes with very set preparations and advancing lines of dancers. While this structure had the potential to enhance the themes of loneliness and disconnection in the piece, in practice it was more distracting than beneficial. Porter’s second piece, Swan Lake Favorites, was a reimagining of five dances from the original ballet’s second act, featuring Porter’s choreography seamlessly interspersed with Lev Ivanov’s iconic work. Shannan Behrens and Tanya Bendis stood out as the leads in “Dance of the Big Swans,” with extensions and leaps showing off their strength and clean, long lines.
Duet, also by Porter, opened the third act of the show, featuring Lara Seefeldt and Thomas Phelan. Duet revealed itself to be the gem of the show, with a soft, tender, and honest look at a relationship with joys and faults. Phelan looked much more at home in this modern choreography than in that of Disconnected, and he and Seefeldt partnered smoothly together, spilling over each other in floor work and finding balances of support and tension—physical and metaphorical—throughout the work.
The final set of the performance was a collection of music from Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the selections, “The Scene of the Drunk Poets”, was brought to life by dancers, featuring Cook as a hilarious drunk accompanied by Phelan and four spritely fairies. Here, the dancers, orchestra, and chorus shared the stage, tying the night together.
Overall, Opera + Ballet in the City proved to be a nice change of pace, effortlessly combining live classical music with traditional and contemporary dance aesthetics. More information about the show’s collaborating companies, and their upcoming performances can be found at cityoperaballet.org.