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Columbia Ballet Collaborative’s Opening Night: Bach, Balanchine & Badassery

Prior to curtain at any ballet, one braces oneself for two realities: the sheer physical artistry about to grace the stage, coupled with distinct waves of equally potent pride and insecurity of witnessing the art our peers and friends create with their bodies. Both infused the audience at Columbia Ballet Collaborative’s opening night on Friday, an eclectic yet harmonious show that bridged genre and form.

Bach’s tinkling a minor counterpoint ushered in the first number, prolific choreographer Avi Scher’s “In Her Skin.” The dance juxtaposed highly classical, almost rigid footwork against what can only be described as quirk: a little wiggle from Katya Vasilaky here, a fluid body roll from Brittney Feit there. A peculiar air of anachronism hung in the air; the piece’s experimentation with variations on classical arabesque and jeté with a backdrop of quintessential Bach suspended time, as all dynamic art does. “Imparted Audacity,” choreographer Donna Salgado’s fusion of runway with classical ballet, followed, with dancers clad in Beyoncé-esque monochrome, paired with pulsating bursts of energy that mirrored the music. The dance featured Connor Yockus, CC ‘18, himself the choreographer of a post-intermission number, “Whitey Tighty.”

Shoshana Rosenfield, CBC’s graduating senior this semester, and James Shee, her partner and previous dancer at the National Ballet of Canada, shattered the stage with sheer finesse and technique in Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, specially commissioned for the New York City Ballet, for which Rosenfield danced for several years. Described by the Ballet as an “eight-minute display of ballet bravura and technique,” the number had the audience clinging to the edges of its seat and what remained of its self-esteem; Rosenfield’s grand jetés were equal parts controlledly masterful yet fluidly graceful, matched only by Shee’s hush-inducing fouttés. Applause rang loud and often, the duo’s symbiosis and prodigious technique was as stunning as it was effortless.

The second half of the show blurred form and time: Robert LaFosse’s traditionally-choreographed “La Valse de L’Armour,” iridescently costumed by Ballet Academy East, preceded Connor Yockus’ student-choreographed, boundary-breaking foray into a dance genre consistently “plagued by sexism, heteronormativity, and racial divides.” Dark, brooding, and provocative, Yockus’ number blended gender binaries, sexuality, and racial norms as erratic, goosebump-raising beats suffused each dancer’s movement. In calculated yet spontaneous rolls, whether through the air or across the floor, or with almost spastic arabesques filling the stage, “Whitey Tighty” challenged the notions of classical ballet

CBC’s opening night closed with a hypnotic “The Shape of Voice,” choreographed by Morgan McEwen to an eight-voice partita, a haunting play on the polyphonic Bach that opened the show. Disorienting in its discordance, the piece nevertheless closed the program epitomizing the consistent creativity and artistry that preceded it; McEwen tailored lithe limbs and traditionally tame pirouettes to the rhythmic, animalistic moans and raspy breaths enveloping the entire hall. If there was any doubt left in the audience’s mind of ballet’s power to adapt and continuously stun even as it draws on art deeply rooted in tradition, Friday night’s conglomeration of past, present, and future surely dispelled it. Cheers to CBC for this weekend’s performances and for all its genre-bending, impossibly graceful ones to come.

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