A performance by Texture Contemporary Ballet is like a box of chocolates — you never quite know what you’re going to get. While always appetizing, anything from a sweet and sensual pas de deux to a spicy, upbeat group dance is possible.
A sense of maturity and sophistication palpated throughout Texture’s latest treat, “Shades of Light,” which closed the company’s third season with a three-day run at the New Hazlett Theater. The program included a trio of new works, opening with “This” choreographed by associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman.
The dancers, dressed in black cropped bottoms and, for the women, nude-colored bra tops, performed with a glint of intensity in their eyes to instrumentals by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurdsson. They colored the music well, smoothing over some accents with a fluid arm and hitting others with a head snap or contraction. That spark of intensity continued to build throughout, catching fire midway with a duet between Ms. Bartman and founding artistic director Alan Obuzor that was rich with lifts and catches. The shadowy lighting by Bob Steinbeck added to the mystique (and suited the program’s name).
If jazz music could be visualized, it would look like “Looking Back and Moving Forward,” a piece by Mr. Obuzor that grew out of a recent residency in the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Fresh Works program. He collaborated with Pittsburgh-based vocal artist Anqwenique Wingfield, who stood off to the side of the stage (along with Howie Alexander on keyboard, Matt Pickart on violin and Jevon Rushton on drums on Friday night) beautifully belting out such songs as “Lush Life” and “Autumn Leaves.”
Dancers’ interpretations of the music shaded choreography with a variety of emotions, from melancholy and romantic desperation to sweetness and tenderness. The movement was expressive, and the earth-toned costumes and the women’s swirling skirts and loose hair added to the organic beauty of it all. And the moments when a dancer and Ms. Wingfield exchanged a passing glance: magic.
The program closed with “Take... Taken... Taking...,” a Pittsburgh premiere that Texture first staged earlier in the month at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York City. Mr. Obuzor demonstrated his command as a choreographer by not translating the iterations of the Philip Glass score too literally. Instead, he made the music work for the dancers rather than having them be controlled by it.
His solo demonstrated his true strength as a dancer: the ability to make everything from a graceful leg extension and balance to a simple exhale appear effortless and captivating. Alexandra Tiso shined en pointe and showed great confidence.
It was refreshing to see Texture stick with a cast of five throughout the show. Mr. Obuzor and Ms. Bartman used the limited dancers well, spreading them about the stage, varying their entrances and exits and, overall, making the small number have significant presence. It was a nice contrast to the larger productions Texture produces, particularly in the summer, when artists from other companies lend their talents to the show.
Programs that incorporate guest artists or a catchy name (remember “There’s Something About Fontina”?), or even a band like Meeting of Important People have been nice draws for Texture in the past — and the company always makes them deliver. But as it continues to grow and tour and build a name for itself in Pittsburgh and beyond, it doesn’t need these attractions to attract attention.
And that’s what “Shades of Light” was — no gimmicks. Just strong pure dancing.
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.