Some of the rules, regulations and walls of ballet tumbled as the members of Texture Contemporary Ballet Company were set free to roam and, yes, "BLUR" the confines of the New Hazlett Theater on Thursday night.
Ballet is an art form with an aristocratic European heritage, but director Alan Obuzor is African-American, and associate director Kelly Bartman was sporting red hair with one side of her head shaved. They had some fresh ideas to bring to the dance as well.
Costumes were kept to a sleek minimum. The toe shoes used only elastic, no ribbons, the better to transfer to bare feet. And there were variations on mohawk hairstyles, both from Mr. Obuzor and ballerina Rachel Malehorn.
Texture is quietly building a small core of year-round dancers. But in the summer, it arises into a veritable dance community of 30, a credit to Mr. Obuzor, who attracts many who have passed through Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and its school, where he teaches and choreographs. Virtually all of this army is professionally employed or attending advanced programs.
So the dancing level was high, and the group well-rehearsed in a program of six works. Mr. Obuzor led off with "Emwaby Mee," an African-inspired ballet where the movements had the environmental feel of breezes rippling through the trees and waves lapping a beach, a lovely introduction to his organic style. He composed a terrific solo for himself, like a creature in survival mode, that stretched the vocabulary in just the right direction.
Ms. Bartman contributed "Esuaceb Tsuj," which contained her message, "just" in reverse. Always a whimsical thinker, her opening contained genuinely original moves. It would have been good to play upon that throughout.
Ms. Bartman has a rabid imagination. There was a rap section and an apparent finale, followed by a pause and several more sections. It pointed to what these talented young choreographers still have to learn -- a more rigorous editing process, certainly for a program that ran 21/2 hours. However, kudos to them for the largesse of their vision in working with a large group of dancers, something that many choreographers cannot comprehend.
The pair joined for "The Pulse of Time," accompanied by Cello Fury in one of its finest performances to date. Designed as a finale and escalating the action even more, the piece contained "Swan Lake" references, very funny as the women lined the sides while the punk Swan Queen, the aforementioned Ms. Malehorn, took center stage. But by the end, the group tired a bit, some losing a sense of control and power as they tried to draw even more on their passion.
Ms. Bartman and Mr. Obuzor reprised their duo, "Lacrimosa," a seamless piece in which they appeared like Greek statues that come to life. And Gabriel Gaffney Smith both choreographed and composed "Untitled," a duet which he danced with Adrienne Benz. Tracing an unusual relationship in which the male is subservient to the female, it also had a sculptural overlay to it.
Chicago choreographer Catherine Tiso contributed "Dualities," which played on the title. She divided the stage into sections with simultaneously integrated group phrasing and drew upon an inspired stroke at the end, where the dancers, posed in pairs, simply turned their head in profile like the Roman god Janus.
Overall, "BLUR" was an impressive effort from a company celebrating its first anniversary. Judging by the audience's spirited response, Texture may well be around for a long time.