Texture Contemporary Ballet is now in its second year, but it looks like there are no "terrible twos" ahead for this toddler, parented by founder Alan Obuzor, a former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre standout, and associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman (PBT and Nashville Ballet).
In fact, year two is looking terrific, as evidenced by the company's latest string of performances called "There's Something About Fontina," a reference to the creative jolt the dancers claim to get from eating lots of Fontina cheese. The production closes tonight at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.
On Wednesday, opening night, Texture treated the modest crowd to a mixed repertory program packed with variety (and some Fontina cheese in the lobby). From the song choices and choreographic styles to the diverse roster of seasoned performers and rising dancers, "Fontina" proved ballet is more than tutus and toe shoes.
The evening opened with "Well ... On the Other Knee," an ensemble work by Ms. Bartman set to two "knee plays" from Philip Glass' prolific opera, "Einstein on the Beach." On pointe, dancers moved through traditional steps, such as bourre with fifth position arms, combined with isolations such as a shoulder pop or an upper body contraction. As a result, movements reflected the repetitive, deconstructed nature of the music, at times becoming spastic and staccato yet always in control. The piece was anchored by a fluid pas de deux featuring Ms. Bartman and Mr. Obuzor.
Next, things got quirky when PBT veterans Christopher Bandy and Aaron Ingley took the stage with their creation "Near," choreographed to Regina Spektor's "Two Birds." It was colored with comedy and fun partnering that had Mr. Ingley trying to "take flight." James Barrett and Alexandra Tiso, two budding members of the Pittsburgh dance community, took the program in a more sensual direction with the bluesy duet "Not While I'm Around." Their connection was palpable, and they left no note undanced, milking every last moment with partnering balances and beautiful side extensions and ponches.
The first half wrapped up with a question: What if ballet and hip-hop collided? Ms. Bartman and Mr. Obuzor tucked the answer inside "Ice Ice," set to the sound mixings of Gabriel Gaffney Smith. The choreographers, joined by company member Brynn Vogel, each wore a pointe shoe with a cropped pant on one leg and a boot and long pant on the other. Choreography mirrored this tug-of-war, with one side of the body remaining balletic and refined (pointed toes, classic arms, etc.) as the other kept things edgy with flexed feet and street-style stances.
The experiment had the potential to come off as gimmicky, but dancers kept it smart and the juxtaposition balanced and lighthearted. Pulling back the curtains to expose the brick wall at the back of the Hazlett stage added to the street feel.
The second half included a similar mix of ensemble works and duets featuring the talents of up-and-coming choreographers Jamie Erin Murphy and Renee Danielle Smith ("Accidentally") and more from Ms. Bartman and Mr. Obuzor. The only solo of the night came compliments of Ms. Tiso, whose "Crest" spotlighted Shannon Biery, a former PBT School graduate student and Cincinnati Ballet trainee. Ms. Biery was poised and polished and, with some more power and confidence that come with additional stage experience, is on her way to becoming another star of the local dance scene.
A highlight of the second half -- and perhaps the night -- was "Ode to Divorce." The subject in art is nothing new, but Ms. Bartman and Mr. Obuzor's interpretation of it was fresh. The pair maneuvered their way around a rectangular table, moving on top of it, underneath it or standing at opposite ends. It became a physical representation of their characters' emotional roadblock. Accepted and shunned embraces further conveyed the tale of this crumbling relationship.
Mr. Obuzor's "Can Reality Acutely Create Knowledge?" capped the program. It started out mellow and soothing, with dancers in socks and earth-toned leotards, and crescendoed with the music for a robust finish fitting for the night (although it felt it took a bit too long to reach the anticipated climax).
In a short period, Texture has managed to grow more comfortable in its skin, churning out works that demonstrate maturity and a signature style that can take some companies years to develop. Maybe it's the result of Mr. Obuzor and Ms. Bartman's choreographic chemistry? Maybe it's their talented lineup of dancers? Maybe it's the Fontina? Whatever it is, it's working.
Sara Bauknecht: email@example.com or Twitter @SaraB_PG.