Ballet Memphis' "Take Shape" takes off; Juilliard String Quartet lands perfectly

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I particularly look forward to Ballet Memphis’ contemporary programming, as in the season’s first offering, “Take Shape,” that runs through Oct. 22. Not that the classics aren’t spellbinding in their way (the perennial “Nutcracker” during the holidays and “Peter Pan” in April), but the new works tend to provide a higher yield of choreography that is fresh, provocative, and sometimes surprising.

There are three works in the “Take Shape” production, the first of which is George Balanchine’s 60-year-old “Square Dance,” inspired by American folk dance that the choreographer wanted to combine with classical movement. (And with six decades under its belt, it's actually older than Steven McMahon's upcoming "Peter Pan"). As in traditional square dancing, there is plenty of symmetry with ladies and gents lining up, spinning around, and pairing off.

Square dancing may be physical, but nothing like Balanchine’s vigorous demands on his performers. The rhythms of the folk dance are there, but the music is that of Vivaldi and Corelli, tunes you don’t normally imagine with do-si-do action, but entirely agreeable. The piece was absorbing, with technical demands well met and all somewhat antiseptic.

One of Ballet Memphis’ go-to choreographers is Julia Adam, and with good reason. Her “Fingers of Your Thoughts,” first performed in 2010, ambitiously depicts the passage of a life, from birth to demise, but in a way so expressive and touching that it remains entirely personal. The five dancers are a community of souls, moving as a group, as individuals, all part of the fabric of a life. Simply beautiful.

The final piece is a thrilling work by another Ballet Memphis favorite, Trey McIntire. “The Reassuring Effects (of Form and Poetry)” is a series of delights and surprises with electrifying chemistry between Crystal Brothers and Rafael Ferreras, and other superb performances by Julie Marie Niekrasz and Jared Brunson. (The cast varies depending on the date).

Also notable was lighting by Dani Deutschmann and sublime costumes by Bruce Bui and Ballet Memphis Costume Shop. “Take Shape” is a thoroughly engaging program and shows again the masterful work by Ballet Memphis’ dancers.

Juilliard String Quartet - STEVE J. SHERMAN
  • Steve J. Sherman
  • Juilliard String Quartet

Sunday afternoon, the Juilliard String Quartet came to the Clark Opera Center and performed works with such precision and control that you might have been forgiven if you forgot to breathe. There were no apparent instances of listeners slumping in their chairs, but the beautiful attention to detail in the midst of works by Beethoven and Haydn demanded careful listening.

The presentation, a collaboration between the Memphis Chamber Music Society and Concerts International, sounded flawless in the acoustically fine Clark Center, with the quartet in the center of the auditorium and the audience arrayed around it.

Expectations are high, of course, when you have four of the world’s finest musicians sawing away at great music (Beethoven’s Quartet in A Major, Op. 18, No. 5; Haydn’s Quartet in D Major, Op. 76, No. 5; and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 127). Those expectations were met with warm interpretations of the works, precise attacks of the notes, and terrific dynamic control from fortissimos to pin-drop quiet. In all, a virtuoso performance.


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