REVIEW: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

It’s not too often that you see dancers en pointe, wearing Hawaiian shirts with sunglasses and holding up a beach towel.

But that’s exactly what Salto Dance Company did in their winter show, Reverence. And though unexpected, it was a move that cemented Salto’s identity as one of the most unique, innovative dance groups on campus.

Reverence is a French word meaning “a feeling of great respect.” At the end of performances, dancers perform a gesture called a reverence to show respect to the audience, and the audience applauds to return that respect to the dancers. After Salto’s opening number, the club presidents came onstage to teach the audience how to perform a reverence. Then they continued the show and put the crowd under their spell.

Salto is known for its blend of many different styles of dance; they are the only student dance group on campus that performs en pointe, but they also perform contemporary and lyrical pieces. Many of their dances transcend genre entirely. And indeed, Reverence provided a perfect blend of tempo, genre and mood.

Say My Name was the first piece that really stuck out to me.  A contemporary piece, the choreography pulled me in from the beginning and the leaps and turn sequences were technically impressive.

Several dances evoked nature with their movement. Revolution, a contemporary pointe piece, flowed like water, and San Francisco, the second act finale, made me envision birds. The technique and choreography were beautiful and captivating.

The solos — mostly classical variations — also impressed. The audience oohed and ahed over the difficulty and quality of movement. However, where Salto really shined was when it went outside its comfort zone.

Sunshine was the first example. Set to the song by Kyle and Miguel, it featured dancers en pointe wearing beach clothes. In the middle of the number, they held up a towel with the words “Salto brings the sunshine.” The dance was full of personality and evoked an almost Broadway feel. It was unexpected from a ballet and contemporary company, but it worked.

And when Salto came on for the second act, their opening number was entitled simply Broadway. Set to a medley of songs from Chicago and A Chorus Line, the musical theatre number was different from anything else in the show. It showcased a completely different side of the dancers and brought out a performance quality that was sometimes lacking in other pieces, especially in the first act.

Another unique piece was Focus, which featured three dancers using contemporary technique and three dancers en pointe. The choreography blended the two styles seamlessly and highlighted the strengths of each individual dancer.

When the show ended and the dancers came out for a curtain call, they did their reverence. And while the gesture was meant to show respect to us to thank us for coming, all I could feel was respect for them for blending so many styles, for displaying a full range of emotion, for pulling me in and never looking back.

PREVIEW: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

My lasting impression of Salto Dance Company was this: as their first act finale in their winter show, their dancers came out wearing pointe shoes and Chance the Rapper’s signature “3” baseball cap. They danced ballet to Summer Friends. And it was captivating.

In my first year writing for ArtSeen, I’ve learned that Michigan has a lot of dance groups, and it especially has a lot of contemporary dance groups. But what Salto — a self-choreographed contemporary ballet company — brings to the stage is completely different from all the others.

In their fall show, they mixed the technical mastery of classical ballet with the artistry of contemporary. They performed both variations of well-known ballets and original pieces — many en pointe — both solo and in groups.

After the first impression, I’m ready for more. That’s why I’m going to Reverence, Salto’s spring showcase. Of all the dance shows I’ve seen in my first year here — and the number is close to 10 — Salto’s winter performance was one of my favorites.

I’m supposed to write what to expect in these previews, but the truth is I don’t know. I thought I knew what to expect the first time, and I was wrong. This isn’t your traditional ballet company. Instead, I’ll say this: expect to see something you’ve never seen before, something you’ve never even thought about seeing before. Something like ballet to Chance the Rapper.

Reverence by Salto Dance Company runs Saturday, April 21 at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for adults and free for children under 12 or with a Passport to the Arts.

REVIEW: Straight to the Pointe

In a word, Straight to the Pointe, Salto Dance Company’s winter show, was captivating. Their technique, skill, and creativity was evident at every turn.

Salto is unique because they perform both contemporary and ballet — the only dance group on campus to do so — and one of my favorite parts of their performance was how they blended the two styles.

Their opening number, “Felix Culpa,” was a perfect example. The dance pulled me in right away. It was performed en pointe, but it wasn’t a simple variation from a classical ballet. “Felix Culpa” was a dynamic routine that incorporated modern elements, and it really set the tone for the rest of the performance.

Salto continued to showcase innovative choreography with numbers like “Summer Friends,” a point number set to the song of the same name by Chance the Rapper. Before this show, I never could’ve imagined ballet set to rap music, but choreographer Emma Bergman proved that it may be unconventional, but it works.

Overall, I enjoyed the solos and small groups more than the large groups, as the bigger numbers could look a little cluttered at times. That’s natural — the more people on stage, the harder it is for them to all stay synchronized. And sometimes in the larger groups, some of the dancers seemed to lack connection to the music, making the numbers seem less cohesive.

About half the cast performed solos in the show. The solos were as varied in style as the group numbers, from classical variations to modern pointe to contemporary. Each solo impressed in a different way. Caroline Richburg’s “La Esmeralda,” a variation from Jule’s Perrot’s ballet of the same name, stood out for her effortless use of a tambourine, tapping it along to the beat while she performed technical movements. Another of my favorites, Holly Borla’s contemporary solo “Vision,” showcased Borla’s musicality and connection to the piece. The solos gave each dancer an opportunity to showcase her individual strengths and provided a nice change of pace from the groups.

Interspersed with the dance numbers were guest performances by hip-hop group FunKtion, a cappella group 58 Greene, and Irish dance company Leim Dance. I have mixed feelings on the guest performances; while each group was talented, I thought at times that they took away from the mood and flow of the show. However, the guest appearances made me interested in seeing what those other groups were about, providing mutual benefit to both Salto and the other organizations involved.

To close out the show, the full company surprised with a jazz performance to “Jingle Bell Rock.” I enjoyed the number, especially as someone who loves everything Christmas, but I thought it was a bit of an odd conclusion to the show since the number didn’t fit the style or mood of the rest. That said, a conclusion doesn’t necessarily need to be cohesive if it leaves the audience with a good taste in their mouth, and the finale certainly did that, revealing a different side of Salto that the audience hadn’t yet seen and injecting a bit of fun into an otherwise-serious performance.

PREVIEW: Straight to the Pointe

Ballet is often viewed as separate from other forms of dance. Most performances that aren’t strictly ballet don’t involve any ballet. But in reality, ballet, often called the foundation of all dance, isn’t as different from other styles of dance as it is often perceived.

Salto Dance Company, a student-run dance company, is the only dance group at Michigan that performs ballet. But even for a pointe group, they’re unique because they don’t solely do ballet. Straight to the Pointe, Salto’s winter showcase, will feature a blend of classical ballet with contemporary and lyrical styles.

If you like dance, music, or punny titles, you should come see Straight to the Pointe presented by Salto Dance Company. The show is this Friday, December 1, at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre in the Michigan League. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for adults, or free with Passport to the Arts.

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

This past week, in collaboration with U of M, the American Ballet Theatre brought their hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary production of Sleeping Beauty to Detroit. Featuring the original choreography by the legendary Marius Petipa and a solo by the one and only Misty Copeland, Sleeping Beauty was beautiful, exquisite, and energetic. From the intricate and absolutely decadent costumes, to the beautiful, sweeping music and majestically towering sets, Sleeping Beauty transported me to another world—one in which a two and a half hour-long ballet can feel as sweet and fleeting as a daydream.

The feeling in the Detroit Opera House was electric, enchanted. I’m normally not a huge fan of the ballet; I grew up a musical theatre geek, so I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around how people could find a show without words interesting. Saturday night, though, I finally understood.

I also was incredibly struck by the fact that this production featured the original choreography by Marius Petipa. Here were movements originally executed in St. Petersburg in the 1800s, now on a stage in Detroit in 2016, unfolding before my eyes. I felt both small and like a thread woven into a much larger tapestry. I felt connected to history, to the humans who lived in that other place in that other time. And that kind of connection is magic. It is an honor to be a part of it.

Everyone knows the story of Sleeping Beauty, so I was less intrigued by the storyline as much as the dancing itself. The ballerinas and ballerinos leaped and twirled across the stage—executing perfect entrechat after perfect entrechat—like this was what they were born to do. They made it seem effortless; even their faces were part of the dance, expressions reflecting whatever emotion they wanted to convey at any moment, rather than showing the immense concentration and effort it must take to dance in such a manner.

All of the dancers were wonderful, and it’s clear why they’re part of one of the best companies in the world. The ballerina playing Aurora (Hee Seo) practically defied gravity—and, of course, Misty Copeland was spectacular as well. After waiting through the first two acts to see her, the crowd broke into applause and cheers when she appeared onstage, finally, in the third act. Everything about her was singularly focused and in the moment, precise and delicate and full of emotion. It was breathtaking to witness.

Altogether, American Ballet Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty showed me how much dance connects us and how gorgeous stories can be—even (and especially) the ones we think we already know. The ballet about sleeping made me feel somehow like I was both in a luscious dream and beautifully wide awake.

 

PREVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

It’s been one hundred and twenty-five years since the ballet adaptation of Sleeping Beauty premiered in St. Petersburg to high acclaim. However, the classic fairy tale about Princess Aurora–cursed to sleep for years and years–still draws audiences today (probably in large part due to the fact that many of us wish we could sleep that long).

In celebration of the show’s big anniversary, the American Ballet Theatre is taking it on the road in a multi-city national tour. This production features many of today’s most talented dancers, including Isabella Boylston, Sarah Lane, Cassandra Trenary, Hee Seo, and Gillian Murphy, all of whom will be performing the role of Aurora in different performances.

Featuring the original choreography by the great Marius Petipa–considered to be one of the most influential choreographers in ballet history–this production of Sleeping Beauty is sure to do anything but put audiences to sleep.

The show will be at the Detroit Opera House from Thursday, March 31 through Sunday, April 3. You can read how the University of Michigan partnered with the Detroit Opera House to bring the production to Michigan here. Tickets are available now at www.michiganopera.org/dance/sleeping-beauty.