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Bryan Koulman Dance Company’s spring 2019 show brought together artists and disciplines from across Philadelphia. Featuring a mixed cast of Pennsylvania Ballet progenies and Philly contemporary-dance favorites plus musicians from the Philadelphia Opera Orchestra, the evening blended classical and contemporary balletic styles. It was pleasant to watch, light entertainment, and allowed many of Koulman’s students at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet to test their wings in a professional performance.
The next generation
Many of Koulman’s dancers were young. Their fresh faces and program bios boasted the achievements of their late teens and early twenties, and it showed in their dancing. Their balletic technique, even in the more contemporary pieces, was beautiful: their feet were lengthened, their port de bras were generous, their lifts were easeful. They had clearly had strong training and had much promise as dancers; many of them were freshly entered into the Pennsylvania Ballet matrix.
Still, they were not yet living in the movement. They had control over the shapes their bodies made, but were still so focused on those shapes that they didn’t yet dance with assuredness or depth. It’s a subtle thing. I don’t see this as a shortcoming of their prowess as dancers; this is not something you train into. Sense of self comes only with time.
A current star
But many in Koulman’s ensemble danced with impeccable maturity. Philly’s Nikolai McKenzie stood out, commanding the stage in the opening piece of the evening, with choreography allowing one movement to naturally give way to the next. Their hips swung and swirled far beyond their center of gravity while two-stepping in Weather Report; in the later solo, atop a ladder under a spotlight, they walked the fingers of one hand up the forearm of the other in a strikingly simple gestural moment. Two dancers entered in nondescript black blazers and barricaded McKenzie; the dancer turned around and fell into both of the new arrivals’ arms, turned and fell, until the lights finally faded as the two lifted McKenzie up and off.
Presence in stillness
The entire bill, featuring three more works titled Haydn Concerto, Luna, and Trumpets, maintained a close choreography-to-tempo relationship characteristic of classical ballet. Swelling notes on the piano and cello (played live by Benjamin Richard Hoffmann and Branson Yeast, respectively) paralleled fast, fine footwork and turns en attitude. Every movement had its partner alongside a note, lending a sense of evenness and predictability to the performance.
Some of the most noteworthy moments were when Koulman utilized stillness within a piece. After flurries of jumps into floor rolls, sky-high penchés and multiple pirouettes, the group of seven or so dancers in the work would stop, pause, and find stillness. Koulman allowed these moments to breathe. They were not rushed or merely a blip between whirlwinds. For a few seconds at a time, we were allowed to take in the ballet dancers’ presence as it was, no frills attached aside from the tulle.
What, When, Where
Bryan Koulman Dance Company Spring Show 2019. Performed by the Bryan Koulman Dance Company. June 6 through 8, 2019, at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia, PA. www.bkoulman.dance.
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