Savannah Music Festival Review: BalletCollective

DANCE LOVERS are accustomed to a surplus of modern/contemporary ensembles these days. The sad stock in trade of many of these groups is often a tendency to rely on various instantly recognizable dance clichés and tropes to disguise the fact that many of the dancers…. simply aren’t that good.

Well, imagine the genuinely best contemporary dance troupe you’ve seen, put them mostly en pointe – thus increasing both the challenge and the beauty exponentially – and support them with dynamic original music performed by a crack live orchestra, and you’ve got the amazing performance by BalletCollective this Sunday at the Lucas Theatre as part of the Savannah Music Festival.

BalletCollective, comprising a select group of elite dancers from the already-elite New York City Ballet, is directed by Atlanta native Troy Schumacher. During a brief Q&A in between segments, Schumacher was clearly overjoyed at the opportunity to premiere these works for the first time in his native South.

These particular dancers, as Schumacher told us in our previous interview with him, “are nearly superhuman” in their physical skills. The audience was stunned by not only the sheer physical beauty of these performers in action, but their seemingly effortless mastery of complex moves and their relentless and unflagging cardiovascular stamina.

The genius of BalletCollective is in combining the things that make ballet like no other art form – the ultra-high level of physical fitness and the elongated aesthetic line of the classic en pointe dancer – with the compelling emotion and essential informality of modern/contemporary dance.

The accompanying orchestra, Hotel Elefant, used a variety of creative instrumentation and phrasing in addition to the usual symphonic sounds, including distorted electric guitar and subwoofer bass lines generated by a Mac.

BalletCollective’s performances come from immersive collaboration, including dancer, composer, choreographer, and musician in the process. Because of this, the segments – ranging from feeling isolated in Manhattan to dissecting an NBA jump shot – are broadly impressionist in nature rather than the more hamfisted “interpretive dance” some of us are accustomed to seeing in lesser performances by lesser ensembles.

Dance as a genre is often a dicey risk to bring to Savannah, a town whose audiences often pat themselves on the back for supporting fine arts but who often underdeliver on their promise when it comes time to pull their wallets out.

The Savannah Music Festival brings dance to town as part of its mission, with an understanding that it may or may not find an adequate level of audience support.

However, I’m happy to say that the crowd was quite robust on this sunny Sunday afternoon, and hopefully this is a positive sign that Savannah is on its way to a more consistent support for the dancing arts here.

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