My newsfeed and the chatter of the circles in which I travel have both been rather heavy on topics related to the male/female divide. Perhaps I saw State Street Ballet’s 20th anniversary concert through that lens, but for me, the whole evening was a commentary on the balance of masculine and feminine power.
This hit me about halfway into the evening’s opening work, William Soleau’s elegant Tango Rain, a piece created by longtime State Street Ballet collaborator Soleau in honor of the company’s 20th year. Tango Rain featured seven men and seven women in duets, trios, and ensemble sequences. Set to the music of Astor Piazzolla and overlays of sounds of thunder and rain, dancers joined, parted, teased, flirted, rebuffed, stole hearts, effortlessly glided through clockwork canons, and deftly manipulated umbrellas. Just like the tango, this piece celebrated the dance of male and female offering and receiving, desiring and responding. It was a wonderful vehicle for State Street Ballet’s dancers. Not only are they beautifully trained, with clear mastery of both contemporary and classical ballet technique, but every one of them also possesses vibrancy and joie de vivre. They love to dance, and they love to dance with each other.
The second work of the evening, Scheherazade, threw back to a much less modern view of male-female balance of power. Based loosely in the ancient literary work that gave us characters like Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad, this tale centered around a story told by the titular character (Brittney Deptuch) to the decadently costumed, turbaned Sultan (Gary Mackenzie) to avoid being put to death the next day. This commissioned work by former State Street Ballet dancer Autumn Eckman melded strong classical and modern influences. Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov created a backdrop to a complicated tale of sirens rising from desert sands, a village being sacked by evil Saracens, a seduction, and lots of incredibly virtuosic, high-flying dancing — most notably by the Traveler (Ryan Camou), who, in his buff toga, looked like he’d just walked off a Greek frieze; Leila Drake, the Siren Queen who turns out to be the most powerful character in the whole story; and the stunning pas de deux work of Jack Stewart and Kate Kadow as the village leader and his beloved.
The story of Scheherazade only makes sense in a world where women have no power: a world where women survive by manipulating the men who might control them but who are easily fooled. I much prefer the cool, clockwork polarity and melding of the tango: male and female, celebrated for what they are, and balancing one another with extraordinary grace