BalletMet dancers practice for 30x30

Every one of BalletMet's resident dancers - an entire bustling, happy company - came to the stage for the final performance of 30x30, which was set, of course, to upbeat renditions of the birthday song.

Cheers and a standing ovation would soon follow when the dancers left the stage, but the atmosphere - the smiling faces of exhausted dancers basking in success - was already one of relief and accomplishment at having pulled off one adventure started several weeks ago and one started way back in 1978.

For its 30th anniversary celebration, BalletMet brought 30 choreographers from across North America, many hailing from around the world, to Columbus to design and implement 30 unique pieces for the company dancers. Under demanding time constraints and complicated work schedules, dancers and maestros worked through short, diverse pieces.

Weeks ago, many wondered if 30x30 idea was a gimmick or, perhaps, too much for a mid-sized company to handle.

Last night, before a packed house at the BalletMet Performance Space, 30x30 was proven to be the perfect anniversary gift for those involved with the ballet during the past three decades.

BalletMet dancers practice for 30x30

Every one of BalletMet's resident dancers - an entire bustling, happy company - came to the stage for the final performance of 30x30, which was set, of course, to upbeat renditions of the birthday song.

Cheers and a standing ovation would soon follow when the dancers left the stage, but the atmosphere - the smiling faces of exhausted dancers basking in success - was already one of relief and accomplishment at having pulled off one adventure started several weeks ago and one started way back in 1978.

For its 30th anniversary celebration, BalletMet brought 30 choreographers from across North America, many hailing from around the world, to Columbus to design and implement 30 unique pieces for the company dancers. Under demanding time constraints and complicated work schedules, dancers and maestros worked through short, diverse pieces.

Weeks ago, many wondered if 30x30 idea was a gimmick or, perhaps, too much for a mid-sized company to handle.

Last night, before a packed house at the BalletMet Performance Space, 30x30 was proven to be the perfect anniversary gift for those involved with the ballet during the past three decades.

Like many of BalletMet's offerings, 30x30 attempted to welcome audiences into the creative process and nuance the latent perception that ballet is only for bankers and blue-hairs. Part of the experience included open rehearsals earlier this month, during which anyone curious could enter the Performance Space and watch dancers practice their routines and choreographers count out steps.

Those sessions weren't the polished, immaculate product most are used to, and really, neither was the final performance last night.

That's why it worked.

Using the intimacy of the space and the giddy nature of the material, dancers showcased both their love of diverse material and their ability to pull it off in a hectic three-week window. Even the occasional misstep - which in more formal works can suck the drama from a piece - evinced the difficulty of the challenges posed by such a show and the company's willingness to meet it head on.

"People would say we're insane" to produce something like 30x30, said artistic director Gerard Charles during his short welcome speech.

He's probably right: There is significant risk in trying to please everyone with a series of performances that spans every style from Baroque to ballroom to hip-hop.

But there are also rewards: a show that includes, as resident dancer Adam Hundt said, something for everyone. That's certainly true. Remain inside during intermission, and the conversation between neighbors is about favorites. Favorite dancers. Favorite pieces. Favorite flourishes of movement.

Each of the 22 works included in the two distinct shows, which run through Sunday, offered a wholly entertaining look at a genre, style or time period.

Randy Duncan's "Everyday People," using a cover of Sly Stone's masterpiece, featured dancer Jeff Wolfe in a gray suit breaking from a slow businessman's walk into choreographed hysterics that spoke to the common desire to break free and dance wildly to Sly Stone.

Hundt's "Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" embodied the twisted love affair and forbidden desires embedded in Nancy Sinatra's classic. David Tlaiye and Hitomi Yamada paired for one of the most intimate and impressive pieces, as they wrapped, folded and swooped Yamada's white gown - which became its own thriving, breathing thing.

Pop music was pervasive throughout the performance, though many pieces returned to more formal stylings, including "Pas de Deux of Niriti and Vayou," Dmitri Suslov's stunning display set to the music of Ricardo Drigo and Cesar Pugni.

With a show like 30x30, bound only by limits of the imagination, there's a tendency to view the collection as a haphazard one. And to some extent this is true: A great chasm exists between Handel and hip-hop.

But 30x30 reminds audiences that ballet is dancing and dancing is, at its most basic level, fun. That focus can be lost when watching other performances - ones filled with robotic movements, period costumes, and impeccable timing.

If anything, this impressive compilation returned to the forefront the memorable ecstasy of moving to sounds.

And that's a wonderful thing.

For tickets, show times and directions, click to BalletMet.org.