Theatre review: “New Directions/New Works” reconfirms BalletMet tradition

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From the May 1, 2014 edition

BalletMet Columbus’ new artistic director Edwaard Liang reminded the opening night audience that the program “New Directions/New Works” marked two milestones in his relationship to the company. As it happens, those milestones reflected both sides of the concert’s title. “New Directions” is the first BalletMet concert that Liang programmed in its entirety. And its final work, “Of Heaven and Earth,” is the first that Liang choreographed expressly for BalletMet.

That promising world premiere mixes the heavenly with the earthbound, surrounding a series of ethereal duets with occasionally lumbering ensembles. Pianists Caroline Hong and Tyrone Boyle contribute spirited renditions of solo and two-piano works by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Emily Gotschall and Gabriel Gaffney Smith (casts vary) open the fifth movement intricately wrapped around each other, an image that eventually spreads to all six pairs of dancers at the work’s conclusion.

Christopher Wheeldon’s 2002 “Carousel (A Dance),” set to two-piano arrangements of the Richard Rodgers musical score, has more in common with the title contraption than the choreographer might have intended, going around in circles and never quite getting anywhere.

The unquestionable highlight of the concert, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s 2012 “18+1” impressively couples the driving Latin sounds of Pérez Prado and others with a delightfully incongruous blend of movement both manic and mechanical. Chock-full of surprises, “18+1” showcases one of the many things BalletMet has always done well: committed, precise performances of terrific new work spiked with humor. That’s not a new direction for the company, but a joyous reconfirmation of BalletMet tradition.