The Portland Ballet Company presented a pleasing mixed program of ballet and contemporary dance in two shows Saturday at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center.
The program opened with an excerpt from the classical ballet “La Bayadere,” while the second half included several contemporary pieces by associate artistic director Nell Shipman and a new rendition of “Bolero” choreographed by Joseph Jefferies.
The excerpt from “La Bayadere” was ambitious for a small company, and these dancers succeeded admirably. This scene, from “The Kingdom of the Shades” in Act III, is famed for the extreme precision and control required of the corps de ballet. The original Petipa choreography was used, staged by Roberto Forleo.
As male protagonist Solor (Junichi Fukuda) dreams of his dead lover Nikiya (Kelsey Harrison), the stage is filled with “shades” in white tutus, all dancing in trance-like unison. The dancers enter down a hill, raising their legs in precisely timed arabesques, over and over. The effect is mesmerizing.
The Portland corps maintained almost perfect unison, which was most impressive during jumps with beats, weight changes and other choreography with challenging timing. They also managed the absolute stillness required of the shades as they remain on stage during the solos.
Fukuda was lithe and strong. He delivered a powerful set of running leaps and several smooth turn sequences. Harrison showed excellent sustain and articulation, in many slow turns and balances.
Jennifer Jones, Kaleigh Natale and Deborah Grammatic danced the Pas de Trois, each with a brief solo. Natale’s was particularly impressive, with sprightly hops on pointe, an impressive extension out of a pirouette and a long series of one-footed releves in arabesque.
The contemporary pieces included several audience favorites. Shipman’s “Somebody,” to Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” was danced by Jones and Joseph Jefferies. In street clothes, the two entered and literally ran into each other, and then spent the rest of the song searching for somebody; at the end, they finally found each other.
Jones and Jefferies gave a natural, sweeping and joyous performance, including a series of striking leaps from Jefferies and some brilliant balances from Jones.
Shipman’s “Push Me, Pull You,” to music by Thomas Newman, was performed by Amelia Bielen, Megan Buckley, Colleen Edwards, Forleo, Deborah Grammatic and Kaitlyn Hayes. In yellow tunics and trunks, the dancers showed struggle, striving, angst and upward-looking release. The dancers moved around and into one another, with fascinating pseudo impacts and lifts, mingled with real meetings.
“Si Je T’Aime” (“If I love you”) is Shipman’s flirtatious take on Bizet’s aria “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Carmen. Wearing black dresses with red flowers, Lindsay Cregier, Lexa Daniels, Erica Diesl, Harrison, Kaleigh Natale and Eliana Trenam smoothly performed choreography that was subtly Spanish in flavor, with a coy overtone.
Ravel’s “Bolero” was a signature piece for this company in its previous incarnation choreographed by Andrei Bossov, so it was a bold move to present it with new choreography. Whereas Bossov’s version was mystical and sculptural, Jefferies has explored conflict in the music’s mounting drama.
“Bolero” opened with one dancer in flesh tones meant to represent nudity. She was joined by eight others wearing red chiffon. Although the choreography didn’t quite match the program’s description of transformation and the struggle to maintain individuality, it did bring the music to life thoughtfully and thought-provokingly.
On pointe, the dancers performed almost exclusively abstract movement, not ballet steps, including a wealth of original shapes and progressions. Most notable was a repeated theme of undulation, in which the dancers rose to pointe one foot at a time in a deep plie.
The Portland Ballet dancers once again proved their strength and versatility by presenting diverse pieces such as “Bolero” and “La Bayadere” with equivalent commitment and conviction.
Correction: This story was updated at 10:48 a.m. on Monday, March 31 to correct the name of the choreographer of “Bolero.”
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.