Portland Ballet dancers run through a dress rehearsal of “Momentum: 3 Dances for Moving Forward” at Westbrook Performing Arts Center on Friday. The show on Saturday was Portland Ballet’s first main-stage production in front of a live audience since the start of the pandemic. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Portland Ballet ended its season this weekend with a brief run of “Momentum: 3 Dances for Moving Forward,” a program suggesting, apropos of the moment, a revitalization as things return to some sense of normalcy.

At the opening performance, a masked but nonetheless visibly enthusiastic multigenerational audience was escorted to their socially distanced seats in the fairly large theater at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center. As they followed the ushers, some had to look twice but ultimately recognized and said hello to old friends whom they may not have seen for quite a while.

After shifting, due to the pandemic, to streaming online shows and one short but very pleasant outdoor production at Thompson’s Point in Portland last September, the Ballet announced this full program with, as the company’s artistic director, Nell Shipman, put it from the stage on Saturday night, “excitement and determination.” It “came together quickly,” she said, but had been on their minds for quite some time.

The program featured two pieces choreographed by Shipman that began and ended the evening. A work by Ballet Mistress Jennifer Jones fit very nicely in between. Each piece lasted about 20 minutes and featured masked dancers in blue-green or black costumes by Amy Baxter. Lighting, designed by Jamie Grant, bathed the dancers in soft colors on the wide stage.

Shipman’s “First Principles of Hope and Enjoyment” featured Kelsey Harrison, Milena Hartog, Toni Marie Martin, Daniel Rudenberg and Eliana Trenam performing the largely formal ballet piece (with just a few folksy hints) set to Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony. There was a slight sense of dancers trying out their legs after a long rest. Whether this was entirely intentional or not, it humanized the performance, as did some elegant romantic partnering between Rudenberg and Harrison.

Jones’ playful “Surprised by Joy” featured Heather Baxter, Erica Diesl, Grace Koury and Kaitlyn Hayes displaying formal moves as well as some rolling hips to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a superb musical choice for proclaiming elation. The dancers, in a sense, rode the music while adding their own energy to the sense of wonder and excitement contained within the choreography.

The evening ended with Shipman’s “Impetus,” set to the music of Karl Jenkins’ Palladio.  Including all of the nine dancers named above, the work moved decidedly into an expansive, accelerating swirl of modern dance technique. Though sometimes seeming awkward, gestures and actions (crawling, squatting, milling, scurrying about) nonetheless framed a supportive effort designed to move toward a hard-won collective grace by the close.

Perhaps dreaming of being onstage themselves one day, a group of young teenage girls, seated together nearby, rose as one to applaud and cheer what had been an enchanting and energizing evening of new works from the Portland Ballet.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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