Friday night, the American Festival for the Arts World Premieres Concert presented seven new choreographies at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance. The participating composers and choreographers hailed from all over the country, but they all shared one thing in common: none was over the age of 18. The only program of its kind in the nation, this annual concert brings together student composers from the American Festival for the Arts and student dancers from Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy in collaboration to create new ballets.
These young people may be students, but they represent the most prestigious summer intensives in their fields. There's no questioning the talent that was on display. My vote for best in show goes to Thomas Seiff's Diverted Focus, which was set to "Cerberus" by Nick Dulworth. Dressed in monochromatic black-and-white, the dance was filled with micro-movements that evoked the fragmented reality of 21st-century living. The dancers' bodies shifted from polygon to polygon, all rigid lines and sharp angles. For such affinity to hard shapes, there was a fluidity to the dance that made it compelling to watch. The piece showed a sophistication and understanding of movement far beyond that of an 18-year-old who has only been dancing for two years.
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The concert is also notable in that it shows how two choreographers might react to the same piece of music. Three of the four original compositions were used twice. After intermission, Dulworth's "Cerberus" was revisited by Jefferson Payne. Payne's interpretation of the music followed an emotional trajectory rather than an intellectual one. In his hands, the heavy, weighted music served to convey the heartbreak and subsequent anger of an adolescent break-up.
Hayden Stark's Incipiency, a duet performed to Zach Regetz's "Cogitation," was pleasant to watch in its delicacy. Examining the hesitancy and eagerness of a beginning courtship, the piece was moving in its clean simplicity. His subtle choreography matched the stripped-down music of his collaborator, a melody that was equally unvarnished, but no less moving.
Each piece was preceded by interviews with its respective composer and choreographer, which revealed the creative process. Though some of the ballets hit their intended marks more than others, as works from first-time choreographers who had three weeks to fully realize their visions, they hold up more than well. These teens set the bar for student performing artists everywhere.