After 12 years, Beyond Ballroom Dance Company is calling it quits. Opening last weekend at the Cowles Center, the company’s final show brings back old favorites and bids adieu with a splash.
The best dances in the program were created in 2009, both drawing from fairy tales. “Red Riding Hood Suite” and “The Nightingale” were developed by multiple choreographers — including the great Mariusz Olszewski. The two pieces also benefit from having a director: Sossy Mechanics’ Brian Sostek takes on “Red Riding Hood Suite” and Deanne Michael directs the “The Nightingale.”
“Red Riding Hood Suite” turns the traditional fairy tale into a female empowerment sendup, where granny turns out to be a sexy cougar who pursues the dapper wolf. When he dumps her to prey on Red Riding Hood, grandmother and granddaughter join forces to get back at their umbrella-toting antagonist, played with delightful panache by Jay Larson.
Both of the fairy tale pieces include captivating lighting effects by Mike Grogan. The mystical window he conjures on the back scrim in “The Nightingale” particularly sets the mood for Hans Christian Andersen’s tale. With gorgeous costumes by Marsha Wiest-Hines, the piece captures the emotional journeys of the characters. April Dahl, who shines as the title character, is at one point dragged along the floor in the splits and then pulled into the air in a moment of magical grace.
The two newest pieces, “Primera Tanda,” a tango-inspired exploration of relationships choreographed by Dahl, and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” a disco ball-lit ’50s number set to the old Meatloaf song and choreographed by Julie Jacobson, don’t quite match the excellence of the earlier works. Dahl’s use of same-sex partnering, though, did provide a refreshing departure from tradition.
Interspersed between the main program are short numbers by guest performers Gene and Elena Bersten, who dance on the competitive circuit and offer the liveliest moments of the evening. Gene Bersten displays his quick footwork and spinning prowess throughout their three pieces, which range from a paso doble-style number (modeled on a bullfight) using spiffy moves with a flowing matador cape to Latin dancing and hip-hop.
While the Berstens are fun to watch, their pieces feel separate from the rest of the show, as if it’s a different program altogether. The longer pieces performed by Beyond Ballroom’s company may have fewer fancy tricks, but the works are richer and more layered.
Founded in 2003 by a group of dancers who were ready to retire from competitions, Beyond Ballroom has forged a unique style, creating work that went beyond the kind of dancing you’d see in ballroom dancing tournaments. Throughout its 12 years, the troupe has played with the form of ballroom, including disrupting the notion that it’s always made up of couples and often infusing the dance with narration and storytelling.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis writer.