Last week, at the XL Nightclub, audience members were treated to an intoxicating evening of music and dance when Marilyn Klaus’s innovative company, Ballets with a Twist, presented her evening-length Cocktail Hour. Proceeds from the performance went to benefit Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, an organization whose mission is to “engage everyone, especially straight people, to become active participants in the advancement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality and to raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth homelessness.” What ensued was an unforgettable evening that melded music, lighting, and exquisitely inventive choreography into a truly delicious event.
The audience went wild when Lauper began her signature song “True Colors,” setting the mood for the evening. Three young ballet students, whose unison and focus set the bar high, joined Lauper for the song. Klaus’s first piece, Return to Normalcy, with music by Stephane Grappelli, costumes by Donald Damask and Catherine Zehr, and lighting by Sarah Sidman, introduced us to the ladies of Ballets with a Twist. Wearing long flowing evening gowns and walking about the space as if in a dream, they broke into duets and performed ballroom-esque movements with an eerie serenity. The smoothness carried on into a jazzy tango, which was followed by a large group number that allowed each artist’s individual expression to shine through the unison movement. The piece was a lovely throw back to the Busby Berkeley Hollywood era, and I was taken in by its seductive subtleties.
Cocktail Hour followed with superb musical arrangements by Stephen Gaboury, beautiful and elaborate costumes by Catherine Zehr, and trance-inducing lighting by Sarah Sidman. A series of signature beverages were brought to life. Each cocktail was announced with its recipe displayed on the electronic backdrop. Klaus stayed true to technical ballet vernacular, yet added elements and shades of neo-classicism and contemporary jazzy. The dancers footwear was as varied as the dances themselves, ranging from bare feet to jazz sneakers to pointe shoes.
Each dancer brought unique elements of characterization to their solo work. Leah Gerstenlauer’s chilling opening as the Green Fairy of “Absinthe,’ drew us into the moment. Traci Finch dazzled in “Mai Tai” with her playful, flirtatious eye contact and her precise footwork. Later, she further demonstrated her technical mastery in “Roy Rogers,” performing fouette turns while slinging a belt/whip over her head. As “Shirley Temple,” Kimberly Giannelli showed her comedic chops as she cartwheeled, mooned, and bit her thumb defiantly at the audience. To the song “You’ve Changed“, Erin Gallagher performed a saucy, yet classy “Gimlet,” maintaining her technical balletic integrity while telling a beautiful story. In “Scotch on the Rachmaninoff,” Michael Dominquez and Aengus Ortiz had a classical and laugh out loud piano duel. Donning tuxedo tails, their sparring egos continued the already established fun of the evening.
Throughout the evening, I was blown away by Dorothea Garland. Her long, luxurious lines complimented her spot on ‘femme fatale’ portrayal as a Bond Girl in “Martini.” In “Manhattan“, she brought class and grace to her unique pas de deux with a toy dog on wheels.
The final section, “Holy Water,” could have been a full ballet unto itself. By using the full company, Klaus demonstrated her ability to masterfully create group work that still challenged and entertained the eye.
Ballets with a Twist is a company with momentum. The word is getting out, and interest is rising nationally and internationally. Jessica Wallis, director of Ballet in Cleveland, came to NY specifically to view the company for potential future bookings. If you have the opportunity to see them, do. This company is going places.
If there was such a thing as a good hangover, Cocktail Hour gave me the best I could hope for, and I’ll be thinking about the evening for quite some time.