Deux coeurs


Dayton Ballet partners Valentine’s Day with Daring Duets

By Arnecia Patterson

Photo: Chase Bodamer and Lauren Stenroos perform ‘Bushido’ with the Dayton Ballet for Daring Duets, to run Feb. 9-12; photos: Scott J. Kimmins

The act of taking the dance floor with a partner can be exhilarating and slightly trepidatious—such boldness and vulnerability given over to joyous abandonment. Yet the image of couples dancing is a social icon for so many individuals, from the chair dancer to the budding Fred Astaire. When concert dancers partner, a duet becomes, as the French say, a pas de deux.

The pas de deux has its own emotional and physical urgency because only two dancers bear the aesthetic weight of all the movement. Alone, together, they become the singular, anticipated variant on a stage that would otherwise be filled with dancers. The couple offers relief from the complex patterns of a corps de ballet, measured and dispersed, and draws the audience’s line of vision to focus on them. In a colorful, balletic crowd scene—think ballroom or village scenes—even the promise of pairing draws the eye.

The Dayton Ballet’s Daring Duets, a program comprised entirely of pas de deux, is risky due to the possibility of being seen as one-dimensional.  Yet, it benefits from a cultural certainty—partnership—that is highly resonant in terms of our experiences with each other.

The artistic challenge is to offer a balanced assortment of dances to variegate the repetitive image of just two people on the stage. But, that could be a metaphor for relationships in general—which makes the idea all the more relevant. A key to the success of the program would be to provide a range of dances encompassing different structures and emotional arcs.

The second pas de deux from the ballet The Leaves are Fading, choreographed by Antony Tudor (1908-87), is an eight-minute masterpiece danced at the apex of the longer work that uses memories as a poignant mantle for a man and woman. Tudor created it in 1975 toward the end of his distinguished career. Both John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow, two of America’s most celebrated dancers, worked with Tudor during their illustrious careers with the American Ballet Theatrewill and lend their expertise to the Dayton Ballet for this particular pas de deux. Their experience with Tudor makes them insightful répétiteurs, familiar with the dance and Tudor’s work process.

The duet from The Leaves are Fading uses the classical pas de deux structure—male and female variation, adagio, coda; however, the man partners the woman during her variation as well as his, and it is in this interaction that it becomes obvious the dance is about love.

“The whole ballet is about love. You get to see the feeling of love between two people. He put that in there in a physical way,” McKerrow says.

According to Gardner, the level of discovery, when dancing or setting Tudor works, reveals the lengths he went in order to build emotional complexity in a dance. He arranged the Antonín Dvorák string quartet Cypresses and other chamber music for strings to which the dance is set. Additionally, he encouraged an unsentimental approach to his choreography. Tudor wanted movement that showed emotion in its execution rather than being shrouded in feelings. The method was successful in the duet from The Leaves are Fading. Its levels shift with undulating lifts, wide movements that use the whole stage, and tempo changes that project flirtation and coaxing, togetherness and joy. It is, indeed, a couple in love.

After dancing the work for more than 20 years and, now setting the dances for ballet companies, Gardner and McKerrow are pleasantly surprised to continually grasp the complexity of Tudor’s choreography. Admittedly, the intersection of music, spacing, and the chemistry between dancers can be ephemeral, yet visible to the audience.

“The clear moments, musically and spatially, are unusual. He wasn’t going for pictures. He was going for moving images of clarity,”  Gardner says.

Nicole Haskins’ duet, La Linea Scura, set to a composition of the same name by Ludovico Einaudi, began as a choreographic challenge to scale back her propensity for large numbers of dancers, entrances, formations, and drama. The result is a duet in which the man and woman never lose physical contact, or look at each other. It creates a natural tension. The dancers are in constant, unforced motion resulting from their consistent touching.

Despite its push and pull, the partnership is intentionally relaxed. Haskins prefers dance that comes across as instinctive and genuine. As for narrative, she leaves that open to interpretation.

“I want people to have a moment of transcendence and just go along for the ride,” Haskins says. “Universally, all of us have felt a connection. We’ve touched people.”

Daring Duets will be rounded out by the “Grand Pas de Deux” from Don Quixote along with five additional duets selected by Karen Russo Burke, artistic director of the Dayton Ballet.

‘Daring Duets’ takes the stage Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, Feb. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. in downtown Dayton. Tickets are $21-$72. Karen Russo Burke will hold a pre-performance talk 45 minutes prior to curtain in the Burnell Roberts Room, 126 North Main St. A Q&A with the dancers will follow each performance in the theatre. Both are free to ticketholders. For tickets and more information, please call Ticket Center Stage 937.228.3630 or visit

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Arnecia Patterson has an infinite capacity to view concert dance. She found her former career as dance executive, funder, and consultant extremely satisfying—and finds writing about dance equally rewarding. Reach DCP Resident Dance Critic Arnecia Patterson at

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