HBC Raises the 'Barre'

Contemporary touches make for a more exciting and accessible performance

Barre None
Sophia Wen

Incorporating routines from the renowned George Balanchine as well as student choreographers, the Harvard Ballet Company showcased both modern and traditional elements of ballet.

Devoid of frilly tutus, glittery crowns, and any sparkling set design, the Harvard Ballet Company (HBC) presented “Barre None” this past weekend, showcasing ballet in its purest form. With a focus on movement and rhythm, HBC embraced and subverted neoclassical ballet using contemporary elements. Featuring choreography from George Balanchine as well as professional and student choreographers, “Barre None” proved compelling to both ballet aficionados and amateurs.

The opening performance of “Barre None” foreshadowed what would be a rather unordinary show. Following in the Balanchine tradition, the New College Theatre, bare of props, featured a single light illuminating choreographer and performer, Ashey A. Chung, HLS ’12. Dancing to T.V. Carpio’s cover of the Beatles classic, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Chung effortlessly adhered to both Balanchine’s emphasis on straight lines and a more unconventional port de bras, or the movement of a dancer’s arms and upper body.

As Balanchine believed in an interconnectedness of dance and music, Chung’s piece held the audience’s hand towards the second, which featured excerpts from the choreographer’s “Walpurgisnacht.” A difficult routine, the first excerpt was not smooth at some points. There was a lack of chemistry between the featured dancers, Elizabeth C. Walker ’11 and Kevin Shee ’11.

Shee appeared to have a difficult time supporting Walker as she made her turns, or tours de promenade, and although the individual supporting dancers each showed good form, they were not completely synchronized at times. However, as the dance progressed, the dancers’ execution became more precise, especially as different soloists took the stage.

Soloist Whitney R.S. Fitts ’12 was particularly outstanding; her movements were perfectly in line with the music, and the expression from her face to her body was pure. Despite a somewhat shaky beginning, “Walpurgisnacht” proved a solid choice of a Balanchine piece for those new to the world of ballet.


HBC followed with “Exit Tension,” departing from the neoclassical and introducing the audience to a more modern, jazz-infused style of ballet, choreographed to contemporary music. Departing from the tradition of ballet slippers and leotards, the performers were barefoot and wore simple grey and pink tank dresses. Their movements were quick as they soared across the stage, blurring the divide between the strict linearity of traditional ballet and the deconstructed lines of more modern dance. Esther Y. Hsiang ’12 was flawless as the “Flightless Bird” of this featured Iron & Wine song.

The next piece, “Reset,” a duet, was the most electrifying of the night. The lights rapidly switched on and off during the introduction, an effect that imitated a storm around duo Melanie J. Comeau ’13 and Shee. The lighting effects seemed to empower the dancers’ chemistry, as their graceful strength and speed demonstrated their talent.

In “That’s the Way This Works,” HBC performed guest choreographer Peter Pucci’s modern interpretation of J.S. Bach’s baroque music. At times, the piece felt like an exercise video—ten dancers clad in different brightly colored tank tops and black leggings performed a routine featuring quick shifts of their feet and arms. But one could appreciate Pucci’s transitions from 10 individual movements to duets, to trios and group synchronized movements.

The final piece of “Barre None,” “Behind Closed Doors,” tied in the theme of the entire show: elements of ballet may be celebrated in both traditional and unconventional styles.

Dressed in office attire, the dancers of this piece seemed to invite the audience into the world of ballet, one in which few ever enter. In fact, HBC opened the doors for its viewers last weekend, asserting that there is “no bar” and no limit to the possibilities of ballet.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: November 9, 2010

An earlier version of the Nov. 9 arts article "HBC Raises the 'Barre'" incorrectly reported that Elizabeth C. Walker is a member of the class of 2012. In fact, she is in the class of 2011.