It can sometimes be a stretch to call certain dance performances “ballet.” In the case of Ballet Florida recent program of works called “Pulse” performed at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, the confines of genre were pressure tested, expanded, and even contravened in a thoroughly sensational display of physical artistry.

Fusing fragments of romantic longing with theatrical displays of contemporary experimental dance, Ballet Florida is a smaller company known within the South Florida cultural community as a transcendental labor of dance love. Its commitment to new choreographic pieces and contemporary music is no secret and the company deserves great praise and committed ardor for its bravery and willingness to challenge many dance conventions.

Ballet Florida, Ritual, 2019

The emotional centerpiece of the evening’s performance was “Ritual,” a work choreographed by Guy Beaumont Palmer and performed by him and Lauren Carey. The duo made for an exquisitely transcendent vision of pain, joy, longing and release. More than a dance, Ritual was an expression of the very nuanced ways our emotions can go from loathing and desire to love and completion and back and beyond in an ardent love quicker than the batting of an eyelash or the pulsing of a heartbeat.

To this end the Pulse program continued the company’s tradition of inviting guest choreographers to create and collaborate with Ballet Florida’s dancers. The results are often genre-defying and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Today, the name and the word “ballet” implies many things, sort of like the term “abstract painting” if you will. The idea behind ballet in a contemporary context is to challenge traditional movements and bodies, sets and expectations. In the process we get to see ballerinas of different heights, weights and shapes in a more democratic and enlightened approach to what defines the perfect dance body. Dance is not just about moving the feet and the hands. Dance is more than just lanky legs and implied eroticism in today’s world. Thankfully, Ballet Florida understands this as well as any other dance company in the country and their bold pieces blend the intimacy of classical works like Balanchine’s Swan Lake with the visceral physicality of more contemporary figures such as Jerome Robbins and Michael Clark.

Playing in the more intimate Persson Hall in West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center, Ballet Florida’s troupe of dancers produced an exacting and steamy series of works that enraptured the bulk of the sold-out house. With an elegant blend of quiet, subdued pieces for two or four dancers combined with larger ensemble works, the evening was highlighted by a sexy and fun concluding number, appropriately called “Finale” and choreographed by the whole company. The work saw the dancers wear loose-fitting black suits with white dress shirts in a strangely compelling and semi-homoerotic scene that bordered on camp but dare not enter into its terrain. With the women dressed in the same costumes as the male dancers, the effect was gender-erasing and yet pleasingly alluring. In a strange way, the female dancers seemed distilled to their more feminine essences with the over-sized suits acting as a kind of loose-fitting veil and their bodily movements along with leeringly seductive expressions creating a rich sense of heightened sexual play. This was a piece that employed seduction as its foundational material and concept and it worked beautifully.

A particularly powerful aspect of the pieces of the evening was the curating of contemporary musical pieces that ranged from atmospheric and dreamy to trip hop-like beats and subtle Miami chill wave.

Overall The Ballet Florida’s program highlighted the more expanded notion of what dance can be and made for an especially emotional and provocative visual experience pushing the expectations and emotions of its audience.