Last week at Houston’s Wortham Theatre Center I had the privilege of attending Thursday’s Opening Night of Houston Ballet’s FALL MIXED REPERTORY, presented in advance of the company’s performance of that same 3-ballet program this first night of October, right here in Montgomery County at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. With free seating available for this evening’s offering, parents may want to consider bringing along any youngsters who are not easily frightened by ghosts as this Halloween month gets underway. Three separate ballets are presented, and as one might expect, the ballet titled GHOST DANCES is both spooky and intriguing. Choreographed by Christopher Bruce, the scene opens in a dark and shadowy underworld cave with a dimly visible, desert-like landscape beyond. (Set design by Mr. Bruce and lighting by Nick Chelton). Three muscular but very ghostly figures appear, looking much like hairy and skeletal cavemen from beyond the grave (Costumes by Belinda Scarlett). As they first begin to move about with exotic angularity, there is an ominous silence with the absence of music, and only the robotic thumping of their footfalls. Then begins the eerie but enchanting recorded Andean pipe music of Inti-Illimani, creating yet another level of mystery. In slow procession, various shadowy figures drift into this cave as we begin to realize this is the land of the dead, and our ghosts are guiding their entry with various ceremonial folk dances inspired by traditional South American commemorations of The Day of the Dead. But there was nothing dead about the audience with which I enjoyed this fascinating production. At the ballet’s conclusion the crowd erupted with loud cheers and thunderous applause.
The avant-garde second offering from this brilliant ballet company was the World Premiere of choreographer, Garrett Smiths’, REVEAL, performed to the exquisite “Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra and Tirol Concerto” by Philip Glass. (Ermanno Florio conducted the Houston Ballet Orchestra with Denise Tarrant on violin, Barrett Sills on cello and Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon on piano). The ballet begins with audible thunder and a kind of shadow play as the first dancer appears to be doing a few rather static rehearsal steps, while a second gyrating figure appears across the stage in a misty doorway. The rhythmic swirl of the escalating music soon animates the dozen dancers that emerge, sometimes in pairs with costumes of contrasting black and white (designer, Monica Guerra), or as a group of eight whirling men in long, open black trench coats. There is an overall androgynous quality to the piece which seems like an extended search for identity that may not please those looking for a Swan Lake experience, but there are various dramatic lighting effects as well as moments of sublime grace from the dancers. Call mine a “mixed” review.
The evening’s third offering was a chance for me to revisit a Houston Ballet production I had enjoyed several years ago. In March of 2012 I had the pleasure of seeing the World Premiere of company Artistic Director, Stanton Welch’s romantic and visually dramatic ballet, TAPESTRY. This superb cast of more than two dozen dancers is again headed by Principal Dancers, Karina Gonzalez, Ian Casady and Connor Walsh. In all humility I would be hard pressed to improve on my previous comments, and with that in mind, please allow me to once again share my 2012 reflections on “Tapestry”:
“The set design produced the dramatic tone with a vast array of vertical, parallel and equi-distant cords set back and running from floor to ceiling and fully across the width of the stage. In the upper reaches of this very linear visual field was another set of intersecting cords running horizontally across the stage and creating a kind of woven web that would frame the dancing as the various performers sometimes emerged from backstage through the cords and sometimes faded back through them to disappear. What happened in between was a showcase of the dance talents of this large company.
It is never difficult to imagine the athleticism and physical strength required by such professional dancers, but in this case we have an additional proof. The male dancers wear tights alone as their uniformly classic physiques are revealed while dancing bare-chested. I need to get back to the gym right away! The lush music of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 accompanies the work as Ermanno Florio beautifully conducts the Houston Ballet Orchestra and violinist, Denise Tarrant, superbly performs the violin solo. The lovely and sensual dancing is characterized by gentle elegance, vast variety, playful charm and an extraordinary collective delicacy. The stately, regal and bird-like grace of the many ballerina’s slender and undulating arms seemed more striking than ever. There were impressive slow-motion moments, and the aforementioned framing grid effect gave added visual impact to the many beautiful extensions from the dancers. Shadowy golden lighting from designer, Lisa J. Pinkham, and soft, rose-colored costumes for the ladies (designer, Holly Hynes) added to the glow.”
Houston Ballet’s FALL MIXED REPERTORY will be performed at 8 p.m. tonight, October 1st, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Free mezzanine & lawn seating is provided courtesy of Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts. Those wishing to purchase Orchestra seats ($20) may do so at the Pavilion Box Office, at all Ticketmaster outlets, by calling 800-745-3000, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.