With its open fields, twisted oak and mesquite, thoroughbred horses and longhorns, there is a certain grace to the landscape of the Texas ranch country along “farm to market” road FM 1488 out toward Magnolia. But on a recent, lovely April Saturday night, there was ever so much more grace than usual. The Houston Repertoire Ballet had come to Magnolia High School for its annual Spring Concert, and what a breath of spring it was!
Under the skillful artistic direction of Gilbert Rome & Victoria Vittum, the youth ballet company was begun in 1994 and operates under a mission statement that declares, “…the Houston Repertoire Ballet Company is to provide a program of the highest quality in the art of classical ballet to local dancers…” Highest quality is certainly what was served up at this performance! It began with Act II of Peter Tchaikovsky’s ballet classic, “Swan Lake,” and featured the famed choreography of Petipa. The exciting Overture set the mood and calmed an audience that was full of friends, family and anticipation. The curtain rose on a hand painted backdrop depicting a swirling enchanted forest. It seemed to be in such windswept motion that it resembled a giant wave on a stormy sea.
Performed by the older students of ballet’s Senior Company, the youthful cast was accompanied by two professional dancers in the leads. Lisa Alfieri-Ballo starred as the princess, Odette. Olivier Munoz skillfully danced the role of Prince Siegfred. Both have performed as principal dancers with the Cleveland San Jose Ballet.
Young Austin Kilgore could gracefully haunt a house with his gliding and able performance as the spooky and evil Von Rothbart. At the Saturday performance I attended, other featured dancers included Erin Goodman and Heather Brand, displaying their talents as the two Big Swans. Kristin Araas, Debbie Cohen, Katie Hoffart and Christi Timm provided a quartet of Little Swans with great coordination. Dressed in the charming costumes of designer, Michele Keller, the large corps de ballet supporting cast danced beautifully. The complex and interwoven dance patterns were very well executed. The occasional frozen tableaus were quite effective. Miss Alfieri-Ballo gave a delicate performance and seemed to have the most gracefully flexible wrists I have ever seen in ballet (And I must boast that I saw Margot Fonteyn dance Act II superbly with Rudolph Nureyev at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in the late 1960’s.) With considerable technical skill, Mr. Munoz served her well as partner, although he seemed somewhat joyless for a young prince in love. It seemed unfortunate that the student cast was sometimes not angled toward the principals during portions of the fine solo performances. It was a missed opportunity for the students to view professionals at work.
The stage floor seemed a bit noisy on contact, and perhaps the musical track could have been a touch louder. Also, the lovely young dancers seemed to be under orders not to smile until the curtain call. I think often times a joyful countenance can better project the joy of dance. But overall, this was a very satisfying “Swan Lake.”
The Senior Company also performed the elegant and very beautiful “Seascape.” Ms. Vittum designed her original choreography to the music of Brahms. Designers, Lynne Snipe and Kathy Dockray, provided airy and flowing costumes in sea colors of lavender, green and blue. Sprinklings of tiny rhinestones suggest the gleaming waters. The talents of David Armendariz and Mr. Kilgore nicely complemented the largely female cast. In romantic dance pairings and skillful lifts, the gentlemen acquit themselves well. With the talented ladies at their side, and with varied and intricate choreography that did not intimidate the dancers, this ensemble segment suggests reflections in the sea, and swirling pools of foam. It was a very demanding dance piece, very well done.
Finally, with a look back to the years I spent in elementary education, I was enchanted by H.R.B.’s original, “Storybook Ballet.” The creative costumes for this work (designers, Kathy Forehand, Janis Hutchens-Miller, Denise Wardwell and Ms. Keller) bring to mind the glory days of Technicolor. Featuring the young students of the Junior Company, the music of Rossini, and the choreography of Leeyan Granger-Neeley, this was a total delight. Michelle and Abby Fogle play a mother and daughter enjoying a story at bedtime. The dreams that follow are sheer dance enchantment. Christina Kinchen was a fine Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs give a fun-filled performance with a folk dance atmosphere. In a stunning red satin cape and charming peasant dress, Alli LaMarca dances superbly as Red Riding Hood. Samantha Elliston makes a merry, dancing Wolf. Then a sweet Alice (Rachel Cohen) arrives from Wonderland with the statuesque Queen of Hearts (Maurielle Balczon). They provide a whimsical fantasy in the company of a group of talented dancing playing cards.
From Oz we have a frisky Lion (Christina Bournias), and the wonderful dance spirit of Scarecrow (Robin Reynolds) and Tin Man (Erin Purser). They join Dorothy (Cammie Cobb) in a cheerful country square dance. Then the fine dancing of Emily Dyson and James Farre delights the crowd with the sweet and energetic courtship of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Next, Cinderella (Alison Wardwell) joins the handsome Prince (David Armendariz) and a ballroom full of graceful dancers as they all waltz divinely. Better still, the young faces were all smiles. And out in the audience the older faces were smiling, too. I know mine was.
*For information on H.R.B. – call 281-257-3400*
(The Courier 4.21.02)