If the title of Houston Ballet’s current production, ROCK, ROLL & TUTUS, seemed a bit silly, the dance artistry displayed on Opening Night certainly was not. The first of the program’s three segments was the World Premiere of company Artistic Director, Stanton Welch’s romantic and visually dramatic ballet, TAPESTRY. Indeed, while the evening’s three ballets would vary widely in style, there did seem to be a collective celebration of love and romance throughout. In the case of 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.
The evening’s second offering, ROOSTER was not unknown to local audiences, having had its American & Houston Ballet premiere in May of 1995. The Roosterroster (forgive me) includes dancers Jessica Collado, Ian Casady, Katharine Precourt, Garrett Smith, Kelly Myernick, Ilya Kozadayev, Katelyn May, Christopher Coomer, Melissa Hough and Joseph Walsh who, by the way, had just three days earlier found himself promoted to Principal Dancer in the company.
With the funky and fun-filled choreography of Christopher Bruce and the exciting lighting designs of Tina MacHugh, this ballet is set to a soundtrack of assorted songs from The Rolling Stones that allows a full range of the dancers’ skills to be on display. Costume designer, Marian Bruce, has tipped her hat to London’s 1960’s Carnaby Street fashions by dressing the male dancers in classic “mod” velvet sport jackets & ties of assorted warm colors that might have been seen in that neighborhood back when The Stones were playing there in venues like the legendary Marquee Club. For “Little Red Rooster,” the guys literally strut their stuff, much as a rooster might do during his flirtations with the ladies. With a gaily-prancing quality, the number “Lady Jane,” was a whirling courtship dance backed by sharp dance line designs. “Not Fade Away,” had a thunderous rhythm and a frantic jitterbug quality. “As Tears Go By” had interesting contrasts of stillness and movement. With its high-energy music, “Paint It Black,” had passionate lifts and turns, dramatic flashes of red in the costume designs, and a hint of rejection in its conclusion. For “Ruby Tuesday,” Melissa Hough was both grand and graceful in dancing the part of Ruby in a soft, lush, and ruby-colored gown. The fun of “Play With Fire” resembled an exotic mating dance with a bright red feather boa as its centerpiece.
With vivid dancing, and hues as vivid as Metrocolor, the haunting and devilish designs of “Sympathy for the Devil,” seemed a bit like a train coming down the track with its relentlessly repeating musical motif.
Set to the music Georges Bizet’s, L’Arlesienne Suites No. 1& 2, the company’s final offering was another production choreographed by Stanton Welch. First presented by Houston Ballet in 2004, DIVERGENCE is a work in nine movements, each of which profits from the varied lighting designs of Francis Croese. Opening under blood-red lighting, we see the stunning contrast of the darkly silhouetted black tutu designs from Vanessa Leyonhjelm. These amusing dance costumes for the ladies bounce freely and look a bit like large pleated rubber flying saucers. This was a crimson wake-up call with the lead dancers up front during the exciting opening passages of Bizet’s thrilling composition, while members of the ensemble are visible further back in what seems like a ballet class in progress.
A lavender colored second movement brings renewed calmness and lush romance with the seductive Pas de Trois from Danielle Rowe, Linnar Looris & James Gotesky. Another segment has a golden glow as three of our ballerinas creep out onto the stage like low-lying spiders and then arise to join the gentlemen in more romantic dancing before finally creeping back off stage as the gents roll away on the floor. There are a variety of other lovely dance sequences, including a rose-colored segment that opens like a ladies’ calisthenics class before its romantic pairings evolve, a blue segment with the gentle waltz quality of a grand ball, and finally the return of the unusual tutus which are quickly pulled free and tossed aside during a dazzling finale. The audience roared its approval. How can I do otherwise after such an elegant evening of dance? Bravo!
ROCK, ROLL & TUTUS continues through Sunday March 18th at the Brown Theater of Houston’s Wortham Theater Center. Performances will be Friday & Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. For tickets & information call 713-522-5538 or visit the website at www.houstonballet.org.