By David Dow Bentley III “The People’s Critic”
Miraculously, after several days of violent storms across much of Texas and the Houston area, it was a perfectly beautiful and pleasantly warm evening for an outdoor production as the HOUSTON BALLET took to the stage of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on the first weekend in May. Rather than the full productions that this company sometimes presents in that venue, this Mixed Repertory program would be a series of selected ballet works, some classic, and some more modern and experimental. While the muddy hillside lawn was closed to picnickers, there was plenty of free seating available in the house. The eclectic program would begin with two World Premieres. The first ballet was titled, “Ina and Jeffrey,” and starred Natalie Varnum (choreographer) & Oliver Halkowich. The two dancers were dressed in casual pink jumpsuits with white plastic helmets, operating in graceful twin-ship. They mirrored each other’s movements in a playful and prancing program that had a free-spirited aspect probably quite appealing to youngsters in the audience. With choreography by Jacquelyn Long, the second world premiere was, “It Just Keeps Going,” featuring Soo Youn Cho & Harper Watters. It was a more stately and elegant work full of graceful dance pairings, dramatic lifts and extensions, all with rich violin accompaniment (Denise Tarrant), while capturing a daydreaming and restful atmosphere. The third selection was titled, “Oh, There You Are,” and featured the full ensemble, along with more beautiful violin accompaniment from Miss Tarrant. It began with the cast of dancers arrayed about the stage almost as statues on platforms. Under random spotlight flashes, the movement quickly ensued, with jumps, weaving motions and pop-ups from various parts of the stage.
There was a whirling intermingling of the full cast of performers, and it became apparent that this ballet was serving as a kind of examination of gender stereotypes. An unusual departure for a dance program was the introduction here of two microphones on the stage from which oral commands were given to the dancers: “You shouldn’t cry,” “Be a man,” “You run like a girl,” “Guys can’t multitask,” “Boys will be boys,” “Show them who’s boss.” Commands to the women in the cast included such directives as, “She really let herself go,” “Be careful of your figure,” “Should you really be eating that?” Then the narrator seems to address the audience with an overriding question: “What if we really see ourselves and accept every bit of who we all are?” Before the dance concluded there would be foot-stomping excitement, pleasant accompaniment on guitar, and visually appealing acrobatic energy during what appeared to be a whirling dance from a Jewish wedding. Always there seemed to be the unexpected around the next corner. Shadowy mood lighting added to the look, and the rustic and crimson glow of the side projection screens on either side of the proscenium, accented the complexity of dancing that could not have been as random as it appeared for those who had to learn this difficult choreography (Melody Mennite). The action-packed conclusion was reminiscent of the Jets and Sharks ballet in West Side Story.
But in this long, 3-Act evening of dance, those seeking the more traditional classic look of ballet would not be disappointed. Act Two did feature one oddly modern work titled, “Come In,” (choreographer, Azure Barton), that at times seemed endless to this observer. But prior to that endurance test, the act opened gloriously with the grandeur of the Stanton Welch ballet, “The Ladies,” magnificently accompanied by the music of Rossini as splendidly performed by the Houston Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Ermanno Florio. I pity those who left after Act One. Better still would be the spectacular final offering of the evening: the “Act III Wedding Pas de Deux” from the exquisite 19th century ballet, Raymonda. It starred Yuriko Kajiya and Chun Wai Chan in a stunningly athletic display of the best that ballet has to offer, and the appreciative audience quickly rose to its feet in joyful ovation. While walking to the parking lot I overheard an elderly couple sharing their own delight as the woman remarked, “Last night we were hiding in a closet during the tornado warnings, and now here we are!” A happy ending all around. Bravo!
[Click upcoming Pavilion schedule at left to enlarge.]
On Wednesday, May 22, Houston Grand Opera is bringing a beloved classic to life on The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Main Stage – Giacomo Puccini’s colorful and vibrant work of art La Bohème. Mezzanine and lawn seating are free. Reserved orchestra seating tickets are $20. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. and gates open at 7 p.m.
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.