From the pull of the curtain (don’t miss this part) to a big drum-packed closing, Principal Dancer Connor Walsh presented an audience in Houston on Thursday night with a delightful, lavish, cleverly choreographed ballet. A Joyful Trilogy (In Flight) that should become part of Houston Ballet’s recurring repertoire.
The world premiere of the new ballet to the music of Dallas-born Quinn Mason came in second on the mixed rep originals program and resulted in a standing ovation for Walsh, who did not dance, but took his bow as creator.
Fourteen dancers, dressed in brightly colored clothing and high socks, enjoyed what Walsh has described as the sense of flight dancers can sometimes achieve when moving freely across the stage. The dancers walked in and out of pairs, in a huddle formation from time to time, the dancers were all Energizer bunnies with “Running”, slowing down the tempo in “Reflection” and then going wild in the final “Renewal” section .
The evening started with a presentation of Orange by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch – a ballet performed entirely elsewhere, but only in excerpts previously in Houston. Dancers from The Dance Theater of Harlem take the stage alongside lead dancer Soo Youn Cho and soloist Aaron Daniel Sharratt from Houston Ballet in a beautiful and seamless collaboration. Mayu Isom of the Houston Ballet Orchestra provided both haunting and joyful accents in Vivaldi’s various pieces for oboe, strings and basso continuo.
Orange begins and ends with the six dancers turned away from us; both the women and the men in deep orange, the women in long skirts reminiscent of flamenco dancing. Whimsical humor had been laced through with a kiss on the cheek, a woman’s trembling head, a flight from the stage behind a potential suitor. Lisa J. Pinkham’s lighting designs enhanced and sustained a ballet so focused on color.
Chairs can be creative accessories in dance and never more so than in Principal Dancer Melody Mennite’s world premiere blooming (to bloom or bloom) accompanied by the music of composters Rene Aubry, Ezio Bosso and Max Richter.
The curtain rises in front of a large group of dancers – 16 in all – crouched in various positions on chairs, punctuated by occasional grunts and guttural sounds, the ballet immediately grabs our attention as dancers stagger as they try to control the kinks in their bodies. It’s an early morning, a moment to get out of bed, complete with yawns anyone can recognize, culminating, of course, in an impressive dance move that few of us will ever achieve.
Throughout the piece, there are several moments when the dancers start and then the music catches up – paying even more attention to their dances. The woman is dressed in bathing suit-like costumes, while the bare-chested men wear tights.
This is another piece full of humor, but also thoughtfulness and melancholy as the human relationship with nature is examined. A beautiful pas de deux performed by principal dancer Jessica Collado and soloist Ryo Kato gives us a break and adds weight to the piece. The one-act ballet featured huge hand-painted artworks created by projection designer Leon C. Chenier Jr. have been converted into animated projections. Projections can sometimes overwhelm what is happening to the performers on stage, but this was good all the time, just accentuating and aiding the storytelling. Watch out for the blooming of the magnolias and the subsequent fall of the petals.
The evening concluded with the ever popular The youth guide to the orchestra choreographed by Welch to music by Benjamin Britten and Henry Purcell – a ballet that first premiered in 2014. Narrator Dewey Caddell on Thursday did an excellent job of explaining what each part of the orchestra does as 30 dancers play piccolos or cellos, tubas or xylophones become. There was even a whip in the percussion section.
In an impressive program of approximately 2-1/2 hours, Houston Ballet gave the spectators the gift of joy and craftsmanship in performance and choreography. Exhausted by the end of the night, the dancers drained their tanks and left us, in that most wonderful experience, only wanting more.
Performances continue on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2:00 PM at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For more information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $25-$149.