Dominic Walsh Dance Theater

October 15, 2009

Dominic Walsh Dance Theater
Hobby Center for the Performing Arts

Houston, TX

October 15–17, 2009

Reviewed by Nancy Wozny


Domenico Luciano and Felicia McBride in Walsh’s
Le Spectre de la Rose. Photo by Gabriella Nissen Photography, Courtesy DWDT.


Dominic Walsh returned to his dance/theater roots with the four-part program “1909–2009: The Great Collaborators of the Ballets Russes,” a series of modern takes on Fokine and Nijinsky classics. Of the three world premieres, Walsh’s The Firebird contained the most shocking and original statement.

Walsh pairs Domenico Luciano and Marie-Agnès Gillot (guesting from the Paris Opéra Ballet) as the world’s most passive-aggressive couple. We meet the volatile husband and wife team glaring at each other from across the dinner table. Well-matched in size, temperament, and a quality of largesse, Luciano and Gillot play out a dangerous game of secrets, sexual tension, and combative attempts at reconciliation. Walsh dares to tell an entirely different story from the Fokine original. But as with the 1910 ballet, Gillot most definitely keeps Luciano under her spell.

Stacks of unopened mail litter the stage, creating a claustrophobic landscape. Like a gazelle in a ballerina’s body, Gillot is raw, vulnerable, and a technical powerhouse on top of that. Whether standing on the dinner table puffing on a cigarette, or looping her leggy form into Walsh’s intricate spirals, she’s captivating at every turn.

Luciano holds his own against her stirring presence and paints a vivid portrait of the uncommunicative, distant male. The dancing—and there’s not that much of it—is wrought with tangled partnering that reveals their embattled interior worlds. Walsh enlists Stravinsky’s brazen edges in taking us on this emotional roller coaster ride. In the end, we never really know what comes of the tumultuous relationship, yet the piece leaves us curious.

Frederique de Montblanc’s scenic designs for Firebird are sometimes clever: a mangled blood-red chandelier, a sinister rack of overhanging twisted office lights, a mountain of shredded mail. Video shadow play, projected on the table’s surface, reveals snippets of the couple’s sordid history. Other choices, like descending knives mounted on garish florescent lights, feel heavy-handed. An interrogating white glow, designed by Robert Eubanks, adds to the sense of impending doom.

Nothing much happens during Walsh’s The Dying Swan, also a premiere. Like a refugee from a Noël Coward play—plus martini, a killer cream-toned 1930s gown, and an up-swept hair-do—Rachel Meyer smokes, looks out into the distance, and makes an occasional swan-like arm ripple, nodding to Fokine’s original choreography. Walsh’s swan is hardly dying; she’s just taking a cigarette break. The piece, set to the same famous Saint-Saëns music, functions more as a palate-cleansing still-life than a full-blown ballet.

On a more ethereal note, Walsh premiered his rendition of The Afternoon of a Faun with whimsical results. Randolph Ward’s animal-like prowess gives the piece its bite while Felicia McBride and Meyer, as nymphs, add a coolness. Walsh’s Le Spectre de la Rose (2006), poised Luciano as the mythic Spirit of the Rose and McBride as the unsuspecting young woman, in a work that gives Nijinsky’s version just a touch of a contemporary twist.

Walsh has assembled an almost entirely new company with several standouts including Ward, McBride, and Meyer. Dancing less and less these days, he enlivened the stage as The Creator in The Afternoon of a Faun.