Houston Ballet 2001

April 4, 2001

Mireille Hassenboehler, partnered by Lucas Priolo, stole scenes in Stanton Welch?s Bruiser.
Photo by Geoff Winningham, courtesy Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet

Sadlers Wells Theatre
London, England

April 4, 2001

Reviewed by Margaret Willis

Houston Ballet made its first visit to London in eighteen years this April, and in the weeklong run at the Sadler?s Wells Theatre, performed its most recent full-length work, Cleopatra, and a triple bill of young choreographers? work. These were all British premieres?with a show-stopping Diana and Actaeon pas de deux thrown in unexpectedly. The program gave Londoners ample opportunity to see the well-schooled dancers released from their Egyptian stances and posturings. (Most of the tough London critics didn?t like Cleopatra, which earned such headlines as “Houston, You Have a Problem.”)

First on the bill was Second Before the Ground, created by Houston?s own Trey McIntyre for the company in 1996. It is a splendid piece, filled with joyous movement and much humor, designed to show off the dancers? skills and excellent schooling. It opens with a lone male, dancer Mauricio Cañete, adroitly tackling a sequence of fiendishly challenging steps before being joined by dancer after dancer in a helter-skelter of exuberant and daring nonstop movement. McIntyre?s touches of flirting, teasing, and joking added to the spirit, and London audiences were impressed by the unity and virtuosity of the company, especially of Dominic Walsh, Mireille Hassenboehler, and Cañete, who closed the piece as vigorously as he had opened it.

The work of two young Australians was also on offer. Natalie Weir created In a Whisper for the company last October. However, while the dancers deserved praise for their work, the work itself did not make as great an impact here, as London abounds with this kind of contemporary work. The ballet presents a somber mood, showing the breakup of a strong relationship with undertones of an illicit lover lurking in the shadows. The set is simple?a string quintet playing Schubert sits back left; on a white, octagonal floor cloth stands one ladderback chair with a stark window frame hanging above, letting in a patch of sunlight. As it begins, a boy stands on the chair, looking into the distance, while his grasp on the outstretched hand of a girl behind him gradually slips, and she leaves. The choreography clearly interprets his torment, and once again, Walsh showed his technical brilliance and stamina with a well-defined portrait of the character. Dawn Scannell was his “departing” partner and she, too, is a strong technician who danced with conviction. The other eight dancers looked good, offering smooth lines and supple bodies. But the choreography was somewhat predictable?Graham-style deep-plié swoopings, followed by swirls of skirt as legs were lifted skyward.

Off came the funereal clothes for Stanton Welch?s Bruiser, and on with Lycra cropped tops and shorts, and bandaged hands for a battle of the sexes. Taking the form of boxing bouts, the dancers played out their pseudo-fisticuffs routines with bouncy footwork, stabbing punches, and flying leaps. Again there was much humor, with Hassenboehler stealing the scene with her wide grins to the audience, and it was good fun to watch (and, one assumes, to dance), though, alas, overlong. Brief mention should be made of the return of that Cuban missile, Carlos Acosta, for many years a principal with Houston Ballet, who made a guest appearance here with his former partner Lauren Anderson. Acosta shot onto the stage in a combination of new and fancy turns, yet maintained his elegance and style throughout. The two, as usual, sparked each other into competitive mood and ignited balletic fireworks.