Wortham Theater Center
February 26–March 8, 2009
Reviewed by Clare Croft
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet. Melody Herrera and Ian Cassady in
Act I of Stanton Welch’s
to watch their
pas de deux in action.
With the premiere of Marie, Houston Ballet produced a rare commodity in the current economy: a new, evening-length story ballet. Artistic director Stanton Welch sketches the life of French Queen Marie Antoinette, including her childhood in Austria, the ostentatious court of Versailles, and the terrors of revolution. Welch’s choreography in complex, layered scenes; simple but effective sets and costumes by Kandis Cook; and Melody Herrera’s bold, clear performance as Marie form a full, compelling vision of one woman’s life. These factors overshadow the ballet’s weaknesses: solos and pas de deux that lack depth.
The monotony of what should be choreographic jewels might be attributable to a weak point in the costume design. All of the women’s lower bodies disappear beneath skirts that almost touch the floor, so Welch resorts to arabesque after arabesque to reveal the women’s legs.
In Marie’s pas de deux with the King (Ian Casady) and her lover Fersen (Connor Walsh), several series of complicated lifts looked mechanical. But a wide variety of partnered turns were more successful. These moments illuminated the difference between Marie’s relationships with the two men. With Fersen, Marie displays more passion, and with her husband, the king, there is a deeper, if less sensual, bond.
Welch’s gift for staging large groups provides the ballet with its richest visuals. Just after Marie marries the soon-to-be King Louis XVI, courtiers surge from upstage, rushing downstairs toward the couple. The deluge is overwhelming, evoking sympathy for the teenage royals caught in the swirling politics of court life and, later, national revolution.
The ballet proceeds mostly from Marie’s perspective. The revolutionaries, who eventually imprison and kill the royal family, lurk with contempt and anger. Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake” remark may not be historical fact, but the ballet follows its theme, showing no sympathy for the poor.
This is ballet for and about the aristocracy. The corps brings force to Welch’s thick, kinetic crowd scenes, but Marie highlights soloists. The ballet does not really show off Herrera’s technical ability, but she aptly exploits the role’s acting and gestural possibilities. As timid teenage Marie matures into a formidable woman, Herrera chooses understatement over melodrama. Casady, as the wayward King, makes what could be a clownish role into a nuanced portrayal. The most pure dancing comes from Walsh, who brings classical clarity to every piqué.
Want to see it for yourself? Click
to watch an excerpt from Marie.