Houston Ballet

October 16, 2011

The Joyce, NYC
October 11–16, 2011

Performance reviewed: Oct. 15

By Susan Yung

Judging by the repertory Houston Ballet performed in New York, the company, under the artistic direction of Stanton Welch, is very accomplished. However, the program of three chamber-scaled works hardly showcased the full-sized troupe; that will require a trip to Texas, apparently, since New York is not a regular stop on the company’s tours. Still, the dancers (21 of the company’s total 52) displayed strong technique and versatility in works by Jirí Kylián, Jorma Elo, and Christopher Bruce.

Falling Angels
(1989), by Kylián to a recording of Steve Reich’s Drumming, featured eight women in puckered black tank leotards and jazz shoes. Kylián excels at creating striking tableaux. Assisted by Joop Caboort’s dramatic lighting, the women moved in canon or unison through deep lunges, stiff-limbed silhouettes, and angular poses that flowed and froze again, done crisply, with verve and wit. In Reich’s propulsive, hypnotic score, parts phase in and out, aligning or overlapping. While Kylián’s movement interacted playfully, it wasn’t obedient to the music.

The repertory program of a rarely visiting company must show breadth and diversity, and Elo’s ONE/end/ONE, which the company premiered in May, certainly contrasted with the Kylián. Elo simultaneously pokes fun at classical ballet’s pomposity while respecting its impressive technique, delivered expertly by Houston’s dancers. The snootiness of Mozart’s violin concerto was underscored by Holly Hynes’ traditional costumes: black tutus with gold brocade trim for the three toe-shoed women, and matching sleeveless unitards for their male partners. Elo mixes nearly non-stop virtuoso ballet with moves embellished with quirks or off-kilter leans. The dancers displayed calm bravado and polish through even the most difficult steps, in particular Karina Gonzalez and Connor Walsh in a lengthy duet. A sequence done in silence, with only a ghosting of “moonlight,” provided a welcome mid-ballet respite.

Christopher Bruce’s Hush (2006), to Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma, felt, again, like someone changed the channel. This snapshot of a vagabond troupe of clowns gave the dancers, in whiteface and soft slippers, an opportunity to show their moppet-like charm and humor. Bruce admirably crafted several sections such as the opening, where all six dancers migrated slowly across the stage—advancing, retreating, pairing off, digressing. But later, as each dancer performed a character-delineating solo, the piece began to feel overly long, and the clichéd music, while fitting, grated after awhile. Even so, the level of the performances was enough to make one wish for a return by a larger portion of the company.

Photo: Karina Gonzalez and Connor Walsh in Elo’s

By Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Joyce.