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Saturday Night's Performance


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Luckily, I made it to Houston Ballet's Saturday night performance. I really debated whether I wanted to see this particular program, but am glad I ended up going. The evening began with a 45-minute question and answer session moderated by a female dance professor from University of Houston (sorry -- forgot her name), and starring... Trey McIntryre and Stanton Welch. That was pretty cool. They spoke a good deal about their personal choreographic processes, and how they go about turning a concept into a ballet.

I'm sad to say the house did not appear to be all that full for a Saturday night show! We had seats in the Grand Tier, though, so I could not see the Orchestra level. Perhaps they were closer to full down there.

The first piece on the program, Stanton Welch's "A Dance in the Garden of Mirth," really captured me right from the start. I loved the music (though not all reviewers have), and the energy from the dancers was fabulous. Simon Ball was a most welcome addition to the group, and I was pleased to see Barbara Bears back on stage after having a baby. When this piece finished, I immediately wanted to see it again. So I think that is a good sign. Other dancers in the Saturday night cast of "Garden" (as I heard Stanton refer to it) were Ilya Kozadayev, Sara Webb, Lucas Priolo, Kelly Myernick, Ian Casady, and Kim Wagman.

The second piece was Trey McIntyre's "The Shadow." I can't say that this piece ranks in my top 5 McIntyre pieces of all time. We had many different opinions among the group I was sitting with. But the dominating one was that the concept was both creative and "do"able, but that it just didn't seem to work. Things moved at a near frantic pace (which I actually enjoyed), but there were just too many moments that I became disinterested. One of my friends felt that the music (Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G) was completely wrong -- but I liked it. It added to the "dark" feeling of the choreography. Don't know -- this piece just seems to have gone wrong somewhere between the idea phase and the performance phase. (IMHO, of course.) Standouts among the dancers, however, were Sara Webb as Thumbelina, and Lucas Priolo and Dominic Walsh as the Professor and the Shadow.

The highlight of the evening for me was Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated." I just adore this piece. And while I had seen the famous pas de deux many times (at IBC competitions -- round 2), this was my first chance to see the whole piece. These dancers were stunning. And I'll admit that I questioned whether this particular company would have the necessary amount of "punch" for a piece like this. But my question was answered immediately. I think I can even say this was one of the finest performances by Houston Ballet that I have ever seen. They attacked everything with fierce determination. Timing was scrumptious, movements were precise, and all those difficult turns were flawlessly executed. Hooray for these dancers! The cast I saw was Mireille Hassenboehler (looking about as Sylvie Guillem-esque as one could without actually being Sylvie!), Simon Ball, Julie Gumbinner, Leticia Oliveira, Dominic Walsh, Frances Perez-Ball (wife of Simon), Randy Herrera, Bridgett Zehr, and Clare Miklaunus.

Anyone else make it to the show??

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I saw the Saturday, September 13th performance of the same program. My friend and I were running a bit late so we could only catch the last few minutes of the Dance Talks session. A woman asked Welch if he thought dancers and choreography were evolving physically and artistically. He replied with today's dancers are a lot stronger than they were even 10 years ago and how the field of dance is much more difficult among women, but the men are becoming more powerful technically.

The cast for A Dance in the Garden of Mirth included Dominic Walsh, Mireille Hassenboehler, Nicholas Leschke, Julie Gumbinner, and Randy Herrera. I believe there were some cast changes. I couldn't tell who the rest were, so if there were no changes for this piece, the other three dancers were Carl Coomer, Francis Perez-Ball, and Tyann Clement. Sitting down in orchestra really allows one to see height differences among the dancers. Walsh seems to have grown out his hair (possibly for the upcoming performance of his contempo dance company, as my friend informed me one of her ballet teachers that dances with the company has also grown his out); with his height and his new hair-do, he looked like a caveman onstage, dancing the almost savage choreography. He is still stunning, nonetheless. Garden of Mirth is set to recorded music of the 13th and 14th centuries, the French Manuscrit du Roi and an Italian collection. This piece slightly agitated me; I'll leave my opinions of it at that.

I'll have to reflect some of Pugbee's views. I'm a fan of Trey McIntyre's choreography- the Shadow brought a bit of relief after the first dance, but it's not among my McIntyre favorites. The ballet is based on five Hans Christian Anderson tales. In the first act, Walsh danced the central character, the soldier that becomes too power-hungry with the tinder-box in his possession. I liked the pas de deux where the sleeping princess, Sara Webb, is forced into a violent dance with the soldier (the "rape" scene). I didn't think the music particularly suited this section of the ballet; it was too sweet and melodic. The Dead Child and Thumbelina weren't as disturbing as The Tinder-Box. There was a lovely pas de trois in The Naughty Boy. The final tale was that of The Shadow. The Professor (Lucas Priolo) and his Shadow (Walsh) vie for the love of a beautiful woman (Julie Gumbinner). I think this ballet would fare better if there was some connection between the individual ballets within it. Maybe there is, I don't know, but there wasn't an obvious relation among them.

In the middle was thrilling. Again, echoing Pugbee, I didn't think the dancers would have the attack to pull it off, but they were sublime last night. I never thought I'd say this, but I can't wait to see them do Balanchine (not that Forsythe is Balanchine...but the choreography requires the same amount of energy). Gosh, I can't get over how amazing Mireille Hassenboehler is. Pugbee compared her to Guillem; I compared Mireille to Wendy Whelan. As someone else mentioned, though, Ms. H has a more feminine quality to her dancing while still exhibiting the same strength and precision Whelan does. Leticia Oliveira, a petite and powerful dancer, made a nice visual contrast. Simon Ball partnered Hassenboehler beautifully, even though I have to say she outshone him in the pdd. It's an adequate guess to say all eyes were on her that night.

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