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"American at Heart", March 11


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Houston Ballet's spring mixed repertory program is interesting in several ways: it is made up of three chamber ballets; although its spirit is indeed very 'American at heart', only one of its choreographers is a Yank; it brightly features nearly every dancer who appears in it; and it even gives the orchestra a break in between the demands of Apollo and Fancy Free. :(

Connor Walsh is an excellent Apollo: lean and hard without being stringy, with a body type one might call 'rangy' were he five inches taller, he is at once strong, graceful, colloquial, and idiosyncratic in this difficult role. His jumps forward in the prologue, while still in the swaddling bands, were notably fluid, as was his partnering in such passages as the one with a Muse hanging onto each bicep. He shows his feet at times in a most impressive and Balanchinean way. The Muses were good; Sara Webb as Terpsichore was especially arresting in sudden pauses, silences, and poses--the stillness of her body spoke, unusual for a dancer as technically agile as she. The 'sunburst' was not quite perfectly spaced, but most of the other images, such as the 'troika', were very fine and the final pose was exquisite. Houston Ballet, providentially, does the real (uncut) version, which is manna to the undernourished soul subjected to the recent horrendous NYCB Apollos with such dancers as Martins and Borree (shudder); Jessica Collado, who did triple duty this evening in three extremely different parts, had great presence as Leto. It's worth traveling just to see the original masterpiece uncut and unmutilated.

Christopher Bruce's Hush is set to music by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma, mostly original with a few arranged chestnuts (Bach-Gounod 'Ave Maria', Flight of the Bumblebee), and features a family of six dancers--Mother, Father, Older Sister, Older Brother, Younger Sister, Younger Brother--in roles rather like a cross between Paul Taylor grotesques and the Kettle clan. It's very funny, engaging, charming, and grateful for the dancers, almost all of whom have display opportunities. Collado, who has wonderful arms and hands, was lithe and sensual in her variation, while the sterling Melody Herrera (who just finished appearing as Nikiya) was a panic as the whacked-out funky-chicken younger sister. I'm not sure I've ever seen elbows and knees sticking out to such effect. The rather subtle ending, at the end of a frenetic hoedown which makes the audience long for a big finish in which to stand up and scream, was slightly ineffective (not the dancers' or the choreographer's fault) but the audience was warm and loud once it realized this was indeed The End.

Fancy Free had Collado yet again, deliciously unrecognizable as the first girl with the red purse and huge hair (and very Forties in the best sense), along with Oliver Halkowich, Ian Casady, and James Gotesky as the three sailors (in order of variations), and Amy Fote with Gotesky in the pas de deux. Everyone showed great relish and considerable authority in what was a company premiere--Casady was very fine in the lyrical passages of his variation, showing lots of sweep and line; Gotesky, the tallest of the three, had an almost burly (not by body type but by the placement of his weight) presence which was extremely arresting and effective. He and Fote seemed to enjoy the pas de deux and they made the tricks, some of which are not simple, look quite easy. This was a terrific evening in every way.

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