Photo Credit: Phil Wayes

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Evening of Mastery by the Houston Ballet: 'Masters of Movement'

This week, the Houston Ballet opened with a triple bill titled Masters of Movement. I had the privilege of attending last night's performance, and found "Masters of Movement" to be a most apropo title for this mixed-bill evening.
The program opened with The Leaves Are Fading, Anthony Tudor's wistful, dreamlike ballet set to selections of Dvorak's elegant chamber music. Set in the suggested scenario of a young woman's daydream (the ballet begins and ends with a lone female dancer occupying the stage), The Leaves Are Fading is Tudor's gift to everyone who thinks ballet delicate, graceful, and soft. And with the combination of the Houston Ballet dancers' flawless execution of Tudor's purely-classical movement, a gorgeous set by Ming Cho Lee, and Pat Zipprodt's flowing costumes; the Houston Ballet delivers on this gift. Perhaps the highlight of the ballet was the beautifully-performed pas de deux work by Amy Fote and Nicholas Leschke. The pair transitioned seamlessly between the softer moments of the choreography and the allegro sections. Fote's effortless grace was a fine match for Leschke's dynamic stage presence.

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was the perfect title for the second ballet on the bill. Choreographed by William Forsythe in 1996, this is a 12-minute marathon of allegro and pirouettes. Performed by five dancers (three women, two men) in every combination imaginable (solo, duet, trio, full ensemble), The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude is often considered to be one of Forsythe's more classical works, yet the neoclassical flair is certainly present (as witnessed by syncopated movements and the women's unusual, plate-like green tutus). Twelve minutes is the perfect length of time for non-stop series of ballet's physical feats, however-- the curtain goes down just before an audience member starts to feel like they're watching a sporting event instead of a ballet. Jessica Collado, Ian Casady, Nozomi Iijima, Christopher Gray, and Emily Bowen-- the dancers racing through this rapid-fire ballet on Saturday evening-- performed Forsythe's work marvelously.

Jiří Kylián's Soldiers' Mass, a tribute to all soldiers lost in all wars. While it started off strongly --the men of Houston Ballet jumping, running, doing painful-looking knee work, charging the stage in a way that suggests an invasion-- it drags to an almost dirge-like pace in the middle. The multiple "head-fake" endings got irritating very quickly, to the point where one begins to wish the ballet would please just end, already. Kylián makes up for this at the end with stunning theatrics that include the all-male cast to become still, face the audience, and sing along with the men's chorus. Speaking of the men's chorus, the music of Soldier's Mass is very effective (possibly more sothan the choreography). The Houston Ballet Orchestra, led by Ned Battista; paired up with a haunting chorus of men directed by University of Houston's Richard Robbins in Bohuslav Martinu's Polní Mse. The percussion section leads us to the end of the ballet in a crescendo that will give an audience member goosebumps. Although the present relevance of Soldiers' Mass makes it a slightly depressing note end to the evening on, it was exquisitely danced by the men of Houston Ballet.
My overall rating of Masters of Movement: A

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