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ARCHIVE: Houston Ballet (September 2014)

Originally published 9/28/2014

Tonight, I went to see and hear the Houston Ballet. While I couldn’t see the orchestra as they played, and could rarely hear the dancers as they danced, I left being impressed with what was happening both on the stage and in the pit. Through a fortuitous chance encounter, I sat in the very front row in the center section. Visually and sonically, this was the best seat in the house. First on the program was “One/end/One,” with Mozart’s 4th Violin Concerto and Concertmaster Denise Tarrant as soloist. The Houston Ballet Orchestra produced a supple and beautiful sound coupled with fine ensemble and balanced clarity. Denise played with brilliance and nuanced dynamics, highlighted by an expressive second movement. On stage, sets of four male and four female dancers presented a jagged and sometimes humorous first movement, an achingly romantic second movement, and a carefree and buoyant third movement. I especially enjoyed the flowing and expressive work of Principal Karina Gonzalez and the precise and joyful dancing of Yuriko Kajiya. While the dancing was top-notch, I was constantly drawn back to the genius of Mozart. The extensive variety of character and rhythm that he assembled in this, but one of five violin concerti, is simply amazing. At once simple and complex, the music was brought to life by soloist and orchestra. It needed no visual enhancement, but instead provided the onstage performers a means of aspiration, if not inspiration.

Next was my second viewing of the ground-breaking “Murmuration,” by choreographer Edwaard Liang. Again, Denise Tarrant performed as soloist, this time in a violin concerto by Ezio Bosso. She was in her element, providing technical flourishes and rhythmic incisiveness, supported by precise repeated patterns in the orchestra. For this work, I moved back into the middle of the hall in order to take in the full visual effect of the extraordinary choreography. The placement of dancers along the front, middle, and back of the stage, coupled with bright lighting from the front, projected multi-dimension images on the back scrim. The somewhat blurring effect from cross-stage movement simulated flocks of birds in flight, or murmuration. Throughout, dancers performed anywhere from pairs to the full corps de ballet. This brilliantly conceived work is the future of ballet choreography, and Houston Ballet is to be commended for its commission and presentation.

The third segment, “Paquita,” with music by Minkus, presented ballet’s past and what many think of as classical ballet. The set, conveying a royal atmosphere with drapes and chandeliers, never changed. The music was solely a vehicle for a variety of dances, alternating between proud male soloists, charming female soloists, and various mixed sets of dancers. While each of the eleven parts showed the depth of the company, the Pas de Trois given by three male dancers was superlative in its athletic precision. The orchestra gave a fine performance of the somewhat mundane score. Noteworthy were first-rate flute, harp, and violin solos–this time by acting Concertmaster Rasa Kalesnykaite. Indeed, the pit had depth, as well.

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