Saturday, October 3, 2015
Last night we saw Houston Ballet's Fall Repertory program, and if you'll forgive me for gushing, I believe that may be the most perfect evening of dance I've ever seen. I've said for a while that I actually prefer the mixed rep nights more than the full-length ballets, but normally there's at least one of the pieces that I didn't quite like as much as the others. Not so this time; they were all incredible.
The performance began with Stanton Welch's "Tapestry", which was set to Violin Concerto No. 5 by Mozart. We saw this piece when it premiered in 2012, and I was happy to see it again. There are three main movements (although I'm not sure I'm technically using the term correctly here), and perhaps it has to do with my food-centric short story reading in September, but I thought of each movement as a food course. This probably won't make much sense to anyone but me, but the first part made me think of blood orange creamsicle mimosas, the second of sweet and tart green apples, and the third of butternut squash and russet apples. Hmmm, remembering how I thought of last season's Romeo & Juliet costumes as raspberry sherbet, I'm beginning to think I have some weird music-color-food synesthesia....
But back to "Tapestry" itself ... I've often thought that Stanton Welch hears music and sees its movement, which he then teaches to the dancers. Not one possible movement for those notes, but the specific movement that was intended when the melody was created. There was only one moment when it felt a tiny bit too literal for me, which was when female dancers timed jumps into the males' arms and froze in place. It seemed almost jarring, and took me out of the moment. On the other hand, I don't know what another solution would be, since the music does stop that suddenly.
In any case, I felt that the rest of the piece was pretty much perfect. There was one part in particular, when principles Connor Walsh and Ian Cassidy lightly tossed Karina Gonzalez between them and it was so light and airy she seemed like a handkerchief fluttering from one to the other. I mean, it looked effortless. There was also a part that beautifully showcased three exciting male dancers: Aaron Robison, Oliver Halkowich, and Harper Watters. Last but not least, violin soloist Denise Tarrant was amazing, and received a tremendous round of applause.
The second piece was Christopher Bruce's "Ghost Dances", which premiered in Bristol, England, in 1981 and in Houston in 1988. The program describes the opening scene, in which "three skeletal figures with matted hair await the next consignment of the Dead." The piece begins in silence (something I struggle with, because then I notice the audience's every last cough and shift in their seats) with these three figures on a sort of rocky shore. Then, a group of men and women arrive in various types of dress. I hadn't read the program description before seeing it, but it was easy enough to interpret that these people were dead. To me, they seemed to be puppets, or animated corpses trying to hang on to life, not knowing that it has already been taken from them.
This ballet also had a post-apocalyptic feel to me -- rather than seeing these people as just a handful who happened to have died recently, I felt as though the whole world had died. Very specifically, I got a kind of Avatar-meets-Mad-Max-zombies vibe, and I was also reminded of a very intense young adult book I read a few years ago, The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith. It was about a boy who kept transitioning between the real world and a cannibalistic, post-apocalyptic version in which he finds the counterparts of many of his real-life friends. Of course, there's no relation between the ballet and this book, not even remotely, but I mention it because it shows that we all bring our own powerful associations to any art form that we experience. Just as no two people read the same book, no two people see the same ballet.
At the risk of gushing again, I also have to say that any time James Gotesky is on stage, I can't take my eyes off of him. I also loved the recorded Chilean folk music by Inti-Illimani, and will definitely seek out some of their work.
The third piece was a world premiere: "Reveal", choreographed by former Houston Ballet dancer Garrett Smith. This ballet had some of the most dramatic, effective lighting I've ever seen in a ballet. It was set to music by Phillip Glass, and primarily showcased a female dancer and her reverse-negative mirror image. In the program, the choreographer says "As dancers, you're always constantly training and trying and sculpting your body, constantly looking in that mirror all day to the point of obsessing with this love-hate relationship of ballet. In Reveal I wanted to try to let go of that and just embrace and accept what you have been given in life."
It's hard to describe this ballet more specifically than that, as it was fairly abstract, but it was absolutely haunting. I also loved its genderbending qualities, and thought that the music made it seem as though the stakes were life and death.
There are two more performances of this mixed rep production: tonight (Saturday October 3) and tomorrow afternoon (Sunday October 4).
[All photos property of Houston Ballet. Top: Connor Walsh, Karina Gonzalez, and Ian Casady in Tapestry. Middle: cast of Ghost Dances. Bottom: Karina Gonzalez in Reveal.]
Edited to add: A friend of mine named Cole Mikeska, who also sees all of Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera's performances, had something to say about "Ghost Dances" that I found intriguing. He said that he thought the "dances between the group marching in and out were flashbacks to their individual lives and what they remember. As a few fell out, that was the point that they realized they were dead." He also said about "Reveal" that he would describe it as "the ego becoming aware of the id via the mind of David Lynch."
This is what I mean every time I say I support the arts, and write fiction myself, because I want to be "part of the conversation." Every time we see a piece of art and talk to others about it, we get to see something new in it through their eyes as well.
My friend's blog, "The World According to Cole", is here. Check it out for interesting reviews, including "30-second movie reviews," and commentary on social issues.