HOUSTON BALLET II
By: Hal de Becker
It has been said that ballet dancers belong to an aristocracy of beauty, strength and youth.A recent performance by ‘Houston Ballet II’ at UNLV’s Performing Arts Center eloquently confirmed that description.
The troupe of five ladies and five gentlemen is an outgrowth of famed Houston Ballet which ranks fourth among the nation’s major companies. The second company, “II”, draws its dancers from among the most accomplished graduates of the organization’s distinguished dance academy.
It was a perfect ensemble for springtime with the dancers celebrating, in Dance, the springtime of their own lives and careers.They all possessed abundant talent and the glowing good looks of youth.The ladies, in particular, were gifted with ideal balletic proportions: long slender legs, fluid graceful arms and beautifully arched feet.
The stunning visual impression they projected was matched by the exuberant freedom of their dancing especially in contemporary works. “Freedom” yes, but not anarchy. Their lines were pure, positions clean and precise and the quality of their movement solidly supported by classical ballet technique.
Just one example of the company’s attention to aesthetic detail was that all the ladies, when dancing as an ensemble, kept their legs at the same height in arabesques and other extensions. This added to the harmony of the picture and enhanced choreographic unity.
The program consisted of a classical divertissement from Petipa’s 1898 masterwork “Raymonda” and three contemporary works two of which were choreographed by Stanton Welch the company’s artistic director.
One, “The Long and Winding Road,” opened the performance. It was a thoroughly engaging work set to a baroque treatment of Beatles music and, for this viewer, the highlight of the program.
The choreography captured the essence of youthful buoyancy with a combination of naturalistic movements, sharp pointe work and unique use of arms and hands. It also displayed the dancers’ versatility, speed and musicality and the personal charm of each.
Its light-hearted appearance, however, was deceptive. The playful demeanor of the performers disguised the work’s complex footwork, stylistic demands, and technical challenges that included consecutive double air turns and double fouette turns.
It was followed by Mr. Welch’s “Blue” to music by Vivaldi.The premieres of the two ballets were separated by 12 years (“Blue” 1995, ‘Winding Road’ 2007) but choreographically there didn’t seem to be that much distance between them.After seeing ‘Winding Road’, “Blue” looked extremely familiar.
Garrett Smith, a dancer with Houston Ballet, choreographed “Den III” for three men and one woman to a surprisingly modern sounding score by the 16th century composer Tielman Susato.The dance was imaginative and had a compelling, almost tribal character.Mr. Smith appears to be a choreographer of promise.
Only in “Raymonda” did youth and immaturity tend to merge. Although the dancers executed the virtuoso turns, leaps, and lifts with ease, they lacked the full measure of authority and presence that a great classic calls for. A little more time and experience will fill that space.
From the luminous red, pink and blue tu tu’s in ‘Winding Road’ to the bejeweled gold vestments of “Raymonda” the costumes looked as fresh and sparkling as the artists they adorned.
The dancers’ enthusiasm and smiling faces radiated a youthful optimism which they and all young artists deserve to have fulfilled.
Please everyone, support the arts.