Houston Ballet lives large in three well-focused works

  • Article by: CAROLINE PALMER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2012 - 11:47 AM

REVIEW: The country's fourth-largest ballet company presented work by Jerome Robbins, Jorma Elo and Christopher Wheeldon.

Karina González and Joseph Walsh of Houston Ballet.

Texas is known for doing things in a big way, so when Houston Ballet rolled into town this weekend for two shows presented by Northrop Dance at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, it seemed possible the country's fourth-largest professional ballet company would further its home state's oversized reputation. Instead, on Saturday night, artistic director Stanton Welch's dancers proved that less is more, with three tightly constructed and well-executed works. This is an impressive company of technically skilled and sophisticated dancers.

Jorma Elo's "One/end/One" (2011), set to Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4, opened the evening. The Finnish choreographer has a restless style that often keeps the dancers in perpetual motion, changing up classical and modern -- even calligraphic -- movement from moment to moment. Sometimes the flurry of ideas is distracting, but at others it's virtuosic, as if we can see Elo's neurons firing in all directions. Houston Ballet's dancers rose to the occasion, embracing the choreographer's acrobatic partnering and fidgety flair with enthusiasm. A duet for Karina Gonzalez and Connor Walsh was a standout for give-and-take playfulness as well as its bounty of innovative lifts and cantilevered balances.

Jerome Robbins was revered in the ballet world as well as on Broadway and film (he is probably best known for choreographing "West Side Story"). His aesthetic versatility is evident in the 1970 work "In the Night," a series of duets accompanied by several Chopin "Piano Nocturnes" (played live, offstage). Inspired by the smooth elegance of ballroom dance, the piece explores a variety of moods -- from serenity to passionate anger. Danielle Rowe and Linnar Looris particularly embodied the effortless movement conversation between partners who are perfectly in synch. There were times when the two of them seemed as one -- a divine moment in any pairing.

Christopher Wheeldon's "Rush" (2003) set to Bohuslav Martinu's "Sinfonietta La Jolla" rounded out the program with a work that sometimes called for 16 dancers. The piece provided a thoughtful contrast to the two others with its geometric emphasis on symmetry, lines and a bold color palette for the contemporary costumes. Here the emphasis was on momentum and precision, but there was nothing robotic about the presentation. The duet for Nao Kusuzaki and Simon Ball showed that gliding and floating movement are important counterpoints to include in this type of work, suggesting that Wheeldon approached the endeavor with the eye of an architect as well as that of a choreographer.

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