Sunday, October 27, 2019

Houston Ballet, Distinguished by Solid Rep

The Letter V. Photo: Amitava Sarkar
October holds such an embarrassment of dance riches in New York that it might be easy to overlook a run by the Houston Ballet, which is in the city if not often, then at least with some regularity. But the company’s recent City Center run comprised excellent repertory by choreographers whose works are staples in NYC.

Mark Morris’ The Letter V shows his facility with ballet, but perhaps the revelation in this dance is how simple and pure the phrases are. A dancer leaning forward, arms back like wings, opens the ballet; this passage recurs until it’s familiar. Then it’s done with the men lifting the women who do basically the same phrase, but in the air. Arms straight, swinging rapidly front to back like pendulums, look jarring at first, but once you get used to them they visually amplify the music. The amiable Haydn Symphony No. 88 in G Major, played live by Orchestra of St. Luke’s, provides a satisfying structure for the movement, and Maile Okamura’s chiffon tunics layered over leotards boost the overall sunny disposition.

Connor Walsh in Come In. Photo: Amitava Sarkar
Aszure Barton’s Come In is an extended tone poem that shows off the company’s men, set to Vladimir Martynov’s metronomic composition complete with glockenspiel. All 16 wear Barton’s handsome henley-necked navy jumpsuits. She builds phrases by connecting disparate gestures, adding and subtracting dancers, and ramping up dynamic and intent to a dreamy and hypnotic effect.
Jessica Collado, Harper Watters, Chun Wai Chan in Reflections. Photo: Amitava Sarkar
Can one see too much work by Justin Peck, who has premieres popping up every season? Not for the moment. Reflections, an HB commission, situated two piano players upstage to render Sufjan Stevens’ score. In a kind of structural reversal, the ensemble formed a picturesque tableau as the curtain rose. Peck favors wheel-like formations with a central dancer bursting upward to punctuate a phrase. His facility with integrating numerous dancers to create a harmonious whole is like an engine and its countless parts working together to make a smooth-running motor. The dancers wore Ellen Warren’s fresh, color-block leotards with white belts and socks, reminiscent of Jerome Robbins’ dances, helping to underscore Peck’s greater affinity to Robbins.

Houston Ballet’s brief City Center season, smartly-curated by Artistic Director Stanton Welch, stood out amidst one of the year’s busiest dance weeks—no easy feat.

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