BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed

Simon Ball in THE CONCERT.Houston Ballet is kicking off the summer with their resplendent production of JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS. This amazing treat is made complete with thrilling dance compositions by three of the world's leading modern choreographers, George Balanchine, Jirí Kylían, and Jerome Robbins. The three acts are vastly different from each other and superbly enchant audiences with their uniqueness.

The opening act is the Houston Ballet Premiere of George Balanchine's BALLET IMPERIAL. This ballet had its world premiere on May 29, 1941 by American Ballet Caravan at the Hunter College Playhouse in New York City. It is gorgeously sumptuous and serves as a picturesque homage to Czarist Russia, the classically demanding and plotless ballet style that George Balanchine was trained in at the famed Imperial Theater School in St. Petersburg, the choreography of Marius Petipa, and the music of Marius Petipa's greatest composer-collaborator, Peter Ilyich Tschaikosky.

Katherine Precourt and Linnar Looris moved with resoundingly regal grace and fluidity at Sunday's performance, mesmerizing the audience with their charm and poisE. Kelly Myernick danced her role with dignified elegance. Jessica Collabdo, Nao Kusuzaki, William Newton, and Brian Waldrep were all brilliant in their featured dances as well. The large corps de ballet for the production danced with stunningly smooth movements that impressed and beguiled the audience.

Rouben Ter-Arutunian's Set and Costume Design radiantly capture the sophistication and splendor of Czarist Russia and of the opulent tutu ballet, with visibly imperial costuming, lavishly rich blue curtains, hanging chandeliers, and a fantastical painted backdrop. Lisa J. Pinkham's Lighting Design keeps the action in vividly bright light, leaving all focus on the attractively nimble dancing.

BALLET IMPERIAL is danced to Peter Ilyich Tschaikosky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 44. Ermanno Florio wondrously conducts the orchestra, instantly commanding our attention with a striking call made by the French Horns as the curtain rises. As the ballet and music progresses, Katherine Burkall-Ciscon's phenomenal piano talent keeps us captivated and attending to the ballet.

The middle act, SINFONIETTA, had its world premiere on June 16, 1978 by the Nederlands Dans Theater at Circustheater, Scheveningen, Netherlands. Its Houston Ballet Premiere occurred on May 25, 1995. For SINFONIETTA, Ermanno Florio skillfully conducts the orchestra on Leoš Janácek's Sinfoniettea, which was dedicated to the Czechoslovak Armed Forces by the composer. Jirí Kylían's choreography for the ballet is amazingly athletic, opening and closing with dazzling, breathtaking leaps.

Emily Bowen, Ian Casady, Ana Calderon, Christopher Coomer, Melissa Hough, Christopher Gray, Nao Kusuzaki, Jim Nowakowski, Katelyn May, Aaron Sharratt, Madeline Skelly, Brian Waldrep, Alyssa Springer, and Harper Watters all do extraordinary jobs with the bold, large images in the choreography. They dance with exhilarating clarity and energy, filling the space with innumerous and impeccable stunts. Each dancer perfectly reflects the powerful and frenetic music, matching its mood and tonality with their body and movements. For instance, when the music is brassy and virile, the men dominate the stage with adroitly masculine dances. Likewise, when the music becomes more elegiac, the women control the stage with softer dancing.

Walter Nobbe's Set and Costume Design invoke images of nature. The painted backdrop reminds audiences of a lake set in small hills. The costuming uses browns, grays, and greens to give the impression of trees and rocks. There is truly a delightful pastoral aura to the designs.

Kees Tjebbes Lighting Design is sparse and minimalistic; however, it effectively defines the space that the dances occurs in and focuses the eyes of the audience.

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David Clarke David Clarke has had a lifelong love and passion for the performing arts, and has been writing about theatre both locally and nationally for years. He joined running their Houston site in early 2012 and began writing as the site's official theatre recording critic in June of 2013.

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