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.

The third and final piece in the production is Jerome Robbins' THE CONCERT, which is set to music by Frédéric Chopin. The choreography is hilariously comedic and makes for an abundantly cute piece of ballet, as it spoofs our ability to loose our selves in music at a concert. This ballet had its World Premiere on March 6, 1956 by New York City Ballet at the City Center of Music and Drama in New York City. It had its Houston Ballet premiere on February 22, 2007.

Jessica Collado's performance as a young woman is pristine and luminous. Her character is amiable and wins our hearts with ease. Near the top of the dance, she holds on to the piano and keeps her body in a seated position for such a long time that she easily impresses and amazes the audience with her phenomenal control. Furthermore, as the bickering and abundantly wealthy couple, James Gotesky and Melissa Hough are simply wonderful. They fill the performance with countless amusing antics, leaving the audience rolling in the aisles. The other dancers are brightly comic, ensuring that every funny element earns many laughs.

Costume Design by Irene Sharaff is fantastic. Every dancer is clad in skin-tight, light blue attire with well-chosen accents that are telling of the characters they portray. Saul Steinberg's Scenic Design is very minimalistic, using one curtain, light-blue painted chairs, and a piano. Each element helps the audience to visualize where the cast is at, but leaves the stage open for movement. Jennifer Tipton's Lighting Design is relatively unadorned and keeps the dancers bathed in light that does not take away from the performance.

Piano solos, performed by Mikhail Murach, are astonishingly played and perfectly grandiose. Ermanno Florio leads the orchestra through the score with precision as well.

The Houston Ballet's immaculately programmed, exhilarating, and extravagant JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS runs at The Wortham Center's Brown Theater through June 9, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit http://www.houstonballet.org or call (713) 227 - 2787.

All photos by Amitava Sarkar. Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

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BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: BALLET IMPERIAL. Choreographer: George Balanchine. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: BALLET IMPERIAL. Choreographer: George Balanchine. Dancer(s): Sara Webb and Artists of Houston Ballet.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: BALLET IMPERIAL. Choreographer: George Balanchine. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: BALLET IMPERIAL. Choreographer: George Balanchine. Dancer(s): Brian Waldrep, Karina Gonzalez & William Newton.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: BALLET IMPERIAL. Choreographer: George Balanchine. Dancer(s): Sara Webb and Artists of Houston Ballet.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: BALLET IMPERIAL. Choreographer: George Balanchine. Dancer(s): Sara Webb and Artists of Houston Ballet.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: SINFONIETTA. Choreographer: Jirí Kylián. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: SINFONIETTA. Choreographer: Jirí Kylián. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: SINFONIETTA. Choreographer: Jirí Kylián. Dancer(s): Nozomi Iijima.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: THE CONCERT. Choreographer: Jerome Robbins. Dancer(s): Katherine Precourt.

BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's JOURNEY WITH THE MASTERS is Exhilarating, Extravagant & Immaculately Programmed
Ballet: THE CONCERT. Choreographer: Jerome Robbins. Dancer(s): Simon Ball.

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