BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's PETER PAN is a Whimsical Good Time
The Houston Ballet is known for its elaborate and beautiful productions. Every ticket purchased guarantees a performance filled with masterful dancing, brilliant choreography, remarkable sets, and music. Houston Ballet's much anticipated production of PETER PAN is no exception and nothing short of fantastic. Although many of us are familiar with the tale and have possibly seen it on film or stage, Houston Ballet makes it their own with whimsical choreography by Trey McIntyre and a Dance Company that keeps the audience on The Edge of their seats with every move. Set to the magical score by Sir Edward Elgar, arranged by Niel DePonte, PETER PAN draws the audience into the journey of Peter Pan and the Darling children as it creates a visual adventure that is ideal for both the young and the young at heart.
Houston Ballet's PETER PAN tells the familiar tale of the boy who refused to grow up; however, sprinkled in is a handful of unexpected plot devices and twists that ensures that any viewer will feel as if they are seeing this story unfold for the first time. This is not a Peter Pan that you have seen before! The production revolves around the Darling children: Wendy, John, and Michael who are awoken one night to a mysterious boy in their room and a fairy named Tinkerbell. They fly away with Peter Pan to the fantastical Neverland where they never have to grow up. There, adventure ensues as they meet the Lost Boys, see the likes of mermaids, and battle the villainous Captain Hook and his band of pirates.
Joseph Walsh creates a multidimensional Peter Pan that resonates with fun and frivolity as well as heroic bravery. When Jospeh Walsh's Peter Pan first appears, his dancing is exuberant and youthful. As he moves about the Darlings' bedroom, he appears almost primitive and expertly performs to show a range of curiosity and playfulness. One of his most impressive moments was during the flying sequence. Although flying was expected of the character, Joseph Walsh's Peter Pan dazzled audience members as he twisted and flipped throughout the air in a seemingly effortless manner. In the second act, he successfully demonstrates an even greater range of character as he expertly dances among the Lost Boys, proving to be both their peer and their leader. Joseph Walsh commits to a character that is a fearless as he battles Captain Hook to save a stolen mermaid. As he dances with Wendy, he successfully portrays a character that is genuinely caring but childlike and temperamental. In the third act, Joseph Walsh as Peter Pan steals the show in his final battle with Captain Hook, where he simultaneously brings a smile to every audience members' face and keeps them on The Edge of their seat. His talent as a dancer and impressive control of his body is made apparent through his quick, controlled, and sweeping motions. Joseph Walsh superiorly executes the character arc of Peter Pan, showcasing both his skill as a first class dancer and actor.
Sara Webb's portrayal of Wendy Darling was masterfully beautiful and at times so elegant that audience members were left breathless. Sara Webb's Wendy successfully introduces the audience to a girl who is on the verge of growing up. Her dancing is dreamlike, light, and airy, flooding the stage with her youthfulness. As she transitions between home, Neverland, and home again her dancing matures with her character as she supremely executes sweeping movements with pristine grace and poise. Sara Webb's Wendy captivates the viewer at the beginning of the production as she dances, twirls, and moves gloriously between The Shadows in her dream. Her duet with Peter in Act II highlights her elegance as she is juxtaposed with a moody Peter Pan. Her most memorable choreography derives from her final scenes after returning home. Sara Webb's Wendy dances like a girl who has truly been transformed. Her movements are agile and graceful. Her dancing is bittersweet as she refuses Peter Pan's request to return to Neverland, and she impresses viewers with her striking execution of the choreography.
No production of Peter Pan would be complete without the villainous Captain Hook, and James Gotesky fulfills the role perfectly. He effectively portrays Captain Hook as heinous, beguiling, and imposing. He expertly executes sharp and robust movements that make his character look menacing and imposing, skillfully manipulating his gnarled hook of a hand. As he deftly dances with Wendy in Act II, James Goetesky's Captain Hook is almost sympathetic. However, his quick and powerful movements show a character that is intimidating and in control. His final battle scene with Peter Pan is fiercely executed with dexterity and agility. During his final scene, he adroitly swordfights with Peter Pan while simultaneously highlighting his hook and performing quickly paced, complicated choreography. James Goetesky delivers a memorable portrayal of Captain Hook, confirming his talent as both dancer and actor.
Ilya Kozadayev's James Hook, Captain Hook's son, is both sympathetic and comical. He successfully portrays a young pirate trying to follow in his father's footsteps as he maneuvers in a manner that is charmingly youthful and somewhat clumsy. His execution of the choreography commands attention in Act III as he transitions from a picked on child of Captain Hook to someone who boisterously comes into his own. It is because of Ilya Kozadayev's ability to portray a youthful, innocent, and disdainful character that the audience finds themselves at times angered by and rooting for James Hook.
Derek Dunn as John and Emily Bowen as Michael, flood the stage with boyish charm and naiveté. They provide consistent high energy and charisma while on stage. Derek Dunn as John dances in a way that perfectly captures a character that is young and welcoming of adventure. Emily Bowen masterfully portrays a very young Michael. Her dancing is appropriately spastic and spirited. Both Derek Dunn's John and Emily Bowen's Michael move throughout the production inviting audience members on their adventure and leaving a smile on their faces.
Mireille Hassenboehler as Mother and Simon Ball as Father, perfectly create a couple that is altogether caring but rigid. They dance together beautifully and expressively. Mireille Hassenboehler is perfectly poised as Mother, and she moves gracefully. She expertly portrays sorrow as her body crumbles in the absence of her missing children. Simon Ball' s Father is both dark and moving as he dances in sweeping, dramatic and sometimes disorienting movements. He produces a character that moves with such skill that he commands attention.
Karina Gonzalez's Tinkerbell is appropriately magical. She moves about the stage in a spritely manner. Spending a considerable amount of time on pointe, she shows off her talent as a ballerina. Karina Gonzalez's Tinkerbell and the company members playing the Fairies set the imaginative tone for the entire production. Their dancing is light and imaginative as they gracefully move about.
The company members playing the Lost Boys instantly warmed the hearts of audience members. They proved to be a boisterous source of entertainment that was impressively choreographed and continuously fun to watch.
Likewise, the company members playing the pirates were fun to watch despite their menacing roles. Each pirate produced a character that was seemingly wild and unruly, and temporarily stole the show as they danced in a lively and fraternal manner at the beginning of Act III.
Contributing to the fantastical elements of this production were Nao Kusuzaki, Lauren Strongin, and Nozomi Iijima as Mermaids and Connor Walsh as the Merman. Their movements were beautifully choreographed and executed in a perfectly fluid and elegant manner.
Jessica Collado is memorable as the over-bearing nursemaid Liza. Dylan Lackey, Chun Wai Chan, and Joel Woellner open the show as the Nurses, immediately suspending the viewer's sense of reality and inviting them into a seemingly dark tale.
The company members playing The Shadows were remarkable in their encompassing and fluid movements. They perfectly danced in a manner that emulated shadows spreading across a surface hiding away light. The feverish dancing during Wendy's nightmare in Act I was impressively haunting.
Company members playing the Red Skins were memorable for their sharp, robust, sweeping movements. The Red Skins open Act II, and convincingly execute choreography that makes the audience aware that they have entered Neverland.
Simply, this magical ballet is produced by a supremely talented Dance Company. The dancing from start to finish is overwhelmingly impressive. It must be mentioned that even the dancers moving props executed their roles flawlessly. The most astounding was the massive crocodile that moved effortlessly across the stage.
The orchestra, under the masterful conduction of Ermanno Florio, moved flawlessly throughout the production filling the theater with a brilliant mélange of music from the dark ominous opening to the final beautiful scene. The music was expertly paced transitioning from soft dreamlike melodies to brassy swashbuckling descants keeping the audience on their toes.
Thomas Boyd's remarkable Set Design functions almost like another character. It brilliantly encapsulates the dancers, making it very believable that they are transported into another world. Thomas Boyd's use of an enlarged picture frame that appears at the beginning and the end of the production is a simple concept, but one that brilliantly tugs on the heart strings of audience members. This tactic makes them feel a variety of emotions. His design of the outdoor elements only adds to the whimsy and fantasy of the ballet, surrounding the stage with exquisitely designed flowers, or a rocky shore along the sparkling water. To further the feeling of suspended reality, he incorporates the use of a miniature proscenium to create moments where it is as if the viewer is watching a play within a play. Possibly the most captivating aspect of Thomas Boyd's set design is his massive bone ship that is reminiscent of Captain Hooks infamous hook, and adds another element to the characterization of the villain.
Costuming by Jeanne Button was nothing short of wonderful. The adult characters present in the Darling home were costumed in blacks and whites making them appear rigid and in some cases frightening. Her use of masks for the Mother and Father added a further element of discomfort to these characters. Jeanne Button masterfully created costumes around character groups with acute attention to details. Peter Pan and the Lost Boys are costumed in a variety of colors making them look youthful but untamed. The Pirates were also expertly costumed creating juxtapositions of purple skin and wild hair, making them look rough and unruly. Likewise, The Shadows and Redskins were simply but appropriately costumed in single color body suits highlighting their bodily movements. Possibly the most memorable costume design was that of Captain Hook. Adorned in lavish purples and complete with a gnarled bone hook, Captain Hook appears both regal and heinous.
Light Design by Christina Giannelli adroitly captivated audiences from the very beginning. Her use of strobbing lights at the opening the show was memorable, as it gave the audience their first enchanted peeks of Fairies. Christina Giannelli's design perfectly set the tone for the production from its surprisingly dark and grim beginning to the wonderful world of Neverland. The audience was dazzled by the lighting elements that extended past the stage, filling the theater and appearing as twinkling stars in the night sky. Some of her most brilliant light work was seen in during the final battle between Peter Pan and Captain Hook where colorful light washes were used to transform the stage from a deep purple to vibrant red hue.
Houston Ballet's production of PETER PAN is a wonderful summertime spectacle for children and adults. Conveniently broken down into three short acts, PETER PAN flies by stunning audience members in a flurry of fun. PETER PAN runs at the Wortham Center's Brown Theater through June 23, 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.
Ballet: PETER PAN. Choreographer: Trey McIntyre. Dancer(s): Karina Gonzalez.
Ballet: PETER PAN. Choreographer: Trey McIntyre. Dancer(s): Sara Webb and James Gotesky.
Ballet: PETER PAN. Choreographer: Trey McIntyre. Dancer(s): Sara Webb and James Gotesky.
Ballet: PETER PAN. Choreographer: Trey McIntyre. Dancer(s): James Gotesky and Derek Dunn.