Houston Ballet's LEGENDS AND PRODIGY in Three Words: A-MAZE-ING

Houston Ballet's program of three contemporary ballets, running now at THE WORTHAM CENTER, is breath-taking. This is the first of many adjectives I will reach for in this review. I may run out, but you'll get the drift.

The first, GROSSE FUGE, designed and choreographed by Hans van Manen, is a celebration of the movement of dance. Abstract in concept, the piece is all color and lightness, with a corps of female and male dancers, dressed minimally, the females in white leotards and leggings, the males, bare-chested, in long black divided skirts. The set consists of overhead scrims and sheer draperies, enhanced by colored lighting. The mood shifts as the colors change from a silvery white to pink to rose to blue, etc. The effect is quite stunning.

The male and female dancers appear on opposite sides of the stage, in their own groups, and begin the dance as separate entities, one dancing as the other stands still. The stillness is as effective as the movement, and when the groups begin to blend they dance in point and counterpoint in perfect synchronization, and the result is sheer joy. The pulse of Beethoven swirls around them, becoming more and more intricate, until it seems that the variation must end, but it doesn't. New patterns emerge, and the dance continues.

I sat enthralled, a witness to perfection, and grateful to be a part of it. What more can I say?

The second piece, STEPPING STONES, choreography by Jiri Kylian, music by John Cage, is dark where GROSSE FUGE is light, portentous where GROSSE FUGE is joyful, but the two pieces compliment each other beautifully.

If the first is about movement, STEPPING STONES is about pattern. On a dark set, with a futuristic, or primitive - it depends on your point of view - feeling, a giant triangular piece of metalwork hangs rather ominously overhead, shifting position as the movement changes.

Male and female dancers, darkly costumed, move about with small boxes containing golden sculptures; seeming objects of veneration, or offering. At times they become a part of the dance in most unexpected ways, as the dancers manipulate them.

The dancers themselves, in pairs or in groups, seem to shape-shift as they take up poses within the choreography. The techno atonality of Cage's music provides the perfect accompaniment.

Again, the dancing was superb, and as the second intermission began, I couldn't wait for the curtain to rise.

YEAR OF THE RABBIT, Design and Choreography by Justin Peck, did not disappoint.

Also abstract in form, Peck's piece is about the formality of dance in a light-hearted setting. There is no book, but the colorfully-costumed dancers seemed to be playing a game we have all played.

The music by Sufjan Stevens is whimsically appropriate, and the costumes and lighting, all in bright primary colors, add a sense of youth and energy.

When I use the term "formality of dance", I mean that Peck has chosen to use the much more traditional language of classical dance to give his vision movement. It is less threatening than STEPPING STONES, more comfortable than GROSSE FUGE, but perfect for the concept.

LEGENDS AND PRODIGY is an evening of dance I won't soon forget, and if you love the joy of movement in dance, you can't do better than this.

Houston is so fortunate to have this world-class company here for our enjoyment. Beg, borrow or whatever, but don't miss this one.


March 16-26, 2017


Wortham Theater Center, Brown Theater, 501 Texas. For tickets and information, visit

Photo: Amitava Sarkar

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From This Author Gary Laird

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