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BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's CHOREOGRAPHIC WORKSHOP - A Showcase of Exquisite, Astonishing Talents

The Houston Ballet organization is imbued with talent from top to bottom. Last year, they organized an event in which the dancers got to experiment and begin growing their own individual choreographic voices. Thursday, December 13, 2012 was their second event with this goal in mind. A small, invitation only audience was treated to an evening of fantastic talent on display in 14 world première ballets by names that are sure to leave a lasting impression on the world of dance.

In MOLTO ESPRESSIVO, Ilya Kozadaev choreographed Emily Bowen, Sara Webb, Christopher Coomer, and Aaron Sharratt to John Field's Nocturne no. 2. For this piece, the choreography was sublimely beautiful and haunting. The movements were smooth, lyrical even.

In ZEPHYR, Simon Ball choreographed Katharine Precourt, Katelyn May, and Brian Walker to music by Federico Mompou with recordings from the Library of Congress. The stirring, emotional choreography for this piece seemed to tell the story of the dissolving of a family. The melancholic tone carried from beginning to end.

In METAMORPHOSIS TWO, Connor Walsh choreographed Jessica Collado, Nozomi Iijima, Melody Mennite, and Ian Casady to Philip Glass' Metamorphosis Two. Connor Walsh cites his metamorphosis from dancer to choreographer as his inspiration for the piece. The choreography was very sharp, angular, and crisp, creating a powerful yet gorgeously aggressive tone. The dance perfectly fit the music and was visually stunning.

In CONSTANT, Joseph Walsh choreographed Karina Gonzalez and Rhodes Elliott to Andrew Bird's Swedish Wedding March. This was Joseph Walsh's voice applied to traditional ballet styles. The end product was a warm, romantic, sentimental ballet. I was taken by the sheer amount of emphasis placed on the arms.

In NEXT OF KIN, Melody Mennite choreographed Emily Bowen, Nozomi Iijima, and herself to Rebecca West's Next of Kin. Due to an injury, Melody Mennite had to step into her own piece. Her voice perfectly matched the song about genocide with angry, powerful angular movements that easily radiated off the stage with sheer emotional impact.

In UNTITLED, Ian Casady choreographed Sara Webb and Brian Waldrep to Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suite no. 6 in D major, BWV 1012: Sarabande. He expertly matched the Baroque sound to the piece with Baroque costuming and traditional ballet style. As the male dancer helped undress the female dancer and then dress her again, there was a felling of classic sensuality and romance.

In FREEDEOM TRAIN, Linnar Looris choreographed Kathrine Precourt, Madeline Skelly, Natalie Varnum, Derek Dunn, Rupert Edwards, Ilya Kozadayev, Zecheng Liang, Jim Nowakowski, and Harper Watters to Laurel Aitken's Freedom Train. Linnar Looris created three differing and fantastic characters that danced with and through the rest of the group. The piece was comical and infused with inspired mixes of ballet and jazz styles. The piece was filled with heart and was a lively and uplifting piece in performance.

In RED BANDANA, James Gotesky choreographed Melissa Hough, Christopher Coomer, and Rhodes Elliott to The Coasters' Down in Mexico. This story of this piece was easy to interpret and fun to watch. His voice in the piece was reminiscent of Peter Darling's voice in Billy ElliotT: THE MUSICAL. The piece was infused with a fun sense of modern ballet dance styles.

In THERE'S SUPPOSED TO BE A TABLE, Samantha Lynch choreographed Jessica Collado, Mireille Hassenboehler, and Kelly Myernick to Max Richter's Infra 4 and Infra 2. This striking and dark piece was reminiscent of Aszure Barton's ANGULAR MOMENTUM from earlier this season, providing the audience with a lot of open-ended imagery and movement to create meaning from. Like Aszure Barton, Samantha Lynch's choreography included every aspect of the body from the movement of fingers to the way the dancers set their jaws. As the lighting effects seemed to encapsulate the dancers, I felt that the angular and aggressive movements seemed to display a trapped and confined notion. The piece was profoundly unnerving and quite possibly the evening's best work.

In EMPTY SINK, Jessica Collado choreographed herself and Connor Walsh to music by Arvo Pärt and Max Richter. The first half of the piece read as very stoic and pensive. In the second half of the piece, I felt the couple was passionately romantic and fighting for their love. The choreography was simply a practice in adept beauty and grace.

In PAS DE TROIS, Oliver Halkowich choreographed Allison Miller, Rhodes Elliott, and Charles-Louis Yoshiyama to Gabriel Prokofiev's String Quartet no. 1: IV. The choreography in this piece was quintessentially modern and experimental, incorporating elements like putting tape of the floor into the dance itself. The movements were frenetic and aggressive. The dance, to me, implied a struggle for freedom and looking for a sense of security in confinement all at the same time. Costuming for Charles-Louis Yoshiyama created a creepy ambience on top of the emotionally raw dancing. During the Q&A Oliver Halkowich stated that he is heavily inspired by his love for Bob Fosse and promised that we'd eventually see him choreography a happy piece, but that we can always expect to see him use cigarettes in his choreography.

In TITANIUM, Jim Nowakowski choreographed Lauren Strongin and Christopher Coomer to music by Madilyn Bailey. He expertly interpreted the lyrics of the song through a lyric dance. Likewise, he adroitly showed off his jazz background in his storytelling. The piece showcased romantic emotions of a love ruined and the search for post relationship autonomy.

In ON SIBELIUS, Tina Bohnstedt choreographed Nozomi Iijima and Brian Waldrep to music by Jean Sibelius. The choreography purposely included lifts that jarred with the musical choice, forcing the audience to pay extra attention to the selected movements of the dancers and the music itself. The movements were classically beautiful and compelling. The emotions and the costumes of the piece, mixed with the lifts, seemed to me to recreate the story of Peeta and Katniss in The Hunger Games. There was very much a sense of the strength and athleticism of both dancers on their own; however, they needed each other's strengths as well.

In I WAS HERE, Melissa Hough choreographed Samantha Lynch, Natalie Varnum, and Ian Casady to Goldfrapp's Lovely Head, Deer Stop, Felt Mountain, and Horse Tears. This piece was extremely emotional and raw, especially during the solo dance with a chair. From beginning to end, it was dark, enigmatic, and supremely haunting. Because of music choices and the film projections it had a distinctly Hipster vibe as well-something I never imagined seeing combined with ballet dance. Everything about this piece worked well, and I found myself caught up in the story of the piece. For me, it told of a guy who sleeps with two friends. Once they discover he is cheating on both of them with the other, they chose to leave him behind. The piece itself was stunning.

It was a great honor to be invited to this evening of fantastic dance. I have consistently been impressed by the productions that I have seen at Houston Ballet, but the Choreographic Workshop really astonished me. There has never been any doubt that Houston Ballet is filled with wonderfully artistic and immaculately talented individuals, but attending this Choreographic Workshop really raised the bar for my appreciation of the organization and all of those involved. Having spent so many years dedicated to perfecting their crafts, it is a joy and pleasure to see the dancers of Houston Ballet given the opportunity to choreograph their peers and plant the seeds for, develop, grow, and nurture their own Choreographic voices in such a safe and warm environment.

Even though you may have missed the Choreographic Workshop, it's not too late to see Houston Ballet's current production of THE NUTCRACKER. It will continue to run through December 30. You can also look forward to seeing Houston Ballet's upcoming performances of Stanton Welch's LA BAYADÈRE, a production celebrating the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky's THE RITE OF SPRING, Trey McIntyre's PETER PAN, and more. For more information about these thrilling shows and tickets, visit or call (713) 227 - 2787.

All photos by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: THE NUTCRACKER. Choreographer: Ben Stevenson. Dancer(s): Allison Miller and Aaron Sharratt.

Ballet: THE NUTCRACKER. Choreographer: Ben Stevenson. Dancer(s): Kelly Myernick.

Ballet: THE NUTCRACKER. Choreographer: Ben Stevenson. Dancer(s): Kelly Myernick and Simon Ball.

Ballet: THE NUTCRACKER. Choreographer: Ben Stevenson. Dancer(s): Simon Ball and Melissa Hough.

Ballet: THE NUTCRACKER. Choreographer: Ben Stevenson. Dancer(s): Simon Ball and Melissa Hough.

From This Author - 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... (read more about this author)

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