BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's CLEAR and MADAME BUTTERFLY- Sumptuous, Emotional and Beautiful
Stanton Welch. Dancers: Amy Fote and Artists of Houston Ballet." src="https://cloudimages.broadwayworld.com/upload10/403139/IMG_9385_Fote_and_Artists_of_Houston_Ballet.jpg" alt="JPG:: IMG_9385 Fote and Artists of Houston Ballet Ballet: Madame Butterfly Choreographer: Stanton Welch Dancer(s): Amy Fote and Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar" width="349" height="252" />The Houston Ballet is synonymous with fantastic and sumptuous performances. Each of their dancers, from Principals to Apprentices, is a supremely talented artist at the top of their class in professional skill. Currently, Houston Ballet is featuring their male dancers in CLEAR, which was created for American Ballet Theatre in New York City in 2001, and their ability to move audiences through gorgeous storytelling in MADAME BUTTERFLY, which has its world premiere on February 24, 1995 by The Australian Ballet and its Houston premiere on September 19, 2002. These pieces are distinctly different from each other; yet, Stanton Welch's choreography is sure to leave audiences breathless and spellbound in both productions.
CLEAR seems to tell the story of the human search for clarity in life. Set to Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor and the 1st and 2nd movements from the Violin Concerto in G minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, the piece begins with a jocular and jovial tone. The dancers are full of energy and seem to impress each other as much as they are the audience. It's almost as if they are showing off and out doing each other purely for their own enjoyment. As the piece progresses, it introduces the female dancer and slowly begins a subtle shifting towards a more stoic performance. The audience begins to notice that dancers are spending time observing each other and themselves, emoting a transcendence and understanding of the world and their surroundings.
During the performance of CLEAR, each dancer fascinated the audience. Amy Fote, who is dancing her last season with Houston Ballet, was astounding as the female soloist in the piece. Moreover, the poise, style, and masterful movements of Aaron Robison and Oliver Halkowich at the performance I attended personally blew me away. It was hard not to focus on them when they were present on stage, dancing with such magnanimous presence and passion that they easily stole the show. No matter who audiences see dancing in CLEAR, they are sure to be made speechless by the performance, but there was no denying that Saturday evening's cast was brilliant and perfectly assembled to convey the piece to the audience.
The costuming by renowned fashion designer Michael Kors was a nice addition to the performance. He has perfectly matched the skin tones of each individual dancer to the skintight fabrics they wear, creating an illusion of nudity that frees the audience from concentrating on elaborate costuming, allowing them to become completely immersed and lost in each stunning movement and the emotions within the dances and Bach's music.
Likewise, Lisa J. Pinkham has brilliantly lit the stage to further emphasize the emotionality of the dancing. The show begins in warm oranges that compliment the buoyant and playful feeling. As the mood shifts to a more matured feeling, the lighting brightens and shifts into golden radiating yellows. In the final moments of the piece, the lighting is a clear single spotlight that mirrors the clarity that the dancers have found during the piece.
Following CLEAR, the anticipated performance of MADAME BUTERFLY is a tremendously delightful experience. MADAME BUTTERFLY is set to a condensed version of Giacomo Puccini's classic opera score, adroitly adapted and arranged by John Lanchbery. Like the opera it is inspired by, the ballet relates the tale of a young, naïve Japanese woman, Cio-Cio San (Butterfly), who believes that the American, Lieutenant Pinkerton, loves her wholly and completely. Before abandoning her, he steals her innocence. Years later, Pinkerton returns to Japan with his second wife, who offers to adopt Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton's child. This shatters Cio-Cio San and leads to the devastatingly tragic ending, in which Cio-Cio San commits suicide with her father's sword that reads "to die with honor when one can no longer live with honor."
Melody Mennite as Cio-Cio San (Butterfly) is stellar and gorgeous. She exudes elegance and grace. Her movements, as choreographed by Stanton Welch, are filled with tangible and raw sentiment. Melody Mennite pristinely conveys every heart rendering moment of the tragic love story to the audience. Likewise, Connor Walsh is excellent as Pinkerton, deftly conveying his masculinity while showing compassionate romance in his sequences with Meoldy Mennite.
Melissa Hough as Suzuki, Cio-Cio San's personal maid and Linnar Looris as The Bonze, also delivered astounding performances. Melissa Hough is affectionate and tender as Suzuki, perfectly capturing and embodying the confidante relationship and friendship between the two women. Her dancing is majestic and refined. As The Bonze, Linnar Looris is humorous and impactful. His presence is undeniable and attention grabbing, making the character both memorable and enjoyable.
Both the Costuming and Scenic Design by Peter Farmer are dazzling. They perfectly illustrate the setting and culture without being overdone. Most impressive is the choice to keep Cio-Cio San in all white until the second act of MADAME BUTTERFLY, at which point her dress is solid white with a tinge of pink along the bottom of her skirt, mirroring the cherry blossoms that fall from the sky during her dream sequence.
Both CLEAR and MADAME BUTTERFLY are fully realized and immaculately choreographed pieces by Stanton Welch. He has consummately begun the 2012-2013 season of consistently impressive Houston Ballet off with enchanting, thrilling programming. Regardless of casting, the shows are certain to enchant audiences. As is to be expected from this company, these performances are nothing short of brilliant and moving.
The Houston Ballet's beautiful productions of CLEAR and MADAME BUTTERFLY run at The Wortham Theater Center's Brown Theatre until September 16, 2012. For tickets and more information please visit http://www.houstonballet.org/ or call (713_ 227 – 2787.All photos by Amitava Sarkar.
Ballet: CLEAR. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer: Charles-Louis Yoshiyama.