BWW Reviews: Houston Ballet's FOUR PREMIERES is a Celebration of Choreography

The Houston Ballet is notorious for providing audiences with top-notch productions and a supremely talented company. Launching into their 2013-2014 season, Houston Ballet opens with FOUR PREMIERES. Consisting of one American premiere and three world premieres, FOUR PREMIERES is a wonderful evening of dance, with works choreographed by Chrisopher Bruce, Melissa Hough, Garrett Smith, and James Kudelka.

The ballet opens with the American premiere of Christopher Bruce's INTIMATE PAGES, set to String Quartet No. 2 by Leos Janacek. Originally debuting at England's Ballet Rambert in 1984, reviewers were quick to praise the deep emotions conveyed in Bruce's choreography. Houston Ballet's premier of INITMATE PAGES is beautifully visceral and haunting chamber ballet that presents audiences with a tangled web of couplehood that undulates with togetherness and separation. There is an inherent drama to the production that is immediately captivating and unsettling. Jessica Collado and Ian Casady deliver an enigmatic performance as they portray a couple that is emotionally bound. Together they pristinely execute choreography that is the perfect marrying of long elegant movements and abrupt distinct motions, successfully highlighting the couple's shifting dynamics. Individually Jessica Collado masterfully exudes passion that is both pained and hopeful, while Ian Casady portrays a man who is very much torn. Emily Bowen, Christopher Gray, Elise Judson, and Derek Dunn are haunting as the childlike and ethereal antagonists working to pull the couple apart. Emily Bowen and Elise Judson master movements that are reminiscent of youthfulness and exude a consistent playfulness and urgency. Christopher Gray and Derek Dunn's grandiose sweeping movements also render a resolution to separate the couple. One of the most breathtaking moments of INTIMATE PAGES is near the end when Jessica Collado and Ian Casady move intimately together in juxtaposition to the other four dancers who expertly move in unison in a folk-like dance style, which eventually culminates in the final parting of the couple. Scenic and Costume Design by Walter Nobbe foreshadows the couple's ultimate fate of separation. The female is adorned with a flowing red dress that distinctly stands apart from the background and other dancers' subdued garments. Christopher Bruce's INITIMATE PAGES is a thought-provoking and deeply emotional work of art that lingers with you long after the final moment.

The second ballet of the production is a world premiere from former Houston Ballet dancer Melissa Hough. Set to Gabriel Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 1, ...THE THIRD KIND [IS] USELESS. is a marvelously jarring and enigmatic piece of modern dance that is both sensual and radical. Reminiscent of performance art, Melissa Hough's ...THE THIRD KIND [IS] USELESS. is a successful amalgamation of several styles that keeps the viewer watching each dancer with bated breath. Connor Walsh excels as the male lead whose inner humanness and psychological torment is exposed. He dexterously emanates a confidence and dominance while slowly altering to show an inner turmoil. Kelly Myernick delivers a powerful performance as Connor Walsh's foil. She is gracefully vulnerable in response to Connor Walsh's control, but masterfully becomes a sensual force to be reckoned with as his insecurities rise. Melissa Hough's choreography of all of the dancers is complex, with attention to even the smallest details. The integration of vocals from the dancers and their skillful delivery of the eclectic movements throughout the piece leave the viewer intrigued and even anxious to a certain degree. Costume Design by Monica Guerra and Lighting Design by Lisa J. Pinkham work well to present an image that feels futuristic and other-worldly, elevating the piece to a new level. Inescapably mesmerizing, Melissa Hough's ...THE THIRD KIND [IS] USELESS. is wonderfully provocative down to the final moment.

RETURN, a world premiere by former Houston Ballet dancer, Garret Smith is full of energy and vivid motion. Set to music by John Adams, Short Ride In A Fast Machine and Harmonielehre, RETURN takes the audience on a journey and back again eliciting applause several times throughout the performance. Garret Smith utilizes a large number of dancers to tell the story of a group of friends who explore a cave. Upon entering the cave their movements are joyful and celebratory. In time, with the adventurous music, each dancer dazzles with a high-energy and high-impact performance as they move together in unison. Katharine Precourt and William Newton are breathtaking as they robustly and sensually move together. Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh's Light Pas de Deux is beautiful as they lithely engross the viewer in their frenetic movements. Quick to earn applause, the Harness Couples: Nozomi Iijima, Oliver Halkowich, Jacquelyn Long, and Rhodes Elliott, contribute an element of fantasy to this adventure ballet while simultaneously filling the stage with an alluring aesthetic. Functioning as the Twitch Couples, Natalie Varnum, Harper Watters, Allison Miller, and Charles-Louis Yoshiyama , make excellent use of the multi-leveled stage and draw a sense of unease and danger through their quirky motions. Travis Halsey's on-par Costume Design and Lisa J. Pinkham's majestic Lighting Design visually excel at projecting a cave-like experience to the audience. Garret Smith's RETURN is enthralling, and deep with sentiment. Although presenting as a simple narrative of friends on an adventure, it is through Garret Smith's choreography that the viewer is also presented with a bigger picture of a journey of a lifetime where no one is left behind or forgotten; it is extremely impactful and altogether stunning.

The final world premiere of the production is James Kudelka's PASSION, set to Ludwig van Beethoven's Concerto for Piano in D, Op. 61a - First Movement. PASSION is a visually splendid work of art that captures a couple from the moment that their eyes meet to the passion and hesitancy that ensues. James Kudelka masterfully utilizes thirteen dancers that classically dance around the stage continually creating a variation of stunning imagery. His use of space should be celebrated as he constantly brings dancers on and off of stage to move around and between the hesitant couple, shifting the tone of the piece. The simultaneous performance of two couples is most impressive. One is classical while the other is contemporary. Karina Gonzalez and Simon Ball fully commit to the choreography as they shift and move out of timid sensuality and hesitancy. Together their performance is moving and memorable. Lauren Strongin and Joseph Walsh function flawlessly as the classical couple, moving gracefully and dexterously throughout their performance. Costume Design by Denis Lavoie is expertly reminiscent of classical ballet, with subtle differences to the contemporary couple's wardrobe. James Kudelka's PASSION is a breathtaking celebration of ballet that is layered in rich emotion and humanness.

Houston Ballet's FOUR PREMIERES is an evening of dance that is simply too good to miss. FOUR PREMIERES will be performed in the Brown Theater of the Wortham Theater Center through September 15, 2013. For more information and tickets, please visit or call (713) 227-2787.

Photos by Amitava Sarkar. Photos courtesy of Houston Ballet.

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Ballet: INTIMATE PAGES. Choreographer: Christopher Bruce. Dancer(s): Ian Casady and Jessica Collado.

Ballet: INTIMATE PAGES. Choreographer: Christopher Bruce. Dancer(s): Ian Casady, Elise Judson, Emily Bowen.

Ballet: …THE THIRD KIND [IS] USELESS. Choreographer: Melissa Hough. Dancer(s): Connor Walsh and Artists of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: …THE THIRD KIND [IS] USELESS. Choreographer: Melissa Hough. Dancer(s): Connor Walsh and Kelly Myernick.

Ballet: RETURN. Choreographer: Garrett Smith. Dancer(s): Katharine Precourt and William Newton.

Ballet: RETURN. Choreographer: Garrett Smith. Dancer(s): Melody Mennite.

Ballet: PASSION. Choreographer: James Kudelka. Dancer(s): Karina Gonzalez, Joseph Walsh and Lauren Strongin.

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