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BWW Review: Houston Ballet's Must See Primal RITE OF SPRING is Riveting

Under the Artistic Direction of Stanton Welch, The Houston Ballet is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky's breathtaking THE RITE OF SPRING by offering an evening of three thrilling ballet performances. The evening opens with the Houston Premiere of Mark Morris' sumptuous PACIFIC, which is followed by the World Premiere of Edwaard Liang's energetic MURMURATION, and closes with the World Premiere of Stanton Welch's captivating THE RITE OF SPRING.

For PACIFIC, Mark Morris' choreography brings modern flair to the evenings most traditional ballet aesthetic. He utilizes crisp, gorgeous, sumptuous lines in the dance. The first three of the four movements are color coded, with a different group dancing in each movement. In the final movement, we see the three different colored groups come together, dance separately of, and join with each other. The first three pieces are elegiac and gorgeous, with movements that highlight the serenity of the music. The fourth piece starts with a Zen, peaceful quality, but builds in energy throughout. As the fourth movement races towards its climax, the three groups begin to coalesce and create movement together. The ballet ends with all nine dancers dancing in striking unison.

Costume Design by Martin Pakledinaz utilizes white flowing materials, giving every dancer a floor length skirt that they manipulate into fluidity with their choreography. The first group's skirts are accented with blue, the second with green, and the third with red. These choices are mirrored in James F. Ingalls Lighting Design, which boldly showcases the color on the upstage cyclorama. With the colors and movements, I got the idea that we saw the elements of water, earth, and lava/fire acting separately of each other. For the final movement, the cyclorama reverts to an oceanic blue, and the movement seemed to indicate lava mixing with water and natural elements to create new land, giving the impression of how the islands of the pacific were formed.

PACIFIC is danced to Lou Harrison's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano. Denise Tarrant on Violin, Barrett Sills on Cello, and Katherine Burkwall-Cison on Piano fantastically play the music.

The World Premiere of MURMURATION elicited audible gasps and cheers from Sunday's audience. The striking, stirring, and highly athletic choreography by Edwaard Liang is raw, visceral, intense, and extremely passionate. It perfectly matches the stark urgency of the score. The dancers slide in and out of position, slap their legs to create bodily percussion, writhe with momentum and dexterity, and drag their partners through rich and extravagant, awe-inspiring movements of human agility. The dancers move with a primal, animalistic sensuality. Partners are claimed, fought for, and won in the emotive and evocative piece. Standout performances are offered by recently promoted to Principal Karina Gonzalez, expertly showcasing the skills and talents. Christopher Coomer also does a spectacular job as the male dance lead in the piece, showcasing his strength and amazing, nimble liveliness.

Costume Design by Edwaard Liang and Laura Lynch utilizes a gray color palette that matches the mood and tone of the music and choreography. The same severity is present in Lisa J. Pinkham's minimalistic Lighting Design. None of the technical aspects get in the way of the dancers, which guarantees that everything the audience gets to interpret the piece comes strictly from the choreography and movements of the proficient and enchanting dancers.

MURMURATION is danced to Ezio Bosso's pulsating Violin Concerto No. 1, Esoconcerto. Ermanno Florio conducts the piece with a tangible exigency, ensuring that it propels forward with a stunning momentum that is expertly matched by the dancers. Violin solos by Denise Tarrant are alluring, sharp, crisp, and gorgeous.

The final and most anticipated act is danced to Igor Stravinsky's compelling and arresting THE RITE OF SPRING. Stanton Welch's choreography is perfectly in tune with the music, using a primitive and ritualistic aesthetic of dance that is evocative of early civilizations from the Pacific islands of Polynesia, the Mayans, and the Aztecs. Stanton Welch uses his signature brand of sliding into position and hitting of the chest for bodily percussion sparingly and effectively in the piece. He also showcases the most literal interpretation of the music in his choreography that I have ever seen him do, having movements pristinely placed to the movement of notes. Feet mirror the quick movements of syncopated eighth notes, hands vibrate while the woodwinds play tremolos, and arms rise with the crash and scrapes of cymbals and gongs. These choices complete and heighten the tribal feel of the dance.

The only complaint I have with the production is the rather abrupt ending. I feel like something more stunning and visually arresting should close the piece, which might cement the ballet as one of the best ballets that audiences would ever have the pleasure to see.

As the sacrificial virgin, Nozomi Iijima captivates the audience the entire time she is on stage. Paired opposite of her, Joseph Walsh keeps the audience riveted and enthralled. Both illustrate superior skill, letting their passion for dance and their talents wash brilliantly over the audience.

Laura Lynch realized Stanton Welch's vivid and detailed Costume Design. The team uses minimal fabrics and a lot of body paint to capture the look and feel of primitive civilizations. Body Paint and printed tights mimic the tattoos of Polynesian cultures while accentuating the dancers musculature; headdresses seem to mimic Aztec and Mayan styles. The costuming feels native but freed from the conventions of one society, one location, and one time.

Lisa L. Pinkham's Lighting Design uses stark whites, glowing reds, dark greens, and one instance of brilliant and haunting blue to heighten emotion and mood. The lighting highlights the forceful, dark, and foreboding ambience of the music and choreography. It also plays off the final backdrop to stunning effect.

Ermanno Florio conducts Igor Stravinsky's score with a crisp sense of quickness. Nothing is dragged out, and the piece rushes along with a breath stealing pace.

THE RITE OF SPRING program is the astoundingly emotional and visually appealing experience at the Houston Ballet that I wanted it to be. It showcases the dazzling and radiant talents that inhabit the company. It illustrates their endless energy and ability to move and mesmerize through the narrative qualities of immaculate and remarkable dancing. Lastly, THE RITE OF SPRING is a must see evening of ballet that will simply blow you away.

THE RITE OF SPRING runs through March 17, 2013 at the Brown Theater at the Wortham Center. For more information and tickets, please visit or call (713) 227 - 2787. You'll be disappointed if you let your opportunity to experience this performance pass you by.

All photos by Amitava Sarkar. Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: PACIFIC. Choreographer: Mark Morris. Dancer(s): Linnar Looris and Melissa Hough.

Ballet: PACIFIC. Choreographer: Mark Morris. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: MURMURATION. Choreographer: Edwaard Liang. Dancer(s): Karina Gonzalez and Simon Ball.

Ballet: MURMURATION. Choreographer: Edwaard Liang. Dancer(s): Christopher Coomer and Karina Gonzalez.

Ballet: MURMURATION. Choreographer: Edwaard Liang. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Christopher Gray and Jim Nowakowski.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Nozomi Iijima and Artists of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Charles-Louis Yoshiyama.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Nozomi Iijima and Joseph Walsh.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

Ballet: THE RITE OF SPRING. Choreographer: Stanton Welch. Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet.

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From This Author - David Clarke