Review: The Mixed Rep Program “Originals” at Houston Ballet

From the raising of the curtain (don’t miss this part) to a big drum-filled conclusion, Principal dancer Connor Walsh Thursday night presented a Houston audience with a delightful, exuberant, cleverly choreographed ballet A Joyous Trilogy (in flight) that should become part of Houston Ballet’s recurring repertoire.

The world premiere of the new ballet set to the music of Dallas native Quinn Mason came second on the night’s mixed rep Originals program and resulted in a standing ovation for Walsh, who didn’t dance, but took his bow as creator.

Fourteen dancers wearing brightly colored clothing and high-rise socks, reveled in what Walsh has described as the feeling of flight that dancers can sometimes achieve as they’re moving freely across the stage. Moving in and out of pairs, from time to time going into a huddle formation, the dancers were all Energizer bunnies with “Running,” slowed the pace in  “Reflection” and then went all out in the final “Renewal” section.

The night began with a presentation of Orange by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch — a ballet performed fully elsewhere but only in excerpts previously in Houston. Dancers from The Dance Theatre of Harlem took the stage alongside Principal dancer Soo Youn Cho and Soloist Aaron Daniel Sharratt from Houston Ballet in a collaboration both beautiful and seamless. Houston Ballet Orchestra’s Mayu Isom provided the oboe both haunting and joyous highlighted in Vivaldi’s various pieces for oboe, strings and basso continuo.

Orange begins and ends with the six dancers facing away from us; both the women and men wearing deep orange, the women in long skirts that were reminiscent of flamenco dancing. Whimsical humor was threaded throughout with a peck on a cheek, a woman’s vibrating head, a run off the stage after a would-be suitor. Lisa J. Pinkham’s lighting designs ably reinforced and supported a ballet so focused on color.

Chairs can be creative accessories in dance and never more so than in the world premiere of Principal Dancer Melody Mennite’s Floreciente (to flourish or bloom) accompanied by the music of composters Rene Aubry, Ezio Bosso, and Max Richter.

The curtain rises to a large group of dancers — 16 in all — crouched in various positions on chairs, Punctuated by occasional grunts and guttural yells, the ballet immediately grips our attention as dancers stagger about as they try to gain work out the kinks in their bodies. It’s an early morning, getting out of bed moment complete with yawns that anyone can recognize, of course culminating in some impressive movement in dance that few of us will ever achieve.

Throughout the piece there are several moments when the dancers begin and then the music catches up — focusing even more attention on their dancing. The woman are dressed in swimsuit like costumes while the men are bare chested with tights.

This is another piece filled with humor but also thoughtfulness and melancholy as the human relationship to nature is a explored. A beautiful pas de deux performed by Principal dancer Jessica Collado and Soloist Ryo Kato gives us pause and makes the piece even more weighty. The one-act ballet featured huge hand-painted artwork converted into animated projections by projection designer Leon C. Chenier Jr. Projections can sometimes overwhelm what is happening with the performers on stage but this was on the mark throughout, only accentuating and helping in the story telling. Watch for the blooming of the magnolias and the subsequent fall of its petals.

The evening concluded with the ever popular The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with choreography by Welch to music by Benjamin Britten and Henry Purcell — a ballet that first premiered in 2014. Thursday’s narrator Dewey Caddell  did a fine job of telling what each part of the orchestra does as 30 dancers become piccolos or cellos, tubas or Xylophones. There was even a whip in the percussion section.

In an impressive program lasting about 2-1/2 hours, Houston Ballet gave audience members the gift of joy and craftmanship in performance and choreography. Exhausted by the end of the evening, the dancers drained their tanks and left us, in that most wonderful of experiences, only wanting more.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For more information, call 713-227-2787 or visit $25-$149.

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