Saturday, January 01, 2005

Fresh Moves to Familiar Music Dominic Walsh Dance Theater Presents Contempary Baroque at the Hobby Center

Dominic Walsh inaugurated his company on that fateful weekend in February 2003, while everyone else was buying duct tape to secure their homes. What better time to start a dance company. Nothing dismantles fear like beautiful moves. I adored his first concert and had a sneaking suspicion that Walsh would have a stellar career ahead of him. And that was way before Dance Magazine named him as “one of 25 in the world to watch.” I loved that his dances are more about movement than steps. His work hones in on energy over place. This fall Dominic Walsh Dance Theater (DWDT) received the odd distinction of “Best Modern Dance Company” from The Houston Press. Now, I know dance people get all nervous and excited about labels, but you might say Walsh’s work falls in between categories. And that’s part of the excitement.

Since leaving his 17-year post at the Houston Ballet, Walsh has been on a choreographic roll. He premiered works for the ABT Studio Company, Ballet Quad Cities, and the Houston Grand Opera, all while he was dancing La Fille Mal Gardee in Japan. And that was just one weekend in October. He returned to whip up The Illumination Project , a highly successful benefit for AIDS/HIV, with Hope Stone and the Hobby Center in early December.

DWDT’s next event is Contemporary Baroque, and evening of new dances set to live Baroque music. Mercury Baroque, under the direction of Antoine Plante, will be playing live on authentic period instruments with several outstanding soloists. Walsh invited three up and coming choreographers, Ayman Harper, Mario Zambrano, and Lauri Stallings, to share the bill for this Baroque extravaganza.

DWDT is clearly developing a “look” that suits both Walsh’s dancing and choreography selection. The “look” is best described as a new take on something more ancient. Not anchored in a time, yet hinting toward the past, Walsh’s dances don a timeless atmosphere. His tendency towards live, on stage, music renders a salon feel. Add in a contemporary approach to movement, and the work ends up with a distinctly fresh style. Walsh’s newest edition to the new/old style is Bello, set to five arias from Handel Operas. Walsh gathers inspiration from the haunting sound of the counter tenor. Gerrod Pagenkopf will be singing live for the event.

Walsh’s keen eye for choreography has yielded work that’s well suited for the DWDT umbrella. While each piece represents a unique voice, there is a clear sharing of aesthetic values. This makes for a smooth viewing experience. To add to the delight of the evening Walsh, Harper, and Zambrano are dancing as well.

Harper, a former Houstonian, now dancing with The Forsythe Company, divides his time between Dresden and Frankfurt. Harper premieres First Try, Second Chance, set to Vivaldi’s Concerto La Notte for Recorder, Strings and Continuo. “First Try,” because this his first work to classical music. “Second Chance,” refers to his second piece for DWDT. The dancers sometimes vocalize the music, adding yet another level of experiencing the music. Harper last dazed, confused, and amused us with Bed Fears and Dream Piles. Harper’s European flare and liquid style conjures Trisha Brown with a touch of ballet. It’s positively delicious to watch.

Zambrano, also from Houston and formerly of Nederlands Dans Theater2 and Batsheva Dance Company, tells the story of his parent’s gentle courtship though love letters in Quartett Letters. After careful research, Zambrano chose text from the letters of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Victor Hugo, and Elizabeth Barrett to accompany his dance. Zambrano was drawn to Bach’s Solo Violin Sonatas & Partitas for his romantic piece. Last season, he set his complex work, Bio.Lin on DWDT, and has choreographed frequently for The Houston Met.

The program also features a new work by Lauri Stallings, formerly of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Stallings chose Vivaldi’s Concerto in a minor for two violins, strings and continuo and excerpts from The Four Seasons for her new work, Bacchus’s Cup. Stallings is in demand since leaving her post at Hubbard Street. She is a recent recipient of a Ruth Page Award and as a work for the Joffrey Ballet on her dance card.

In addition to the dancers that have flown in for this performance, DWDT boasts some of the best dancers in town. Lindsey McGill, Paola Georgudis, Marcello De Sa Martins, and Houston Ballet dancers, Principal Sara Webb and Soloists Tyann Clement and Kelly Myernick will also be performing.

May I be so bold as to suggest you begin the year with some beautiful motion? I absolutely promise that DWDT will deliver you from your post-holidays blues completely. Miss it and miss out.

Dominic Walsh Dance Theater and Mercury Baroque, present Contemporary Baroque, at Zilkha Hall in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, January 7th and 8th, Friday and Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., and a student matinee Friday at 12:15 p.m. Admission is $25, $30, and $35. Senior and student discounts are available. For tickets contact 713-315-2525, or visit

Photo by Jaime Lagdameo.