Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: Houston Ballet American at Heart

Ballet: Hush
Choreographer: Christopher Bruce
Dancer(s): Nicholas Leschke, Kelly Myernick
Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Shhhhh! The marvel that is Christopher Bruce's Hush is still playing on my inner youtube channel. Performed as part of Houston Ballet's American at Heart, Hush reached to even deeper heights of dance-making glory than I recall from its premiere in 2006. Bruce brings us into the life of a traveling theatrical family. Perhaps they are stopping on their way to their next show, and we are glad they did. Original cast members Kelly Myernick (mother) and Nicholas Leschke (father) and Melody Herrera (youngest daughter), Jessica Collado (older sister), Ian Casady (older brother) and Ilya Kozadayev (younger brother) make a perfect if not odd family.

Each adheres to Bruce's idiosyncratic off-kilter style, while adding their own personal spin. Bruce mines every possible permutation in the ecology of the family, letting its subtle dynamics play out in solos, duets and rousing group dances. There isn't an un-thought through second in this ballet. Bruce even ends each variation with tender stage pictures, allowing emotional and visual rests. Set to Bobbin McFerrin's collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma's score, also named Hush, the ballet oscillates between public and private moments that occur within the safe confines of the family.

Myernick tackles her solo, set to the Gounod/Bach Ave Maria, with the soul of a mother, running after little ones, washing the floor, doing the endless things mothers do automatically. She so elegantly captures the relentlessness of motherhood, it's raw instinct and never ending purposefulness. Leschke, moving with a weighted grace, catches her at the solo's finale, bouncing her back and forth to a resting normalcy. Herrera eats her little brother's fly, bounces like a frog on dad's back, dancing up a firestorm of lil' sis energy. Collado's spirals her wrists in sensual curves, embracing a young woman's discovery of self. Her dancing is voluptuous and self-absorbed as it should be. She concludes with an awkward strut back to her place in the hierarchy. Casady embodies the restrained demeanor of a male adolescent, while Kozadayev is all curiosity in his bug-chasing solo.

At the end, the mysterious clan turns toward the star cloth and continues down their path. And don't we just want to follow them there? It was simply a breathtaking performance of a breathtaking ballet. Christina Giannelli's lighting design added to the magic, myth and delight, nicely delineating the inner from the communal moments.

It's always a wonder to ponder Balachine's work, and Houston Ballet did not disappoint with his 1928 pinnacle of modernism, Apollo. It's a role built for Connor Walsh's considerable cluster of talents; his clear, exacting lines and pointed attack matched Balanchine's spare use of effort, shape and form. Amy Fote (Calliope), Sara Webb (Terpsichore) and Myernick (Polyhymnia) made sparkling muses, each their own distinct radiance.

The program took another step back in time with Jerome Robbins' 1944 Fancy Free, a fun romp about three sailors on shore leave, and the precursor to his Broadway musical On the Town. It's a time capsule of a ballet, capturing wartime patriotism at its height. Casady, Jame Gotesky and Oliver Halkowich delivered robust performances, full of boy charm. Gotesky was a hoot in his hip swiveling rumba, while Casady's rough and tumble quality rang authentic. Halkowich's quick-footed spunk completed the trio. Fote and Collado bestowed the passers-by with a sexy polish.

All in all, it was a night of dance history meeting dance magic. Not a bad week for a company that just topped their new digs with its final steel beam.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,