The Houston Ballet 2
May 23, 2014 The Houston Ballet’s “Modern Master’s” series opened at it’s lowest point for the evening: George Balachine’s “The Four Temperaments”. The choreography was designed by Balachine to inject a sense of modernity and revive a 1950‘s post WWII America’s interest in the mostly European tradition of ballet, but the result is and always has been hard to digest. I am certain there’s an historical dance theorist out there who can conjure “The Four Temperaments” an intellectual aesthetic, but this critic was lost in the pelvic thrustings that took themselves way too seriously. The choreography wants to be more than it is, but it is restricted to the traditional language of traditional ballet, primarily in symmetry and gesture. The only great part was the synchronized ensemble piece at the end, which is where this Balanchine style clearly excels. The dancers are clean and excellent, we wouldn’t expect less of the Houston Ballet, so why must we ask them to dance this?
All bad pelvis thrustings are replaced by erotic (read good) ones in the second and third pieces. “The Petite Mort” is an electrified and engaging piece choreographed by Czech Jiří Kylián in 1991 to Mozart’s well recognized Piano Concertos in A Major and C Major. Finally, we are allowed to experience the Houston Ballet’s dancers’ athleticism, grace and subtlety. Unlike the “The Four Temperaments” the dancers seem to enjoy this choreography, which falls on the audience in a cascade of unexpected rhythms and the occasional hip gyration. The piece is serious, but also sincere and intellectually enjoyable by the novice ballet attendee. All three pas de deux’s are sexy, connected and have just enough edge to keep you asking: oooh is this really ballet? And, who knew Mozart could be so sexy? Even if the rest of the performance is a dud, or a dancer slips, this one piece is worth the cost of your ticket and will keep you on the edge of your cushy red velvet seat.
If the “The Petite Mort” is a trifle serious, the third piece “Sechs Tänze” is Jiří Kylián having a little fun. Also set to Mozart, The Six German Dances, this piece has all the eroticism of “The Petit Mort” with a dash banana peel humor to lighten the tone. The costumes and choreography invoke the frivolity Mozart is infamous for exhibiting during his lifetime, and there is a running joke with a prop dress that never fails to illicit laughs in the audience. The choreography is sensual, flirtatious and witty and everyone in the room is clearly having a great time.
“In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated” is the final, hypnotic, almost aggressive piece. The choreography is a classic William Forsythe, and yet again, it is everything the proceeding three pieces is not. A lot is required of the dancers: the motions are fast and linear and risk being dull and muddy if not executed with care. The music is hypnotic and could be boring if you weren’t so fixated on the great performance. It is mostly an ensemble piece with various short solos and pas de deux’s, and a bad dancer would be evident. Good thing this is put on by the Houston Ballet, where the soloists (and dancers in general) never fail to deliver.