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Monday, October 2, 2023

Life + Arts

‘Marie’ depicts passion, historic event

Daring, provocative, tragic.

No better words could be used to described artistic director Stanton Welch’s Marie, which made its world premiere at the Houston Ballet on Thursday night, and received a standing ovation from a tearful audience.

Welch’s modern ballet is a poetic interpretation of the infamous story of 18th-century Queen Marie Antoinette of France. The plot centers on Marie’s transition from the peaceful court in Austria to the politically-charged world of French royalty.

The first act opens in the library of Marie’s home where Empress Maria Theresa, performed by Mireille Hassenboehler, negotiates her daughter’s marriage to French heir Louis XVI. Hassenboehler steals the limelight in the first few scenes, evoking strength and remorse in her jerky, gut-wrenching movements.

Marie arrives at the French court and is surrounded by flocks of inquisitors all dressed in black and grey tones. They mock Louis, danced by a stiff and regal Ian Casady, and Marie, danced by Melody Herrera, as a young, inexperienced couple. Although the acting of the ensemble shines, there is hardly enough dancing and the mimed gossip of the dancers becomes tiring.

However, the first act is defined by a moment when Marie and Louis dance delicately and nervously around the bed, exhibiting their fears over consummating the marriage.

In the second act, we see Marie turn the palace into a lavish, decadent atmosphere filled with color and life. Herrera dances with youthfulness and frivolity, but also with an unmistakable vulnerability. The duets between Marie and lover Axel von Fersen, danced by a romantic and majestic Connor Walsh, exhibit the neediness of Marie and her desire to be adored.

The third act surpasses all expectations as Marie and her family are imprisoned for high treasons amidst the French Revolution. Rioters dressed in rags and mud, flail themselves at Marie, expressing the anger of a country overwrought with political turmoil.

The final dance between Louis and Marie before they are sent off to the guillotine is a moment of sorrow, tenderness and love. In this number, Herrera and Casady epitomize the emotions of the music and the era with grace and dignity.

Music director Ermanno Florio arranged the musical compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich, a composer who experienced his own political suppression in the Soviet Union. The music seamlessly matched the dancing and emotions of the time period.

Kandis Cook, who designed the costumes and scenery, puts a modern twist on 18th century fashion. Cook strays away from lavish sets, giving the story a contemporary feel. Her usage of transparent scrims and large gilded frames gives the illusion that one is watching a moving painting.

Welch’s masterpiece will be showing at the Houston Ballet at the Wortham Center through Sunday.

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