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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Life + Arts

Ballet lacks panache

Houston Ballet Academy’s Spring Showcase was intended more for the parents of the talented members of the Academy as a chance to witness an evening of what their students consume their daily lives with than a night for entertainment.

The evening opened with Paquita, a piece by 19th century choreographer Marius Petipa and revamped by Houston Ballet II teacher Claudio Munoz. Despite Munoz’ efforts, the classical choreography was stale and the dancers appeared to be warming up on stage.

Dancer Laura Whitby faltered in a few steps, but recovered with a graceful smile and continued with newfound bravery throughout the difficult piece. Liao Xiang, a dancer from Beijing, was the main highlight as she fluttered across the stage, leaping as if springs were attached to her feet.

Following an intermission, the audience finally received a treat – Of Opposing Nature, choreographed by Ballet Academy student Garrett Smith. The modern work played with shapes, lighting and innovative moves.

Smith has an extensive background for a 20-year-old, having performed in the off-Broadway show Breakthrough and recently traveling with the Academy to Budapest, Hungary to showcase his creation Den III.

Smith cites modern choreographer Jiri Kylian as one of his influences and the parallels are apparent: both experiment with shape and space in the context of dance.

Of Opposing Nature was like nothing ever witnessed at the Houston Ballet; it was dark, moody, often violently emotional and, most of all, thrilling.

Standout performances were lead by Sebastian Concha, winner of the Prix de Lausanne Dance Competition, and Shelby Williams. Concha danced with relentless force and unrestrained emotion, nailing his tours en l’air. Williams performed with jarring intensity, displaying beautiful extensions with her long limbs and strength to match.

The rest of the evening’s choreography paled in comparison.

Excerpt from Five Poems, a work by Ben Stevenson, showcased two rising stars, Beth Miller and William Newton, whose duets were as elegant as the professionals. Miller’s adage and balance were unbeatable, but the languid choreography failed to show off her true ability.

Artistic director Stanton Welch’s Time to Dance was painfully long and filled with repetitive, predictable movements. The combination of classical folk dance with a modern twist did not work in this case – the piece was intended to be flirtatious and fun, but ended up dull and disjointed.

The evening drew to a long-overdue close with the final recital Studies, which incorporated all age groups and levels of the academy. While the young kids were precious, it was definitely not a piece that would incite the interest of an entertainment-seeker.

However, the Houston Ballet Academy dancers exhibited incredible skill and dedication. While they may not possess the confidence of the pros just yet, they are well on their way to filling the shoes of the incredible dancers who came before them.

Avid ballet patrons, can look forward to many more exciting works by choreographer Garrett Smith, whose outstanding show spoiled the dances of antiquity.

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