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Houston Ballet's Fall 2007 Mixed Repertory Program

The Houston Ballet gets provocative with its mixed rep program

Lascivious lifts, provocative poses, skimpy skivvies and adulterous affairs.

Now that we have your attention, let's talk about Houston Ballet's Fall 2007 Mixed Repertory Program, which features a world premiere, a company premiere and a modern classic. And yes, there's plenty of sex.

Mesmerizing: Nicholas Leschke and Kelly Myernick in Petite Mort.
Amitava Sarkar
Mesmerizing: Nicholas Leschke and Kelly Myernick in Petite Mort.

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Through Sunday, September 30 at the Wortham Theater Center's Brown Theater, 501 Texas, 713-227-2787. Tickets start at $17.

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First off, Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch scores again with his sublime new work The Four Seasons, set to the popular composition of the same name by Antonio Vivaldi. It's a mini-­ballet in four sections depicting the life of woman, danced by four ballerinas. In the spring, she's in the blush of first love, moving from the comfort of family into marriage; in the summer — here it comes — she is a married woman caught up in the throws of an adulterous affair with a bare-breasted young man (Amy Foote was heartbreaking in this section opening night); in the fall, she suffers the pangs of the empty nest as her children marry and move on; and in the winter, she confronts mortality as an elegant yet sad widow.

The Four Seasons could have been a tad melodramatic, but in Welch's deft hands, it becomes a loving allegory of family life and the weaknesses and strengths of woman. In typical Welch fashion, mime is replaced with subtle movements and superb acting, and the steps carry the plotline forward without undue posturing. Welch's innate sense of the music leads dancers to glide and collide through the story, while the Houston Ballet Orchestra, with Denise Tarrant on violin, will have you humming — quietly, we hope — along.

Kandis Cook provides simple, streamlined costumes that are evocative of an earlier time period, and the lighting by Christina Giannelli sets the mood. Scenic designer Thomas Boyd's giant tree, representing both the family tree of life and the changing seasons as its foliage changes, is a tad redundant — we get that the seasons are changing, okay? But more disconcerting is its cartoonish, freakishly thick branches. The falling leaves, and in particular the blanket of falling snow in the winter section, work quite well by themselves to convey the effect.

Also on the bill is Jirí Kylián's Petite Mort from 1991. Houston Ballet raises temperatures with this company premiere, with the dancers sporting barely-there costumes and crashing through the choreography like they're on Viagra, with lots of spread-legged lifts and men-on-women posturing. The six men make handy use of six foils (long, pointy swords they play adeptly with), while the six women are alternately sexual objects and disembodied dancers moving in and out of stiff ball gowns on wheels. This is mesmerizing stuff set to two of Mozart's piano concertos, rendered wonderfully by pianist Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon.

William Forsythe's signature piece In the middle, somewhat elevated is just the kind of thing you want to end a rep evening with. Its wow factor is indisputable. Thom Willems's electronic score grabs you by the throat before the first step is taken and doesn't let go until you're gasping for air. The troupe keeps up with the pulsating pounding while rocketing through Forsythe's pumped-up pointe work. The women's feet attack the floor, and their legs are in constant motion, performing overhead extensions and sharp arabesques that would leave mere mortals unable to walk if we dared attempt them. (The work premiered at the Paris Opera House in 1987, and the lead was Sylvie Guillem, the French ballerina with legendary legs. You can see a clip of her performance on YouTube.)

Forsythe designs sexy practice costumes of black mesh with footless tights, allowing for an even longer line of the women's pointed feet. At its simplest, this work is about themes and variations, but as the dance corps builds onstage, the ensemble becomes increasingly complex. The sheer pace of this work will leave you breathless. The cast of six women and three men are all right on and pumped for the piece. It's hard to single out anyone, but Ian Cassidy and Kelly Myernick were definitely rocking the house on opening night.

In case you're wondering, the weird title refers to two golden cherries suspended above stage, the only set decor. They seemingly have nothing to do with the dance, but at least they aren't distracting, unlike that damn tree.

 
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