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The Houston Ballet Brings Paris to Its Feet

The collaboration with pianist Lang Lang left viewers breathless.

In contrast, immediately after, we get the startlingly simple "Nocturne in F," a profoundly affecting pas de deux with Ian Casady and Jessica Collado. Gem-like, the dance is a little novella as gestures as easy as a hand put out to the side by the elfin Collado and then mirrored by masculine Casady speak mysteriously of love newly discovered. Without bravura but with deceptive plainness, the two meet as equals: ethereal and down-to-earth. Later, the rugged James Gotesky and lithe Melody Mennite, as more experienced lovers perhaps, acrobatically enhance "Etude No. 3" with spiral lifts and daring twists around his neck. He holds her high, recumbent like an odalisque, but as she is brought down she melts in a glance so perfectly timed and executed that we've gone beyond dance, gesture and music into pure expressiveness.

For all the musicality on prodigious display, the evening provided the best chance to see HB dancers not often showcased. Everyone shines. Corps members Derek Dunn, a multiple prize winner in international competitions for young dancers, and Brian Waldrep are revelations. In his thrilling solo to "Ballade No. 1," Dunn, compact and fluid, displays flawless technique within a silky, flowing line. He expands onstage. Tall and regal, Waldrep is definitely a prince-in-training, commanding the stage with presence. His partnering of the radiant Katharine Precourt — she of the six-o'clock arabesque — in "Etude No. 7" is replete with masculine grace and unalloyed star power. Demi soloists Nozomi Iijima, with her chic pixy look and immaculate technique, and Charles-Louis Yoshiyama, full of youthful ardor and facility, blaze together in total sync in "Ballade No. 2." After complementing each other, it's a sad surprise when she twirls into the wings, leaving him bereft. Soloist Lauren Strongin, partnered by the ever-amazing Connor Walsh in "Andante spianato," exudes an almost seamless liquidity in her extensive bourrées prior to becoming weightless in his arms. Demi soloist Allison Miller could easily be one of the ancient Three Graces with her heavenly detailed and nuanced performances in the moonlit-tinged, dramatic "Ballade No. 4" and the pyrotechnical "Grande Polonaise."

Emitting effortless charm, Joseph Walsh waltzes solo to "Waltz No. 19" while he glints and sets off soft Hussar sparks, like a gallant soldier on leave.

Recently promoted principal Karina Gonzalez awes with expansive, emotional dancing in "Nocturne in C minor." Partnered lovingly by Casady, who's incapable of making a non-virile move, she is swept into the music's haunting melancholy. In the final lift, she stretches her arm up and up, reaching out for benediction or into the infinite. The couple wafts offstage, slowly adrift on Chopin's rhapsodic melody, elegantly played by Lang Lang and gloriously set into movement by Welch.

The French were on their feet. And the Houstonians, who were fortunate to be there in the audience, wept in gratitude for their magnificent Houston Ballet.

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