Dominic Walsh Dance Theater's First Course: Czech, Please

It's been a great year in Houston for those of us who love Jiří Kylián, possibly the greatest living European choreographer. In April, the Czech master's works were prominent at Dance Salad with the intricate duets Blackbird and Toss of a Dice. Just last month, Houston Ballet offered impeccable performances of his 1981 Forgotten Land, inspired by Munch's paintings and the Norwegian landscape. And last night at Zilkha Hall, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater brought a stunning excerpt of Kylián's 27'52", featuring Walsh and his glorious company member Felicia McBride, as part of its fall mixed-rep program "First Course."

It's a bold, complicated duet, to say the least. Set to Dirk Haubrich's electronic landscape on themes from Mahler, along with text from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the late French actor Guillaume Depardieu, the action centers on a topless couple who appear to inhabit the same physical body. The tension and movement between them is desperate rather than erotic. The stage is stripped bare as well, and even the black Marley floor gets pulled up at times, serving as an unlikely blanket or even a tomb for the ill-fated pair. This stunning dance also reinforces what we've known for years: Walsh is one of the greatest and most compelling dancers in the city.

(Spring Rep Highlights 2010)

When we spoke with Houston dance afficionado Fran Sanders during intermission, she reminded us that the remaining performances featuring Walsh's life-partner and undisputed "star" Domenico Luciano will be equally intriguing. Taller and more lyrical than Walsh, his interpretation is likely to bring a unique dimension to Kylián's sharp movement. But this brings up a secondary problem that makes us squeamish. Why does Walsh often save the best roles for himself or his partner?

Randolph Ward and Ty Parmenter, who made such a thrilling appearance earlier this year in Walsh's Afternoon of a Faun, deserve to dance this Kylián duet. At present, they're like precious gems collecting dust at the bottom of a drawer. While Walsh is an extraordinary performer, his own tepid choreography does little to challenge his talented ensemble. Last night, a lukewarm Medea (with a few splashes of fake blood), as well as the wandering and under-developed group piece Terminus, couldn't hold up next to the finesse of the Kylián. The company has grand dances in its repertory, by such brilliant choreographers as Mauro Bigonzetti, Matthew Bourne, Vaclav Kunes, Kylián, and others. Until Walsh steps up his inspiration and his craft, we'd rather see more of those.

"First Course" runs tonight and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday) only, October 22 & 23, 7:30 p.m. at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall. For tickets, go here or call 713-315-2525.

Dominic Walsh Dance Theater in Walsh's Afternoon of a Faun

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