Houston Ballet's Made in America is the company's annual celebration of stateside-developed choreography. This year's program includes works by ballet icons George Balanchine and Mark Morris, as well a newly commissioned piece by dance sensation Nicolo Fonte. Honoring America's role in the development of ballet is a tradition worth keeping, especially when considering an art form that has its roots in European aristocracy.
The opening piece, Mark Morris's Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, is a perfect example of America's influence on ballet. Gone are the ornate costumes, elaborate sets and classical lines of a traditional production. Pomp and circumstance are replaced with simplicity, character and pure emotion. The dancers perform in white cotton garb that soothes and placates almost as much as the exuberant movement. Drink is about the joy of dancing, and it's a delight to see the stars of Houston Ballet play with the inherent glee of Morris's oddball choreography. The disjointed modern score by Virgil Thomson makes for a fine accompaniment to a dance that essentially gives the okay to silliness at the ballet.
Perhaps the most anticipated piece of the evening is Nicolo Fonte's See(k). Set specifically for Houston Ballet, Fonte's choreography is a psychological investigation of a performer's personal landscape. The dancers move under strobe lights that are both captivating and menacing; the lighting design hones in on detailed movement, such as a lover's embrace or the mangled pose of a trio. The Orwellian theme is underscored by Anna Clyne's captivating music. The repetitive composition develops through sharp rises and falls, and creates an ominous atmosphere that presents the dancers as trapped under the limelight, a position that doesn't always seem comfortable. The immediacy and urgency of the dance prevent any one personality from standing out. Rather, principals, soloists and corps members alike are absorbed into one moving body that pulses and moves to Clyne's haunting score.
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Theme and Variations closes the evening. Inspired by classical ballet movement, Balanchine's piece is the perfect eye candy for tutus-and-tights enthusiasts. A brigade of ballerinas in aqua and sea foam parade around an elegant danseur who has leaps and turns to spare. Like the best of Balanchine's work, there is no narrative, but it's impossible to deny the semblance of an imperial court scene when dazzling chandeliers hang above the stage. Variations is a little girl's dream, and one that any dance lover will enjoy.