Last Night: Giselle and Indigo at Houston Ballet

The Houston Ballet's performance of Giselle and Indigo showed two of the company's strengths -- the ability to make traditional works completely their own and the ability to embrace contemporary choreography.

It was a light, refreshing version of Giselle that audiences saw in the first act, which made the second act's tragic tone all the more powerful. Danielle Rowe, one of three women to dance the role of Giselle during the show's run, was bright and innocent, making her performance of what Artistic Director Stanton Welch has called an extremely demanding role seem effortless. There's a bit of foreshadowing about the lovely peasant girl's delicate constitution, but it's done without excessive drama (she gets heart palpitations while dancing with the her lover Albrecht, played by Jun Shuang Huang, early on, but quickly recovers). Barbara Bears (as Giselle's mother) repeatedly cautions her daughter about overexerting herself, but Giselle's youthful exuberance eventually wins her over.

Huang's commanding performance as the self-assured Albrecht perfectly partners with the delicacy of Rowe's Giselle. James Gotesky, as the rugged gamekeeper who secretly loves Giselle, is appropriately earthy, both in his looks and his movements.

The appearance of the Prince of Courland (Linnar Looris) and his daughter Bathilde (Jessica Collado) prompts spontaneous dancing by all the villagers in combinations of twos and fours, up to the entire corps de ballet. And it's here that the company shines with precise and elegant footwork in perfect unison. Rowe's breakdown when she realizes Albrecht is already engaged to Bathilde is sufficiently restrained (not the wild frenzy other productions sometimes favor). In fact, there are moments when it seems she almost comes back to her senses, only to fall into madness again. Her death, in Albrecht's arms, is simple, understated and -- owing to Rowe's talent -- completely devastating.

The corps de ballet's precision is seen again when the Wilis, vengeful spirits that haunt the cemetery, appear in the second act. Draped in translucent veils, the women seem to be a mixture of sweet angels and gloomy ghosts.

Staged by Ai-Gul Gaisina, Giselle is must-see for fans of traditional ballet.

Indigo, choreographed by Welch and set to the music of Vivaldi, is engaging and moving. The dancers, in various combinations, are fluid and potent as they reflect the changing moods of Vivaldi's music, moving from upbeat to somber to buoyant.

Houston Ballet performances of Giselle and Indigo continue through October 2. For tickets, visit www.houstonballet.org or call 713- 227-2787.

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