Last Night: Third Course Dominic Walsh Dance Theater

It's not always easy to relate to ballet. After all, how many times have you been turned into a swan and driven to suicide because of your undying love for a guy you hardly know? Ballet is built on the suspension of emotional disbelief, but Dominic Walsh Dance Theater gives the art form back its heart. This weekend, they present Third Course, a small collection of dances choreographed by Walsh. The evening is short - under 1.5 hours - but it's a testament to Walsh's great strengths as a choreographer: celebrating the beauty of the human form and validating real human passion.

The show opened with "Clair de Lune", a Texas premiere. In a modern take on the Debussy classic, dancer Domenico Luciano appears onstage in an unbuttoned suit jacket with no shirt and purple socks. His movements are sharp and angular when compared to the sad, dreamlike notes of Debussy, but the effect is the same. With his choreography, Walsh invents another conduit for an artist's melancholy.

The show standout is actually a revival of a former work. Walsh takes the traditional "Dying Swan" out of the animal world and throws her onto a tragic and glamorous woman at a cocktail party, danced on Thursday by guest artist Danielle Brown from Sarasota Ballet. Brown floats onstage carrying a martini, clothed in a white dress that's nearly sheer; every outline of her mesmerizing body is on display. Brown leans back and blows out cigarette smoke, the curls of vapor billowing as if they too were trained by Walsh. There's not much dancing in the piece, but Brown's movements are undeniably lyrical. By extending one leg that ends with a four-inch heel, she makes you swear you've just seen a whole variation. And when it ends, all you want to do is watch her again.

Pas de deux always seem censored - as if choreographers believe that expressing genuine sexual attraction onstage will cheapen the performance. But Walsh destroys the notion of the sexless ballerina. "For the Two of You" could easily be the most sensual pas de deux in history. The man in nude briefs, the woman in a paper-thin brown bodysuit, the lighting the color of sand -- all other elements stripped, Walsh's choreography shines. Walsh adapts his signature style, which is both angular and undulating, to the softness of the piece. The dancers work closely with each other's bodies, flowing in and out of positions so imaginative and amorous you don't want to blink. It's also a revival of an old work, and it's beautiful.

Third Course ends with the Texas premiere of Time out of Line, a new piece featuring the whole company. The choreography is forceful and distinctly Walsh. His razor-sharp movements are so suited to the dancers that for a few minutes, contemporary ballet practically steals the pop and lock from the hip-hop world. But then, Walsh tries to mix media into the piece. The dancers bring long sheets of white paper and pots of paint onstage. With painted pointe shoes, the dancers glide along the paper. It's a nice idea, but it doesn't translate to the audience who couldn't see what was happening flat on the ground. As the dancers confine their movements to an invisible sheet of paper, a video projection screen lowers and shows footage from rehearsal of pointe-shoe painting. A poor consolation prize, the video is distracting more than anything. The screen does go up, eventually, and as the curtain closes, you get a few final moments reveling in the real works of art: the Dominic Walsh dancers. If you're hungry for dance you can't get enough of, you simply must try the Third Course.

May 5, 6, 7 at 7:30 p.m., Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Zilkha Hall. 713-652-3938.

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Mandy Oaklander
Contact: Mandy Oaklander