Balletomanes have been eyeing Nicky Walsh for years at Houston Ballet. He shines in the classical works as well as contemporary pieces by the likes of Christopher Bruce. But this past season was a real breakthrough: Walsh simultaneously solidified his role as one of the ballet's leading males (snagging the lead in the new Paul Taylor piece) and launched his own company, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, to critical acclaim. His choreographic works, Flames of Eros and Katharsis, show promise, but he's still more of a dynamo when dancing. Here's hoping he doesn't move out of that realm anytime soon.

Balletomanes have been eyeing Nicky Walsh for years at Houston Ballet. He shines in the classical works as well as contemporary pieces by the likes of Christopher Bruce. But this past season was a real breakthrough: Walsh simultaneously solidified his role as one of the ballet's leading males (snagging the lead in the new Paul Taylor piece) and launched his own company, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, to critical acclaim. His choreographic works, Flames of Eros and Katharsis, show promise, but he's still more of a dynamo when dancing. Here's hoping he doesn't move out of that realm anytime soon.

Tony Tucci may call Austin home, but his lustrous lighting in last season's revival of Ben Stevenson's Cinderella proves that he's still the best lighting designer working in Houston. From ballet to musical theater to film, Tucci's work has inspired directors, choreographers and audiences alike. He's won numerous awards and worked with such impressive ballet names as Christopher Bruce, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones. He also designed the lighting for the Cultural Olympiad in the 1996 Summer Olympics. We're just happy he makes his way to the Bayou City every once in a while.

Tony Tucci may call Austin home, but his lustrous lighting in last season's revival of Ben Stevenson's Cinderella proves that he's still the best lighting designer working in Houston. From ballet to musical theater to film, Tucci's work has inspired directors, choreographers and audiences alike. He's won numerous awards and worked with such impressive ballet names as Christopher Bruce, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones. He also designed the lighting for the Cultural Olympiad in the 1996 Summer Olympics. We're just happy he makes his way to the Bayou City every once in a while.

The tide has raised all boats in Houston's modern dance community. And the consistently improving quality of contemporary dance here is at least partially attributable to the arrival of dancer and choreographer Jane Weiner in 1997. Today, new companies, like Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, are exploding onto the scene, while older ones, like Suchu Dance and Weave, are hitting their stride. But Weiner's company, Hope Stone, is still the top pick. Her Doug Elkins-based movement and quirky sense of humor make for performances that are both sublime and fun.

The tide has raised all boats in Houston's modern dance community. And the consistently improving quality of contemporary dance here is at least partially attributable to the arrival of dancer and choreographer Jane Weiner in 1997. Today, new companies, like Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, are exploding onto the scene, while older ones, like Suchu Dance and Weave, are hitting their stride. But Weiner's company, Hope Stone, is still the top pick. Her Doug Elkins-based movement and quirky sense of humor make for performances that are both sublime and fun.

Stanton Welch may have clinched the artistic directorship of Houston Ballet when he set his highly stylized 1995 Madame Butterfly on the company last fall. This not-quite-full-length story ballet married a moving tale with crisp, modern movement. And Ben Stevenson's dancers looked at home in the choreography -- a sign that the company's transition from the longtime director to the young Aussie would go well. Now ballet-watchers can't wait for Welch to set his first original evening-length story ballet on the troupe.

Stanton Welch may have clinched the artistic directorship of Houston Ballet when he set his highly stylized 1995 Madame Butterfly on the company last fall. This not-quite-full-length story ballet married a moving tale with crisp, modern movement. And Ben Stevenson's dancers looked at home in the choreography -- a sign that the company's transition from the longtime director to the young Aussie would go well. Now ballet-watchers can't wait for Welch to set his first original evening-length story ballet on the troupe.

Like the great huckster P.T. Barnum, the folks at Cirque du Soleil know how to elicit the sort of oohs and aahs that come only with, well, the greatest show on earth. They proved this once again this past spring when they pitched their grand white tent downtown for a long run of Alegría. From the opening clown who delighted both children and grown-ups by flinging popcorn at the audience from a box as big as a man, to the aerial high bar act that featured muscled madmen flinging themselves through the air on a swinging silver trapeze, the show was a wonderland of amazements. But what truly set the Canadian circus apart were the gorgeous New Age tunes sung by Eve Monpetit and Nathalie Noël. The soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy in 1996. Even Barnum can't top that.

Like the great huckster P.T. Barnum, the folks at Cirque du Soleil know how to elicit the sort of oohs and aahs that come only with, well, the greatest show on earth. They proved this once again this past spring when they pitched their grand white tent downtown for a long run of Alegría. From the opening clown who delighted both children and grown-ups by flinging popcorn at the audience from a box as big as a man, to the aerial high bar act that featured muscled madmen flinging themselves through the air on a swinging silver trapeze, the show was a wonderland of amazements. But what truly set the Canadian circus apart were the gorgeous New Age tunes sung by Eve Monpetit and Nathalie Noël. The soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy in 1996. Even Barnum can't top that.

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