Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 22, 2018

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Houston Ballet

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
August 15-18, 2018
by Jarice Hanson

Houston has a right to be proud of its internationally acclaimed Houston Ballet. Back at Jacob’s Pillow for the first time in 40 years, 33 members of the company performed four exquisite numbers ranging from classical ballet to contemporary and modernist forms of dance. Three pieces were choreographed by acclaimed Australian choreographer Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director since 2003, and one by Trey McIntyre, who formerly danced and choreographed with the Ballet, and who also is an alum of the Jacob’s Pillow program.

With the Houston Ballet in residence for a few days, audience members were treated to the world premiere of Welch’s ballet, “Just,” which was commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow. In three movements, dancers moved contrapuntally to music demonstrating physical strength through isolated movements, lifts, and symbiotic fluidity of motion. At one point, the dancers’ footfalls formed the percussion to complement the music—a technique that was later used in the concluding piece, “Clear,” in which dancers created percussion by slapping their bodies to emphasize a portion of the dance.

Photo by Amitava Sakar
“Clear” is a piece Welch created when living in New York City prior to 9/11. Featuring seven men and one woman, the piece actually felt “urban” even though it focused on beauty of the male dancer. At one point, all dancers became bathed in golden light, and the stage picture that emerged was reminiscent of Ted Shawn’s work--the extraordinary athleticism of leaps, pirouettes, grand jetes, and the pas de bourrée.

Along more classical lines, “Sons De L’ame” featured dancers whose bodies seemed to twist and meld into each other. With similar poses to start and end the piece, the audience was treated to three movements that expressed human desire and intimacy.

The fourth piece, “In Dreams” choreographed by McIntyre, featured songs by Roy Orbison and whimsically incorporated moves from line dancing and the traditional two-step. In addition to Orbison’s haunting voice, the dancers expressed country and western themes, which somehow contrasted nicely with the more urban “Clear.”

It would be impossible to mention even a fraction of the outstanding principal, solo, demi solo, and corps de ballet dancers by name, but what might be even more impressive is how well the members of the Ballet seemed to enjoy the people with whom they shared the stage, and even more, their connection to the audience.

Sadly, the Houston Ballet lost its home during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, but they are now returning and with the skill and talent of its artistic team and dancers, audiences can expect to see more innovative performances emerging from this hotbed of creativity.