Nicolo Fonte's See(k) Dancers: Connor Walsh, Melissa Hough. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

With a promise of cupcakes and the Mayor, a new ballet, a touch of Balanchine and a Mark Morris masterwork, Houston Ballet’s Made in America indeed made for a delightful evening of dance.

It’s always great to see our dance loving Mayor Parker. She regaled us of the story of Wortham’s birth 25 years ago, early and under budget. Houston, you over achiever you!

The other birth of note was Nicolo Fonte’s new ballet See(k). With swinging lights designed by Brad Fields, a dissonant commissioned score by Anna Clyne, plenty of daredevil dancing, the piece mostly succeeded.

Melissa Hough and Connor Walsh expertly mined Fonte’s extreme shapes, dancing on the edge of falling. Melody Mennite and Peter Franc added a muscular rigor. Exciting.

The stunning trio with Jessica Collado, Ian Casady and Oliver Halkowich showed off Fonte’s finesse in creating a fluid ensemble landscape. I also loved the section with the women on the floor moving in slow motion, while the men carried on not paying attention. The women looked as if plotting a takeover. Another section had the men catching the women inches from the ground. Much about Fonte’s composition hovers above the floor giving the ballet a menacing and bracing feel.

The atmosphere felt dangerous and slightly sinister and at times, abrasive, especially when the bright white lights pierced my retinas while the flutes made shrill sounding flourishes. There were times I wished for less high-jinks with the lights and more fill light so I could see the nuanced sculptural aspects of Fonte’s magnificent forms better. See(k) is fresh and new, and needs time to ferment in body and mind.

Mark Morris' Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes Dancers: Connor Walsh, Artists of Houston Ballet. Photo by Amitava Sarka.

The highlight of the night was Morris’ Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, a work he created on ABT in 1988. It’s one of his finest for a ballet company, and a perfect place for Houston Ballet to deepen in their Morris style. As with much of Morris’ work, it’s about just trusting that the movement is enough, with no added fanciness. Well, that and dancing with sublime musicality. Embellishment happens more internally. The company is getting there and it’s just splendid to watch. A big shout out to Elise Judson and Halkowich for their unfussy dancing. This is only their second work by Morris, already I see the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Audiences can look forward to Morris’ Pacific next season. Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon delivered an expert performance of Virgil Thomson’s piano etudes.

Balanchine’s Theme and Variations proved as sweet as the intermission cupcakes. Sara Webb, looking intermittently perfect and then uneasy, paired with new principal Walsh, who dashed through the hard stuff with glee. The couple made for a sizzling match in Manon and I look forward to their Romeo & Juliet.


Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.