April 18, 2003


By Molly Glentzer, Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Dance Salad producer Nancy Henderek has outdone herself this year. In three nights, she's packing in glimpses of as many companies as you're likely to see at monthlong festivals on the East Coast. Thursday's Wortham Theater Center opening offered six U.S. and three Houston premieres.

Henderek curates the show like a gallery director, piecing bits of evening-length works -- typically pas de deux -- into "new" suites. This works better with some dances than others if you don't read the program. The current crop bears her signature preference for stark, unrelenting modernism. More comic relief might have made me forget the show was three hours long, but that's like complaining about too many eggs in one's Easter basket.

While there wasn't a thematic thread, it was a big night for limbs. Quaking hands were like exclamation points in  Memphis, Pointless Pastures, Requiem and Sigue -- variously representing frustration, confusion and anger. There were more than a few intentionally sickled feet, suggesting vulnerability. But there were also exquisitely pointed and arched feet punctuating the jaw-dropping extensions of super-human dancers.

There was so much spectacular dancing, it's impossible to pick favorites. Among the strongest lingering images is the memory of five Buglisi/Foreman Dance Company figures -- stylistic descendants of Martha Graham -- in Jacqulyn Buglisi's Requiem. Poised atop boxes in shafts of gold light that recalled the dusty, morning-after dawn of New York's Ground Zero, they moved mostly in stunningly powerful unison. They raised their arms like a row of mourning Liberties and tested the air below with searching feet.

Equally shattering was the end of Sigue, in which Netherlands Dance Theatre's Paul Lightfoot and Sol Léon lay crumpled on the floor, while dancing rivulets of flour snowed on them through the spotlight. It was a moment of utter human stillness after a compelling battle between his naked athleticism and her buttoned-up severity.

Göteborg Ballet's Uta Guttler had stinging pathos. She was Jorma Uotinen's Blue Ballerina, part Giselle and part Swan Queen, but all used up and barefoot. She wandered across a stage littered with flowers, disoriented as a mad sleepwalker, while five men in top hats leaned to-and-fro below huge balloons. This Magritte moment made me want to see the rest of Ballet Pathetique, from which it was excerpted.

In stark contrast was the nimbleness of the Cullberg Ballet's Rafi Sadi and Vanessa de Légniere in Mats Ek's delightfully quirky Pointless Pastures.

David Dawson's The Grey Area was a cool, abstract ballet that evoked a netherworld between birth, or maybe death, and life. It was danced compellingly by its original Dutch National Ballet cast. The super-strong Sofiane Sylve, who joins the New York City Ballet next season, was a standout.

The National Ballet of China's Jian Zhang and Jie Sun brought good drama to Ben Stevenson's traditional classicism in excerpts from his recent Fountain of Tears. Gica Alloto, Lavinia Bizzoto and Valeska de Souza Goncalves of Brazil's Quasar Companhia de Danca were fluid and strong. They were two lovers split apart -- momentarily -- by a femme fatale on a huge red velvet couch in Henrique Rdovalho's Mulheres. Chrystal Brothers and three partners from the Memphis Ballet were excellent in the rough-house partnering of a scene from Trey McIntyre's Memphis.

Tonight's 7:30 program repeats Memphis, Sigue, Kurt Weill and Mulheres. It also features dancers from the Royal Swedish Ballet in works by Virpi Pahkinen and Kenneth Kvarnstöm, plus two Hans van Manen masterworks and Robert Battle's Takademe.