Houston Ballet was in top form with two early works by Australian wonder and Artistic Director Stanton Welch. Madame Butterfly (1995), a stunning achievement for any age choreographer, was Welch’s first story ballet and created at the tender age of 24 for the Australian Ballet. The story flows off the body as beautifully as it does off the tongue. Puccini would be pleased at how at delicately Welch honors this archetypal tragedy of love and betrayal. Welch’s Butterfly clearly demonstrates there is hope for the modern story ballet.
Barbara Bears imbues Cio-Cio San with an understated elegance letting a quiet dignity shine through, which proves especially effective in the final gut wrenching scenes. Simon Ball is positively dreamy as Lieutenant Pinkerton, the man that loves too many women in two many countries. Looking completely at home in the role of the dashing cad, Ball’s crisp and clear style is convincing through and through. Jessica Collado as Suzuki dances with heart, soul, and punch when necessary. Shingo Yoshimoto delivers a pointed and powerhouse performance as the evil Goro.
Amy Fote is all unbridled innocence in her portrayal of the doomed Geisha. Diving head first into the role, she’s breathtaking in the wedding pas de deux. Fote continually defies the laws of physics as she lingers an extra second in the airspace. Houston Ballet’s newest principal, Ian Casady, brings a naturalness, confidence, and a steamy chemistry with Fote to his Pinkerton. He adeptly captures the ambivalence and complexity embedded in the role. Tyann Clement renders her Suzuki with a distinct level-headedness and superb acting.
Red Earth (1996), Welch’s tribute to his homeland, chronicles the difficult lives of Australian’s early settlers on a harsh land. Mind- boggling partnering and earthy gestures characterizes Welch’s effective choreography. The covered-in-dirt dancers grunt and groan as they grapple with a rigid and barren land. Welch dwells in primal movements of digging dirt and hardship in this finely crafted ballet. Collado’s brilliant performance as the central figure stands out as she leads the group though the trials of adaptation. Towards the end we see a resolve as if she takes the spirit of the land into her own body. (What a night for this young dancer.) The dancers end in unison, arms raised as if in surrender. In the last glow of light we see them crouch, bowing down in reference to the land they now call home.