Dance Salad moved into its 12th year with the strongest line-up to date highlighting companies from Russia, Italy, Korea, Canada and more. The evenings unfolded as studies of cultural contrasts making it one exciting, entertaining, and educational event. Curator Nancy Henderek has fully established a highly regarded festival where people now travel to Houston to see what all the hoopla is about. Audiences were full and enthusiastic, and what’s better, they stayed until the end. A varied blend of solo, duets, and ensemble pieces truly made the salad a potent mix.
The Koreans were a portrait of restraint in Kim Eun Hee’s mesmerizing work, Burying Together, exquisitely performed by the Kim Eun Hee Dance Company. Celine Cassone displayed sliced the air with legs like blades in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s gripping choreography in La Pluie performed by Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genéve.
The Canadians were in top form with Aszure Barton’s zany Le Chambers de Jacque performed by the uber-lively BJM_Danse/Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal. Barton’s work goes down like champagne; it reads like a big dance party and sometimes the party appears to be happening inside the dancers’ bodies. Ian Robinson and James Gregg’s performances provide perfect examples of this phenomenon. Rodrigo Pederneiras’ snazzy Mapa, showed off the troupe’s strength in the high-octane jazz category. Tara Dyberg’s swift-footed and fiery dancing stood out.
Houston Ballet’s Shingo Yoshimoto created a steamy duet for himself and the dynamic Jessica Collado. Yoshimoto and Collado have been on the “ones to watch” list for some time now and this performance moves them up on the list. Natasa Novatona and Vaclav Kunes showed off the fine flourishes of Jirí Kylián's intricate choreography in Petite Mort. In keeping with high standards of the Bolshoi Ballet, Natalia Osipova and Andrei Merkuriev demonstrated clean and polished technique in Alexai Ratmansky’s elegant but spare, Middle Duet. Masa Kolar’s warrior power came through in Stephan Thoss’ dynamic solo Sacre and La Compañia Nacional de Danza conjured soothing seashore dreams in Nellie Happee’s calming ballet, Marejada.
Making an unforgettable appearance were the Italians. Compagnia Aterballetto brought the house down, first with Mauro Bigonzetti’s Wam, a neo-baroque dance with a Venetian spirit on the tension between the genders. Men in heeled and bowed shoes charmed in strong ensemble work. A trio entranced with riveting play of bodily surfaces in some of the most exiting pas de trios partnering seen on Houston stages. At times, the three bodies appeared as one, thus creating a new many-limbed entity. Cantata, another work by this maverick choreographer, poised a roving band of singers (the marvelous Gruppo Musicale Assurd), with a rowdy, over-the-top sensual dance. Cantata feels wonderfully crowded; we feel the human intimacy in these tight spaces. Bigonzetti’s athletic and earthy dances provided a rousing finish to a stellar festival.