Houston Ballet’s annual Jubilee presented a sampling of repertory snippets and shorter full-length works designed to whet the appetites of ballet lovers and resistors alike. The piece that reminded all of us why, no matter how bad it gets out there, we need to keep ballet in our lives, was the Pas de Deux from James Kudelka’s Little Dancer, powerfully performed by Amy Fote and Ian Casady. The ballet begins with Fote passively resting on top of Casady, both locked in a rhythmic rocking embrace, echoing a breath-pulse. Gradually, limbs break free, discovering the negative space between them as if to compete for authority. One moment he pulls her into himself, another, she pushes into the airspace as if to assert her own form into the conversation. Nearly the entire ballet hovers close to the ground, creating an earth-bound tension. In the ballet’s final breathtaking moments the message surfaces. Casady run his hands down Fote’s body as if forming her in clay. Finally free from one another, Fote stands in stillness in Degas’ iconic “little dancer” pose. His work complete, Casady arches upward as if to marvel at his work and mourn the loss of his counterpart. Kudelka’s elegiac dance evokes the full catastrophe of dependence. Fote and Casady, in a seamlessly organic performance, move as if one body caught in the act of becoming two, revealing the inevitable anguish in the separation process. Reaching beyond typical chemistry, their partnership relies more on listening, trust and kinetic intimacy. Phillip Glass’ repetitive drone added an ominous and timeless atmosphere.
There were other high points. Audiences feasted tiny snapshots such as Sara Webb’s enchanting performance in the “Hungarian Solo” from the upcoming Swan Lake. Webb, a portrait of calm, elegance and assured technique, also charmed in Balanchine’s classic Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Her partner, Connor Walsh, looked princely and demonstrated a growing maturity. Other highlights included Nicholas Leschke’s rope trick with the supple, air-loving Barbara Bears in Stanton Welch’s bold biker ballet, Divergence. Bears’ fearless comfort off the ground is always a wonder to watch. Jim Nowakowski sliced and diced space with exact precision in an except from Welch’s Clear, elevating him into the category as next male corps member to watch. Katherine Precourt beamed with a sparkling authority in Balanchine’s Symphony in C. Possessing just the right dose of charisma, Precourt knows how to get your attention without making it all about her—a good quality in any dancer. Mireille Hassenboehler and Simon Ball gave Welch’s “Autumn Pas de Deux” from The Four Seasons its full weight in their tender performance. Spirited dancing by the company in Punctilious and Divergence added to the evening’s overall polish.