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World premiere of inventive Tapestry highlights Houston Ballet's "Rock, Roll & Tutus"

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Nozomi Iijima in "Divergence," choreographed by Stanton Welch Photo by Amtiava Sarkar
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The world premiere of "Tapestry," with Karina Gonzalez, Ian Casady and Connor Walsh and choreographed by Stanton Welch Photo by Amtiava Sarkar
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A scene from "Rooster," choreographed by Christopher Bruce, with Christopher Coomer and Katelyn May Photo by Amtiava Sarkar
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News_Houston Ballet_Tapestry_Karina Gonzalez_Ian Casady_Connor Walsh_Stanton Welch choreographer
News_Houston Ballet_Rooster_Christopher Coomer_Katelyn May_Christopher Bruce choreographer

If any company can rock a goofy strut and some tutus made of air conditioning filters it’s Houston Ballet. They proved it at the opening of "Rock, Roll & Tutus" last week.

The program, which includes the world premiere of artistic director Stanton Welch's Tapestry plus two ballets previously performed (Rooster and Divergence), continues with three performances Friday through Sunday.

Marquee aside, Welch planned for Tapestry to be the antithesis of rock and roll as he set it to Mozart‘s Violin Concerto No. 5. While it showcases the rock star qualities of violinist, Denise Tarrant, the only thing "in your face" about this ballet is the talent of the company.

 To the delight of the audience, Karina Gonzalez is tossed between Connor Walsh and Ian Cassidy like a wisp of smoke — particularly sweet-scented smoke.

 Daring, inventive and occasionally just plain jaw-dropping partnering punctuates the entire first section during which dancers appear in a muted tangerine and blue. To the delight of the audience, Karina Gonzalez is tossed between Connor Walsh and Ian Cassidy like a wisp of smoke — particularly sweet-scented smoke.

In fact viewers, who unlike this reviewer were capable of smell during Houston’s allergy season, wondered aloud if incense was purposefully wafting through the orchestra section during Tapestry.

On this point I can’t be sure, but it is romance that seems to fill the air as members of the second, more verdantly dressed ensemble drift in and out of one another’s arms.

This gives way to a group of some of the company’s powerhouse movers. It’s not exaggeration that I took a few moments to mentally recover from Melissa Hough’s whiplash chaîné turns.

Houston Ballet’s recently promoted principal, Joseph Walsh, bookends this ballet and, as if restating his value to the company, on this night was featured in all three of the evening’s offerings. If I dared to call a dancer flawless, I might bestow Walsh for his remarkable and utterly adaptable technique.

Throughout Tapestry, dancers disappear through a visually striking but mostly underutilized backdrop of taut, hanging ropes like thread through a loom. Welch has played on the strengths of his versatile dancers and woven something that, devoid of pretentiousness, feels fresh and exciting.

Rockin' with Rooster

The evening’s rock-inspired Rooster by Christopher Bruce features 10 dancers, led by a commanding Ian Cassady in a blazing pink button-down, literally strut and preen to Rolling Stones tunes like “Lady Jane,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Paint it Black” and “Sympathy for the Devil.”

 The Rooster dancers don’t exactly have moves like Jagger but they certainly roll through this ballet with his confidence and cheek.

 Though more than 20 years old, the ballet has aged almost as well as its music. It maintains a universal sense of good fun.

Melissa Hough proves versatile and uncharacteristically mellow as Ruby of Tuesday fame and I enjoyed watching the coy and expressive Katelyn May (and her bobbing blonde ponytail) during some of the work’s physically humorous moments. The Rooster dancers don’t exactly have moves like Jagger but they certainly roll through this ballet with his confidence and cheek.

Divergence: Aging but not yet grayed

Despite its off-kilter, yet occasionally plodding Bizet score, the ballet with the most rock and roll attitude on this program is Welch’s aging but not yet grayed, Divergence. It’s the ballet that put him on the international map as a choreographer and, yes, it’s the one with industrial strength tutus that must be as fun to clown around with during rehearsals as they look.

Perhaps it’s all the leather and mesh but there’s definitely a peep show vibe as a bar of vibrant hues shifts in mood and size to enclose the dancing in a horizontal window of shadow and light.

Divergence is bawdy, suggestive, and a bit bizarre, and if that alone doesn’t entice, its nine movements actually leave you wanting. Now, if that’s not rock and roll, I don’t know what is.

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