The Arthropologist

Ten performances that linger in my mind

Ten performances that linger in my mind

Distilling a decade of art-watching into ten selections is not for the faint of decision-making. How best to select ten best in a sea of strong offerings? I let my memory be my sieve and asked the question, "What is still with me?" Keep in mind, I didn't see everything, although heavens knows I tried. These 10 performances continue to linger, fester, mesmerize, entertain, haunt, disturb or enchant.

Astoria, choreography by Jennifer Wood, Suchu Dance (2001; revised 2004)

Wood riffs on the flimsiness of memory in Astoria, one of her most poignant theatrical pieces. With a reccurring scene of a lone dancer under a swinging overhead lamp, Wood nails the human tendency to prop up the past and re-do it according to our own devices. Wood wove memory, movement and humor into one highly memorable and whimsical whole. Nicholas Phillips' lighting design further transported us to Wood's weird world. Nostalgia never looked this good.

 Topdog/Underdog by Suzan-Lori Parks, Alley Theatre (2004)

David Rainey and Todd Freeman crashed through Parks' Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning play with a fierce energy. The actors' chemistry, combined with Parks' soaring language, made for one of the most riveting performances at the Alley's intimate Neuhaus Stage.

Velocity, choreography by Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet (2006)

Welch proved himself a master architect of group motion in his white tutu ballet Velocity. Dense and filled with Welch's signature intricate, yet organic, movement, the ballet whipped up an undeniable kinetic momentum. Melody Herrera's stellar performance landed her a coveted spot on the  "25 to Watch" list in Dance Magazine and on the cover.

Hush, choreography by Christopher Bruce, Houston Ballet (2006)

Bruce's charming portrait of a traveling circus family set to Bobby McFerrin's music was so chock filled with gorgeous stage pictures that I actually tried to slow the ballet down while watching. Houston Ballet has enjoyed a long relationship with Bruce, and it showed in this pitch-perfect ballet created especially for the company. With lighting by Houston's own Christina Giannelli, the ballet conjured a delicate world, full of nuanced dancing by the original cast. Audiences will get a second look at Hush as it comes round again this season as part of  "American at Heart" in March.

La Cenerentola by Gioacchino Rossini, Houston Grand Opera (2007)

So why is an opera on a best theater and dance list? Directed by famed Barcelona troupe known as Els Comediants, this HGO production of La Cenerentola proved an entirely visually arresting theatrical experience. HGO Studio alum turned megastar soprano Joyce DiDonato delivered a Bel Canto tour de force performance, never mind looking smashing in her Mondrian inspired Cinderella duds.

Sleeping Beauty, choreography by Dominic Walsh, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater (2007)

Dominic Walsh lived up to the "theater" in his company's name with his re-telling of this classic ballet. Transposing the story into a futuristic setting complete with a graphic novel vibe, Walsh hit his stride in making a classic bold and fresh. Dawn Dippel danced her heart out as Aurora, a narcoleptic with a drug problem, and Walsh himself stunned as Lyle Laq, his play on the Lilac Fairy.

 Rot by John Harvey, Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company and Bobbindoctin Puppet Theatre (2007)

I assumed John Harvey to be a black sheep relative of Edgar Allen Poe, and Rot to be a script found in someone's attic, or better yet, someone's coffin. But lo and behold, Dr. Harvey is alive and well, teaching and twisting young minds at University of Houston's Honors College where he is an artist in residence. Harvey's play is as rich in poetry as it is in delicious gore. The collaboration between Mildred's and Bobbindoctrin proved a potent match. 

Jeffrey Bean in Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, Alley Theatre (2008)

Bean delivered a performance so luminous it seemed an act of cruelty when the show was done. The veteran Alley Acting Company member owned every minute on the Hubbard Stage, transforming each syllable into a ecstatic experience. What a divine match between an actor and his words.

Awake and Sing by Clifford Odets, Main Street Theater (2009)

Odets' depression-era tale of a claustrophobic Jewish family surviving in the Bronx felt timely and MST did a noble job living up to Odets' biting prose. Outstanding performances by Charles Swan and Luisa Amaral-Smith and sensitive direction by Cheryl L. Kaplan made for a riveting experience. I wasn't the only person blown away; Terry Teachout also raved in the Wall Street Journal.

 Village of Waltz, choreography by Jane Weiner, Hope Stone Dance Company (2009)

Weiner, a slow cook choreographer, took our breath away in her most realized and polished work thus far in her decade-long Houston dancing-making career. Athletic dancing, pristine ensemble work and a taste of a village atmosphere placed Weiner in the one to watch category on Houston's local dance stages.

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K. Todd Freeman, left, as Booth and David Rainey as Lincoln in the Alley Theatre production of "Topdog/Underdog." Photo by Michael Brosilow
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Ballet: Velocity Choreographer: Stanton Welch Dancer(s): Meloday Herrera Photo by Drew Donovan
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Jeffrey Bean in the Alley Theatre production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" Photo by Michal Daniel
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"Village of Waltz" by the Hope Stone Dance Company and choreography by Jane Weiner. Dancers: Brit Wallis and Patrick Ferreri Photo by Simon Gentry
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From Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company, Jennifer Decker, Patricia Duran and Eric Doss in John Harvey's "Rot" Photo by Anthony Rathbun
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Houston Ballet" "Hush" with Nicholas Leschke and Kelly Myernick Photo by Jim Caldwell