Houston Ballet Kicks Off An Auspicious Season

Categories: Dance

Amitava Sarkar
Mireille Hassenboehler and Ian Casady in The Core: Gershwin in the Big Apple. Choreographer: Stanton Welch.
For kids, it's back-to-school. For dancers and their fans, it's back to The Wortham. On opening night the members of Houston Ballet looked well-rested and ready to roll, and there's plenty of new blood in the ranks. We found the program, for the most part, exhilarating.

Amitava Sarkar
Lauren Majewski and Oliver Halkowich in Tu Tu. Choreographer: Stanton Welch.
Aside from its solid, classical construction and challenging workout for the dancers, artistic director Stanton Welch's Tu Tu is also a great way to foreshadow the French-inspired "Emeralds" section of upcoming performances of Balanchine's Jewels. Thursday night, fiery Corps de ballet member Nozomi IIjima made the most of her shining moments in the Gold Couple, with none other than seasoned principal Connor Walsh at her side. It was probably Mireille "Mimi" Hassenboehler however, who won the loudest response from the audience at curtain call. On the sidewalk during intermission, devoted fan Angel Castro admitted that he had instigated the cheers. "Oh, Mimi!" he exclaimed, rolling his eyes. Does she know she has such adoring fans?

The fervor over Bruce Beresford's recently-released film Mao's Last Dancer is auspicious, since it happens to coincide with the first performances of new principal dancer Jun Shuang Huang, who hails from Shanghai. Formerly with the Guangzhou Ballet, the stunning young artist has likely never appeared in a ballet by Europe's greatest living choreographer, Jiří Kylián. Opening night, his dancing in Kylián's 1981 masterpiece Forgotten Land was cautious but still on the mark. The Chinese dancer is tall, lithe, highly expressive, and seemingly the perfect partner for Houston's beloved Hassenboehler, who has been with the company since 1992. His presence is invigorating for everyone concerned, not least of all his new audience.

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