Sunday was probably the only day this week that I might have had a “day off” from dance. I’m currently preparing to perform in the latest Suchu Dance work which opens this Thursday so, for me, the next seven days will be intensely movement and production oriented. I didn’t take the day off, however. I couldn’t resist the one chance I would have to see Houston Ballet premiere Stanton Welch’s new ballet, Marie.
Although I have long been a student and teacher of dance and ballet technique, my primary interest has been in the contemporary/modern dance realm from practically day one when my dance teacher encouraged me at a young age to investigate dance through improvisation. Therefore, I’ll admit, it is rare for me to put a narrative ballet at the top of my must-see list. So, why would I give up my one, dance-free day to see Marie? Three reasons…
I enjoy a good story, and the life of Marie Antoinette certainly seemed like intriguing fodder for a ballet. It is smart to mount a ballet in which the historic central figure has recently shown up on the pop-culture radar. It has been only a few years since the release of Sophia Coppola’s stylish interpretation, therefore calculated or not, the choice of subject is timely.
And, although monarchial tales are nothing new for classical ballet, certainly Marie’s beheading alone sets her apart from the ethereal heroines found in most storybook ballets. In watching, I found it refreshing to encounter a strong female character as she faces obstacles, ridicule, and ultimately death with dignity. Though she begins as a child bride thrust under a spotlight of scrutiny, by Act II a more grown-up Marie makes no apologies for living her life to the fullest while remaining firmly devoted to being a good mother to her children. As a mother, myself, I can relate to these complexities of womanhood. It is one of many aspects of this period ballet that will resonate with a 21st century audience.
I enjoy good dancing and Houston Ballet typically delivers. There were a few somewhat ungainly partnering moments and a couple of times that costumes seemed to hinder the movement (although, kudos to all the ladies accomplishing pirouettes in long, heavy skirts) but, I was truly not disappointed. In fact, in addition to excellent dancing, the performers produce fine acting performances. From my vantage point, I had the pleasure of seeing clearly the dancers’ faces and the skill with which they convincingly pulled-off complicated emotions, relationships, and (the often more difficult) situational comedy. However, given the rousing standing “O,” I am pretty positive that these played to the back row, as well.
As Stanton Welch himself states in his program notes, “In today’s financially challenging environment, few ballet companies are devoting the time and resources to the creation of new narrative ballets with original scenarios.” So, frankly, I just didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see this rare breed for myself!
As for resources, it is obvious that quite a bit was directed at this production. The costumes are beautifully crafted with a variety of fabrics and textures. Great attention was paid to an overall design that was cohesive from start to finish. I was particularly enamored with the muted silvers and lavenders in Act I, among which were carefully placed accents of white, red, and black. These made the colorful couture of Act II all the more eye-popping.
Consisting of three acts, Marie is over two hours long. Therefore, from the music, to the large cast of characters, to the emotional sucker-punch of an ending, there is much I could write about this ballet. Rather than bore you or spoil things with more detail, however, I’m going to just suggest you follow my lead and not miss this one. Don’t worry, you can still catch Suchu, too! But, as for Marie, there are three remaining performances this weekend at Wortham Center.