Artists step into choreographic frying pan
Young Ballerina Shines in Houston Ballet's 'Manon'
by RICH ARENSCHIELDT
The season finale for Houston Ballet
is a solid interpretation of Sir Kenneth
MacMillan's version of the classic
French tragedy "Manon," continuing
this weekend at the Wortham Center.
The current production allows artists
Courtney Harris and Julie Gumbiner
to step out of the corps de ballet and
into the centerstage spotlight, or,
more appropriately, the choreographic
MacMillan and Houston Ballet
■*\rtisUc Director Ben Stevenson are
cut from the same clolh. both working
together decades ago at Sadlers Wells
(now Royal Ballet). England's premier
ballet company. Many of MacMillan's
works are in the Houston repertory
and he maintained a close relationship wilh the ballet company until his
death in 1992.
MacMillan, like Stevenson, is a kind
of balletic hybrid — classically trained
and yet most productive from 1960 to
the 1990s, a period of radical change
for choreographers and dancers.
"Manon." premiered in 1974, is an
anomaly, in spile of the predicable
and well known story. The audience
witnesses a metamorphosis on slage
as the dance changes strikingly as the
story rolls toward an expected sad
conclusion. Witnessed is a girl on her
way to a nunnery who takes a wrong
turn and ends up getting sold by her
brother inlo prostitution. True love.
sex for jewels deporlal
and rape in prison all find
their way into the plot, ending in Manon's untimely
with an edge" is evident
throughout the piece. The
first act utilizes a fairly traditional dance vocabulary
with hints of modernism.
Dominick Walsh excels as
the drunken brother, a
seemingly mandatory part in
the story ballet genre. Parts
of MacMillan's pax de deux
are right oul of a dance textbook, making the radical
changes into modernity in
the third act al! the more
The final act shows Manon Striking dance: Sean Kelly as Des Grieux and Julie Gumbinner as
al the nadir of her life Manon in the Houston Ballet's production of "Manon," which
Arrested as a prostitute completes its run June 14.—Photo by Jann Whaley
deported lo New Orleans and .
act with equal success.
Manon. beautifully portrayed by
Julie Gumbiner, spends a lot of lime
on stage, mosi of it above the stage.
MacMillan has taken this petite jeune
flls and dumped her in the midst of
men who tear her limb from limb.
throwing her. while suspended, from
one cad to another. Many of
MacMillanis moves might be considered graceless, however Gumbiner
handles them adeptly. Partnered by
brutalized by her prison warden.
Manon is utterly spent. MacMillan
presents this in stark contrast to what
has come before. Where grace once
was, angularity reigns. Softness and
symmetry are replaced with harsh
lines and harsher movements.
Al the end of this ballet it is entirely
plausible that this poor wretched waif
could die from abuse and consumption. Seldom has an overfed operatic
soprano been able to pull off the same
the always competent Sean
Kelly, and others,
Gumbiner was tossed like a
salad and still managed to
maintain her form, landing
on point without fail.
Though Manon's inner turbulence is brilliantly depicted Ihrough MacMillanis
had not a hairpin out of
Peter Farmer's dark sets
and costumes cast a forebodingly accurate shadow
through the piece. The
stage, thankfully was not
cluttered wilh all manner of
props and rings of plastic
flowers, allowing the audience to see the dance,
unobstructed. The bedroom
scene is wonderfully sparse
and yet still darkly effective.
Some minor technical diffi
cullies, mostly a slow curtain, created
a few awkward moments, but aesthetically Ihis production portends all the
What: "Manon," Houston Ballet
When: June 12-13 at 7:30 p.m.,
June 14 at 2 p.m.
Where: Wortham Theaier Center,
500 Tejcas Ave.
Tickets: 810-S84, 713-227-ARTS
Cute, campy Teoria' needs a little flair
by STEPHEN R. UNDERWOOD
Sleven Diller's "Peoria Babylon" is
gay film noir encased in a cute and
campy schlick. wfiere gays ami
straights plot and connive againsl
each olher to heisl a collect ion of
expensive paintings. If sold, lhe paintings are worlh hundreds of thousands
of dollars. Wilh Candy (Ann Cusack)
and Jon (David Drake] down on their
luck, the cash would really be handy.
Candy and Jon plol a deceptive
publicity stunt for their ailing muse
um with Mallhew (Matthew Perreli). a
con-artist painter. After he exchanges
the pricey original paintings for fakes,
Matthew, in front of all the press,
throws smoke bombs in the gallery
and rips the fakes wilh a knife. The
museum gels instant world publicity.
Meanwhile. Candy falls lor a handsome gangster named Paul (Brad
Kessler). When Paul's uncle (Raul
Ke.ssler) joins in on lhe scam, all hell
breaks loose when Matlhew accidentally destroys the mob boss' original. Police
gel word thai the museum debacle was
laked. and Matthew and Jon land in jail.
Affairs blossom and complicate the
scheme. There's Candy and Paul's
attempt lo pair up. Jon becomes
enthralled by Mallhew after he ties him
up and plays dress up. Then Matlhew
plans a marriage of convenience wilh
Octavia DiMare (Tlie "Lady" Bunny), a
proslituie lesbian porn queen running
for U.S. Congress.
Taken as Diller intends, "Peoria
Babylon" is a regurgitated menage of
patchwork subplots. Even his
attempts at deception have an "oh,
gosh I knew that was gonna happen''
aroma lingering throughout.
Fortunately. Lady Bunny spares us
the brassy camp we're so accustomed
to seeing with RuPaul. It's obvious The
Bunny likes to prelend and acl. And
unlike RuPaul, at least you know ils
Still. Diller's mythic Peoria is a
miniature microcosm of what's wrong
with .America (like religious hypocrisy
and homophobia), and an even smaller one of what's right. You can't blame
The Mostly Untdbulcus Social Lifje ofj Ethan Green
the down and out for wanting to gel
ahead, but their deception becomes a
karmlc boomerang that returns to set
ihings right. Even so. "Peoria Babylon"
is a palatable homogenale in dire need
of an aesthetic flair.
HOUSTON VOICE RATING: **i
MPAA Rating: Nol rated
Run Time: 76 minutes
Director/Script: Steven Diller
Cast: a-Xnn Cusack, David Drake.
The Lady Bunny. Matthew Peslorius,
Theaters: Rice Media Center,
Entrance 8, University Boulevard, at
Stockton. June 13 at 3 p.m.
by Eric Orner
enr some rep dot