"Bound," choreographer Trey McIntyre's latest creation for the Houston Ballet, begins frenetically, ends frenetically, and except for a few interludes, is frenetic throughout. It is almost draining to watch; one can only imagine how draining it is to dance. That drain, however, is almost addictively pleasant. "Bound" exudes energy, grabbing the audience at the start, pulling it along rapidly, and dropping it at the end, tired but happy.
A VISUAL FEAST
The work is so absorbing that it seems considerably shorter than its actual 45-minute length. Set to Benjamin Britten's Piano Concerto Opus 13, "Bound" is divided into four sections tied together as much by their look as by their theme (which is, McIntyre has said, to examine the dual meanings of the title word—bounding freely and constrictively bound). The action is set on a darkened stage backed by a raised platform that suggests the border of a movie screen; above it flash images by Oregon photographer Kristie Munn. In front of this, groups of dancers race silently from one side of the stage to the other, nearly lost in the shadows, while other dancers are caught in a harsh glare, absorbed in sharply accented movements.
In its abstraction, "Bound" could easily fly apart. But McIntyre's imagination keeps everything tightly connected. From his beginnings with the Ballet a decade ago, McIntyre has exhibited a sure showman's hand, and in "Bound" that showmanship is clearly evident, not only in the dance steps and stark set design (both by McIntyre), but also in lighting designer Christina Giannelli's dramatic spotlights, which beam upward from the stage floor, plucking dancers from a deep darkness to force attention to them.
A TASTE FOR THE TIMES"
"Bound" is a demonstration of just how far McIntyre has developed as a choreographer. But it's also a demonstration of just how adept the Ballet is with modern pieces. The Houston Ballet has always reveled in its eclecticism, in its ability to mix classic and contemporary works, but its current lineup seems particularly well suited to the latter. In "Bound," the pairing of Dawn Scannell and Mauricio Canete in particular is electric, their clear, crisp movements a perfect reflection of the piece's atmosphere. And in the doleful third section, Barbara Bears is riveting in a pas de trois with Phillip Broomhead and Nicholas Leschke, creating a menacing quiet before the storm that marks the work's conclusion.
GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS
Unfortunately, on opening night the connection the dancers had with "Bound" was missing in the evening's second selection, "Etudes," Danish choreographer Harold Lander's 1948 look at classical technique through the lens of a ballet class. Despite occasional standouts, such as Lauren Anderson's solos and a backlit section in which ballerinas exercise in silhouette at the ballet barre, the piece seemed perfunctory. At its best, "Etudes" can be lovely; on this occasion it was simply competent—and even less than that in a middle section when one dancer fell, and another, lost, had to stand still for a beat before catching up with his partners.
"Bound" pleases the eye and sparks the imagination. Using a stirring piece of music by Benjamin Britten, choreographer Trey McIntyre infused his enjoyable new ballet with stylish imageries and contemporary illusions, yet without straying too far from the classical idiom.
Too often in contemporary ballet, a young choreographer relies on one or two gimmicks, be it particular motifs, lighting effects or computerized music. Not so McIntyre, at least not in "Bound," a work so complete in its design that one evening isn't enough to take it all in. Not only does each element accentuate each other; they also evolve for each of the four movements, giving the audience a richly textured feast to savor.
Each movement of “Bound” is structured differently, each with its own set of motifs, lighting designs, costumes, projected backdrops and tempi. The first movement, featuring four principal roles -- including an impressively athletic Dawn Scannell -- in light earthtone costumes and supported by a corps of eight dancers, begins the work in an exuberant and spirited mood. There is a memorable sequence in which the silhouette of a dancer is lit from behind and below. The second, slow, movement features a pas de deux wrapped in tension and anxiety.
According to McIntyre, he was inspired by the contrasting meanings of the word "bound," both as in "restrained" as well as in "leap." This idea was not captured more emotively for me than in a spectacular pas de trois in the third movement in which the furious energy of Barbara Bears seemingly collides into her partners on either side of her.
The work ends in a dazzling final movement featuring all 17 dancers -- including a fiery solo by Mauricio Canete -- costumed in daring red and orange colors. I wonder if any other contemporary ballet choreographer would have dared create such a crowd-pleasing razzle-dazzle finale. McIntyre obviously does and I find it refreshing.
While the principal dancers excelled in their roles, the corps appeared to be slightly off the mark Friday night, with the occasional foot out of step and partners missing each other's hands. However, these are minor quibbles and I am sure will be attended to by the time this work is performed again, which I hope it is. Houston Ballet is far too professional a company not to address these problems.
Trey McIntyre is definitely a choreographer to watch. Artistic directors of ballet companies around the world should take note: “Bound” should look good on almost any ballet company and its energy will certainly draw audiences in.