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Snow Maiden.

HOUSTON BALLET BROWN THEATER, WORTHAM THEATER CENTER, HOUSTON, TEXAS MARCH 12-22, 1998

We Texans get a kick out of snow. It's rare, it's beautiful, it's fleeting.

So who better than Houston Ballet to stage a ballet about a snow maiden, a magical creature living in the far reaches of chilly, chilly Russia.

The Snow Maiden, a three-act story ballet, turns out to be even more exotic than last year's Dracula, a mix of sweetness and never-never land spectacle [see Reviews/National, July 1997].

Created by artistic director Ben Stevenson as a joint project with American Ballet Theatre and starring guest artist Nina Ananiashvili, The Snow Maiden also turns out to be that rarity among big, expensive ($1.2 million) productions: a ballet with a clear narrative and vivid dancing. Maybe the biggest miracle is a danceable score, bits and pieces of Tchaikovsky gleaned by John Lanchbery from operas, piano pieces, and suites.

In bringing to life the ancient Russian tale about Snegurochka, a creature of ice and snow who falls in love with a mortal, Stevenson strikes just the right balance between fairytale charm and emotional acuity. He Is aided by Lanchbery, of course, and designer Desmond Heeley, let loose to indulge his yen for glitter, And glitter the set does: icicles gleam, silver birch trees sparkle, domes float in airy unreality in a gauzy sky.

Lending her own fey magic was Ananiashvili, who can be mischievous at one moment and coy and delicate at another. In the beginning, she's all play and delight, relishing the snow, petting the reindeer, leaping on the back of her roly-poly Father Frost. Later, when she spies the nobleman, Misgir, and his fiancee, Coupova, dancing in the forest, she experiences the first stirrings of love.

Cocking her head and smiling sweetly, Ananiashvili conveys a wide-eyed innocence that grows more touching when she leaves her forest home to pursue Misgir, danced sunnily by Carlos Acosta. He isn't much of an actor, but Acosta's dancing has a larger-than-life, heroic dimension that supplies its own drama. Clarity and ease are his dominant qualities; they give suspense to every silken turn and every gravity-defying leap.

In the second cost, Dominic Walsh was a boyish Misgir and Lauren Anderson an affecting Snow Maiden, less otherworldly than Ananiashvili but also more compelling. Eager, headstrong, driven by love, Anderson rushes off to her doom, giving the ballet an emotional power barely hinted at by Acosta and Ananiashvili.

Tiekka Schofield danced Coupova as though She, too, were made of ice, offering a delicately filigreed performance of sharp turns and swooping extensions. Sally Rojas, in the second cost, was more human.

Though most of the folk-dance ensemble pieces seem ordinary compared to the lovely classical pas de deux, they also conjure up a spirit of gaiety and play. The Maiden flutters her fingers with delight as snow falls, the reindeer leap with abandon, the villagers frolic in the snow with boundless zest. The dancing has a lightness and clarity that suits the shimmering, icy setting, suggesting ice skating in its surface-skimming loops and swirls and its clean geometry.

Ice and snow, alas, melt, and the fantastical disappears in the light of day. The Snow Maiden, frail and dazed, finally makes her way to the courtyard of the czar, where Misgir and Coupava's wedding is underway. She implores Misgir to dance with her, and as the spring sun turns the silvery, glittery landscape into a rosy, golden glow, she melts to nothingness in his arms. Nothing perfect can last for long, the ballet seems to say, and that is as true of snow as it is of love. And, of course, of ballet itself.
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Title Annotation:Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, Houston, Texas
Author:Putnam, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Jul 1, 1998
Words:610
Previous Article:Sean Curran Company; DTW's Bessie Schonberg Theater; New York, New York; February 24-March 15, 1998.
Next Article:Made in North Carolina.
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