Houston Ballet has its eye on Choo San Goh, the young resident choreographer for the Washington Ballet. Searching for a choreographer of its own, the Houston Company and its aristic director Ben Stevenson invited Goh to Texas to stage the world premiere this past weekend of his new ballet, "Variaciones Concertantes."
The impressive ballet confirmed Houston's interest. "I've spoken to Choo about coming here permanently," said Stevenson. "He's the sort of choreographer who could grow with a company."
Still in Houston, where he is restaging another work for the Houston Ballet Academy, Goh is discreet about a prospective position with the Houston company. "It's not impossible in the future," he said, "but I'm still trying to build Washington Ballet to a more stable position."
Stevenson doesn't see Goh's affiliation with Washington Ballet as an obstacle. "Actually I'm interested in having two resident choreographers," he said, mentioning as a second possibility Ronald Hynd, whose successful "Papillon" premiered in Houston in February. "Hynd worked in the classical idiom, but stayed in touch with the contemporary world, whereas Goh has a more modern, ethnic drive to his work.
"I'm talking about Choo San coming here for a block of time each year. After all, it'd be to our credit if he continued choreographing for companies like American Ballet Theatre and Washington."
Stevenson himself came to Houston in 1976, after a career with various companies, including the National Ballet of Washington. He brought to Houston several Washington dancers, notably the talented Suzanne Longley, and restaged National Ballet productions of "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella.
"In Houston we have built the classics as a background," Stevenson said. "And now we've got to start finding face work," ballets that give the company a distinctive profile.
While he was scouting for new choreography, Stevenson kept hearings about Choo San Goh. Two of his former dancers, Carmen Mathe and Michele Lees, wrote to Stevenson and enclosed reviews of Goh's work. "I asked around and other people said he was talented," so Stevenson asked Goh to Houston for a 16-week residency this spring.
Houston's dancers found Goh fascinating to watch. "He's an incredible dancer," said Andrea Vodehnal, another Houston ballerina who formerly danced in Washington. "Even when he's standing still, you can see everything moving. The energy never stops.
"He's very fluid, almost catlike," added Houston's William Pizzuto. "He had us moving in ways we weren't used to." Pizzuto ruefully poninted to his own sore ribs. "He was patient with us but very definite about details."
Outside the rehearsal room, Goh is a reserved personality. He avoids small talk and is apt to give enigmatic answers like "More yes than no," but brightens when the conversation turns to choreography.
"I like to pursue music to its fullest and follows its little . . .", his voice trailed off and the body took over, demonstrating the quirks and eddies of the Alberto Ginastera score for his new ballet.
I thought that 'Variaciones Concertantes' should be rather tribal and primitive. The music has that energy." Goh believes that the new ballet continues the current trend of his work toward "trying to get at more than just movement. I'm interested in exploring the energy of stillness."
'Variaciones Concertantes' is an ambitious ballet, built on a larger scale than earlier Goh work. The lights rise on a group of gladiatorial males, each uncurling from the classic thinker's pose with chin resting on fist. They unfold in slow stretches and dying falls, then form a horizontal frieze of archers pulling taut their invisible bowstrings.
A group of women invade their territory. Their arms are broken into right angles at the elbow, and their feet pulse on pointe as they engage the men in combative byplay.This might be a deja vu , a dream sequence on a battlefield as relationships emerge from solos, group dances and pas de deux.
The ballet is most interesting for its contrasting movement qualities. The men tend to move thoughfully, with emphasis on shape and pose. At times they seem a series of Thomas Eakins' anatomical drawings, objective studies of musculature. The women interrup their reverie with spiky, space-covering movements. And always, when the dancers are standing still, they continue to dance, as if their network of veins was transparent, and the audience could see the blood coursing through.