Cast changes in "Papillon," the Houston Ballet's plush snicker at romantic conventions, didn't work miracles. It's doubtful whether even the greatest of stars would have the magic to dispel the condescending attitude toward tradition expressed in Ronald Hynd's new staging of a century-old ballet about transformed females and their stalwart suitors. Yet last night's performance was gentler than the Wolf Trap premiere on Thursday, with less camp in the acting and less virtuosity in the dancing.

Janie Parker, as the girl who becomes a butterfly, gave the title role's floating steps and quivering arms a pleasing mellowness. Her balances lacked the instantaneous arrests that can make the choreography more exciting, but Parker's lyricism was fresh if not rapturous. As her true love, William Pizzuto, with his fine Arcadian shepherd's physique, earnest acting and precise dancing put Dennis Poole's Persian shah somewhat in the shadows. Poole looks thinner than when he was with the Joffrey Ballet and proved to be a good partner for Parker, but some of his solos were untidy. He's never had perfectly stretched legs or well pointed feet, yet last night he lacked his usual presence.

The witch in her ugly guise was mimed in a forthright travesty manner by Richard Munro, but the juiciest role is that of the witch as a beauty. When she unfurls to assume the bearing that becomes a lovely woman, we get an inkling of the pathos that the original ballet seems to have aroused. Jennifer Holmes last night, like Lorena Langlinais on the night before, showed what good dance acting the Houston Ballet can provide given a good moment.