A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM to Launch Houston Ballet's 2014-15 Season; Lineup Announced!

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM to Launch Houston Ballet's 2014-15 Season; Lineup Announced!

From September 4-14, 2014, Houston Ballet launches its 45th season with the company premiere of John Neumeier's three-act ballet A Midsummer Night's Dream. The ballet is based on Shakespeare's lighthearted play of the same name and follows the hijinks and hilarity that ensues when a well-intentioned plan with a love potion goes awry. Created in 1977, A Midsummer Night's Dream has served as Mr. Neumeier's calling card, being seen as one of his most joyous and popular creations. Houston Ballet is the first American ballet company to perform the famous work and it is the first piece by Mr. Neumeier to enter the Houston Ballet repertoire.

"John Neumeier is one of the greatest choreographers of narrative ballets in the world today," comments Mr. Welch. "With his four-decade tenure as artistic director of Hamburg Ballet, he has transformed that city into a mecca for dance. A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Neumeier's signature work, a three-act ballet that is a funny, delightful romantic comedy with many magical elements."

Mr. Neumeier's production skillfully weaves together the three narrative strands of Shakespeare's joyous romantic comedy: the four young lovers who flee the court of Athens for the forest; the world of the fairies, presided over by Oberon, king of the fairies, and his queen Titania, and their mischievous servant Puck; and the six craftsmen who set out to perform a hilarious amateur theatrical production of the love story Pyramus and Thisbe.

Reviewing for Dance Australia, Denise Richardson called the production "Faithful to the original tale . . . it sparkles with humour and a lush sensuality that is captivating". Writing in the South China Morning Post, Jason Gagliardi commented, "Dream we did, swept away by John Neumeier's ambitious staging of the Bard's densely-layered tale. Here is a choreographer at the height of his power - his effortless ranging from classical grand pas de deux to writhing modern mayhem could easily have come over as a messy, silly hodge-podge in the hands of a lesser artist. But Neumeier - who perhaps more than any other choreographer successfully fuses the dance and literary worlds - guide us with assurance and a finely honed sense of humor through Shakespeare's most loved comedy, from its bedroom-farce laughs to its exploration of the nature of illusion and reality..."

Particularly captivating is the set and costume design by Jürgen Rose. The opening scene is opulent and awash with shades of blue and cream, and the costumes evoke the elegance of the Regency period. When the ballet shifts to the world of the fairies, the refined human world fades away to smoky green blackness and magical trees dot the stage.

The internationally acclaimed German stage designer Jürgen Rose has enjoyed an illustrious career in design for ballet, opera, and theater in his home country and around the world. Born in Bernburg/Sale, Germany, Mr. Rose studied in Berlin at both the Kunstakademie (Academy of Arts) and the Theatre School. Mr. Rose's famous collaboration with John Cranko began in 1962 when he designed the sets and costumes for the Stuttgart Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet. Since 1972, Mr. Rose has worked with John Neumeier, artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet, on many ballets. He has designed John Neumeier's full-length Peer Gynt (1989) and Cinderella (1992), both for the Hamburg Ballet.

Music is pivotal to A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the play, Shakespeare created "Three Worlds": the aristocratic world of Duke Theseus and his court; the fairy world of Oberon, Titania and Puck; and the world of the mechanicals Bottom and his friends. Mr. Neumeier uses different music to represent each of these worlds. Mendelssohn Bartholdy's original incidental music accompanies the aristocrats. The organ music of György Ligeti establishes the ethereal world of the fairies; and the mechanicals, or craftsmen, dance to the music of a barrel organ.

Since 1973 Mr. Neumeier has been Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer of The Hamburg Ballet; since 1996 he has been "Ballettintendant" (General Manager). He was born in 1942 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he also received his first dance training. He went on to study ballet both in Copenhagen and at the Royal Ballet School in London. He acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Theater Studies from Marquette University, Wisconsin, where he created his first choreographic works.

In 1963 he was "discovered" in London by Marcia Haydée and Ray Barra, leading John Cranko to engage him at the Stuttgart Ballet, where he progressed to solo dancer. In 1969 Ulrich Erfurth appointed Neumeier as Director of Ballet in Frankfurt, where he soon caused a sensation. This was largely due to his new interpretations of such well-known ballets as The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and Daphnis and Chloe. In 1973 August Everding brought him to Hamburg. Under Mr. Neumeier's direction The Hamburg Ballet became one of the leading ballet companies in the German dance scene and soon received international recognition. Mr. Neumeier has been particularly inspired by the works of Shakespeare, creating narrative works based upon Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Hamlet.

Houston Ballet's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is made possible by the generous support of Phoebe and Bobby Tudor.

From Houston to the World Showcases
Works Created for Houston Ballet in September 2014

From September 18-28, 2014, Houston Ballet offers up its fall mixed repertory program titled From Houston to the World with ballets all originally choreographed for Houston Ballet dancers. Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo brings wit and humor to the extreme virtuosity that he demands in ONE/end/ONE. Edwaard Liang's deeply spiritual ballet Murmuration also returns. Closing the program is Stanton Welch's vivid and exciting interpretation of the third act of Paquita, showcasing a challenging display of technique and classical skill.

ONE/end/ONE was created for Houston Ballet by Jorma Elo in 2011. It features four couples who employ the choreographer's quirky and unexpected movements to create an atmosphere of playfulness. Mandy Oaklander, dance critic for the Houston Press (June 23, 2011) described the ballet as "Arresting and absolutely unpredictable . . . both technically and innovatively, this piece shines." Dance writer Nichelle Strzepek stated, "Jorma Elo, resident choreographer at Boston Ballet, is clearly winning throughout the ballet world with a characteristically playful, always satisfying catalog that now includes ONE/end/ONE, created for and on Houston Ballet. To be the instrument and focus of Elo's creativity is a rather victorious notch in the HB belt, as well." (Dance Advantage, June 4, 2011).

"When I observed Jorma choreographing, I instantly loved his vocabulary as a dancemaker," observed Mr. Welch. "His choreographic style is unique, reflecting influences ranging from classical ballet to Mats Ek."

Mr. Elo, who has created pieces for American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, and New York City Ballet, among others, is currently the resident choreographer at Boston Ballet. He trained at the Finnish National Ballet School and The Kirov Ballet School. From 1978-1984 he danced with Finnish National Ballet, with Cullberg Ballet from 1984-1990, and in 1990 he joined Netherlands Dance Theatre. Mr. Elo worked with renowned choreographers such as Hans van Manen, Mats Ek, Ohad Naharin, Ji?í Kylián and William Forsythe. In 2005 he was awarded the choreographic prize at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition.

Mr. Elo's ONE/end/ONE features beautiful costumes by Holly Hynes. "This is my fourth original Elo ballet. We collaborated before on Slice to Sharp, Double Evil, and Pur ti Miro," comments Ms. Hynes. "Working with Jorma feels like bringing home a friend to meet the family."

Edwaard Liang's Murmuration employs the choreographer's signature seamless movements and emotional spirituality. The work showcases eight couples and one male dancer. Mr. Liang explains his inspiration for the piece by saying, "Murmuration is a phenomenon in Europe where starling birds flock together and make beautiful shapes and patterns in the sky. Scientists have no idea how they come together to make these shapes, but the birds never crash into one another."

Amanda Jennings reviewed the ballet for Dance Europe, "[Murmuration] refers to the swirling patterns made by flocks of birds in flight, turning and swooping this way and that without colliding, and this is exactly the effect Liang has conjured up on stage, the seventeen dancers leaping and swirling, forming striking interweaving patters." (April 2013). Dance critic David Clarke observed, "The striking, stirring, and highly athletic choreography by Edwaard Liang is raw, visceral, intense, and extremely passionate" (Broadway World, April 2013).

Mr. Liang's Murmuration is set to Ezio Bosso's Violin Concerto No. 1 "Esoconcerto". "I had to wait a few years for this music; I wanted to use it for a long time," Mr. Liang explains. "It seems very minimal at first but it continues to increase in soul and depth. It's big music."

Born in Turin, Italy, Ezio Bosso is known internationally for his work as composer, conductor and double-bass soloist. He has worked extensively in the dance world, including collaborations with Ballet Boyz at the Southbank Centre and Sadler's Wells, Christopher Wheeldon at the San Francisco Ballet and Rafael Bonachela at the Sydney Dance Company. He is the only classical Italian composer to have been awarded the prestigious Italian Music Award. In 2010, Mr. Bosso's composition We Unfold for Rafael Bonachela's piece was named Best Music/Sound Composition at Australia's Green Room Awards. His works have been produced at Philip Glass's studio in New York, and performed on five continents.

Murmuration was Mr. Liang's first ballet to enter Houston Ballet's repertoire. Mr. Welch first saw his choreography at The Joffrey Ballet and knew he had to bring Mr. Liang to Houston. "Edwaard has a unique mix of influences inspiring his work, ranging from George Balanchine to Ji?í Kylián, two choreographers with whom Houston Ballet's dancers are intimately familiar because they have performed many of their works," explains Mr. Welch.

Born in Taipei, Taiwan and raised in Marin County, California, Mr. Liang began his training at Marin Ballet. In 1989 he entered the School of American Ballet. He joined New York City Ballet in the spring of 1993, and that same year, was a medal winner at the Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition. He was promoted to the rank of soloist in 1998. In 2001, he joined the Tony Award winning Broadway cast of Fosse, performing a leading principal role. In 2002, he was invited by Ji?í Kylián to become a member of the acclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater. Dancing with Nederlands Dans Theater is where he discovered his passion and love for choreography. After returning from Holland, Mr. Liang again danced with New York City Ballet from 2004-2007.

Mr. Liang has choreographed a number of works, starting in 2003 with Nederlands Dans Theater workshop, Flight of Angels, which has since been staged for many companies. Mr. Liang has also created ballets for New York City Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and Shanghai Ballet, among others. Mr. Liang was named one of the "Top 25 to Watch" for 2006 by Dance Magazine for choreography, winner of the 2006 National Choreographic Competition, and invited to be a part of the 2007 National Choreographers Initiative. In 2013, he was named artistic director of BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio.

Rounding out the program is the third act of Paquita, a dazzling classical showpiece staged by Stanton Welch that debuted at the 2013 Jubilee of Dance in December 2013. Paquita was premiered by the Paris Opera in 1846, and Marius Petipa produced the ballet in 1847 for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg as his debut production. Although originally a full-length narrative work, by the twentieth century only a portion of the third act of the ballet, a dazzling classical showpiece was being performed.

Paquita presents an opportunity for Houston Ballet's dancers to display their sparkling technique. "With Paquita, I hoped to challenge our dancers with demanding classical ballet choreography and the rigors of a historically significant work. I also wanted to showcase the company's high level of classical technique," comments Mr. Welch.

Houston Ballet Lights up the Holidays with The Nutcracker

From November 28-December 28, 2014, Houston Ballet will bring Texas its most joyous holiday gift with its beloved production of Ben Stevenson's The Nutcracker, a Houston holiday tradition. A wonderful ballet for the entire family, The Nutcracker is the perfect way to introduce young children to the power and beauty of classical dance. Tchaikovsky's magical score, Desmond Heeley's fairytale scenery and Mr. Stevenson's vibrantly theatrical staging combine to create one of the most visually stunning productions of The Nutcracker in the world today.

The Nutcracker tells the story of a little girl named Clara who is given a magical nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve. She encounters the frightful rat king before embarking on a journey through the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets. Young and old alike will experience the production's many special effects, including the Christmas tree that "grows" to 40 feet, 200 pounds of "snow" falling during the snow scene and the firing of a canon on stage. Tedd Bale, dance critic for the Houston Chronicle (November 25, 2012), wrote, "The opening performance was a tremendous assertion of just how thrilling tradition can be, probably because the dancing was superb and also because a certain inspiration was in the air."

Guest Artist Julie Kent Makes Special Appearance in Jubilee of Dance on December 5

On Friday, December 5, 2014, Houston Ballet presents its eleventh annual Jubilee of Dance, a special one-night-only performance showcasing the talent and artistry of the company dancers in a program of high-energy excerpts from signature works and beloved classics. Houston Press dance critic Mandy Oaklander praised the production, "I've learned that as a general rule with the Houston Ballet, 'one-night-only performance' means go, or you'll wish you would have" (December 2011).

A highlight of this year's Jubilee of Dance is the appearance of acclaimed ballerina Julie Kent, a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Ms. Kent will reprise the lead female role in Mr. Welch's Clear. Ms. Kent originated the role when Mr. Welch first created the work on American Ballet Theatre in 2001.

The Music of Rock Legend Elton John Takes Center Stage in Love Lies Bleeding in January 2015

On Friday, January 30 and Saturday, January 31, 2015, Houston Ballet presents Alberta Ballet as part of the Cullen Series. One of the missions of the Cullen Series is to introduce the city to exciting contemporary dance makers. Under the artistic direction of Jean Grand-Maître, Alberta Ballet will perform Love Lies Bleeding, a celebration of the music of rock legend Sir Elton John and his writing partner Bernie Taupin. This wild and spectacular work features 14 classic songs, including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, The King Must Die, and Rocket Man. It explores the trials, victories and sacrifices of achieving super stardom with an unforgettable story of rock and roll, drama, passion and, above all, love.

After Alberta Ballet's performances, Houston Ballet heads to Alberta from April 30 - May 9, 2015, to complete the exchange. The company will perform Mr. Welch's epic ballet La Bayadère in Edmonton and Calgary. This model of reciprocal exchange is one of the innovative ways Houston Ballet and Alberta Ballet are keeping large-scale touring of dance alive.

"Love Lies Bleeding is a work that's thrilling to watch, and it beautifully captures the magic of Sir Elton John's music" remarks Mr. Welch.

Love Lies Bleeding is a spectacular dance triumph that is a sensationally entertaining. The production takes audiences on a wild ride, an emotional rollercoaster of theatrically dynamic tableaux. The non-stop parade of over 150 dazzling costumes by Martine Bertrand provides a glorious riot of color and invention. Audience members can expect to see stylized sequined Dodger uniforms, glittery Egyptian loincloths and a roller-skating "Rocket Man" outfit complete with flashing lights and fireworks.

The show is not a typical story ballet. "It's more a dance spectacular than a ballet," Mr. Grand-Maître says. "Some of it [the movement] is Bob Fosse-inspired; there's cabaret, contemporary, athletic movement. We weaved in Rollerblading and flying like Cirque du Soleil. The whole spectrum is there. It's quite a hybrid," he adds. "It's like a Broadway-slash-Vegas show with ballet."

Although rooted in the life and career of the British pop icon, Love Lies Bleeding is more than a simple biographical narrative; it's also a probing examination of the cult of celebrity and the triumphs and challenges of superstardom. The main character is an obsessive Elton John fan and the ballet itself is a fantasy in which he experiences the highs and lows of his idol's roller-coaster career. Set in a vast, dark theatre littered with mementos, artifacts, and remembrances of past glories, the ballet poetically depicts the dramatic landscapes of a classic series of Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs which have deeply inspired billions of music lovers around the world.

"I am proud of what Alberta Ballet has created," comments Sir Elton John. "It's a strong, contemporary choreography that entertains and challenges new audiences with its new esthetics and its powerful fusion of art mediums."

Critics have also embraced the spectacular production. Paula Citron in The Globe and Mail (November 9, 2011) wrote, "Love Lies Bleeding should be around a long, long time. Hattori is sensational. He can tear his way through virtuoso dance tricks with ease ... his emotional journey anchors the ballet and he gives a superb performance. The choreography is a blingy, audience-friendly mix of ballet, jazz, hip-hop and Broadway ... there is a lot of bump 'n' grind. Grand-Maître has also layered in virtuoso ballet steps for the men in particular. The theatrical values of Love Lies Bleeding are strong."

Alberta Ballet, led by Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître, is Canada's third largest dance company. Founded in 1966, Alberta Ballet has developed a distinctive repertoire and performance quality that has brought it to the forefront of both its home and international stages. The company comprises 31 classically-trained professional dancers. The seed of Alberta Ballet was planted in the early 1950s by the late Dr. Ruth Carse in Edmonton. In 1966, it officially took the name Alberta Ballet Company and in 1990 completed a successful merger with Calgary City Ballet. The new organization operates and performs in both Calgary and Edmonton. Since 1975, Dr. Carse has been succeeded by Leslie-Spinks, Brydon Paige, Ali Pourfarrokh, and Mikko Nissinen. Since his appointment in 2002, Jean Grand-Maître has elevated the profile of Alberta Ballet across Canada and around the world. Alberta Ballet reaches thousands of Albertans each season from September to May and performs across Canada and around the world. The company invites leading conductors, choreographers, and other guest artists to take part in their seasons, presenting the best of Canada's ballet companies.

Stanton Welch Stages a Spectacular New Production of Romeo and Juliet

From February 26 - March 8, 2015, Houston Ballet presents the highlight of the 2014-2015 season: the world premiere of a new production of Romeo and Juliet by Stanton Welch. One of Shakespeare's most famous tales, Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet, will be a fresh, brilliantly imagined interpretation of the classic love story of two star-crossed lovers. The production is set to the exquisite score by Sergei Prokofiev and designed by renowned Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, who will create the spectacular scenery and costumes for the production. This new production, Houston Ballet's first in 28 years, is made possible through the generosity of longtime Houston Ballet supporters Ted and Melza Barr.

"Romeo and Juliet is a milestone work, a benchmark for a choreographer. I've never created a work inspired by Shakespeare's dramas before. Prokofiev's score is so exquisitely evocative, with such a strong sense of the individual characters. There are parts of the score that are so moving and emotional that they can bring one to tears," states Mr. Welch.

The production would not be possible without the support of Ted and Melza Barr. The couple has generously underwritten the entire cost of Welch's new Romeo and Juliet. The Barrs have been Houston Ballet patrons for over 30 years. Mrs. Barr serves on the executive committee of Houston Ballet's board and has been known to plan the couple's travel plans around Houston Ballet touring engagements.

"Romeo and Juliet has long been one of our favorite ballets, and we were excited when we learned Stanton was interested in doing a new version of it for Houston Ballet," comments Melza Barr. "With his amazing and talented choreography, the talented artistry of the Houston dancers, and the beautiful sets and costume designs by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, it thrills us to be able to support such a production."

Mrs. Barr continues, "This new and spectacular production by Stanton Welch of one of the world's most famous love stories on Shakespeare's 450th anniversary year will be a wonderful achievement of Houston Ballet."

Set in Verona, Italy, during the Italian Renaissance, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. According to literary scholar Harold Bloom in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, it is "the most persuasive celebration of romantic love in Western literature." Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, the play is among Shakespeare's most popular, and, along with Hamlet, is one of his most frequently performed plays.

Shakespeare's tale of the doomed lovers has been an inspiration to choreographers worldwide since the earliest days of ballet. Although records show the first treatment of the ballet was in 1811 by the Royal Danish Ballet, the most notable productions have come in the twentieth century and have utilized Prokofiev's score for a full-length version. The most influential Romeo and Juliet was staged by the Kirov Ballet with choreography by Leonid Lavrovsky in 1940. Inspired by Lavrovksy's version, several choreographers tried their hands at Romeo and Juliet; most notably, Yuri Grigorovich, Frederick Ashton, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Anthony Tudor, John Cranko and Rudolf Nureyev. Explaining the allure of the tale of Romeo and Juliet, critic John Gruen writes in his book, The World's Great Ballets, "Romeo and Juliet is charged with passion, theatrical spectacle, rollicking humor, and breathtaking solos and dances for small groups and ensembles - all working to convey the grandeur and emotion of Shakespeare's tragedy."

The new production of Romeo and Juliet is designed by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, who has collaborated with Stanton Welch on two of his productions for Royal Danish Ballet: Ønsket ("The Wish") (1998) and Ander ("The Ghost") (1999). "Roberta creates a sort of old-world glamour with her designs," Mr. Welch comments. "She is from Italy, and I thought it fitting that she would bring her experience and knowledge of the artwork of the country into the production design."

Born in Rome, Roberta Guidi di Bagno enjoys an international reputation as a set and costume designer. She created scenery and costumes for John Cranko's Onegin for Teatro all Scala, and her designs were later taken into the repertoires of Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Colòn Buenos Aires and Opéra de Nice. For English National Ballet, she created designs for two new productions by Derek Deane: Romeo and Juliet (1998) and The Sleeping Beauty (2000) both performed at The Royal Albert Hall in London. In 2000, she also created new sets and costumes for Ronald Hynd's productions of The Nutcracker for Teatro alla Scala and Coppélia for Deutsche Oper Berlin. In 1996, Ms. Guidi di Bagno was commissioned to create new sets and costumes for Mr. Hynd's The Merry Widow for Teatro alla Scala, which was restaged in Seattle by the Pacific Northwest Ballet and by Houston Ballet.