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 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.
Romeo and Juliet is set to the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891 - 1953). Born in Russia, Prokofiev was a composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century. The score for Romeo and Juliet was commissioned by the Kirov Ballet and was Prokofiev's first attempt at composing a full-length ballet. Prokofiev completed the score in 1935 and it was first performed in a concert that year. When the Kirov Ballet finally performed the ballet in 1940, it was to great commercial success and critical acclaim. Since then, it has remained one of the most popular ballets in the world, and one of Prokofiev's most enduring successes.
This production of Romeo and Juliet is the third staging of one of the great full-length story ballets that form the core of the ballet repertoire Mr. Welch has created for Houston Ballet. He previously created Swan Lake (2006) and La Bayadère (2010) on the company. He has also choreographed a number of full-length story ballets for The Australian Ballet, including Madame Butterfly (1995), Cinderella (1997), and The Sleeping Beauty (2005); as well as two original evening-length works for Houston Ballet: Tales of Texas (2004) and Marie (2009).
Modern Masters Features Works by George Balanchine, Nacho Duato and Harald Lander in March 2015
From March 12 - 22, 2015, Houston Ballet presents Modern Masters, a spring mixed repertory program, featuring George Balanchine's classically virtuosic Ballo della Regina, Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato's poignant Jardí Tancat, and Harald Lander's Etudes, a ballet known for its demanding technicality.
Ballo della Regina, a ballet for two principals, four female soloists, and corps de ballet, is set to the music of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Don Carlos. New York City Ballet premiered the work on January 12, 1978. George Balanchine choreographed the ballet to showcase the talents of New York City Ballet ballerina Merrill Ashley. Lincoln Kirstein, who with Balanchine co-founded New York City Ballet, wrote that the ballet seems to take place in a grotto, with reference through lighting and costumes to the original tale of a fisherman's search for the perfect pearl. "From Verdi's way of dealing with the chorus," Balanchine told biographer Bernard Taper, "I have learned how to handle the corps de ballet, the ensemble, the soloists, how to make the soloists stand out against the corps, and when to give them a rest."
Ms. Ashley commented, "Balanchine always seemed to take special delight in challenging me with difficult steps, and since he knew I excelled at moving quickly, he decided to make that the feature of Ballo --virtuoso steps at high speed. He highlighted all my strengths in Ballo, giving me a ballet that not only was challenging and fun to dance, but one that gave me the opportunity to communicate the joy of dance, which was my favorite mood to express on stage. Ballo epitomizes the essence of the technique that he advocated, as it requires extreme precision, clarity, speed, and expansive movement. Dancers who are not trained in the Balanchine style are always startled to find how much easier the steps are when they use the technique Balanchine advocated. His choreography is constructed with the idea that the steps will be done as he would have taught them. That is what makes the angles of the steps look best, and what makes the transitions from step-to-step possible at high speeds."
Ballo della Regina is one of the most technically challenging neoclassical ballets in the Balanchine canon. The piece demands dizzying turns with lightning-speed reflexes and is noted for the female lead's technically difficult allegro choreography.
Molly Glentzer, writing for the Houston Chronicle, described Houston Ballet's 2010 performance of Ballo della Regina as "kaleidoscopic magic". Julia Ramey from the Houston Press exclaimed, "Ballet classicists will savor Ballo della Regina, a George Balanchine classic set to operatic tunes!" (May 27, 2010).
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1904, George Balanchine is regarded as one of the greatest choreographers in the history of ballet and one of the 20th century's most innovative artists. Balanchine attended the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg. In 1924 he toured Europe and joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as a principal dancer and choreographer. After moving to the United States in 1933 he became director of ballet for the Metropolitan Opera House and a founder, with Lincoln Kirstein, of the School of American Ballet. In 1946 the two men founded the company that would become the New York City Ballet, and in 1948 Balanchine was named its artistic director and principal choreographer where he served in that capacity until his death in 1983.
Houston Ballet has 16 Balanchine works in its repertory: Agon (created in 1957, performed by Houston Ballet in 1996), Apollo (created in 1928, performed by Houston Ballet in 2004 and 2010), Ballo della Regina (created in 1978, performed by Houston Ballet in 2010), Ballet Imperial (created in 1941, performed by Houston Ballet in 2013), Concerto Barocco (created in 1941, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971 and 1977), The Four Temperaments (created in 1946, performed by Houston Ballet in 1988, 1997, 2003 and 2014), Jewels (Diamonds, Rubies, and Emeralds) (created in 1967, performed by Houston Ballet in 2010), La Valse (created in 1951, performed by Houston Ballet in 1988, 1996, and 2004), Pas de Dix (created in 1955, performed by Houston Ballet in 1969 and 1970), Prodigal Son (created in 1929, performed by Houston Ballet in 1974), Raymonda Variations (created in 1961, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971), Serenade (created in 1934, performed by Houston Ballet in 1985, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2008), Symphony in C (created in 1947, performed by Houston Ballet in 1992 and 2008), Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (created in 1960, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971 and 1994), , Theme and Variations (created in 1947, performed by Houston Ballet in 1985, 1987, 1994, 1996, 2004, and 2012), and Western Symphony (created in 1954, performed by Houston Ballet in 1986, 1990, 1994, and 2006).
Jardí Tancat, which means "closed garden" in the Catalonian dialect, is set to Catalonian folk tales collected and passionately sung by Spanish singer Maria del Mar Bonet. With a sweet, yet passionate melancholy, these folksongs and their dance portrayal tell the story of the people who work the barren land, praying to God for the rain that does not come and enduring with great spirit in the face of hardship:
Water, we have asked for water
And You, Oh Lord, You gave us wind
And You turn Your back on us
As though You will not listen to us
Though Jardí Tancat was choreographed for classically trained dancers, its movement vocabulary is strikingly individual - and an exciting challenge for Houston Ballet artists charged with communicating the work's powerful feeling.
Reviewing for Explore Dance, Joseph Campana wrote, "The piece has about it the feel of folk or social dance, with its reliance on communal patterns of movement and emotion, but it also preserves the elegance of the balletic body. Whether wrenched into tormented shapes or twined about the bodies of their compatriots, the dancers found in this music the source of an electricity and necessity. It is hard to look away or to remember to breathe" (May 28, 2009).
Nacho Duato created Jardi? Tancat, his first work, in 1983 while he was a member of the Netherlands Dance Theater, winning the first prize at the International Choreographic Workshop in Cologne. Born in Valencia, Spain in 1957, Mr. Duato started his professional ballet training with the Rambert School in London at the age of 18. To expand his studies he joined Maurice Bejart's Mudra School in Brussels and completed his dance education at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York. In 1980, at the age of 23, Mr. Duato signed his first professional contract with Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm, and a year later Jir?i? Kylia?n brought him to the Netherlands Dance Theater in Holland, where he was quickly incorporated into the company and its repertoire. In 1987, he received the VSCD Gouden Dansprijs (Golden Dance Award) for his achievements as a dancer.
In 1988, he was appointed resident choreographer for Netherlands Dance Theater, along with Hans van Manen and Jir?i? Kylia?n. He has created works for many companies including: American Ballet Theatre, Berlin Opera Ballet, The Australian Ballet, and The Stuttgart Ballet. His versatile style fuses the physical lyricism of Jir?i? Kylia?n with his own distinctive theatrical imagination. From 1990 to 2010, he served as artistic director of Compan?ia Nacional de Danza for which he created many works including Tabulae (1994), Por vos muero (1996), Romeo y Julieta (1997) and Multiplicity (2000). Houston Ballet has one other work by Mr. Duato in its repertoire, Without Words (created in 1998, performed by Houston Ballet in 2000).
Harald Lander's Etudes traces a ballet dancer's basic movements, the five positions of the feet and the simplest barre exercise, and develops in difficulty and in brilliance to a final cascade of turns and leaps. Inserted into the ballet is a pas de deux, frequently referred to as "the sylphide section," which recalls the nineteenth-century Romantic ballet of Denmark. Originally created by Danish choreographer Harald Lander for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948, Etudes has entered the repertoires of the world's best companies, including the Paris Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, English National Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.
"Herald Lander's 1948 Etudes [is] a pure exercise in classical steps and technique," wrote Molly Glentzer in the Houston Chronicle. " Mimicking a ballet class, it begins with basic arm and leg work by a corps of tutu-clad ballerinas at the barre ... Finally, it becomes a dazzling exhibition as the dancers jump in place, soar in jetes and spin through ever faster pique turns, pirouettes and fouettes," (May 27, 2000).
"Etudes is a very challenging classical work that is a benchmark for Houston Ballet and has been in the company's repertoire for over three decades. We last performed Etudes in 2003, and it will be exciting for our audiences to see how the company's classical technique has grown and evolved over the last decade," states Mr. Welch.
Etudes will be staged by the celebrated Danish ballet master Johnny Eliasen. Mr. Eliasen studied at the Royal Danish Ballet School, and danced with the company during the late 1960s and the 1970s, attaining the rank of soloist. A versatile dramatic performer, he created leading roles in Flemming Flindt's Felix Luna and Trio (both 1973) and Triumph of Death (1971). In 1987, he became ballet master of English National Ballet. In 1990, he was appointed deputy artistic director of the Berlin Opera Ballet, and in 1994, he returned to the Royal Danish Ballet as assistant artistic director, acting as temporary director from 1995-1997. For the last several years, he has taught and coached the dancers of Houston Ballet and its academy. In April 2008, he staged the company premiere of the 1849 Bournonville classic The Conservatory for Houston Ballet II's Spring Showcase performance. In 2008, Mr. Eliasen set his staging of La Sylphide on Houston Ballet's professional company to critical acclaim.
Houston Ballet last performed Mr. Lander's Etudes in 2003.
From May 28 - June 7, 2015 Houston Ballet offers up a mixed repertory program titled Morris, Welch & Kylia?n featuring three of today's most dynamic and musical choreographers. A world premiere by acclaimed American choreographer Mark Morris, the world premiere of Stanton Welch's Zodiac and the revival of Jir?i? Kylia?n's iconic Svadebka make this program a must-see for all ballet lovers. Zodiac is made possible through the generosity of Leticia Loya.
Mr. Welch is excited to add Houston Ballet's first commissioned piece by the legendary Mark Morris to the company's repertoire. "Mark Morris is one of the landmark American choreographers, and he is a very important part of the dance scene in this country," comments Mr. Welch. "It is important to have a work created here in Houston by one of the great dance makers of our time."
Mr. Morris formed the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980 and saw his creativity flourish. From 1988-1991 he was the director of dance at Le The?a?tre Royal de La Monnaie in Brussels; and in 1990 he founded the White Oak Dance Project with Mikhail Baryshnikov. He has choreographed works for San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Boston Ballet, among others. His work is currently in the repertory of Houston Ballet, Ballet West, Dutch National Ballet, New Zealand Ballet, English National Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and The Washington Ballet. His opera credits include directing and choreographing productions for The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, English National Opera, Gotham Chamber Opera and the Royal Opera, London.He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, and the subject of a biography by Joan Acocella (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In 2001, he opened Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, New York, his company's first permanent headquarters in the U.S. Dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov has also praised Mr. Morris, calling him, "One of the great choreographers of our time."
Houston Ballet has three other works by Mr. Morris in its repertoire: Pacific (created 1995, performed by Houston Ballet in 2013), Sandpaper Ballet (created 1999, performed by Houston Ballet in 2005 and 2010), and Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes (created 1988, performed by Houston Ballet in 2012).
Mr. Welch first discovered the Greek mythology behind the Zodiac while exploring books in the public library as a youth, and these stories have served as the inspiration for his new work. Working with a commissioned score for the ballet was also high on the choreographer's list. The new ballet is set to a score by Ross Edwards, who also composed the music for Welch's Maninyas (created in 1996, performed by Houston Ballet in 2005 and 2014). Zodiac will mark the twenty-fourth ballet Mr. Welch has created for Houston Ballet.
One of Australia's best known composers, Ross Edwards has created a unique sound world which seeks to reconnect music with elemental forces and restore its traditional association with ritual and dance. Intensely aware of his vocation since childhood, he studied in Australia and Europe, holds doctorates from the universities of Sydney and Adelaide and among many other awards has received the Order of Australia for services to composition. His music, universal in that it is concerned with age-old mysteries surrounding humanity, is at the same time deeply connected to its roots in Australia, whose cultural diversity it celebrates, and from whose natural environment it draws inspiration.
Jir?i? Kylia?n's abstract ballet for eight couples, Svadebka, rounds out the program. Russian for "wedding," Svadebka is Kylia?n's version of Les Noces, Igor Stravinsky's powerful cantata about a peasant wedding. The work's title has roots in the Russian peasant name for the wedding ceremony or wedding play, sva?debnaya igra?. In the ballet, a young bride and groom become betrothed through the workings of matchmakers, bid farewell to their parents, and are married in an ecstatic wedding ceremony.
Mr. Welch comments, "Svadebka is one of Kylia?n's masterpieces. I find it a work that I can watch multiple times and not grow tired of it. The role of the bride is one of the most coveted in the Kylia?n repertoire."
Svadebka is set to Russian-born composer Igor Stravinsky's memorable Les Noces, considered to be one of the landmark works in dance history. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed daring and innovative pieces that changed the dance world. In 1913, the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to create a new work for his influential company Ballets Russes. Ten years later, the Russian dancer and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska created a ballet for Diaghilev's company to Stravinsky's Les Noces. The resulting work, Les Noces, has been performed around the world ever since, and it has been hailed by The Oxford Dictionary of Dance as "without doubt one of the greatest works of the twentieth century." Jir?i? Kylia?n choreographed his version of Les Noces for Netherlands Dance Theater in 1982, creating a powerful reinterpretation of the ballet.
Jir?i? Kylia?n has proven to be one of the world's most influential choreographers and has had a profound impact on the world of dance. Jack Anderson, writing in The New York Times about Kylia?n, observed, "Ballets choreographed by Jir?i? Kylia?n are passionate, rhapsodic, even tempestuous. The Czech-born artistic director of Netherlands Dance Theater likes to send dancers surging in great waves across the stage, and he is not afraid to make strong choreographic statements in the theater." (June 21, 1987)
Born in Prague, Jir?i? Kylia?n studied at Prague National Theatre, Prague Conservatory and The Royal Ballet School in London before joining Stuttgart Ballet in 1968 under the direction of John Cranko. There Mr. Cranko helped cultivate Mr. Kylia?n as a student and choreographer which lead to him setting his first work for Stuttgart Ballet in 1970. Mr. Kylia?n joined Nederlands Dans Theater in 1973 as a guest choreographer, and was appointed artistic director in 1978. After joining Nederlands Dans Theater he created and realized over 60 productions for the company, including such works as: Sinfonietta (1978), Forgotten Land (1981), Bella Figura (1995), and Last Touch (2003). In 1995 Mr. Kylia?n celebrated 20 years as artistic director with Nederlands Dans Theater with the large-scale production Arcimboldo as well as receiving Holland's highest honor, Officier in de Orde van Oranje Nassau. In 1999 Mr. Kylia?n retired as artistic director, but still has an active role as resident choreographer and artistic advisor with the company.
Houston Ballet has seven works by Mr. Kylia?n in its repertoire, including Symphony in D (created in 1977, performed by Houston Ballet in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1994), Sinfonietta (created in 1978, performed by Houston Ballet in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2013), Forgotten Land (created in 1981, performed by Houston Ballet 2005 and 2010), Svadebka (created in 1982, performed by Houston Ballet in 2007), Falling Angels (created in 1989, performed by Houston Ballet in 2009 and 2011), Soldiers' Mass (created in 1980, performed by Houston Ballet in 2009) and Petite Mort (created in 1991, performed by Houston Ballet in 2007 and 2014).
Houston Ballet Caps the Season with John Carnko's The Taming of the Shrew
From June 11-21, 2015, Houston Ballet will present John Cranko's staging of The Taming of the Shrew, a masterful choreographic depiction of Shakespeare's perpetually battling lovers, Petruchio and Katherina, and of Petruchio's determination to bend the feisty, independent- spirited and tempestuous Katherina to his will. Incorporating a stunning array of dramatic moods, virtuoso dancing and vivid characterization, The Taming of the Shrew conveys like no other ballet Shakespeare's wit, brilliant comic invention and sharp understanding of human character.
Originally created for Stuttgart Ballet in 1969, the two-act work has become a staple of the international repertoire, danced by companies across the globe, including American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, The Australian Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet.
Mr. Welch comments, "Upon first seeing The Taming of the Shrew at age 16, I fell in love with the work. I knew that if I should ever become director of a company, I would want that piece for the repertoire. From being cast as a young dancer in The Taming of the Shrew and having the opportunity to work with wonderful coaches, I grew significantly as an artist. And I wanted our dancers to have the opportunity to experience that same type of growth."
Dance critic Joseph Campana praised Houston Ballet's performance of the ballet stating, "Houston Ballet proves dance is by no means immune to the appeal of complex comedy and they prove themselves more than up to the challenge of John Cranko's masterful The Taming of the Shrew." (CultureMap, June 2, 2011).
"Cranko is one of the master storytellers in dance. His choreography is classically based combined with a love for acting, which is an ideal fit for Houston Ballet," explains Mr. Welch.
Born in South Africa in 1927, John Cranko was one of the most successful choreographers of full-length story ballets in the twentieth century. He studied dance mainly at the University of Cape Town and at the Sadler's Wells School in London. He joined the Sadler's Wells Ballet (later The Royal Ballet) in 1946 and in a few years began his choreographic career. In 1957, he created his first full-length ballet, The Prince of the Pagodas, for The Royal Ballet. He was appointed director of Stuttgart Ballet in 1961, and in 1962, he premiered his breakthrough staging of Romeo and Juliet to great critical acclaim. His productions of Onegin (1965), The Taming of the Shrew (1969) and Carmen (1971) are now part of the international repertoire. Some other works he created in Stuttgart include Swan Lake (1963), Opus I (1965) and Initials R.B.M.E. (1972). In addition, he encouraged young dancers in his company, including Jir?i? Kylia?n and John Neumeier, to try their hand at choreography. The untimely death of Cranko in 1973, at the age of 45, deprived the ballet world of one of its most talented choreographers of story ballets.
Houston Ballet has two other works by Cranko in its repertoire: Onegin (1965; performed by Houston Ballet in 2005 and 2008); and The Lady and the Fool (1954; performed by Houston Ballet in 1978, 1980 and 1986).
Full season subscriptions, with tickets to six productions, range in price from $102 to $1170 depending on seat location and date of performances. To subscribe, call (713) 5-BALLET (713-522-5538) or purchase online at www.houstonballet.org. Single tickets go on sale Monday, August 4, 2014 and may be purchased by calling 713 227 2787 (713- 227 2787) or purchased online at www.houstonballet.org.
About Houston Ballet - On February 17, 1969 a troupe of 15 young dancers made its stage debut at Sam Houston State Teacher's College in Huntsville, Texas. Since that time, Houston Ballet has evolved into a company of 55 dancers with a budget of $22.8 million (making it the United States' fourth largest ballet company by number of dancers), a state-of-the-art performance space built especially for the company, Wortham Theater Center; the largest professional dance facility in America, Houston Ballet's $46.6 million Center for Dance which opened in April 2011, and an endowment of $60,676, 551 (as of August 2013).
Australian choreographer Stanton Welch has served as artistic director of Houston Ballet since 2003, raising the level of the company's classical technique and commissioning many new works from dance makers such as Christopher Bruce, Jorma Elo, James Kudelka, Julia Adam, Natalie Weir and Nicolo Fonte. James Nelson serves as the administrative leader of the company, assuming the position of executive director of Houston Ballet in February 2012 after serving as the company's general manager for over a decade.
Houston Ballet has toured extensively both nationally and internationally. Since 2000, the company has appeared in London at Sadler's Wells, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Ottawa, in six cities in Spain, in Montre?al, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in New York at City Center and The Joyce Theater, at the The?a?tre des Champs Elyse?es in Paris, and in cities large and small across the United States. Houston Ballet has emerged as a leader in the expensive, labor-intensive task of nurturing the creation and development of new full-length narrative ballets.
Houston Ballet Orchestra was established in the late 1970s and currently consists of 61 professional musicians who play all ballet performances at Wortham Theater Center under music director Ermanno Florio.
Houston Ballet's Education and Outreach Program has reached over 25,000 Houston area students (as of the 2012-2013 season). Houston Ballets Academy has 950 students and has had four academy students win prizes at the prestigious international ballet competition the Prix de Lausanne, with one student winning the overall competition in 2010. For more information on Houston Ballet visit www.houstonballet.org.
Photo Credit: Ballet: Murmuration. Artist(s): Karina Gonzalez and Simon Ball. Photo: Amitava Sarkar. Image provided courtesy of Houston Ballet.