Houston Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER Kicks Off Holiday Season, 11/23-12/30

Houston Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER Kicks Off Holiday Season, 11/23-12/30

From November 23 – December 30, 2012, Houston Ballet celebrates the 25th anniversary of Ben Stevenson's breathtaking production of The Nutcracker, seen by over 1,000,000 people since its premiere 25 years ago.

The beloved ballet tells the story of a little girl named Clara who is given a magical nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve. She encounters the frightful King Rat before embarking on a wondrous journey through the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets. Young and old alike will experience the many special effects, including the Christmas tree which "grows" to 40 feet, 200 pounds of "snow" falling during the snow scene, and the firing of cannon onstage.

Houston Ballet will give 37 performances of The Nutcracker, to a live orchestra, in the Brown Theater at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston. Tickets may be purchased by calling 713-227-2787 or logging on to www.houstonballet.org.

2012 also marks the 40th anniversary of Houston Ballet performances of The Nutcracker. The ballet has a special place in Houston Ballet's history as the first full-length work to enter Houston Ballet's repertoire in a staging by Frederic Franklin, featuring scenery and costumes by the English designer Peter Farmer. The company gave six performances of The Nutcracker in 1972 at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, and has danced the work each December without fail for the following 40 years. In 1976, Houston Ballet presented the production with revised choreography by the company's new artistic director Ben Stevenson. In 1987, the current production with designs by Desmond Heeley, lighting by Duane Schuler, and choreography by Mr. Stevenson was unveiled to a glowing critical response.

Today, the company gives 37 performances of The Nutcracker at Wortham Theater Center, and the production plays a key role in Houston Ballet's financial picture, drawing 73,000 theatergoers annually to Houston's Theater District and bringing in more than $3.7 million in single ticket sales revenues in 2012.

Principal dancer Amy Fote will make her swansong appearances with Houston Ballet as the Sugar Plum Fairy at select performances of The Nutcracker. Ms. Fote's career has taken her from her native Manitowoc, Wisconsin to New Zealand to Houston Ballet, where she joined the company in 2005 as a first soloist and was promoted to principal dancer in 2006. Prior to joining Houston Ballet, she danced with Milwaukee Ballet for fourteen seasons, distinguishing herself as an exceptionally gifted actress in the title role of Andre Prokovsky's Anna Karenina, among other roles. At Houston Ballet, she has given acclaimed and memorable dramatic performances as Tatiana in John Cranko's Onegin, Kate in Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew, and the title roles in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Manon, Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow and Stanton Welch's Madame Butterfly, a signature role which she has performed internationally. Off stage, Ms. Fote is known for her distinctive fashion sense and strong sense of personal style.

Ms. Fote, who has danced in a production of The Nutcracker every year since she was eight years old, says, "In reflecting on my career, I realize how important it is to perform this American holiday tradition year after year because is often people's first exposure to ballet. The famous Tchaikovsky score, colorful costumes and stunning sets all paired with world class dancing are a treat for both young and old alike. In years to come, it will be hard to imagine the holiday without being a part of this magic."

From December 17 – 23, in conjunction with performances of Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker, the audience is invited to participate in the "Mistletoe on the Go!" fundraiser, sponsored by Macy's. A fifteen-foot candy cane with a four-foot hanging mistletoe (the largest in Texas) will be displayed on Fish Plaza in front of Wortham Theater Center. Attendees to The Nutcracker are invited to take photos under the mistletoe and post their "kiss-mas" photos on Facebook/visitdowntownhouston. For every photo posted, $1 will be donated to Make-A-Wish Foundation (maximum of $5,000).

For over one hundred years, the story of the ballet has proven irresistible to both children and adults alike. Set in nineteenth-century Germany, the ballet opens at a Christmas party at which the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer gives his little niece Clara a magical toy that takes her on an unforgettable journey. From the battle scene between the Rat King and the Nutcracker in the first act to the cooks who fly magically through the air in the second act, The Nutcracker is sure to enchant audiences of all ages.

Tickets are available at a discount for select performances of The Nutcracker, including evening performances on opening night Friday, November 23; Saturday, November 24; Sunday, December 2; Tuesday, December 18; Wednesday, December 19; Thursday, December 20; Thursday, December 27; and Saturday, December 29. Matinee performances will also offer the discounted tickets on Sunday, November 25.

The Story of The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara and her magical nutcracker doll. One Christmas Eve, the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer arrives at the Stahlbaum family's Christmas party and presents Clara with a special gift: a wooden nutcracker. After the party, as the clock strikes midnight, Clara awakens to find the room filled with giant mice. The nutcracker comes to her rescue and a fierce battle ensues as the nutcracker leads the toy soldiers against the mice and their leader, King Rat. The nutcracker overcomes King Rat, and then is transformed into a handsome prince who takes Clara on a magical journey.

To the delight of Clara and the audience, the evening is filled with dance. The Snow Queen leads eighteen snowflakes in a brilliant waltz in the Land of Snow, where the trees are laden with icicles. Then the Nutcracker Prince takes Clara on a boat ride across the Lemonade Sea to the Kingdom of Sweets where they are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Sugar Plum Fairy treats Clara to sweets and entertainment provided by the inhabitants of the kingdom: chocolate, a Spanish dance; coffee, an Arabian dance; and tea, a Chinese dance. Next comes the comical Madame Bonbonaire whose huge skirt is filled with tiny clowns. Then there is the Russian dance and the Waltz of the Flowers. Finally, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince dance a grand pas de deux. As the celebration draws to a close, Clara becomes sleepy. She awakens back in her bed, as the nutcracker salutes his little princess Clara.

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 $20.5 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 just over $57.6 million (as of May 2011).

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 Montréal, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in New York at City Center and The Joyce Theater, 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 20,500 Houston area students (as of the 2011-2012 season). Houston Ballet's Academy has 509 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.

Pictured: Emily Bowen. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.