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Photo Flash: Houston Ballet Ends 2015-16 Season With World Premiere of Stanton Welch's GISELLE

Houston Ballet concludes its 2015-16 season with the world premiere of artistic director Stanton Welch's reimagining of GISELLE. This production, set in the Romantic era, will showcase the company's strength and depth of talent while staying true to the original story of love, betrayal, and redemption. Performances continue through June 19.


Updating a Classic

Originally choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli to a commissioned score by Adolphe Adam, GISELLE had its premiere in Paris on June 28, 1841. The ballet has impacted ballet companies across the world and Houston Ballet is no exception, with GISELLE playing a seminal role in the history of the company. Giselle was the first full-length classic that Houston Ballet Foundation staged in 1967, featuring superstar Carla Fracci, a legendary Giselle of the era, and Erik Bruhn, one of the world's most heroic danseur nobles, in a production supported by student dancers from Houston Ballet's Academy and from other area dance schools. The production was a success and inspired Houston balletomanes to launch a major fund drive. By 1968, the foundation gave the go-ahead for the creation of a professional company. In May 1969, the sixteen dancers of Houston Ballet's professional company gave their first Houston performance at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts.

To update this romantic classic, Welch conceived of the idea to link the two acts of the ballet, foreshadowing the descent into Act II from the very beginning of the ballet. In Act I audience members will be able to catch glimpses of the Wilis in the windows of the village houses. In addition, the backdrop for Act I features a distant glimpse of the forest which is the setting for Act II. These innovative changes provide a more cohesive storyline for theatergoers.

Welch has had enormous success in staging new full-length works. His ability to reinterpret the classics by staying true to the original intent of a ballet, while expanding the storyline and showcasing the depth and talent of a company's dancers is a particular strength of his. For Houston Ballet he created stunning new versions of Swan Lake (2006), La Bayadère (2010), and Romeo and Juliet (2015), as well as creating the original full-length ballets Tales of Texas (2004), and Marie (2009).

The Score

For Welch, the importance of the original intent of the music was integral to the creation of the ballet. Welch has breathed new life into the ballet by restoring nearly the full original score. Many ballet companies edit and rearrange ballet scores, losing passages and whole phrases of music to suit a production's needs. With the help of Houston Ballet Music Director Ermanno Florio, the production uses almost the entirety of Mr. Adam's original score.

"Since the premiere of GISELLE there have been several re-orchestrations to the score. From a musical standpoint, we have restored the ballet score to be as faithful as possible to the original intent of the composer," said Houston Ballet Orchestra music director Ermanno Florio. "This orchestration will sound very delicate and refined, and it has a much more subtle sound."

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 Florio.

Set and Costume Design

Acclaimed designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno will return to Houston to create the sets and costumes for GISELLE. Ms. Guidi di Bagno previously collaborated with Welch on two of his productions for Royal Danish Ballet: Ønsket ("The Wish") (1998) and Ander ("The Ghost") (1999), and most recently created the lavish and spectacular costumes for his Houston Ballet production Romeo and Juliet (2015).

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 alla 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.

The Story of Giselle

In GISELLE, Prince Albrecht disguises himself as a peasant in order to court Giselle, a beautiful young village girl. Unaware of Albrecht's noble birth, Giselle falls in love with him. A hunting party stops for refreshments at the house where Giselle and her mother Berthe live. The party includes the Duke of Courland and his beautiful daughter Bathilde, to whom Albrecht is already engaged. Upon meeting Giselle, Bathilde, unaware that they are in love with the same man, is enchanted by her youthful innocence. They fall into conversation and Giselle tells the Princess that she is engaged to marry. Bathilde gives her a beautiful gold necklace. Hilarion, the village gamekeeper who is deeply in love with Giselle and is very jealous of Albrecht, discovers Albrecht's disguise and true identity. When Hilarion reveals this, Giselle becomes so distraught that she loses her reason. Uncontrollable and inconsolable, Giselle attempts to kill herself with Albrecht's sword, hears the Wilis summoning her, and dies from a broken heart in her mother's arms.

At the beginning of the second act, Hilarion goes to mourn at Giselle's grave. She has been buried deep in the forest and has become one of the Wilis, the ghostly apparitions of girls who were betrayed by their lovers and died on the eve of their weddings. They avenge themselves by dancing to his death any man passing by during the night. Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, summons the maidens and they force Hilarion to dance until he dies. When Albrecht, now full of remorse, comes to mourn at Giselle's grave, the Queen commands Giselle to rise from her grave and entice him to dance. Giselle is obliged to obey the Queen and dances with Albrecht through the night. She still loves him despite his betrayal, and manages to keep him alive until daybreak. With the arrival of dawn, Giselle and the other Wilis lose their power and vanish. From beyond the grave, the power of Giselle's selfless love has saved Albrecht's life.

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 59 dancers with a budget of $24.5 million (making it the United States' fifth 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 $63 million (as of January 2016).

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, Trey McIntyre, Julia Adam, Natalie Weir, Nicolo Fonte, and Edwaard Liang. Executive Director James Nelson serves as the administrative leader of the company, a position he assumed in February 2012 after serving as the company's General Manager for over a decade.

Houston Ballet has toured extensively both nationally and internationally. Over the past fifteen years, the company has appeared in London at Sadler's Wells, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia, in six cities in Spain, in Montréal and Ottawa, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in New York at City Center and The Joyce Theater, at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées 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.

Writing in Dancing Times in June 2012, dance critic Margaret Willis praised Houston Ballet and highlighted the fact that "During his own tenure, (Stanton) Welch has upped the standard and Houston Ballet now shows off a group of 55 dancers in splendid shape. With fast and tidy footwork, they are technically skillful and have strong, broad jumps and expansive, fluid movements. The dancers' musicality shines through their work, dancing as one with elegance and refinement - and they are a handsome bunch too!...if ballet were an Olympic sport, see Houston Ballet well on the way to achieving gold."

The world premiere of GISELLE is made possible through the generosity of longtime Houston Ballet supporter and trustee Lynn Wyatt.

Official Houston Ballet Blog: houstonballet.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/the-ballerinas-legacy-of-giselle/

For more information on remaining GISELLE performances, visit houstonballet.org.

All photos courtesy of Houston Ballet


Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht


Kajiya and Artists of HB/Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle


Carla Fracci as Giselle, 1967


Carla Fracci as Giselle with dancers from Houston Ballet Foundation, 1967


Janie Parker as Giselle, 1985


Janie Parker as Giselle, 1985


Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht, 1981


Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht, 1981


Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle, David Makhateli as Albrecht, 2001


Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle, Carlos Acosta as Albrecht, 2001


Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle


Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht


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