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DANCING JOHN NEUMEIER’S A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

September 5, 2014

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

Fairies, lovers, donkeys and a love spell gone completely wrong…Houston Ballet begins its 2014-15 season with the company premiere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by John Neumeier  and inspired by William Shakespeare’s famous comedy, from September 4 – 14 at Wortham Theater Center.

Houston Ballet 2014 A Midsummer Night's Dream

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Now let’s get the scoop from two Houston Ballet dancers, principal dancer Karina Gonzalez and soloist Aaron Robison. Ms. Gonzalez will dance the leading female role of Hippolyta and Mr. Robison will be performing the leading male role of Theseus, Duke of Athens. You can see them both on stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at performances on September 4, 6, 12, and 14.

Can you relate to your character?

Karina Gonzalez: Not really. But she is a really fun and easy character to portray. Hippolyta is an elegant and beautiful queen who is going to get married to a guy who she is not even sure she loves. Then she enters her dream where she becomes this powerful and sensual woman, a woman that she can’t be in the real world.  In her dream, she is a sensual and powerful creature.

A Midsummer Night's Dream HB Gonzalez and Robison

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Karina Gonzalez and Aaron Robison; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

How do you get into character?

Aaron Robsion: It often depends on what type of role I am doing. As the ballet is being taught, John Neumeier and the artistic staff will feed you detailed information about the characteristics of the role while explaining the story.

So then I will try to imagine myself in that period and try to interpret what John is saying, in my own personal way because he wants to keep the ballet present, with real human emotions, keeping the characters human and real.

Karina: We spend so much time developing the character, learning the choreography, the music and the steps.  So when it is time for the shows, you know exactly who you need to be. My role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is easy to find. Before the show, I start to get ready at least one hour and half early, and I start getting into my character at that point.

How is this staging of A Midsummer Nights Dream different from other productions choreographed by George Balanchine and Sir Frederick Ashton?

Aaron: I think what makes John Neumeier’s version more unique and different from other stagings of the ballet is that it is much more realistic and there is a lot more emotional depth to the roles.

Karina: I know in this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you are not going to see pretty sparkling fairies with tiaras and wings. The dream scene is completely different:  more dark, magical, and a bit animalistic in a way.

Is there another character you enjoy other than the one you are dancing?

Aaron: It has been very funny watching my two colleagues, who are very manly male dancers, take on the role of Thisbe. It is danced on pointe and is very entertaining.

Karina: I love the role of Puck. He is mischievous, strange creature but very likable. He is the one that gets everything confused and then he has to put everything back together. It is a really fun role, and I enjoy watching both casts’ unique interpretation of the role.

 Houston Ballet Gonzalez and Robison

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Karina Gonzalez and Aaron Robison; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Why are you excited about this ballet?

Aaron: I’ve always been a huge fan of John Neumeier’s work, and I am thrilled to be dancing the lead role in this fantastic production. It really is a dream come true. I hope the Houston audience enjoys watching this ballet as much as I am enjoying dancing it. This is definitely one of the highlights of my career, and I am also very excited to be dancing with Karina Gonzalez for the first time.

Karina: I have been dreaming of working with John Neumeier for a long time. And it has been fantastic to have him in the studios, giving us his inspiration and ideas of the ballet. Also,  he told me that he created the role of Titania for a Venezuelan dancer, Zhandra Rodriguez, one of the best ballerinas in my country. So I am excited to do this role and to try to fill her shoes. It is a wonderful ballet.  Also it is the first time that Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been performed by an American company. So it is a must- see for all!

Describe this performance in 3 words or less.

Aaron: Romantic, humorous, thrilling.

Karina: A masterpiece.

 Houston Ballet 2014 Gonzalez and Artists of HB

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Karina Gonzalez and artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Why should people see this? What should the audience take away from the performance?

Aaron: People should come and see this ballet because obviously A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a very famous Shakespeare story, and this is the first time Houston Ballet will perform the work.   The production features great dancing and acting which shows off Houston Ballet very well. I hope the audience enjoys the ballet, and hopefully they will feel a sense of connection or can relate to a certain character.

Karina: John Neumeier it is one the most famous, and greatest choreographers of our time, so it is an honor to have his piece as part of Houston Ballet repertoire. I think it is a great interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that will be enjoyed by all. The audience should walk away feeling as if they were a part of three worlds of Shakespeare’s play created by Mr. Neumeier.

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From Setpember 4-14, 2014, American choreographer John Neumeier, artistic director of The Hamburg Ballet since 1973, is one of Europe’s most highly regarded dance makers.  Houston Ballet is pleased to introduce the first work by Mr. Neumeier into the company’s repertoire: his 1977 staging of William Shakespeare’s beloved romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, acclaimed by the Hamburger Morgenpost as the “jewel in John Neumeier’s œuvre.”  Featuring lavish scenery and costumes by the acclaimed German designer Jurgen Rose, the ballet brings to vivid life the magic and merriment of Shakespeare’s classic text.

For more information: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/A_Midsummer_Nights_Dream/

Check out the preview of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Watch an interview with choreographer John Neumeier about A Midsummer Night’s Dream:  

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A VOYAGE TO ROME FOR ROMEO AND JULIET

August 21, 2014

By Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager

Oh my, what an incredible adventure to travel to our production designer Roberta Guidi Di Bagno’s home in Italy to shop fabrics for Stanton Welch’s new production of Romeo and Juliet, debuting in February 2015. Yes, I’m talking Rome, Italy.

Roberta designed Romeo and Juliet with a wide variety of fabric/trim needs.  Roberta and I swatched locally for fabrics right here in our own backyard in Houston. However, there’s only so much to find locally. From basic burlaps to the most exquisite velvets and lurex yardages…. or as measured in Rome, meterages.

The Ball 2

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

I landed in Rome on Easter Sunday with no problem and taxied into the city to meet Roberta at her apartment. I was fortunate enough to be hosted right next door to Roberta in her rental apartment that just happened to be vacant at the time of my visit.

We spent the next seven days poring over the costume designs, discussing fabric choices, details of line and shape, changes to decisions already made, and simply solidifying our design books. The design book is our ‘bible’ of information. We made sure that we both had the same information in our respective books so that as we discuss things long distance, we are looking at the same information.

Juliet in gold

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

We spent one long day at D’ Alesso Leathers where we searched through hundreds of hides to choose for the various characters’ tunics and bodices. I have never seen such leathers. The hides are garment weight and many are manipulated with dye/paint and have designs, but also metallic fabric embossed to the back to give two tone effects. Some leathers look fresh and new, some very ancient and worn.

Romeo 2

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

You’ll just have to see the show to really get a look at the incredible selection we were able to acquire.

The next day Roberta and I spent at the Brothers Bassetti, a fabric store filled floor to ceiling with fabrics from tulles to velvets, brocades to chiffons, anything you can imagine. At Brothers Bassetti a clerk serves you with all your needs. It’s wonderful to have that one person there gathering and assisting to pull whatever fabrics you’re interested in. Roberta and I had already done much of our homework before arriving. Prior to visiting Rome, when Roberta was here in Houston, she and I had gone through our Bassetti swatches and made many preliminary decisions as to fabric assignment.

Blue door

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

Let me say that as wonderful as our local fabric shopping is in Houston, we simply do not have the variety that can be found in the large European cities. It was like a treasure hunt in the most beautiful setting. Everywhere you look is history. Walking to Brothers Bassetti, we walked past the Pantheon, and we left the fabric shop just as the Pope decided to visit one of the area churches. So we found ourselves in a taxi going round in circles.

The people of Rome were welcoming and Roberta was the perfect hostess. The fabrics we acquired are amazing and the Costume Shop here is certainly looking forward to the arrival of our goodies from Rome.

We are one step closer to beginning construction on this most amazing project.

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Houston Ballet will present the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s new staging of Romeo and Juliet, featuring opulent scenery and costumes by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno, February 26 – March 8, 2015. For more information, visit:  http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Romeo_and_Juliet/

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BUILDING STRENGTH WITH AKIHIRO KAWASAKI

August 19, 2014

By Kalyn Oden, Houston Ballet PR Intern

Let’s talk about Houston Ballet Academy’s 2014 Summer Intensive’s strength and conditioning program that the dancers participated in this season. This blog will not only give a perspective on the strength and conditioning training the dancers undertake but also about the coach himself.

First, a little about the trainer and his qualifications.

Akihiro Kawasaki is originally from Ibaraki, Japan. Kawasaki began his training in health and fitness while living in Japan and actively playing sports. “I became interested in the strength and conditioning field when I was 19. I have some certifications and a lot of experience before starting work as a strength and conditioning coach,” states Kawasaki. He then wanted to further his education in health and fitness in the United States. While continuing his studies at University of Alabama at Birmingham, graduating with a B.S. in Exercise Science, in the mechanics of the human body and more of the medical side of personal training, he met his wife who had been a professional dancer.

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While attending his wife’s performances, he was drawn to the world of ballet. The ballet career path draws individuals who are strong, flexible, demanding, disciplined and hard working professionals. Kawasaki states, “I became especially interested in the mechanics of ballet movements and the partnering skill of male dancers. The way ballet dancers move is more complex and complicated than other sports.” Being introduced to the world of ballet gave him the incentive to study more about the human body and the body’s capability. His knowledge of how the human body works combined with his understanding of the importance of nutrition enable him to provide better care to help keep clients’ bodies healthy and to prevent injuries, along with being able to offer better guidance.

Now I am sure you are wondering, “So, how does this apply to the dancers?”

Kawasaki has created exercises specifically for dancers that will help strengthen the muscles efficiently to prepare them for the strenuous movements on stage. This style of muscle strengthening takes a specific understanding of how dancers’ movements are complex, yet graceful, and demanding. His strength and conditioning classes at Houston Ballet are creative and fun for the dancers to participate in while utilizing resources such as: their own body weight, balance balls, and various sizes of dumbbells, among other resources.

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Kawasaki not only instructs the dancers on proper form but also reiterates the importance of nutrition, diet and hydration. Kawasaki begins each session by asking the dancers, “What did you have for breakfast/lunch/dinner? And how much sleep have you received today?” By asking these questions, he helps the dancers better understand the importance of taking care of themselves by what they eat, the crucial role of rest for the entire body and the best way to take in the necessary nutrients. He also helps keep them motivated to reach their goals and achieve their full potential. One of Kawasaki’s philosophies is, “it is essential for student dancers to understand human anatomy, biomechanics and exercise physiology in order to be able to practice self care, to rehabilitate, and to choose training exercises for their practice and performance in ballet.”

Kawasaki has taught both male and female dancers about the importance of the human body and how to take care of it. This year at Houston Ballet, Kawasaki mainly taught male dancers, or danseurs (as they are known in French). Danseurs have to be able to be powerful and graceful with every move yet “make his female partner look beautiful at the same time.” Kawasaki has designed different exercises for male dancers to improve personal ballet technique and strengthen partnering skills. Kawasaki works with Houston Ballet’s instructors to help the dancers with any weaknesses and to improve dance technique through strength and conditioning.

After the dancers strenuous yet productive session with Kawasaki, he teaches the importance of conditioning, resting the muscles and how to help prevent injuries after exercising. One way of helping the muscles relax is the practice of Yamuna Body Rolling or YBR. YBR is a component of bone stimulation which posits that if the bones are in correct alignment, then the muscle then will function correctly. Having the muscle properly function assists in relieving pain, preventing injuries and reducing unnecessary stress. YBR uses various balls to target specific areas of the body; the balls then become the hands of the therapist. By using the various balls for specific areas of the body, the person’s weight creates the traction, movement and release on the ball. This then results in Yamuna Body Rolling. YBR also compliments the goals of Yoga.

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As with any professional sport, these dancers work hard on a daily basis to better themselves in their performances. During the ‘off-season’, the dancers continue to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. They rely on the help of health professionals/trainers such as Kawasaki to reach personal goals, minimize injuries and keep the body healthy. Kawasaki asserts that understanding human physiology will “produce more great, strong and reliable dancers in order to bring the level of Houston Ballet or other ballet companies higher and better.”

Kawasaki always reminds his students, “Where there is a will, there is THE way. This is because it is only your own way — not the same as others. You are the one who opens a door for your path in your future.”

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And that’s a wrap!

July 29, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The 2014 Summer Intensive Program was a huge success!  We had six shows in 48 hours, but our young dancers never missed a beat. Each cast gave it their all for every performance, making for six inspiring shows. 

While I’m sure the students are enjoying the beginning of their much-deserved break, it doesn’t change that the halls of the Center for Dance feel strangely…empty.

Gone are the days of the pitter-patter of pointe shoes on the stairs, the excited chatter of the Level 5’s when they spot a company member, and the delicious smell of catered lunch wafting through the building.

I was able to chat with a few of our kids about their favorite classes, teachers, and ballets before they left.

Check it out!

That’s it for the 2014 Summer Intensive Blogs! Thanks for watching, and make sure to tune-in next year!

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Growth with the Eselgroths

July 23, 2014

by Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Week Five is where the rubber meets the road for the Summer Intensive Program students! Dancers from all levels scramble to perfect their moves in preparation for Week Six’s rehearsals and shows. Yet even amid all the craziness, the Eselgroths were both still smiling and ready to chat about how things progressed this summer! Check them out!

Lilian’s favorite piece from the Showcase is The Waltz of the Hours from Coppelia because it has everything: light bits, quick-paced sections, fun footwork- everything! She also mentioned that it’s a bit longer than what she’s used to dancing, but the exhaustion it brings is glorious because she loves it so much!

The kids were also quick to praise the instruction at Houston Ballet Academy! Lilian said that she “loves Rep class with Ms. Bryant!” Former company member Susan Bryant runs an excellent class, as Lilian said that they work very hard to keep their movements clean.

Clark said he adores Claudio Muñoz because “he is just so funny! He gives us great compliments and corrections, and is always so entertaining!”

Clark has really taken those corrections to heart, saying that the Summer Intensive has really helped him to dance cleaner. “My passé is higher, my turnout is better, and I’m more careful about the way my foot is pointed.”

As mentioned in the video, one of Clark’s favorite parts of the Summer Intensive is the opportunity to be around so many other men who dance! He’s one of the older boys at his studio, and as a Level 5, the ability to learn not only from the instructors, but also older boys, is priceless.

“I really look up to Valentin Batista in Level 7″ he said. “He gives me lots of advice on turns and tours, which is really helpful!” It also doesn’t hurt that Valentin is from Argentina- the home of Clark’s favorite soccer team!

“Second place…so close!” he mourned when I asked him about the World Cup.

This might be all from the Eselgroths, but next week, we’ll wrap up with a little something from all the students here at the Summer Intensive Program!

See you then!

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Checking in with Natalie Payne

July 21, 2014

 By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

 Time is just flying by and preparations for the final summer showcase are well underway here at the Center for Dance. This week, we’ll be highlighting one student’s path to the performance. Although her days are already brimming with learning, including jazz, gyrotonics, social, and Pilates classes in addition to ballet, Level 7 student Natalie Payne is working diligently to improve her technique for the show.

“I’m always working and focusing on my technique, but now I’m doing it in a way where I can be relaxed on top, and still really enjoy what I’m doing,” she said. “I think that you actually tend to dance better in class that way.”

Click below to hear her discuss the other ways she is preparing for the showcase, as well as her favorite non-dance aspects of the program!

The Level 7 students have been steadily working on Stanton Welch’s Paquita in variations class, but they also have dabbled with Aurora, the variation from Act I of Sleeping Beauty. Natalie mentioned that her class was “fortunate enough to have two lessons with former Houston Ballet principal dancer, Dawn Scannell. It was amazing to learn the variation from her, and hear what the story is behind it!”

We also laughed about the excited atmosphere in the building as the World Cup soccer tournament was often playing in the 5th floor lunch area. “A lot of the guys will go and watch the matches during their breaks,” she said.“We were in class with Claudio [Muñoz] and we had the studio door open. We suddenly heard this giant yell coming from the fifth floor kitchen! It was all the guys screaming because Argentina had scored. It’s been a really fun thing this summer, with everyone going for their teams. It’s been crazy!”

Clark and Lilian will be back next week to give their “multi-level” perspective on the so-called craziness of this summer!

 

Until then!

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It Takes Two

July 8, 2014

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

 By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Lilian and Clark Eselgroth are a dynamic sibling duo hailing from North Carolina! I had lots of fun filming with these two – they really love each other and it shows! Lilian, level six, is poised and professional and Clark, level five, is an absolute hoot. Click on the video below to check them out!

Clark recently attended the YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) in Atlanta and Lilian was able to assist him back stage.  She helped him tweak his performances and even did his makeup. What a good sister!  Clark mentioned that her guidance was so helpful because she participated in the event last year.

Lilian was able to watch two of Clark’s pieces from backstage, but for the very last one she watched him from the audience. She made sure he knew when he heard her clapping in the audience, he would remember to smile!

“That’s the only correction I really give him” she says, “is just to smile.”

Clark couldn’t pick just one favorite ballet, so he listed a top three: Swan Lake, Le Corsaire, and La Bayadère. Listed in no particular order, of course! He likes them because the variations have lots of jumps and, as he is working to perfect his jumps this summer, he would appreciate the opportunity to do them on stage. Also, he adds with a sly smile, “They’re kind of manly.”

Lilian is working to improve her technique this summer. She is avidly perfecting her turnout, as well as her strength when executing a move. Her favorite ballet to dance is La fille mal gardée because she really enjoys its comedic elements, and her favorite ballet to watch is Romeo and Julieta far cry from comedy!

“We’re doing that one here next spring!” I mention.

Both of their faces immediately lit up.

“We have to see that one!” Lilian says. “I haven’t seen it in person yet, only on video. So that would be amazing.”

That’s all from the Eselgroths – but don’t worry! They will return in week five to update us on the final performance. But in the meantime, you can check back next week for more news from Natalie Payne!

Until then!

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