Archive for December, 2011

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Round 2 of Dance Advantage’s Top Blogs of 2011 Competition Starts Today

December 27, 2011

We made it to Round 2 of Dance Advantage’s Top Blogs of 2011! Thanks to our readers who commented, En Pointe with Houston Ballet is now in the running for best Dance Organization/Dancer Blog.

So how can you help us win the top spot? Click on the Vote button below and be sure to select En Pointe with Houston Ballet in the best Dance Organization/Dancer category. Voting is open from Dec 27 – Jan 4. We can do this!

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Claudio Muñoz Interview on MusiqaBlog

December 27, 2011

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Claudio Muñoz will be choreographing a new dance for Houston Ballet II to be premiered on Musiqa’s Jan 7, 2012 concert Free of the Ground. The music for this new ballet, Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Suite arranged by Kyoko Yamamoto for piano, will be performed live by Tali Morgulis.

The Jan 7 program also includes Karim Al-Zand’s Tagore Love Songs, Anthony Brandt’s Creeley Songs and Philippe Hurel’s Tombeau In Memoriam Gérard Grisey.

Claudio Muñoz graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for the MusiqaBlog about choreography, ballet, and music.

Musiqa: Where do you begin when choreographing a new ballet? Do you start the music and let it inspire the movement?

Claudio Muñoz: In this particular case, the music was a given. Putting it on, I start to play around with ideas, shall I say… poetic ideas, the poetry, not of words, but of what’s beyond words. Only ideas though, not steps. Not yet, anyhow. For that, I would wait until I meet the second important element of my art: the dancer. Music first, the human medium comes second. I come last. My choreography is the soul of the music, expressed through the body of the dancer. A tailor doesn’t make a dress until he sees the lady who’s going to wear it. Neither would I make a choreography until I have seen the actuality, the physicality who’s going to put it on, on stage.

M: Are there certain elements in music that you feel ballet dancers respond to? Or can a good dancer dance to anything?

CM: Dancers are music. Period. There’s not even a question of responding. You are music, or you are no dancer. A good dancer would response to even silence, the inner rhythm, let alone music. So I would have already typically gone with a dancer whose response is spot-on, nail-on, dead-on, since the very first second. Nothing else is good enough.

M: Is ballet in Latin America different than what one sees onstage in Houston or New York? Is it, like much classical music, an art form that simply lands in the same identifiable form no matter where it’s performed? Or does it take new shapes and influences as it is developed and received across different cultures?

CM: There would of course be a slight difference in the feel and the look, chiefly because the ballet there has very strong roots in the Russian school. Here in the States, ballet is eclectic, it is pluralistic, it combines many styles. Of course that’s good. But, south of the equator, things somehow stay more resolutely Russian. It would also look different, just because of the feel of it…a certain approach to the roles, how to interpret them, how to get them across to the audience. That’s basically because Latins live life at a different beat than norteamericanos. There is something in the Latin American air, maybe the cultural background, the ambiance, the nuances, that affect the sensibility of the dancers, a much more earthy, physical, abandoned, free, feeling for movement, for the expression of what’s inside. It has helped Latin American dancers capturing the world stage of late.

And no, on the other hand, Ballet itself, with a capital “B” doesn’t pick up on local colors…Swan Lake is going to be recognizably Swan Lake no matter where it is staged. Of course there were variants from the many classical schools, or there will be legitimate variants from the individual artistic choice of a specific choreographer, but never from the geographical location. Ballet is an attitude, not a latitude. Classical art aims for the universal, not the local. You can add nuances, but not change the color spectrum. Aurora in Sleeping Beauty let’s say is a diamond. She can never become a topaz, an amethyst, an emerald…she can be cut into many shapes, but a diamond she’s got to stay.

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VOTE FOR US FOR DANCE ADVANTAGE’S “TOP BLOG OF 2011″!

December 15, 2011

Dance Advantage is starting their 2nd annual Top Dance Blog Competition and Houston Ballet is throwing their hat in the ring! So how can Houston Ballet be listed as one of the best blogs out there? This is the best part: it’s up to YOU. Our readers, our supporters, our cheerleaders, will determine if we make it to the next round.

Here is how the contest works: if you find yourself constantly checking in to see what Houston Ballet and our amazing dancers are up to, just post a comment on this blog entry! It’s that easy to show your support. After December 20, Dance Advantage will vote on the twenty blogs that received the most comments.

Make our holiday wishes come true and get us on Dance Advantage’s Top Dance Blog List!

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HOUSTON BALLET REMEMBERS PRINCIPAL DANCER ANDREA VODEHNAL

December 1, 2011

Guest Writer: Andrew Edmonson, director of marketing and public relations

From 1974 – 1984, Andrea Vodehnal was one of Houston Ballet’s brightest and most popular stars, giving acclaimed performances in the great 19th century ballerina roles while also excelling in contemporary works by such choreographers as Glen Tetley, John Cranko, Choo-San Goh, and Ben Stevenson.

We at Houston Ballet were saddened to learn of Andrea’s passing on Thursday, November 24 at the age of 73.

A native Houstonian, Andrea trained with Alexander Kotchtovsky from the age of seven.  At the age of 15, she won Houston’s first Allied Arts Scholarship, which enabled her to continue her studies with the legendary ballerina Alexandra Danilova.  Andrea began her career with the fabled Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1957, gradually rising through the ranks to assume ballerina roles.  After the Ballet Russe closed, she toured Europe with American Festival Ballet, and she then danced with the National Ballet of Washington, D.C. as the company’s ballerina touring across the United States from 1962 to 1968.

She spent the last ten years of her career as a principal dancer with Houston Ballet from 1974 to 1984, attracting praise from national critics.  Reviewing her performance in the dramatic leading role of the wife in Walter Gore’s ballet Eaters of Darkness in March 1978, Anna Kisselgoff, chief dance critic of The New York Times, enthused, “”Andrea Vodehnal was superb in her acting and in the minimal dancing as the girl.”

A memorial service for Andrea will be held at noon Sunday, December 18, 2011 in the Chapel of Heights Funeral Home at 1317 Heights Boulevard.  Many at Houston Ballet still carry fond memories of Andrea and her wonderful gifts as a dancer.  We share some of those memories and historical photos of Andrea below.

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Houston Ballet principal dancer Andrea Vodehnal in 1982. Photo: Jack Mitchell

Houston Ballet’s Director of Production Thomas Boyd, who danced with Andrea in the late 1970s:

Andrea danced beautiful interpretations of the traditional roles of Odette/Odile, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Cinderella, Aurora, and Giselle. But, I also remember her extraordinary work in contemporary roles like  Lykanion in Glen Tetley’s Daphnis and Chloe, Ben Stevenson’s Four Last Songs, and Cranko’s The Lady and the Fool.

Andrea was one of those dancers who considered every movement as a piece of the puzzle when learning and rehearsing the choreography.  But when performing she was able to let go of the academics and just allow you to feel the movement in a very organic way.  She was able to portray an extraordinary range of  technique and emotion, and she was absolutely fearless.

Andrea was such a hard worker.  She was first in the studio and last to leave.  And she rarely if ever complained about anything.  She just came to work and did her job.  Knowing her reinforced my “farm-kid” work ethic, and confirmed my suspicion that this business is not for wimps or whiners or those not willing to work hard for what they believe in.

Andrea was a very “classy lady”, as they say, beautiful and charming.

ImageAndrea Vodehnal as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake in the 1970s

Lauren Anderson, former Houston Ballet Principal Dancer and currently the company’s outreach associate:

As a little girl dancing as one of Mother Ginger’s children in The Nutcracker in the 1970s, I would watch Andrea from the wings and think how beautiful she was. She had long legs and she moved them effortlessly.  I remember her as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her shoes never made a sound.

She was magnificent in Glen Tetley’s Daphnis and Chloe. And she was the original Green Lady in Ben Stevenson’s staging of Peer Gynt in 1981.

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Andrea Vodehnal – 1970s

Hiller Huhn, assistant to former artistic director Ben Stevenson, who performed with Andrea Vodehnal at the National Ballet of Washington, D.C. from 1966-1968 and coached her as a dancer from 1975-1984

I first met Andrea when she was in the Ballets Russes around 1961-62. And then she was ballerina of the “National Ballet of Washington” when I joined it in 1966 as a dancer.

One of the most incredible gifts she had was her technique. She could throw off the most difficult steps without a hitch. She had a concentration on whatever role she was doing — classical or contemporary — that you believed in what she was expressing through her interpretation.

She was a very shy person until you got to know her.  But in the studio for class or rehearsals, she was totally there! No matter what or who, she was committed to her work

She was outstanding in all of the George Balanchine repertoire.  And when she danced Ben Stevenson’s ballets, she was great in all of them too. When Ben staged his ballet Bartok Concerto on her, she was so strong  a dancer technically that Ben gave the little boy’s solos in the third movement to her.   When Ben choreographed the fourth movement of Four Last Songs especially for her, she was terrifically moving, and I know she loved doing it. She also shone in other contemporary works like Eaters of Darkness and Ramifications.

And you could see her love of dance shine through when she did the classics: Giselle, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and  Coppelia which I know she particularly loved.

ImageAndrea Vodehnal as Odile in Swan Lake, with Whit Haworth as the Prince, circa 1976

Genie Lanfear, a dancer with Houston Ballet who performed with Andrea and is currently Houston Ballet’s shoe coordinator:

Andrea was a beautiful dancer and performer. She had a beautiful body, excellent turns and thoughtful artistry.  Even more than that, she was always kind and encouraging in a very competitive career.

Andrea taught me the value of working hard and never giving up.  She really made a strong impression when she created the role of the Green Lady in Ben Stevenson’s Peer Gynt in 1981.

She was always so kind to me.

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Andrea Vodenhal – 1970s

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Houston Ballet Visits Texas Children’s Hospital

December 1, 2011

Part of the magic of The Nutcracker is spreading holiday cheer to everyone, even those who can’t make it to an actual performance! On Monday, Houston Ballet dancers costumed as characters from The Nutcracker made a special visit to the Texas Children’s Cancer Center. The visit allowed children to interact with the Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Nutcracker and other beloved characters from the ballet.

Can you imagine seeing these characters walking down the hallway?

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Sara Webb, Kelly Myernick, Karina Gonzalez, Katelyn May and Madison Morris pay a visit to Texas Children’s Hospital.

It would brighten anyone’s day!

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