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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.

Image

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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13 comments

  1. Thank you all so much for this wonderful tribute to my sister.


  2. reading these tributes brings back an enormous amount of fond memories of andrea as well as houston ballet.

    michael mcgraw


  3. Beautiful write-up, thank you. And the lovely photographs…here come the tears again. I wish I had a pic of my Aunt Andrea dancing my fave of her roles: Giselle.
    Warm regards,
    Wendy


  4. I didn’t know Andrea, but knowing what a great guy her brother Jaroslav (Jari) is, and after reading the wonderful tributes and article, I can imagine what a magnificant person she was and know that she will be deeply missed.


  5. Andrea was the most dedicated dancer in the Houston Ballet. She just did the work it took to learn, rehearse and practice her roles. It was her life! She considered every detail quietly and deliberately. Her experience with the Ballet Russe and other well known companies commanded our respect. She really showed us all how to be the best we could be! And on top of all that she was a really good friend and mentor.
    Suzanne Longley


  6. I enjoyed her dancing with the Houston Ballet in the late 70s and early 80s, especially Peer Gynt. My condolences to Jari and all her friends and family.


  7. Our condolences to Jari and family. What an incredibly beautiful impression she leaves, even for those of us who did not know her.

    Ben and Pam Harvie


  8. I grew up taking class with Rudy Jenkins and others while wishing I could be a beautiful dancer like Andrea.
    I never was, but it kept the flame to achieve as a dancer alive in my heart.

    She was the sweetest Sugar Plum Fairy.


  9. I appreciate the additional photos in this much warranted tribute.


  10. My first season with Houston Ballet, I was Andrea’s Cinderella double…she was kind, hard working, and a perfectionist. She was indeed the consummate artist, teacher and human being. One learned much from watching her work ethic, the care she took with her shoes, stretching and listening…always learning! What a bright star was hers!
    Sandra Organ Solis


  11. Andrea was my muse for a photography Expo:
    “How Do You Know the Dancer from the Dance?” 1990
    Argon Lazars, Fog, and One beautiful & talented dancer- Andrea
    Expo Opening: 1990 Ovations, Houston
    1990 Innova Design Center Gallery
    2000 Stockholm, Sweden
    Rex Spencer, rid, asid, newh, dance photographer


  12. Andrea shared so much with so many. She shared the wealth of experience and knowledge of technique and all that the ballet world encompasses. She was a great inspiration and I will always remember her sweet smile, gentle laugh and wonderful personality.


  13. As a child I was enchanted by Andrea Vodehnal’s roles with the National Ballet of Washington, DC where she was a principal and my mother was wardrobe mistress. She was kind to me. How heartwarming and touching to see how valued, loved and appreciated she was in Houston. My heartfelt condolences to her family and friends. Andrea Vodehnal was, as many have already said, a bright and warm light as well as a beautiful dancer.



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