Posts Tagged ‘Giselle’

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Save the Date!

March 30, 2012

We’ve got two great events coming up in Houston Ballet’s season, so mark your calendars!

Academy Spring Showcase: April 20-21

See the rising stars of Houston Ballet’s professional training school as they showcase their talents.  The Spring Showcase is always a great look at future company members “before they were famous”.  The repertoire for this year’s showcase will include Stanton Welch’s A Dance in the Garden of Mirth, the classical ballet Paquita, and Houston Ballet Soloist Ilya Kozadayev’s Impromptu.

There will be two performances of the Academy Spring Showcase: Friday, April 20 at 7 PM and Saturday, April 31 at 1:30 PM.  Tickets start at $25 and may be purchased by calling 713.227.ARTS.

FREE Performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre: May 11-13 at 8 PM

Houston Ballet will give three free performances on May 11, 12, and 13 at 8 PM at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.  The repertoire will include Giselle and a pas de deux from Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake and a pas de deux from Le Corsaire (“The Pirate”) 

Performances are free and open to the public, but tickets must be picked up from the Miller Theatre Box Office to sit in the covered reserved section of the theatre. To learn more call 281.373.3386. We hope to see you there!

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Queen of the Wilis: A Conversation with Ai-Gul Gaisina

September 23, 2011

Guest Writer: Nao Kusuzaki, Soloist

White romantic tutus fill the studios at Houston Ballet Center for Dance, where the company and Houston Ballet II intensely prepare for Ai-Gul Gaisina’s staging of Giselle.

“more body forward.  The style is very, very important”, “Focus outward and downward”, Ai-Gul and Louise Lester instruct during one of the latest Wili rehearsals. Demanding yet warm, they are like our real life Queens of Wilis: checking each dancer’s slightest angling of the head, where the finger falls, the placement of the feet, how high the arabesque…  At this point, it’s all about details and about creating the atmosphere in Act II.

It’s been seven weeks since Ai-Gul’s arrival, and after a long day of coaching and rehearsals, I catch her for a conversation on Giselle, and to get to know just a bit more about her.

Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

 

Do you have a special memory of Giselle?

When I was a student of Kirov ballet school, we were allowed to go see the performances without tickets, and we would sit with the gods, on the steps in balcony section. We never had seats.

I was 10 years old when I saw Giselle for the first time from there. Irina Kolpakova was Giselle.  For me, it was profoundly, deeply impressive.

My pink world of ballet–pink ballet shoes, pink tutus– started to disappear. I realized that ballet is a drama and a story as well.

It’s a complicated story to understand at that age, but because it was told and danced so beautifully, I could comprehend, and shed tears at the end.

And I remember, the second act was impressive, especially the work of the corps de ballet. Back in the 50’s, corps work of Kirov ballet was an absolute gem.

Giselle was first performed in 1841, and is one of the oldest ballet in the romantic style. Why do you think Giselle has survived for so long and it’s a favorite for so many? 

La Sylphide was the first romantic ballet and featured the famous ballerina, Marie Taglioni. Giselle has survived to this day because Giselle’s got everything required in a ballet. It gives dancers, not just Giselle and Albrecht, opportunities to express artistic qualities with technique. It also has human drama we can all relate to: emotions of love, betrayal, relationship with the mother, disappointments, joy…

In contrast, choreography in the second act is impossible to forget because of the spiritual and supernatural atmosphere it creates. In my research, I found that back in the day in Paris, this ballet was called Giselle: Les Wilis. The Wilis scene in the second act was a significant part of the ballet, and it still is.

In your staging, what did you pay particular attention to?  Did you intend to keep the tradition, or make updates?

The style and tradition-how it’s been done-are very important. it’s simple and beautiful, with no complications. Steps, by themselves, are like your class work. To it, I bring the Russian style, emphasizing the beauty of port de bras. Also, I want to allow each dancer to bring and create a particular character suited for them; I’m talking not just about Giselle and Albrecht, but also bringing Giselle’s mother more into focus.  I want my Bathilde to be young and beautiful. It creates even more tragedy that Albrecht betrays not only Giselle but also Bathilde.

In Act II, I paid particular attention to bringing lightness and beauty, not coldness. If you listen to the music, it’s very gentle.  I want all my Wilis to be beautiful and reflect that lightness in music. I want to preserve the image of dancing and beauty, the supernatural.   For example, when we have memories, even in the sad ones of someone passing away, you can still remember the beauty, and grieve with the spiritual lightness.

This is not your first time working with Houston Ballet dancers.  What is your impression of the company, and how was the process of working with them on the new staging?

I’m always very impressed with the company. Their work ethic is just amazing, as well as their attitude toward coaches, guest teachers, and generally through class and rehearsals. This company stands as an example.

This time, it’s a different experience, because I’m here working on a big production.  It has been a satisfying and a challenging process.   I suppose that challenge comes with the process of creating.  The company has been amazing, however.

You have been here in Houston for 7 weeks. Do you miss home?

I miss Melbourne. It’s spring now, and a beautiful time of the year. I miss friends and getting together for coffee or catching a movie.  Artistically, Melbourne is so rich. There is one festival after another, which is great for me. I love opera and musicals. I also like my own space and miss going to my library and reading for hours.

What do you like to do on your off time?

Abstract painting. I wasn’t always good with my hands, like sewing or crocheting. So when I retired, I challenged myself. It started out with finger painting, and now I have a tiny space in my flat in Melbourne. I use acrylic, and occasionally, lipstick and a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and let the emotions take over.

You’ll be surprised that I’ve even sold a few!

For me, when I look at abstract painting, it’s the color, the expression, the first impression of it that I take in. Some people will either like it or hate it.  But that’s okay. There are moments when you are ready for certain experiences, and that can happen later on in life.

Nao Kusuzaki & Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Nao Kusuzaki & Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

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Opening Night Excitement

September 22, 2011

It’s opening night of Giselle and Indigo! Aren’t the wilis gorgeous?

 

Kelly Myernick in Giselle Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Kelly Myernick in Giselle Photo: Amitava Sarkar

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What’s Principal Dancer Danielle Rowe listening to?

September 20, 2011

Guest Writer: Danielle Rowe, Principal Dancer

Danielle Rowe in company class Photo:Jim Caldwell

Music is an integral part of my every day life. As a ballet dancer it is my duty to enable the audience to not only hear the music but to also see the music through my movement.  When I am not performing or rehearsing, I listen to music for a number of different reasons- to relax, focus, feel energized or simply to escape. My taste is rather eclectic, ranging from Bach to the Black Eyed Peas.  I appreciate all types of music and marvel at it’s ability to transform my state of mind in a positive way.

Here are the first 10 songs that pop up on my iPod when I hit shuffle:
The Black Keys; “Tighten Up”
Ben Gibbard & Feist; “Train Song”
Emiliana Torrini; “Big Jumps”
Adele; “I’ll Be Waiting”
Jeff Buckley; “Last Goodbye”
Angus & Julia Stone; “Black Crow”
Lykke Li; “I’m Good, I’m Gone”
Bjork; “It’s Oh So Quiet”
Muse; “Uprising”
David Bowie; “Life On Mars?”

* You can see Danielle perform the role of Giselle on opening night: Thursday, September 22!

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Ready to Start the Season!

September 8, 2011

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

We are very excited to welcome four distinguished guest artists from all over the world to put the finishing touches on the three ballets in Return of the Masters, which opens our 2011-12 season tonight and runs  through September 18, and our new production of Giselle, running September 22 – October 2.

Donald MacLeary, a former principal dancer and ballet master with London’s Royal Ballet, is here polishing Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth.  MacLeary worked closely with Sir Kenneth throughout his career, and performed the leading male role in Song of the Earth in 1966, the first time that the Royal Ballet performed the work.  MacLeary created roles in several ballets by choreographers  John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan from the 1950s to the 1970s, including the MacMillan ballets Solitaire (1956), The Burrow (1958), Baiser de la fee (1960), Diversions (1961), Symphony (1963), Images of Love (1964), Checkpoint (1970), and Elite Syncopations (1974). He also partnered many of the Royal Ballet’s greatest ballerinas during the 1960s and 1970s, including Dame Margot Fonteyn.

Houston Ballet is the only American company to have Song of the Earth in its repertoire, and we particularly excited to perform it in honor of the 100th anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death.

Hilary Cartwright, a former soloist with The Royal Ballet, is putting the finishing touches on Sir Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs, a charming ensemble work about a group of skaters on a public pond in the nineteenth century, which kicks off our season Sept 8 – 18.  In addition to being a wonderful coach of Ashton’s works, Hilary has developed Yoga For Dancers, which she has been teaching for the past twenty years after co-founding White Cloud Studio in New York with Juliu Horvath.  She has lead yoga classes for Houston Ballet’s dancers, which were a big hit.

Anita Paciotti, principal character dancer with San Francisco Ballet, has returned to conduct stage rehearsals of Jerome Robbins’s wonderfully romantic In the Night, a work for three couples set to Chopin’s Piano Nocturnes which opens Thursday night, Sept 8.   She has danced with San Francisco Ballet for 43 years, and works on that company’s artistic staff, coaching works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, David Bintley and August Bournonville among others.

Russian coach Ai-Gul Gaisina, who is staging the company’s new production of Giselle, September 22 – October 2 has charmed both dancers and artistic staff.  She is busy preparing three dancers — principals Danielle Rowe and Sara Webb along with soloist Karina Gonzalez – to dance the title role in Giselle.  Ms. Gaisina trained at Leningrad’s famed Kirov Ballet School before joining the Stanislavsky Ballet Theatre in Moscow. In 1973, Ms. Gaisina left Russia and joined The Australian Ballet. In 1983 Ms. Gaisina joined The Australian Ballet School where she taught for 10 years before joining The Australian Ballet once more as a guest teacher and coach.  Her star pupils included  artistic director Stanton Welch and ballet master Steven Woodgate!

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Developing a Dancer’s Toolbox: Setting the Stage

July 20, 2011

Guest writer: Jaclyn Youngblood, Academy intern

Arts and crafts aren’t just for elementary school children. Half of the Level 8 students, the highest level at Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program, are taking Set Design for their career studies class. Like its partner course, Costume Design, the Set Design class aims to introduce students to other aspects—beyond exceptional dancing—of producing a world-class ballet.

Thomas Boyd, Director of Production and former dancer with Houston Ballet, teaches 21 students about the use of space, imagery, color, and the relationship between performer and environment—all essential elements of set design. In this case, that means enabling students to use the knowledge they’ve gained to create a 3D scale model of a set for a scene from a ballet, either Giselle or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As with the Costume Design class, students are designing through the lens of John Neumeier, renowned American choreographer and Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet.  Boyd said he guided the students through research of Neumeier’s style and had them brainstorm a few themes they saw in his set designs. “They noticed he is an unconventional designer, and he tries to represent the unexpected,” Boyd said.  Students incorporated nuances of Neumeier’s style into their designs by playing with elements out of scale, surrealism, and surprise.

Student Set Design of Giselle

In this model of a Giselle scene, the student team explores proportions relative to the figure of the dancer.

Boyd said the first few classes are designed to equip students with the “tools of the trade,” so by the third and fourth classes the students are already working on their models.  The students cut, glue, paint and design their models, paying attention to things like prop placement, the proportion of set elements relative to the dancers, and coloring as one moves upstage; that is, that elements get cooler as they recede from the front of the stage.

Ellen (VA) and Shelby (NC), teammates who are designing Act I from Giselle, love the creative aspects of the class. “I like that the class is hands-on,” Ellen said. “It’s not like we’re just hanging out in chairs getting lectured.” Shelby has enjoyed using a different part of her brain during the Set Design class. “It’s nice to have a change of pace from the intensely physical routine of our classes,” she said.

Student Set Design - Tree

Students use watercolors and markers to create the standing set elements for their models.

The students will present their work to one another during tomorrow’s last Set Design class. Just like the Costume Design class, the top teams will then present their models at the beginning of the Lower School performance at 12 p.m. on July 29.

Jessica (CA) echoed Ellen’s and Shelby’s sentiments, adding that the opportunity to try something new, apart from physical dancing, was terrific. “It’s fun to explore the visual and creative side of producing a ballet,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this.”

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Developing a Dancer’s Toolbox: The World of Wardrobe

July 6, 2011

Guest Writer: Jaclyn Youngblood, Academy Intern

Many dancers look stunning and move flawlessly in costumes, but not all of them understand the decisions that go into costuming a full ballet. Thanks to one of two career studies courses offered at the Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive Program, Wardrobe and Costume Design, some of the Level 8 (the highest level at the Summer Intensive) students will be able to explore the world of Wardobe. [The other career studies course is Set Design and Production; look for an update on that class July 20.]

Barb Dolney, a member of Houston Ballet’s wardrobe team for over 16 years, has been teaching the course since 2006. This year, there are 21 Level 8 students enrolled in the course, which takes students from initial concept to final design.

Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Career Studies Class

Students in the wardrobe class sharpen their sketching skills, focusing on body proportionality and silhouettes.

 

The students are paired up (with one team of three) for the final project: a minimum of six, complete color designs, three of costumes and three of hair, make-up and accessories. Dolney assigns each team to a ballet—this year’s selections are Giselle or A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and the teams decide for which period they’d like to design, such as Baroque (1715-1740), Art Nouveau (1910-1920), or Empire (1790-1815). Each team will present their designs on the final day of class, and some of the top teams will be selected to present their designs during the lower school’s final performance on July 29.
A typical class consists of going over the assigned reading, a brief lecture on the day’s topic, and an opportunity to practice drawing and work on their sketches.

Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Career Studies_Costume Sketch

Eado (Israel) works on one of his costume sketches for Giselle in the Depression era. His sketch emphasizes clean lines, structured beauty, and simplicity.

 

Eado (Israel) is designing for Giselle in the Depression era. He said learning about color, texture, fabric, and lighting decisions is helpful to him as a dancer because it adds to how he understands characters and plot. Dolney said she reminds students to make reasoned decisions, understanding why they are designing in a certain color or with a certain fabric, because it affects the audience’s perception.
To encourage students to engage the period they’ve selected, Dolney organizes a research day. Typically, the students meet at one of the branches of the Houston Public Library, scouring the stacks for art history books on sculpture, painting, and fashion. Due to scheduling conflicts, research day went paperless this year. Students used their laptops to research online articles and search for images to gain inspiration for their projects. Eado said he enjoyed studying about the Depression era because it gave him context in which to understand his contemporary perspective on the period.

It’s not only about the period, though. This summer, there is an extra element for students to keep in mind while they design: they’ll be designing in the style of renowned American choreographer (and Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet) John Neumeier. Dolney said Neumeier designs are typically sleek and restrained, with clean lines, regardless of the time period in which he is designing. Why is there an essence of John Neumeier in the Career Studies courses this year? Neumeier will be visiting the Houston Ballet in the fall; Associate Director of the Academy Shelly Power, Dolney, and Director of Production Tom Boyd (who is teaching the Set Design and Production class) thought it would be a relevant tie-in for students to focus their studies on Neumeier’s style.

Dolney said the students take away more than an artistic portfolio from the class. They learn what goes into creating a ballet. “It’s not just the dancers, but hundreds of others that contribute to get the production on stage,” she said.

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