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The Ballerina’s Legacy of GISELLE

June 10, 2016

We’ve reached the end of our 2015/16 season! Our Spring Mixed Repertory Program was just one week ago, but we’re back and ready to close this season at the Wortham with a revitalized classic. Artistic Director Stanton Welch has crafted a new production of Giselle with sets and costume designs by Roberta Guidi di Bagno. For this production, Mr. Welch handpicked principal dancer Yuriko Kajiya as his muse for the iconic role of Giselle. For this blog post we’ll be digging into our archives to showcase four of the past Houston Ballet ballerinas who’ve portrayed Giselle, the loving country girl and supernatural wili.

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane


Watch a preview of Houston Ballet’s Giselle below:


Performing the title role of Giselle is regarded as high an honor as performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the ballet lexicon tragic heroines are attached to a range of technical feats, emotional hurdles, and extensive storylines. Giselle has become an all-inclusive force of storytelling for major ballet companies. And like performing Hamlet for theater troupes, the complex history of ballet continues to flow through each dancer involved in retelling this full-length story ballet.

In the Romantic era of ballet, around the time Giselle premiered in 1841, the overall atmosphere and aesthetic of the story was already sorted out; presenting pastoral settings and supernatural spirits in the same story was in vogue during the Romantic era for many art forms. The ballerina’s role up until the early 1800s had been fairly simple: she must present clear, simple footwork and smile sweetly while dancing in corsets and heavy brocade costumes. The male danseur in France and Italy experienced a burst of attention in previous eras, but in Romantic era ballets, the ballerina transformed and transcended.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

Giselle was an especially important character for ballerinas to perform in later Russian productions. Pointe work started to become more cohesive and complex due to blocked pointe shoes rather than heavily darned slippers. The loose but modest Romantic costumes–before the flatter Classical tutu–allowed for higher jumps and closer partnering. And to engage with the audience of the 1800s even further, mime in ballet began to echo the dramatics found in opera and theater, which meant characters started thinking and feeling on stage. Female characters became more ethereal and enchanting beyond their social status as we see with Giselle, a simple country girl who loves to dance but is fated to die.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

As Giselle’s technical feats progressed with altered and added variations, her dramatic qualities expanded. Russian productions of Giselle provided her character with increased flare and virtuosity, British productions revitalized her previous Romantic era innocence and purity, and so on and so forth. The most beloved performances by famous international ballerinas include the role of Giselle. Houston Ballet is just one example of Giselle‘s progression in America. How do American ballet companies connect to a decades old story about a village in the Rhineland? The role of Giselle and her powerful story of love, loss, and forgiveness is just one reason why dancers and audiences still adore this ballet.

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Carla Fracci as Giselle; Act I. First Houston Ballet Foundation full-length performance. 1967. Photographer unknown.

Carla Fracci helped introduce professional ballet to Houston. Houston Ballet Foundation’s Giselle was first performed in 1967 with students from the already established Houston Ballet Academy and other local dance schools. Fracci, along with the incomparable danseur noble Erik Bruhn as Albrecht, performed this role with devout sensibility and eminence. Her performance as Giselle in this production undoubtable inspired many of the young students whom danced alongside her.

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Carla Fracci as Giselle with dancers from Houston Ballet Foundation; Act II. First Houston Ballet Foundation full-length performance. 1967. Photographer unknown.


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Janie Parker as Giselle; Act I. 1985. Photography by Kenn Duncan

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Janie Parker as Giselle; Act II. 1985. Photography by Geoff Winningham

Janie Parker’s numerous performances as Giselle during the 1980s and 1990s have always be cherished in Houston. In Giselle her partners were two iconic Houston Ballet principals: Kenneth McCombie and Li Cunxin. In her book, Generous Hearts and Gentle Spirits (2001), Parker wrote, “I adored dancing Giselle and have mostly fond memories associated with it.” She notably performed on an injured foot during her fourth year at Houston Ballet, conveying an enormous amount of raw emotions during the mad scene in Act I especially.

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Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht; Act I. 1981. Photography by Jim Caldwell

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Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht; Act II. 1981. Photography by Jim Caldwell


 

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Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle with David Makhateli as Albrecht with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. June 2001. Photography by Geoff Winningham

Mireille Hassenboehler dominated the stage as a principal during the early 2000s. Filling in for an injured dancer and joining legendary principal Carlos Acosta during her first performance of Giselle in 2001 was a huge responsibility and an enchanting surprise. The following night’s performance was canceled due to Tropical Storm Allison, which flooded the basement of the Wortham and destroyed and damaged many costumes and shoes. Remarkably, the second weekend of performances for Giselle that year did continue thanks to many helping hands. Hassenboehler’s lyrical depiction of Giselle continued to grow with each performance.

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Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle, Carlos Acosta as Albrecht; Act II. June 2001. Photography by Jann Whaley


 

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

Yuriko Kajiya is Stanton Welch’s inspiration for the title role of Giselle. She’s already danced the role before, so this year’s production won’t be a complete introduction to Giselle. Instead, Kajiya will get to build upon her illustrious portrayal of this character. Many of the Romantic era qualities and Russian influences are alive in Kajiya’s depiction of Giselle thanks to her previous training. “She has remarkable balance. She moves without moving, she seems to float, hovering like she is moving underwater,” Mr. Welch told writer Nancy Wozny. Like Houston Ballet’s ballerinas before her, Kajiya continues to craft her individuality onto Giselle with each and every performance.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht; Act II. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

 


Watch Yuriko Kajiya discuss Giselle below:


Tickets for Stanton Welch’s Giselle are on sale now by phone or online at http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Giselle/ with performances running until Sunday June 19.


Join us next time on ‘En Pointe with Houston Ballet’ for posts dedicated to our 2016 Summer Intensive in collaboration with our Academy and HBII’s upcoming graduation and tour, as well as some updates from abroad as our company takes Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet on tour in Australia.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet. She’s an active member of the Society of Dance History Scholars and a freelance dance writer for Arts & Culture Texas.

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Discussing Ekman’s CACTI with Stager Spenser Theberge

May 27, 2016

We are nearing the end of our 2015/16 season following a refreshing Winter Mixed Repertory Program in March and wonderful company performances at the Miller Outdoor Theatre and Cynthia Woodlands Mitchell Pavilion earlier this month! Now we welcome our Spring Mixed Repertory Program running May 26 to June 5 at the Wortham Theater. We are delighted to showcase George Balanchine’s iconic Serenade, Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria, and introduce Alexander Ekman’s Cacti to Houston. For this blog post we’ll be talking one-on-one with Cacti‘s stager and freelance dancer-choreographer Spenser Theberge. Get ready to laugh and smile with us as we discuss the triumphs of staging this captivating ballet!

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane


Watch previews of Houston Ballet’s 2016 Spring Mixed Repertory Program below:


Alexander Ekman’s Cacti is a rarity in the ballet world. Few classical ballets balance humor and beauty in ballet effectively, and even fewer major contemporary ballets bring a heavy dose of laughter alongside 21st century virtuosity. But if Serenade is essentially Balanchine’s love letter to technique and Gloria is Sir MacMillan’s elegy to WWI, then Cacti is definitely Ekman’s deconstruction of the very word “contemporary.”

“What does it mean?” It’s a simple but immense question which many audience members have often asked themselves following performances choreographed in the 20th and 21st centuries. Ballet was initially created as a form of refined entertainment and social dance–so, full-length Romantic and Classical ballets like Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty follow specific narratives with distinct characters–but moving into the 20th and 21st centuries ballet, in general, absorbed many modern and contemporary art concepts, eventually creating what is widely regarded today as “contemporary ballet.”

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

Our Spring Mixed Repertory Program follows a fairly recent historic pathway through dance leading up to Cacti‘s contemporary 21st century roots: The first conception of Serenade was in 1934, Gloria was created for the Royal Ballet in 1980, and Cacti premiered with Nederlands Dans Theater 2 in 2010. In terms of movement, Ekman’s Cacti represents one of many contemporary dance creations that are currently circulating across various countries. From on-stage laughter to body percussions to pretentious spoken text, Cacti offers a wide-range of  entertainment but with a certain 21st century grit attached.


Watch a preview of Alexander Ekman’s Cacti below:


 

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Spenser Theberge with Artists of Houston Ballet. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

This is Spenser Theberge’s first time staging Cacti, but it’s been a part of his life for many years. Off the top of his head, he mentioned he must have performed Cacti well over 100 times with Nederlands Dans Theater 2, which is a company that usually gets to perform mixed rep pieces like Cacti over a long period of time. “I’ve had a 3-year gap since I last touched it, but it still takes up a large part of my muscle memory,” he says. Theberge holds a BFA in dance from the Juilliard School. He’s performed extensively with Netherlands Dance Theater 2 and Netherlands Dance Theater 1 and was a member of The Forsythe Company in Germany during William Forsythe’s last years as director. Theberge now travels across the world as a freelance dancer and choreographer.

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

Theberge treats this ballet with a high level of pride and values all of its oddities and silliness. Watching the dancers during this staging process, he noticed that both casts from nearly the entire company also felt the same way. “It can be difficult to embrace everything that Cacti has to offer,” he admits. The entire first group section, for instance, with audible gasps and shouts is one area that can be particularly challenging for more reserved dancers.

But like most contemporary ballets, Cacti allows individuality to expand beyond reservations and limitations. During the staging process of this piece ranking company members invested themselves in each other’s progression. “I’m moved by their strong ability to process it all and help one another along the way. They’re such an honest group of committed artists who value their time together in the studio just as much as performing on stage,” he says with a smile.

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

Referring back to his time away from this piece Theberge notes, “Having a good sense of body knowledge is an important take-away for all mixed reps. My personal dance mantra is to take each piece with me into the future and respect my time with it.”  Looking ahead, Houston Ballet’s 2016-17 season includes two mixed repertory programs–American Ingenuity and Legends and Prodigy–that will feature similar contemporary movement. Time is a precious thing for everyone involved in the process of staging a ballet. “Because there can be so many programs in a season, it can become a series of ‘check-lists’ in many ways,” says Theberge. “But it’s important that the dancers ask themselves, what is being worked on today.”

During this month alone the company must find a balance between six performances (three per cast) of CactiSerenade, and Gloria for this mixed repertory program, crafting Giselle for its June world premiere, and rehearsing Romeo and Juliet for the upcoming Australian tour. Additionally, this is Houston Ballet’s third mixed repertory program of the 2015-16 season. “They have an extraordinary ability to walk into each studio without distractions and prioritize their studio time,” Theberge remarks. “They really enjoyed their time with Cacti, I think, and respect its value. I hope the audience will also come to enjoy and respect it too.”


Tickets for the Spring Mixed Repertory Program are on sale now by phone or online at http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Spring-Mixed-Rep/ with performances running until Sunday June 5.


Watch our video promo for George Balanchine’s Serenade below:

Watch our video promo for Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria below:


Join us next time on ‘En Pointe with Houston Ballet’ for posts about our last program of the 2015/16 season, Stanton Welch’s new staging of Giselle which premieres at the Wortham June 9-19! And later we’ll have a series of posts dedicated to our 2016 Summer Intensive in collaboration with our Academy.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet. She’s an active member of the Society of Dance History Scholars and a freelance dance writer for Arts & Culture Texas.

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A Visual Glossary for WINGS OF WAX & DYAD 1929

March 11, 2016

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

It already feels like spring in Houston, but we’ve just begun our second half of the 2015-2016 Season following a wonderful run of Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty! This month we welcome our Winter Mixed Repertory running March 10 – 20 at the Wortham Theater. This is an especially exciting program featuring three ballets which are Houston Ballet premieres, as well as one esteemed choreographer making his Houston Ballet debut. Today, we will discuss Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax and Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929. This visual glossary for Wings of Wax  and Dyad 1929 will help to familiarize you with these works.

 Wings of Wax and Dyad 1929 are both contemporary works created by living European choreographers from two different generations. Kylián was born in Prague in 1947 and McGregor was born in Stockport, England in 1970. Below are some extra facts and visuals to guide you through these two distinct contemporary ballets.


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“Every teacher will tell you that you cannot dance classical technique with perfection, there is no such thing, there is no way. So you have to adapt the technique to your abilities or to your deficiencies. Learn to cheat!” Jirí Kylián.

Jirí Kylián grew up in post-war Czechoslovakia. His first love of movement emerged from the circus. He trained in acrobatics as a young boy, Graham technique later, then ballet at The School of the National Ballet Prague. The esteemed choreographers of Stuttgart Ballet, John Cranko and Glen Tetley, closely mentored Kylián during the ’60s and ’70s. Later, Kylián found a permanent home at Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), creating various works and founding new divisions for the students and company of NDT from 1973 to now (he officially left NDT in 2009). During his time at NDT, he also worked closely with our former Resident Choreographer, Christopher Bruce. In all, Kylián has created 98 ballets across the world and continues to work in contemporary ballet. To date, Houston Ballet has performed 8 of his iconic works; Wings of Wax is our 9th Kylián ballet, lovingly staged by former NDT dancer and répétiteur, Brigitte Martin.

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Christopher Bruce with Jirí Kylián


 Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax

Though it’s not a direct retelling of the Greek myth about Icarus and Daedalus, Kylián was deeply inspired by it. You can see certain movement motifs and set creations which relate to the myth, though there aren’t any direct characters or narration. Here’s a section from the main source about this myth, Ovid’s The Metamorphosis:

“His nearness to the devouring sun softened the fragrant wax that held the wings: and the wax melted: he flailed with bare arms, but losing his oar-like wings, could not ride the air. Even as his mouth was crying his father’s name, it vanished into the dark blue sea, the Icarian Sea, called after him.” Bk VIII:183-235 Daedalus and Icarus. Ovid, The Metamorphosis. 8 AD.

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Brigitte Martin at Dress Rehearsal with Artists of Houston Ballet. Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016

Before coming to Houston to set this work, Brigitte Martin also sent over some visual inspiration for the cast of Wings of Wax. Below are two iconic paintings depicting the moment after Icarus has flown too close to the sun:

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“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); 73.5×112 cm; Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium; (add.info.: Icarus seen with his legs thrashing in the sea;); Giraudon; Flemish. Icarus & Daedalus inspiration for Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax

 

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“The Fall of Icarus” Joos de Momper. 1564. Icarus & Daedalus inspiration for Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax

Along with Kylián’s fluid, melting choreography, the costume (Joke Visser), set, and lighting designs (Michael Simon) for this ballet are one of a kind. A giant aged-tree is suspended upside down from the middle of the stage, while a single revolving spotlight circles the tree, casting shadows upon the moving dancers below. Under the lighting re-design and technical supervision of Kees Tjebbes, the entire work truly comes alive on stage at the Wortham with these dramatic elements.

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

 

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Rhys Kosakowski and Karina Gonzalez of Houston Ballet. Jirí Kylián’s Wings of Wax. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

 


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“I have always been fascinated with the body from the outside, the language of the body and creation.” Choreographer Wayne McGregor at the Royal Opera House in London. For Arts. Photo by Linda Nylind. 6/10/2009.

Although his background isn’t in classical ballet, Wayne McGregor is a celebrated and cerebral contemporary ballet choreographer. He’s the resident choreographer for Royal Ballet and recently opened a new building for his collaborative center called Studio Wayne McGregor, which houses his company. He doesn’t limit himself to one dance form, though. In recent years he’s worked on dance sequence for films, such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire–and will work on the upcoming film, Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them–music videos for Radiohead, Beck, and The Chemical Brothers, as well as presenting during June 2012’s TEDGlobal conference. This is Houston Ballet’s first ballet by McGregor; only a few American companies have had the chance to perform his exciting ballets.


Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929

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Wayne McGregor with Artists of Houston Ballet. Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016

A previous work titled Dyad 1909 was the first part of this diptych. It was created for the Wayne McGregor Company in 2009 at the Sadler’s Wells Theater in London to celebrate the innovative features and mindset of the great Ballets Russes, which existed from 1909 to 1929–hence, these two titles. It was this time period that sparked McGregor’s choreographic intentions. With both Dyad 1909 and Dyad 1929 he set out to create a plotless work which encompasses modern-day scientific, social, and technological innovation much like Sergei Diaghilev did with the Ballets Russes.

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Cover for, “Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929” from 2015. Ballets Russes. Inspiration for Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929.

Additionally, during this time period there was a fascination with the exploration of the Antarctic. Along with intriguing costumes by Mortiz Junge, a blazing lighting design and clean dot-infested stage space designed by McGregor and Lucy Carter, Dyad 1929 lightly mimics the breath-taking Antarctic sunsets and solar eclipses as well as images of Antarctica from space. The explorative dance creations by modern dance choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was also a major influence and both works are dedicated to his memory.

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Antarctica from space via http://www.nasa.gov/ Antarctica inspiration for Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929.Inspiration for Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929.

 

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Merce Cunningham in Antic Meet (1958), with décor and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg. Photo by Richard Rutledge.

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

 

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Monica Gomez and Ian Casady of Houston Ballet. Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

 


Join us next time on ‘En Pointe with Houston Ballet’ for posts about our Academy Spring Showcase in April and our Spring Mixed Repertory program featuring George Balanchine’s Serenade in May! Tickets for the Winter Mixed Repertory are on sell now by phone or online at http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Winter-Mixed-Rep/ with performances running until Sunday March 20.

Watch a preview of Houston Ballet’s 2016 Winter Mixed Repertory Program:

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet and writes about dance in Houston for Arts & Culture Texas while passionately researching dance and literature in her spare time.

 

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Researching THE SLEEPING BEAUTY part 2

March 3, 2016

“A Magical Love Affair”

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

It’s our Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson’s 80th birthday this year! On February 16, we helped him celebrate with an informative and fun ‘Dance Talk’ at our Center for Dance. With Lauren Anderson at his side, he delighted our audience and staff with stories about his time in dance. When asked what inspires him, he simple repeated, “Music, music, music.” With so many ballet productions and reconstructions, ever wondered which historic version of The Sleeping Beauty Houston Ballet’s production derives from? Read on and you’ll soon find out! In part two of this two-part blog post, we dig into our archives and share some fun facts and photos about Ben Stevenson and his cherished production of The Sleeping Beauty now running at the Wortham Theater until March 6.


 

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Prologue of The Sleeping Beauty. Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Photograph by Frank Sharman © ROH. 1946

The Sleeping Beauty—with designs by Oliver Massel and additional choreography by Sir Anthony Dowell and Sir Frederick Ashton—was Ben Stevenson’s first full-length ballet he performed in at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (formerly Vic-Wells Ballet, now Royal Ballet). This is where the direct inspiration for Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty derives from, but it took a while for it to get from Stevenson’s memory to the Wortham Theater.

While at Sadler’s Wells, Stevenson learned mime for classical ballets like The Sleeping Beauty from the legendary ballerina, Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978). “She would make your imagination come alive. She’d mime DYING with all her emotion and passion, wildly crossing her arms for everyone in the audience to see.” This dedication to authentic storytelling is a tradition which Karsavina—a former principal with the Imperial Russian Ballet (renamed Kirov, now Mariinsky Ballet)—directly handed down from her time on stage with the Ballets Russes to Stevenson and Dame Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991).

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Tamara Karsavina rehearsing Margot Fonteyn for Le Spectre de la Rose. Sadler’s Wells Ballet. 1950s.

Years later a draft of Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty was first created in 1967 for London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet). The illustrious Dame Margot first starred as Stevenson’s Princess Aurora at a later performance with Festival Ballet in Venice.

After its initial success, it was then recreated in collaboration with Fredric Franklin with Dame Margot guest performing as Aurora in 1971 for The National Ballet in Washington D.C. during the inaugural season at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This was the first full-length American production of The Sleeping Beauty since Philadelphia Ballet’s staging in 1937. Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty was later brought to Houston Ballet in 1978 with Peter Farmer’s secondhand designs from a short-lived London-South African company.

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Ben Stevenson featured his The Sleeping Beauty with Peter Farmer designs in the 1978 Southwest Tour across Texas.

In 1990 a newly designed version by Desmond Heeley was crafted to Stevenson’s staging in celebration of the centennial of Marius Ivanovich Petipa’s 1890 original production of The Sleeping Beauty. The 1990 original cast included Janie Parker as Princess Aurora, Li Cunxin as Prince Florimund, Lauren Anderson as Lilac Fairy, and Kristine Richmond as Carabosse.

This production was the phenomenal closing program for Houston Ballet’s 20th anniversary season. It’s the completed version seen today at Houston Ballet. Dame Margot Fonteyn considered Stevenson and Heeley’s lavish production a “ravishing” and “authentic” addition to The Sleeping Beauty tradition.

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“Even after so many years, Ben had brought out something that I hadn’t thought of. That’s why it’s never boring.” Dame Margot Fonteyn on Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. May 1990. Houston Post.

Desmond Heeley’s entire set and costume overhaul for The Sleeping Beauty in 1990 rang up to about $757,000 with 225 original costumes and 33 hand-painted back drops that pay tribute to British designer Oliver Massel’s Vic-Wells/Royal Ballet production. After spending two years planning and nine months crafting his designs, Heeley once said, “I call a production like this the ultimate collage. It’s a juggernaut, a glorious ballet to do, but it could break you.” Heeley’s costumes and sets are still under constant maintenance during our 2016 performances with all five casts rotating through them during the two-week run.

Along with the production team, The Sleeping Beauty is also a marathon for musicians. But just like the dancers of Houston Ballet, members of our Houston Ballet Orchestra–conducted by Ermanno Florio and David LaMarche for all 2016 performances–enjoy performing the classical aspects of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s technical score. Those are just a few reasons why more successful productions of The Sleeping Beauty are often found at highly-trained major ballet companies with sufficient time, funding, and orchestration.

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Janie Parker as Aurora on Desmund Heeley’s hand-painted backdrop in Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. Photography by Jack Mitchell. May 1990.

Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty is also memorable because Dame Margot—at the age of 71—personally coached the dancers, specifically former principal Janie Parker, for the premiere. “I’ve known Ben [Stevenson] since he was 18 and in the corps [of the Sadler’s Wells/Royal Ballet]. He has a fine company here,” she once fondly mentioned in an interview from the premiere.

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Janie Parker as Aurora in Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. Her last performance after 20-years with the company was Saturday June 15, 1996 as Aurora. She was greeted with a 20 minute standing ovation.

During her two-week stay in 1990, Dame Margot meticulously fine-tuned the company with her proficient wisdom. “What I try to help them with is in getting more light and shades of drama within the dancing. There has to be the thought and the understanding of what is going on,” she said. At our February ‘Dance Talk’ Stevenson added, “Dame Margot always said stillness and the eyes are the most important elements for ballet dancers. The eyes must connect with the audience, especially during The Sleeping Beauty.”

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Artists of Houston Ballet, Act I. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. 2016.

Emotional brilliance from the entire cast was vital for Stevenson and Dame Margot, sometimes more so than the dancer’s virtuosity. In keeping with Royal Ballet’s British style, Stevenson once noted that, “Aurora is not trying to win over the audience by showing how high she can get her legs up. I want her to be immersed in the story and dance with taste.”

Although she doesn’t appear as a fully-formed ballerina until Act I, Princess Aurora is undeniably the heart and soul of this fairy tale. “Aurora has to be a burst of sunlight and energy from the moment she first arrives to her wedding day,” recalls Stevenson.

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Lauren Anderson as the Queen and Sara Webb as Princess Aurora and Artists of Houston Ballet, Act I. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. 2016.

At our ‘Dance Talk’ in February, Ben Stevenson only had kind words to say about Houston Ballet. “I’ve learned so much about myself from the dancers of this company,” he said. “It’s always been very special here, now and forever.” From all of us at Houston Ballet we thank you for your dedication to ballet and wish you a happy birthday, Ben Stevenson!

Join us next week on En Pointe with Houston Ballet for a new blog post about our brilliant Winter Mixed Rep program! Tickets for Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty are still on sell now by phone or online at http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/The-Sleeping-Beauty/ with performances running until Sunday March 6.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet and writes about dance in Houston for Arts & Culture Texas while passionately researching dance and literature in her spare time.

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Researching THE SLEEPING BEAUTY part 1

February 26, 2016

“From the Page to the Stage”

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

When discussing The Sleeping Beauty Ben Stevenson once fondly remarked, “We all need a certain amount of beauty and love in our lives.” With such an opulent history in literature, music, film, opera, and ballet, this classic fairy tale continues to enchant audiences and stand the test of time. In part one of this special two-part blog post, we’ll take a deeper look into the ballet’s historic past and present as Houston Ballet begins its performances for Ben Stevenson’s cherished production of The Sleeping Beauty from February 25 to March 6.


 

BEAUTYdulac

“And there, on a bed the curtains of which were drawn wide, he beheld the loveliest vision he had ever seen”; Edmund Dulac, Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library, 1910.

The most familiar version of The Sleeping Beauty is the 1697 classic fairy-tale “La Belle au Bois Dormant” or “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood” by French author Charles Perrault. In Perrault’s original story the Princess doesn’t have a name; her daughter is named Dawn, which is often translated into Aurore or Aurora. There’s also the similar Brothers Grimm version, “Dornröschen” or “Little Briar Rose,” from 1812, which included 13 fairies and a nameless Prince. In fact, consistent character names for The Sleeping Beauty didn’t appear until early opera and ballet productions.

It’s also important to note that although this fairy tale is associated with the overall themes of love and “good versus evil,” its origins lie in Western fairy lore and their codes of conduct. Up until the mid-20th century fairy lore was more commonly known through such texts as Andrew Lang’s popular series of fairy books. In ballet versions the struggle between the Lilac Fairy’s triumphant compassion and Carabosse’s bitter revenge still holds true to traditional fairy lore.

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Original cast members costumed for Act I. (center) Carlotta Brianza as Aurora; [Imperial Ballet] Mariinsky Theatre, The Sleeping Beauty, St. Petersburg, 1890.

While the happily-ever-after ending is included in both of these versions, the direct inspiration for The Sleeping Beauty is a story from 1634 by Giambattista Basile titled “Sun, Moon, and Talia.” It tells a more shocking and gruesome tale with a moral that reads, “Those whom fortune favors, Find good luck even in their sleep.”

The 1959 animated Disney version successfully acquire sections of Tchaikovsky’s score for its version of The Sleeping Beauty. But the Disney film differs from the original fairy tales the most by naming every single character, only adding three fairies as Aurora’s Godmothers, including the Prince in the Prologue, and creating a dragon which the evil fairy—now renamed Maleficent in the film—transforms into to fight the Prince. Despite its creative alterations, it’s still relevant today for young children, acting like a gateway for ballet productions.

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(right) Marie Petipa as the Lilac Fairy & (left) Lyubov Vishnevskaya as an Attendant; [Imperial Baller] Mariinsky Theatre, The Sleeping Beauty, St. Petersburg, 1890.

In ballet history The Sleeping Beauty had been in existence before Marius Ivanovich Petipa and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1890 production as loose variations with little popularity. The 1890 Imperial Ballet (later renamed Kirov Ballet, now Mariinsky Ballet) production heralded a magnificent era of classical ballet in Russia. It quickly became a symbol of refinement and elegance beyond the previous ethereal Romantic era of ballet. This 4-hour-long production was also crucial to ballet history because it brought together prominent French, Italian, and Russian figures in ballet.

It’s a delightful mixture of the Perrault and Grimm fairy tale with characters and scenarios recreated to fit the proscenium and the various renowned ballerinas of the time. The Lilac Fairy, for instance, was first created to showcase the poise of Petipa’s daughter, Marie Petipa. It also inspired the iconic ballerina Anna Pavlova, who saw this production as an 8-year-old girl in Russia and would later create her own brief version for her touring company in 1916.

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Léon Bakst costume design for Princess Aurora, Act 1; Ballets Russes The Sleeping Beauty, London, 1921.

In 1921 the eccentric impresario of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, premiered his own production of The Sleeping Princess with revised choreography by Bronislava Nijinska and original designs by Léon Bakst. This extremely lavish 1921 production sent the Ballets Russes into crippling debt. It also failed to include Petipa’s original choreography via Nicholas Sergeyev’s detailed notations of The Sleeping Beauty, which he took out of Russia following the Revolution of 1917.

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Dame Margot Fonteyn as Aurora Act II. Vic-Wells Ballet The Sleeping Beauty, London, 1939.

The 1939 staging of The Sleeping Beauty at the Vic-Wells Ballet (later renamed Sadler’s Wells Ballet, now Royal Ballet), with Sergeyev’s coveted notations of The Sleeping Beauty, was Dame Margot Fonteyn’s first time dancing Aurora in Act I and II. Since 1936 she had been dancing an abridged variation of the fairy tale, but she was understandably nervous to perform such a historic role at only 19. Incidentally, her performances as Aurora are among the greatest moments in ballet history.

After World War II, The Sleeping Beauty gloriously helped resurrect the company in 1946. Shortly afterwards, the first full-length American performance in 1949 brought this British production to a new audience that quickly embraced it. After her first appearance as Aurora in America, Dame Margot nervously said, “I felt absolutely certain that I was not the kind of dancer New York was going to like. I was very frightened.”

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Beryl Grey as the Lilac Fairy, Dame Margot Fonteyn as Aurora and Robert Helpmann as Prince Florimund in the Vision Scene., Act II. Photograph by Frank Sharman. Sadler’s Wells Ballet The Sleeping Beauty, London, 1946.

Since then, full-length versions of The Sleeping Beauty have been restaged by many major U.S. companies including Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Ballet Austin, Ballet West, and Boston Ballet.

Reconstructions of the original The Sleeping Beauty productions have also been attempted over the years. The Mariinsky Ballet’s recreation in 1999 by Sergey Vikharev used the now preserved Sergeyev Collection housed in Harvard University. Royal Ballet also famously revived its 1946 production in 2006 with restored designs. And more recently Alexei Ratmansky’s magnificent reconstruction of The Sleeping Beauty used Baskt’s designs and premiered during American Ballet Theatre’s 75th anniversary in 2015.

SaraWebb and Artists of Houston Ballet - The Sleeping Beauty

Sara Webb as Aurora and Artists of Houston Ballet, Act I. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. 2011.

Restaged and well-respected, Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty is an enchanting ballet which honors the past productions of this historic fairy tale. Join us next week for part two of this special The Sleeping Beauty blog series where we talk all about our cherished classic. Tickets are on sell now by phone or online at http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/The-Sleeping-Beauty/ with performances running until March 6.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet and writes about dance in Houston for Arts & Culture Texas while passionately researching dance and literature in her spare time.

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A Unique Exercise For Any Level of Fitness – Houston Ballet Academy’s Pilates Barre Class

February 9, 2016

Guest writer: Houston Ballet Education Marketing & PR Coordinator, Christina Bielstein

I could count on one hand the number of sporadic Pilates classes I’d taken throughout my life. I was unfamiliar with terms and body positions, and I was nervous about entering a class even labeled for beginners. As a staff member, I was tempted to try one of Houston Ballet Academy’s adult classes, but I was too uneasy to ever make the commitment. All of that changed however, when I entered Sarah Yarbrough’s Pilates Barre class. From the minute students walked in, she tried to make everyone in class feel comfortable – asking each student about individual injuries or limitations so she could tailor the class for our specific needs.

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Pilates Barre instructor, Sarah Yarbrough, demonstrating one of the exercises performed in class.

 

The class description does not lie when it describes the exercises as gentle yet challenging. I was previously a dancer, but have been away from any consistent exercise for nearly 3 years. I struggled with a few of the exercises, but luckily Sarah had alterations so students could adapt nearly every exercise to their strength and stamina level.

What I liked most about the class were the “real” people in it. Taking a class at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance can seem daunting as Houston Ballet is primarily known for its beautiful and perfectly toned company members. It’s not very well known that Houston Ballet Academy offers classes for students of all ages and skill level. The students in this beginner Pilates Barre class were not professional dancers, and they were not exercise fanatics. Like me, they were lovely real people looking for an interesting and fun way to get more fit and stay healthy.  I was even pleasantly surprised to see a male in the class. I walked out of class feeling accomplished in my work out and even a little sore.

For me, the class is a great way to help me stick to my New Year’s resolution. The class offers a unique kind of exercise that is perfect for any level of fitness. The class is difficult enough to leave you proud of the work you put in, but not too difficult as to discourage you from returning for another five weeks.

I would absolutely recommend this Pilates Barre class to anyone looking for a non-traditional way to stay fit or get in shape. Classes are from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. on Thursdays and run for six weeks. Houston Ballet Academy also offers ballet classes for adults of various skill levels with classes ranging from introduction to advanced. Special classes to take note of are the Monday intermediate ballet classes taught by rotating Houston Ballet company members.

For more info on all of Houston Ballet Academy’s adult classes, visit: https://www.houstonballet.org/Academy/Adult-Program/.

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Education and Community Engagement’s X³: Explore, Extend, Excel! Program – A Teaching Assistant’s Journey

January 18, 2016

Education and Community Engagement is thrilled to announce the start of its new X³: Explore, Extend, Excel! program (formerly HBASP) this week on Tuesday, January 19. Lindsey Ho, a 10th grader from St. John’s School in Houston shares her joys and experiences of working with students in the program last semester.

All teachers

From left to right: Ellie Blanchat, Lauren Anderson, Lindsey Ho & Kirk Suddreath.

I first heard about X³ when the program came to my school, T.H. Rogers, several years ago.  At the time, I was a student at Houston Ballet Academy.  I was delighted when  my schedule allowed me to help out with this program last semester.

I visited Francis Elementary in the Aldine School District every Wednesday.  Lauren Anderson and Ellie Blanchat were the teachers, and Kirk Suddreath was the live musician.  The first week we taught at Francis, I could tell the kids were excited, yet nervous.  I could empathize with the kids, because I also felt the same way.  I was pleasantly surprised how happy and willing the girls were to dance. The boys were a little uneasy because they thought we were going to be teaching them ballet. After we reassured the boys that they would not be wearing pink tutus, they warmed up to us.

The second week, all the kids were excited to see us, even the boys who seemed anxious and uninterested the week prior. Although I loved all the students, one in particular stood out to me. “Mary” seemed apprehensive and initially didn’t want to stand up and participate with everyone. I made a point to go stand next to her and quietly help her. She later told me she was worried that she could not keep up with everyone. I was delighted when she actually started enjoying herself. I have often heard adults comment how they could see joy on a child’s face. I didn’t actually understand that statement until I saw how Mary positively responded throughout the semester.

I especially liked the X³ curriculum because it not only taught the kids dance and movement, but also had an academic component.  This semester’s theme was Exploring Science. The kids learned about different science topics such as states of matter, the water cycle and the circulatory system.  Learning the dances helped the kids remember different scientific facts.

On the day of the final performance for family and friends, I was eager, but also nervous about the performance.  Before the show, we rehearsed with the kids and ran through the entire show. We had to quickly change a few things in hopes that it would help the kids remember their routines. When the show was about to start, we handed the kids their Houston Ballet t-shirts. They were so proud to be wearing the new shirts and quickly changed. The parents were very enthusiastic as the show began and the kids did their entrance leaps that led into the circulatory dance. I was so proud of the kids. Everyone did such a good job remembering their cues and the choreography, even the new parts we changed at the last moment.

Linsey and group

Lindsey with students from Francis Elementary.

Handing the kids their certificates after they completed the program was one of the most bittersweet moments I have ever experienced. I felt so spectacular seeing the kids happy and elated about achieving their goal of finishing the program. However, realizing that I wouldn’t come back for another Wednesday class made me feel melancholy. I am going to miss those kids so much. Their hard work and enthusiasm every Wednesday made me look forward to the next class.

I was extremely honored to work with Lauren Anderson, Ellie Blanchat, and Kirk Suddreath last semester. I appreciate Jennifer Sommers helping me get involved in this program.  I have always been a student, but never a “teacher”. Teaching and interacting with these fabulous students was an incredible experience. I gained so much joy from teaching the kids. They were always so eager to learn and dance.  I will always remember my time at Francis Elementary.

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A final look behind the scenes of Ben Stevenson’s THE NUTCRACKER

December 21, 2015

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

On a snowy night in 1892, The Nutcracker (originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Balletmaster Lev Ivanov) made its first appearance at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. With a dazzling original score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and classical ballet choreography, The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition in the United States a few years after its first full-length American production by dancer/choreographer Willam Christensen for the San Francisco Ballet on December 24, 1944.

The Nutcracker Program 1987

The program cover for Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker, debuting in 1987, featuring a costume sketch by Desmond Heeley

95 years after the Russian debut of The Nutcracker Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker premiered in the Brown Theater at the Wortham on December 4, 1987. Since its Houston premiere, Stevenson’s Nutcracker has been performed by Houston Ballet 916 times. During this holiday season, Houston Ballet will honor Ben Stevenson’s beloved version of The Nutcracker with 37 final performances.

Every year a tremendous amount of work goes on behind the curtain to make this production of The Nutcracker a magical event for everyone in the audience. For Act 1 original production designer Desmond Heeley once said, “I want the magic to be gentle and awe-inspiring, not rich, or grand, or brash.” Together with Stevenson’s choreography, Heeley’s designs helped make this version of The Nutcracker a unique experience with quirky production elements, such as little fuzzy rats on pointe fighting with toy soldiers in Act 1 and flying cooks soaring across the backdrop in Act 2.

Keeping the original Stevenson-Heeley holiday spirit alive in over 150 individual costumes and props is a demanding task. That’s why weekly maintenance is essential for Houston Ballet’s wardrobe and production departments. Additionally, each performance of Stevenson’s The Nutcracker has approximately 34 people working backstage to coordinate the scenery, lighting, and costumes.

Houston Ballet Nutcracker - Photo

Courtesy of Houston Ballet

 

Costume shop manager Kaleb Babb understands the importance of upkeep. “We do maintenance on the Mice heads every year,” says Babb. “The ears, in particular, get new coatings of liquid latex to make them look fresh and more realistic. Also, the prop dolls that the party children play with in the opening scene come to the costume shop to be repaired every year. Hundreds of kids have played with these toys on stage!”

The snow scene at the end of Act 1 is a classic fan favorite, especially when the weather in Houston is less than wintery. For every performance around 200 lbs. of fake snow made from hand-torn crepe paper floats down on stage and gets recycled for the next performances.

Together with the production team, the dancers during the snow scene add the extra touches of magic before intermission. There are 18 snowflakes dancing on stage for the snow scene at the end of Act 1, along with the Snow Queen, Clara, and the Nutcracker Prince. The Snow Queen’s frosty tutu is valued at $7,000 with layers of soft tulle paired with a crystal icicle crown.

Snow Queen J. Long - Houston Ballet

Jacquelyn Long; Snow Queen; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

For corps member Jacquelyn Long, this last year performing Stevenson’s The Nutcracker is especially memorable. She debuted as the Snow Queen this year during the evening performance on December 6. “I was happy to get to do this role before we begin Stanton’s The Nutcracker!” exclaims Long. “The girls of the company gave me some sparkly hairpins that every new Snow Queen gets to wear each year as a tradition.”

Whether a snowflake or the Snow Queen, Long’s preparation ritual stays the same. “Before the Christmas tree goes up, standing on the ramp backstage, I do “the twist” and pretend I’m running really fast to get out any last minute nerves before the snow scene and the calm, pretty pas de deux during it.”

 

Gopak Houston Ballet C. Gray

Christopher Gray; Gopak; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Returning to the thrilling solo role of Gopak, Demi Soloist Christopher Gray marks this year by the numbers. “In the solo and the coda, Gopak has 30 jumps,” Gray mentions. “I will perform it 9 times this year; that’s 270 jumps. At approximately 10 shows a year, for over 8 years, that’s a career total of 2,400 jumps in Gopak alone by the end of this run.”

Gray has been a favorite in many beloved roles of Stevenson’s The Nutcracker. But no matter what, he believes in staying in the moment for each role. “Whatever I’ve done in the first act, I put it behind me and start over. During Act 2 I listen to music to psych myself up, take a few deep breaths and step out onstage. When the music starts and I hit the gas and empty the tank. I think that’s what is so exciting about it; People respond to a dancer giving a performance absolutely EVERYTHING they have.”

After nearly three decades of lovely costumes, props, and sets—not to mention new dancers, new audience members, and a new Artistic Director in 2003—we celebrate Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker with a fond farewell.

Artists of HB

Artists of Houston Ballet; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Tickets are still on sell now by phone or online at http://www.houstonballet.org/TheNutcracker/ with performances running until December 27. The new Nutcracker production for Houston Ballet, by current Artistic Director Stanton Welch, will premiere in November 2016 with new costumes and sets by designer Tim Goodchild.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet and writes about dance in Houston for Arts & Culture Texas.

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2015 Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market “Putting on the Ritz”

November 25, 2015

Guest writer: Alyssa Springer

Thank you to everyone who attended and supported the 2015 Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market “Putting on the Ritz.” It was another successful year, full of glitz and glamour to commemorate the 35th annual event, this year honoring all Nutcracker Market shoppers.

The Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market is a signature fundraising event that has become tradition for thousands of shoppers. Every dollar spent at the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market directly benefits the Houston community. Proceeds from each admission and special event ticket purchased, plus ten percent of all the merchandise bought, goes back to the Houston Ballet Foundation, its Academy and Scholarship Programs.

Hear from Alyssa Springer, Houston Ballet corps de ballet dancer, about what it means as a Houston Ballet company dancer to attend Houston Ballet’s largest single-event fundraiser.

Sharhar Dori, Alyssa Springer, Silken Kelly and Dylan Lackey at the 2015 Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market Preview Party.

Was this your first time at the Market?

This was my fourth time attending the Nutcracker Market. I have gone almost every year since I moved to Houston! I even invited my mother to visit one year, and she made a special trip and flew out from California to attend. Nutcracker Market is the perfect place to find something for everyone on your Christmas list. Even without buying anything, it is a wonderful holiday event to experience.

This year, I headed over to the Market right after rehearsals ended Wednesday evening, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get into the theme. But I did see many sparkly and glamorous outfits walking around and the decorations were great!

Who did you take as your guest?

My friend, and former Houston Ballet company member, Silken Kelly happened to be visiting at the time, and she was happy to come with me as my guest. Many of the company dancers attended the Preview Party this year, so it was fun to attend all together.

What did you buy?

I have a big sweet tooth, so I bought a mini bundt cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes, and a candied apple from Gourmet Apples & More. In years past, I’ve bought anything from Christmas decorations to jewelry. I’ve been able to buy Christmas gifts for everyone in my family just in one visit!

One of my favorite features of the Nutcracker Market is the uniqueness of many of the items offered. There are many items that I have only been able to find at the Market. One year I found a ring made from the handle of an antique spoon at a booth called “Rustic Attitude,” and after buying Blue Cattle Truck’s Mexican Vanilla another year, I’ve never baked with anything else.

Any interesting aspect that you learned or noticed about the Market?

As a dancer attending the Nutcracker Market, I always feel grateful that something so exciting and fun could benefit me personally. Proceeds from ticket sales and 10% of the merchandise purchased goes back to Houston Ballet Foundation, so I get to keep doing what I love!

How would you describe the Nutcracker Market in your own words?

When I attempt to explain the Nutcracker Market to newcomers, I find that my explanation usually does not do it justice.  It is one of those things that one cannot fully understand until experiencing it personally, because it is so much more than one could imagine. When I visited for the first time, I knew it was a giant holiday shopping extravaganza, but I remember feeling so overwhelmed at the size and at all it had to offer- in the best possible way! The Nutcracker Market is the perfect way to get into the spirit of the season, not only because of the shopping, but because the whole atmosphere buzzes with holiday cheer. The Nutcracker Market easily becomes holiday tradition.

Jacquelyn Long, Mallory Mehaffey, Alyssa Springer, Dylan Lackey pose with artists of Houston Ballet Academy.

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HOUSTON BALLET’S FALL MIXED REPERTORY PROGRAM – DANCER’S PERSPECTIVE

October 1, 2015

From September 24-October 4, 2015, Houston Ballet presents its Fall Mixed Repertory Program featuring Stanton Welch’s Tapestry, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, and Garrett Smith’s Reveal. Here to discuss this exciting contemporary showcase program and share her experience is Soloist Nao Kusuzaki.

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In Houston Ballet’s Fall Mixed Repertory Program, which pieces are you performing in?

I will be performing in Stanton Welch’s Tapestry and Garrett Smith’s world premiere Reveal. 

 

Tapestry; Nao Kusuzaki and William Newton; Amitava Sarkar

Tapestry; Nao Kusuzaki and William Newton; Amitava Sarkar

Can you share about your experience dancing in Stanton’s Tapestry? What do you enjoy the most about his work Tapestry?

One of Stanton’s strengths as a choreographer is in his mesmerizing pas de deux work.  He crafts movements which flow and coalesce, then dissipates unexpectedly.  I’m dancing the second movement pas de deux in Tapestry, I enjoy expressing this vision come alive. As it also showcases the femininity of the ballerina and the strength of her partner, its process adds another layer of unison.  Like a well-thought out tapestry, this work of Stanton’s is a complex, intricate combination of steps which produces a clean, beautiful design.

Over the summer, Houston Ballet was invited to perform 3 works by Stanton Welch which included Tapestry.  What was it like to perform this piece in Germany?

I saw Hamburg Ballet perform for the first time during their New York tour with Neumeier’s Nijinsky.  It left an impression so powerful that the following year, I went to Germany to see them perform in their opera house.  So our tour to Hamburg this past summer was beyond exciting.  It was our turn to share the work with dancers and audiences in Hamburg.  Performing Tapestry which Stanton created on the company, was a very classy way to introduce Houston Ballet. Like Hamburg Ballet, our company is filled with unique, talented, compassionate artists, and Tapestry communicates that quite quintessentially. The longest applauds I have ever experienced came from there, and it still warms the heart.

 

Reveal; Nao Kusuzaki and Christopher Coomer; Amitava Sarkar

Reveal; Nao Kusuzaki and Christopher Coomer; Amitava Sarkar

You are also in Garrett Smith’s world premiere piece titled Reveal.  What’s it like to work with choreographer Garrett Smith?

Before Garrett left for Norway, we were colleagues here, and I have always respected him for his undying passion in choreography and choreographic ideas which seemed to pour out of him.  I was completely thrilled to work with him on Reveal.  The concept of Reveal -the duality of personalities- as expressed through fast-paced moves with attitude, was blood pumping.  Because he is not afraid to take risks, every rehearsal was presented with new sets of challenges artistically and technically. Because he demanded a lot out of us and the piece, there was never a moment of complacency. But because he trusted the dancers, it created a safe environment to reveal parts of self which could be vulnerable.  The process of working with Garrett was a valuable time of discovery.

Nao Kusuzaki in fittings with Monica Guerra

Nao Kusuzaki in fittings with Monica Guerra

Garrett’s Reveal has amazing costumes designed by Monica Guerra, can you tell us about your unique costumes that you perform in?

I represent the classical ballerina side of a woman, who so desperately wants to break away from the mask of beauty. She eventually shows her raw, more masculine side.  With Monica’s brilliant costuming, I start out in the stunning champagne colored tutu with many intricate details woven onto the bodice.  Then, in her reveal, the tutu tears apart, and a full length, black coat is worn on her new self.  In both costumes, I feel completely comfortable and confident. Monica’s costume design is a significant element of Reveal.

Costume Sketches by Monica Guerra

Costume Sketches by Monica Guerra

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Houston Ballet presents its Fall Mixed Repertory Program showcasing the best of contemporary choreography. British master and Houston Ballet’s Associate Choreographer Christopher Bruce’s hauntingly beautiful Ghost Dances returns after a twelve year absence from the Houston stage. Garrett Smith returns to Houston to create Reveal, his third new work for Houston Ballet. Rounding out the program is Stanton Welch’s Tapestry, a spectacular showcase for the company’s dancers.

When: At 7:30 p.m. on September 24, 26 and October 2, 3, 2015 & At 2:00 p.m. on September 27 and October 4, 2015

For more information visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Fall-Mixed-Rep/

Watch a preview of Fall Mixed Repertory Program: 

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