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From Conception to Creation: The Costumes for “Romeo and Juliet”

February 11, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

“In Fair Houston where we lay our costumes/scene”

Oh Romeo, Romeo why are you dressed so dashingly? As the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet nears, a great deal of creativity has been brewing behind the scenes for several months at Houston Ballet. The company will perform the new production Romeo and Juliet from February 26- March 8, 2015.

The dancers glide beautifully across the stage, their movements telling the story. The scenery will have the audience feel as though they are in Verona, Italy with Romeo and Juliet. The costumes show a great deal of craftsmanship, detail and authenticity.  But why is this important?

Let me introduce one the very talented, Roberta Guidi di Bagno, Costume and Scenic Designer for Romeo and Juliet. Roberta will explain her creative process behind the costumes for the Romeo and Juliet.

Photo by: Sheila McKinnon

Photo by: Sheila McKinnon

What is the process in designing costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: The first thing is the conversation with the choreographer and the listening to the music (even if I know that particular music very well). With Stanton, we had long conversations prior to starting the designs. He had a very specific, challenging and interesting vision which immediately captured my fantasy and allowed me to start dreaming.

What was your inspiration for the costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: I drew my inspiration from the major Italian old masters from the 15th century; many of them came from Ferrara, my home town in Italy, such as Luca Signorelli, Piero della Francesca, Pisanello, Cosmè Tura, Perugino, Andrea Mantegna, Ercole de’Roberti, Lorenzo Costa, Andrea del Castagno, Francesco del Cossa, and Il Pollaiolo. In their paintings, I found many sources for colours and settings.

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Are the colors and designs of the Montague and Capulets costumes significant?

Guidi di Bagno: Yes, very much so. Stanton has done a very specific and detailed study of Romeo and Juliet and wanted to define each family so that we can tell immediately, through the colors, who belongs to which group (Capulets, Montagues and Escalus). At the same time, he wanted every single character to be individual in its own colour within the family group.

That was probably the harder part: finding fabrics or trims that would tie everybody in its own family colour.

I know the headpieces have significance, what is this significance?

Guidi di Bagno: In those times, people would always wear a headpiece as a symbol of their status or just for practical reasons. It is rare to see a painting where women, especially, are not wearing something on their heads. Even the Madonna’s will wear their auras!

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

What are the most difficult parts in designing these particular costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: As in most of the ballets where you’re trying to tell a story, the definition of the characters through the costumes is the real challenge: you want them to seem to be wearing real clothing, but they need to be able to dance as if they were just wearing a second skin.

I always say that I try to create a skin over their own skin so that the dancers don’t feel restricted in their movements and the choreographer is totally free to create what he has in mind with his art.

What was the most exciting part in the designing process?

Guidi di Bagno: The most exciting and challenging was to find the fabrics and the ways to adapt fabrics such as leathers to a particular cut. It was exciting to find, together with Laura Lynch, the key to this, by sewing these materials, especially the leathers, on lycra [type of stretch fiber], so that they could fit the bodies perfectly.

For the women, we had fabrics especially made, which have both body and shine, and which are also extremely light and flowing.

What would like the audience to take away from the costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: There are various elements: I would like them to feel that they are actually part of the story. I would like them to forget that they’re seated on a modern chair. At the same time, I think people should feel that it is only theatre.

Now that your imagination is running wild, why not put it to ease and let Houston Ballet sweep you off to Verona, Italy for a magical evening?

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From February 26 – March 8, 2015, Houston Ballet presents the highlight of the 2014-2015 season:  the world premiere of a new production of Romeo and Juliet by Stanton Welch. One of Shakespeare’s most famous tales, Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet will be a fresh, brilliantly imagined interpretation of the classic love story of two star-crossed lovers. The production is set to the exquisite score by Sergei Prokofiev and designed by renowned Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, who will create the spectacular scenery and costumes for the production. This new production, Houston Ballet’s first in 28 years, is made possible through the generosity of longtime Houston Ballet supporters Ted and Melza Barr.

For more information: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Modern-Masters-2015/

Watch Romeo & Juliet – A Spectacle in the Making:

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Elton John, Dance, & Canada: What do they have in common?

January 19, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

“She’s got electric boots, a Mohair suit… Be-Be-Bennie and the Jets!” You might be wondering why I am singing Bennie and the Jets, that’s not ballet. If you enjoy Elton John and dancing, then this performance is for you. Alberta Ballet will be coming to Wortham Theater Center to perform Love Lies Bleeding as part of Houston Ballet’s Cullen Series from January 30 – February 1, 2015. This performance consists not only of Elton John’s most well-known songs but also electrifying dance styles and costumes.

Alberta Ballet Company Artists - Love Lies Bleeding - Photo: JJ Thompson

Alberta Ballet Company Artists – Love Lies Bleeding – Photo: JJ Thompson

I had the privilege to interview Alberta Ballet company artist Christopher Scruggs to learn more about Love Lies Bleeding. This is Scruggs first season with Alberta Ballet; he joined summer of 2014-2015 season he will be performing the role of a Drag Queen among other roles for his first performance of Love Lies Bleeding. Scruggs grew up listening to Sir Elton John’s more famous songs but by being a part of this tribute he was exposed to songs he had not heard. Now let’s get the inside scoop on this invigorating performance.

 

Alberta Ballet; Christopher Scruggs; Photo: Paul McGrath

Christopher Scruggs; Photo: Paul McGrath

  1. How is the ballet Love Lies Bleeding different than other ballets?

Scruggs: This ballet is different for many reasons. The music is not classical; it’s all danced to Elton John’s pop music. Additionally, the entire ballet is not en pointe for the ladies, which most classical ballets are. In this ballet boy’s dance in 5 or 6-inch heels, girls are in flat shoes with the men, and some dancers are in a jazzy version of a character shoe at times. The movement is also a huge change from classical or neo classical work as this is much more stylized movement; it is very jazzy.

Love Lies Bleeding - Company Artists of Alberta Ballet

  1. What were your initial thoughts when asked to be a part of this performance?

Scruggs: I was excited to dance this work because it pushes the boundaries of dance, life, society, and more. I think it’s really exciting for the audience to experience this work and not just see a classic like The Sleeping Beauty. It’s a challenge to dance but also lot of fun for us to dance as well as for the audience. I feel like then can really feel and catch the energy from us on stage.

Love Lies Bleeding - Yuki H. -  Photo: Charles Hope

Love Lies Bleeding – Yukichi Hattori – Photo: Charles Hope

  1. What is like to be a part of this groundbreaking performance?

Scruggs: This is a challenge for us in a lot of ways as dancers, but it’s so fun and exciting to perform this work for us. It’s such a fun and dynamic work to be a part of. Each song has its own unique flair and flavor that all add up to one fantastic show.

 

  1. What should the audience take away from this performance?

Scruggs: I think the audience should take away the entire experience of the show: visually, emotionally, and audibly. It’s really an all-around great ballet for us to dance technically, but more importantly to perform and have fun. I encourage each audience member to let themselves go and really feel our energy and have fun with us :)

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As part of its Cullen Series, Houston Ballet welcomes guest company Alberta Ballet with a spectacular celebration of the music of rock legend Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

From January 30 – February 1, 2015, the undeniable joy of pop-rock meets the breathtaking athleticism of ballet in the sequined spectacle, Love Lies Bleeding. Alberta Ballet’s artistic director Jean Grand-Maître, choreographer of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremonies, conjures a romping and visually spectacular tribute to the work of Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Featuring 14 classic songs, this wild and whimsical piece explores the trials, victories, and sacrifices of achieving super stardom with an unforgettable story of rock ‘n’ roll, drama, passion – and above all – love.

For more information: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Loves-Lies-Bleeding/

Watch a preview of Love Lies Bleeding: 

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Dancer Diary: Houston Ballet Apprentice Deanna Pearson shares her amazing achievement in Instanbul, Turkey

December 9, 2014

Right before starting her first season with Houston Ballet as an apprentice, Deanna Pearson traveled to Instanbul, Turkey to compete in the Instanbul International Ballet Competition (IBC). The competition takes place every summer with dancers coming from all parts of the world to compete. Ms. Pearson performed at her best and earned a glorious Silver Medal in the Senior Category!

Deanna kept a journal detailing her competition adventure in Instanbul, Turkey. Read more about her journey exclusively here on En Pointe with Houston Ballet—

Deanna Pearson - Houston Ballet

This summer, I was lucky enough to travel to Istanbul, Turkey to take part in the Istanbul International Ballet Competition. Although I had been living in Germany last year and had been able to travel a great deal around the magnificent region that is Western Europe, I had not traveled to Turkey. For those who have never been, I highly recommend Istanbul as a future travel destination. The fascinating history that seeps through the lasting structures from ancient times is enough to capture one’s attention, and the cities rolling hills dotted with buildings and shining mosques, all overlooking the majestic Bosphorus are breathtaking. Needless to say, I regret that I was occupied most of the time with the competition and did not have much time to explore the city.

However, the welcoming venue along with the helpful staff and friendly fellow competitors made my time at the IBC in Istanbul incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. My coach at the time was unable to travel with me and, with the rest of my family back in the US, I traveled to Istanbul alone. International travel, with the complications of foreign languages, can be daunting particularly when traveling alone. As many fellow dancers know however, traveling with ballet tutus zipped up in large, round black bags, can be an even greater struggle. On both my inbound and outbound journeys, I had to practically beg the person at the check in counter to let me take my tutu on board with me. Thankfully none of my costumes were damaged and none of my luggage was lost through the whole process of dragging my things to a bus stop just outside the Istanbul Ataturk Airport, transferring from the bus to a small, yellow cab, and finally arriving at the hotel accommodation provided by the competition. I was lucky to be able to room with a sweet friend of mine who was also taking part in the competition, and I found I was able to communicate with many of the other competitors and that there were all very nice.

Istanbul, Turkey Photo

The scheduling made it easy to know when you would have your rehearsal time and when you would be performing at the performance venue a few minutes walking distance from the hotel. When I wasn’t walking to and from the venue and hotel, I was greatly enjoying popping into the markets and taking in all the different varieties of dried fruits and unknown types of fish. The people that I encountered on the streets and in the markets were friendly, but I could tell I was clearly a strange sight to them and that many were assessing where I might be from as well as why I might be hauling a black disc-like bag around with me. I will say that it became apparent to me that English was not as common as I had expected, but I found I enjoyed listening to the fast-paced and unique-sounding Turkish language.

I had a wonderful time performing my first round classical and contemporary variations, and was so thrilled the next day when my name was on the list of those who had made it to the second round because I couldn’t wait to go back on the stage and to perform my next pieces. I had an even more enjoyable time performing in the second round, having made several friends amongst my fellow competitors who had traveled from Russia and as far as South Africa. At the end of the second round, I just felt incredibly lucky to have been able to perform all my pieces and a bit tired particularly from the high humidity and heat outside the likes of which I had not experienced in quite a while.

Deanna Pearson at Instanbul International Ballet Competition

As always, the other finalists and I waited curious to know the final results of the competition. The night of the award ceremony, we all put on our costumes and make up and gathered on stage for the award ceremony and gala night, unaware yet of whether or not we would be dancing that same evening in the gala performance. I was glad I got to perform all my pieces and was already reflecting positively on my time in Istanbul when I heard my name announced for the Silver Medal in the Senior Category by the head of the competition administration. I could hardly believe it as I went forward and accepted my medal, incredibly grateful and humbled. I was so happy as well for the other medalists, and we congratulated each other as soon as the curtain closed on the award ceremony before hastily getting prepared for the following performance. The audience for the gala performance was wonderful and seemed to take part in the celebratory atmosphere that surrounded each medalist performer.

It was a bittersweet moment when the final bows were over for the gala, and I realized how my time in Istanbul had flown by. I was a little sad the next morning as I rode by taxi through the permanently congested streets of Istanbul, fixing my eyes on the winding Bosphorus gleaming in the sunlight, and knew I would have to return to Turkey someday to explore much more of the city and its landmarks. At my last glance of Istanbul, the gigantic barges were pulling out of the harbors and seagulls were swooping down over the water as the Islamic call to prayer rang out over the hills of the city.

-Houston Ballet Apprentice, Deanna Pearson

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You can see Deanna Pearson on stage this winter dancing in the Land of Snow as a snowflake and among other roles in Houston Ballet’s magical production of The Nutcracker from November 28-December 28, 2014. There are so many reasons to delight in The Nutcracker: the giant Christmas tree, the dancing dolls, Mother Ginger and her adorable clowns, the lavish sets and the iconic Tchaikovsky score. Ben Stevenson’s production of The Nutcracker has entertained children and their grown-ups for more than 25 years.

For more information visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/TheNutcracker/

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RESEARCHING “ROMEO AND JULIET”

November 7, 2014

From February 26 – March 8, Houston Ballet will unveil a stunning new production of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch and featuring scenery and costumes by the acclaimed Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. The production has been generously underwritten by Ted and Melza Barr. In this blog entry, Stanton discusses his extensive research to prepare to choreograph this classic work. 

Juliet Ball 2 - Sketch by Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Sketch by Roberta Guidi di Bagno

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Guest writer: Stanton Welch, Artistic Director

Romeo and Juliet is a milestone work, a benchmark for a choreographer. Prokofiev’s score is so exquisitely evocative, with such a strong sense of the individual characters. There are parts of the score that are so moving and emotional that they can bring one to tears.

I have never created a work inspired by Shakespeare’s dramas before.

I first saw a ballet version of Romeo and Juliet when I was about six or seven, and my mother was performing as Juliet in John Cranko’s staging of the work. It was an intensely emotional experience for me, and I distinctly remember not wanting Juliet to take her own life. I grew up as a dancer, watching — and later performing in — the Cranko version with The Australian Ballet.

There were several other ballet versions of Romeo and Juliet that made strong impressions on me. I saw a wonderful 1954 Russian film version of Leonid Lavrosky’s staging featuring Galina Ulanova as Juliet with some very difficult partnering sequences that were breathtaking. And I also saw both live performances and video of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet, featuring a consummate performance by Alessandra Ferri as Juliet that dancers of my generation grew up watching and admiring.

Romeo and Juliet film (1954) of Leonid Lavrosky’s staging featuring Galina Ulanova as Juliet

I have also watched several film versions of Shakespeare’s play, including the 2013 version featuring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, was also very influential on me.

To prepare to choreograph my version of Romeo and Juliet, I’ve returned to Shakespeare’s original text.  It is such a deep work, which reveals more levels, subtleties and nuances every time you read it.

What’s fascinating to me is that there are difference between what Prokofiev indicates in his score for the ballet and what Shakespeare wrote in his original text. This presents a conundrum for a choreographer: Do you follow Prokofiev’s lead, or do you adhere to Shakespeare’s text?

Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Sketch by Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet; Sketch by Roberta Guidi di Bagno

In my creative process, I’ve also been influenced by our designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. With her Italian heritage, I think that she brings a very authentic take on the world of Romeo and Juliet.

As I begin to choreograph in the studio, I’m working with three couples, and they will each bring something unique and special to the work. The principal women creating the role of Juliet will be Karina Gonzalez, Melody Mennite and Sara Webb. The final version of the choreography will bear the imprint of each of the three couples upon whom it was created.

Karina Gonzalez_Headshot

Principal Karina Gonzalez

Principal Melody Mennite

Principal Melody Mennite

SaraWebb_Busath Photography

Principal Sara Webb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monique Loudieres will come from France to coach the principles of all three casts of Romeo and Juliet. She’s a wonderful, musical actress – and such a warm and loving coach. I love her passion, and I believe that translates into the performances you see on stage.

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HOUSTON BALLET CAPS INNOVATIVE THREE YEAR INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATION IN GUATEMALA

September 30, 2014

From September 28 – October 3, 2014, Houston Ballet Academy Instructor Sally Rojas  will travel to Guatemala City, Guatemala for the third and final installment of an innovative, international collaboration with the Organizacion para las Artes focusing on training dancers aged 12- 18.

 Sally Rojas

Instructor Sally Rojas coaching students

Spanning from March 2012 until October 2014, the primary aim of the partnership is to strengthen the burgeoning relationship between Houston Ballet and Guatemala, and also to raise the standard of ballet training in Gautemala.  Geraldina Becca-Spross, President of Organizacion para las Artes, commented about the partnership, “Sally Rojas is not only a hard-working teacher, but also very understanding.  The young ladies she has instructed were amazed at her deep knowledge of ballet.  We know that only very hard work, concentration and practice will fully accomplish our goals in the long run.”

 Sally Rojas coaching students

Instructor Sally Rojas coaching students

On October 12-13, 2010,  Houston Ballet II, Houston Ballet’s second company, toured to Guatemala City with a mixed repertory performance at the Organizacion Para Las Artes.  One student from the group of Guatemalan dancers was awarded a scholarship to attend Houston Ballet Academy.

 Sugar Plum Fairy Sally Rojas

Sally Rojas as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Ms. Rojas is a former soloist who performed with Houston Ballet from 1985 to 2004 before becoming an instructor at Houston Ballet Academy. While in Guatemala City, Ms. Herrera leads teacher workshops and teaches master classes. In Houston, Ms. Rojas is also the artistic coordinator of Pink Aware, a program created by Houston choreographer Jane Weiner to promote breast cancer awareness through dance and the arts.

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A Couple, On Stage and Off

September 26, 2014

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

You may now take the stage as Husband and Wife!

On July 5th, 2014, in Fredericksburg, Texas, Houston Ballet demi soloist Elise Judson and corps de ballet member Rhodes Elliott said “I do” and began a new chapter in their lives not only as dancers, but  as husband and wife.

In this blog entry, Elise shares her most cherished moments leading up to their big day and what’s to come in the future.

Rhodes Wedding Pic 3 - Jaime Lagdameo

Elise and Rhodes Elliott; Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

July 5th was a special day.  Tell us about your wedding.

 It was magical! We were married at my aunt and uncle’s home in Fredericksburg, Texas, a small German town in the Texas Hill Country. They have a beautiful home with a lot of property.

We turned it all into a wedding wonderland! Flowers in blues, whites, and tans; a big white tent; lawn games; twinkle lights in the trees; lots of good food, drinks, and of course, dancing! We had a very large wedding party (11 Groomsmen and 15 Bridesmaids!). We are very very lucky to have so many amazing friends and family members in our life. It would not have been the same day if they had not all been standing up at the altar with us! It was so amazing to have them all in the same place, partying and celebrating together!

Why did you choose this location?

I grew up going to my aunt and uncle’s home in Fredericksburg, and I have always had wonderful memories of their property. Since living in Houston, I tend to go out there to visit once or twice a year. Rhodes’ family is from South Carolina, and mine is from California. When we got engaged, Rhodes and I realized that it might be best if both of our families could meet in the middle for our wedding. I always wanted to be married outside under the trees, and since Houston’s weather is very unpredictable in the summer, Fredericksburg sort of presented itself to us. My aunt and uncle were SO generous to open their home and property to us for the most exciting day of our lives!

Elise and Rhodes Elliott

 Elise and Rhodes Elliott; Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Fireworks and love… With both of you being dancers, how did you plan a wedding around your schedules?

We got engaged on November 30th, and were married on July 5th, so we had a bit of time to plan. As dancers, we only have a few opportunities and layoffs to plan big events like a wedding! Rhodes and I wanted to be able to go on our honeymoon directly after our wedding, so our 5 week layoff this summer was going to be the best time for us.

Because most people are able to take a long weekend for the 4th of July, we thought that more of our family and friends would be able to make the long trip to Texas that weekend. It all worked out!

Where and how did you both meet?

Rhodes and I met in 2005 at the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program! We danced together that summer and performed the Snow Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker at the end of summer performance. We danced the Pas de Deux from The Kingdom of the Shades in La Bayadere at the following summer intensive, traveled to Beijing, China for the Beijing International Dance Competition with HBII in 2006, and then both joined the company as apprentices in 2007. We’ve known each other for a long time!

Judson and R Elliott - The leaves are fading

Ballet: The Leaves are Fading; Dancers: Elise Elliott and Rhodes Elliott; Photo Amitava Sarkar

As Houston Ballet Dancers, what other roles have you performed together?

Since joining the company together, we have performed together a lot! We danced the first pas de deux in Antony Tudor’s The Leave are Fading, the Arabian Pas De Deux in Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker, Demi-Couples in Twyla Tharp’s The Brahm’s Hayden Variations, Ballet Couples in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, as well as many other smaller partnering parts in numerous other ballets. Our heights are comparable for dancing together, and we enjoy dancing together!

Describe Rhodes in 3 words or less.

Silly, Charismatic, Loving

What ballets are you looking forward to?

I am very much looking forward to Jorma Elo’s One/End/One, which is part of our fall mixed rep program. I performed that ballet when it was first choreographed on us a few years ago, and I can’t wait to perform it again! I am also looking forward to George Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina, and Mark Morris’s new work on our company later this year. Rhodes is definitely looking forward to John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew, which we are ending the season with this year. Lots to look forward to!

Artists of Houston Ballet_Ballo della Regina_Amitava SarkarIMG_0918

Ballet: Ballo della Regina; George Balanchine; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo Amitava Sarkar

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From September 18-28, 2014, Houston Ballet offers up its fall mixed repertory program titled From Houston to the World with ballets choreographed for Houston Ballet dancers. Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo brings wit and humor to the extreme virtuosity that he demands in ONE/end/ONE. Edwaard Liang’s deeply spiritual ballet Murmuration also returns. Closing the program is Stanton Welch’s vivid and exciting interpretation of the third act of Paquita, showcasing a breathtaking display of technique and classical skill. Houston Ballet will give six performances of From Houston to the World at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston.  Tickets start at $20, and may be purchased at www.houstonballet.org, or by calling 713 227 2787.

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DANCING JOHN NEUMEIER’S A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

September 5, 2014

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

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

Houston Ballet 2014 A Midsummer Night's Dream

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

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

Can you relate to your character?

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

A Midsummer Night's Dream HB Gonzalez and Robison

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

How do you get into character?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Houston Ballet Gonzalez and Robison

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

Why are you excited about this ballet?

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

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

Describe this performance in 3 words or less.

Aaron: Romantic, humorous, thrilling.

Karina: A masterpiece.

 Houston Ballet 2014 Gonzalez and Artists of HB

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the preview of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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

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A VOYAGE TO ROME FOR ROMEO AND JULIET

August 21, 2014

By Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager

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

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

The Ball 2

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

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

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

Juliet in gold

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

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

Romeo 2

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

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

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

Blue door

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

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

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

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

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

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BUILDING STRENGTH WITH AKIHIRO KAWASAKI

August 19, 2014

By Kalyn Oden, Houston Ballet PR Intern

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

First, a little about the trainer and his qualifications.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And that’s a wrap!

July 29, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

Check it out!

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

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