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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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UNVEILING AND REVEALING THE COSTUME DESIGN PROCESS OF GARRETT SMITH’S WORLD PREMIERE FOR HOUSTON BALLET

September 30, 2015

This weekend from October 2-4, 2015 Houston Ballet performs its final 3 shows of the Fall Mixed Repertory Program featuring Stanton Welch’s Tapestry, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, and Garrett Smith’s RevealReveal had its world premiere on September 24. The work is set to music by Philip Glass and focuses on the ideas of self-reflection and vulnerability. To realize Mr. Smith’s vision for the costumes, Houston Ballet’s Costume Shop’s Resident Textile Artist Monica Guerra collaborated closely with choreographer Garrett Smith to create and make the designs come to life. Here, Ms. Guerra discusses her design process for Reveal.

Reveal; Jessica Collado and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Reveal; Jessica Collado and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

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Can you share with us your inspiration and creative process for the designs of Garrett Smith’s Reveal?

When Garrett asked me to design this piece for him early this year he gave me a few key words that would best represent his vision for Reveal.  ‘Chic’ and ‘fashionable’ were among a few of them. It was perfect, I was so excited! When I design for dance it’s always important for me to keep fashion at the forefront since that is my aesthetic and my background. So for Garrett, shape, form and color all help shape his vision, as well as mine.

Reveal sketches by Monica Guerra

Reveal sketches by Monica Guerra

He came to me first with the music and the idea of his piece, then he showed me some pictures of textures and colors he liked. One of the pictures was of a scrunched up layered leotard worn down to the waist as many dancers wear in rehearsals. He was very drawn to the look. He also happens to love the sheer and stretchy quality of mesh, so I fused both and added my love of silk to it. This is how it started. I began playing with a knotted detail with long bands/ribbons stretched and cut at different widths and pleated organically to create a texture that is light and comfortable, yet beautiful as well.

For the women I wanted to add to this texture by joining silk along with the mesh for added depth. The more I played with the mesh overlaid onto the silk I loved the way the shiny silk would bleed through the mesh and then in other moments where the mesh was randomly heavier it mattified the silk. This idea then became the cohesive element for both the men and women.

Fabrics for Reveal

Fabrics for Reveal

The knotted detail is used on the ladies corsets, and for the men it is used on their pant waistbands. I would drape these ideas on my dress form at home and send Garrett pics so he had a more dimensional concept, not just a flat sketch to go by. This was usually done around 3am, lol. I sketched a lot as I presented new ideas to him or challenged myself to rework some existing designs he had already approved, and then we would talk about it. We spoke almost every night for months and locked down designs, details and fabric choices.

Garrett Smith’s piece Reveal features the men in very edgy black coats; can you explain the design process behind these coats?

In choosing the fabric for the black coats Garrett just wanted to keep them black. In my many trips to the fabric store here in Houston I came across a metallic silk and cotton blend fabric. The metallic wasn’t incredibly shiny, and the reverse side of it was a nice deep black. These coats are long and take up a lot of yardage so keeping that in mind the price of this fabric was good, and there was a possibility for more to be ordered, which is always important.

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

These coats were going to be choreographed into the piece so I knew they had to have a little weight at the front after Garrett explaining some of the choreography with me, but they needed to stay mostly lighter at the back so they could fly behind the dancers. This was also something that was important to Garrett. Very early on he sent me a pic of a dancer wearing a heavy, ill fitting coat, but the focus was on the fantastic movement the coat had. I took that idea of it flying into the air and amplified it!

For these coats I was originally looking for a waxed linen but couldn’t find it in a lighter weight. I told Garrett about the idea of making the coats out of this metallic fabric I had found and he liked it, but was a little hesitant about it, as was I.. But I had this feeling that it could definitely work! I had it purchased since we had to get moving on the coats.. They were the first costumes to get done so the dancers could have them in rehearsal their first week.

Have you worked with Garrett Smith in the past? What’s it been like collaborating for the designs of Reveal?

I have worked with Garrett before but not at this level. In 2012 I designed and built costumes for his NYCDA piece Unseen. It was a pas de deux, only two costumes. He always wanted to work together again so I was honored and ecstatic when he asked me to design Reveal. Being able to collaborate with Garrett on Reveal has been inspiring, and thrilling! He’s every bit a perfectionist like me, which I love. It’s been fun to work through ideas with him since he’s such an artist himself, always recognizing color and fit. It’s always so rewarding to be able to present a different concept, or challenge a choreographer with fresh ideas or interesting fabric choices, and Garrett always listens to the possibilities which makes for a great collaboration. I have always loved his choreography and watching him work is like seeing art in motion..It’s his gifting. So to be a part of it has been truly wonderful.

Reveal costume sketch by Monica Guerra

Reveal costume sketch by Monica Guerra

Any challenges?

As far as challenges go..I always believe everything is possible, so with that said the costume shop had to tackle building a tear-away tutu that is functional and able to be fully ‘ripped-away’ on stage. Garrett’s choreography has the tutu being ripped off from side to side so that meant the center front and center back had to be split open and slightly overlapped. With the construction of a tutu there are usually 12 layers of net all hand tacked together. Also, a key component to helping a tutu structurally stand the way it does is with a hoop strategically sewn inside of a hidden casing. It was tricky since our talented pattern maker had to split the hooping in half.. therefore already weakening the structure. She added spokes and Velcro to help it along, usually not a norm for a traditional tutu. We had to test it out in rehearsal and worked closely with Nao Kusuzaki who is wearing it. She was strategic in assisting us with this. We also put a male dancer in a tutu which is new for Houston Ballet. Charles-Louis Yoshiyama was very helpful in us perfecting the tutu for what he needed. He wore it in almost every rehearsal just to get used to it. It didn’t take long though.. He was meant to wear it. He looks so powerful in it! I can’t wait for you to see it all in motion!

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Favorite pieces?

Definitely! There are several pieces that have become my favorites for various different reasons. One of my favorites is Nao’s silk ombré burnout and velvet coat that is placed on her on stage at a very strategic moment in the piece. There are panels in black velvet and others in a beautiful silk burnout velvet that I ombré dyed and painted. The entire back of it is pleated and the pleats continue to the side front. The collar is a high military style collar and looks

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

amazing on Nao! I would also have to say that another fave is the men’s look with the long black coat and black silk jersey roughed pant. The coats have these beautiful pleated panels at the center back to create an element of surprise, as well as movement and intrigue. Oh and the pants! Pure luxury in soft and stretchy silk jersey…it feels like a second skin and the dancers are loving it! The main reason I love this look is for so many reasons but also because I could easily see it on a runway. What is even better is that they are on our amazing dancers and we get to see them in full movement. Another of my favorites is the blue, as well as the white corsets worn by Katelyn May and Karina Gonzalez. They have these beautiful silk and mesh knots anchored in different places with the bands/ribbons all organically placed to wrap around the corset. The mesh and silk together form such a perfect union of draping and texture.

Reveal costume sketches by Monica Guerra

Reveal costume sketches by Monica Guerra

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Reveal; Katelyn May and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Reveal; Katelyn May and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

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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Where Dance Meets Education: Education and Community Engagement Teacher Receives Exciting New Training

September 22, 2015

Houston Ballet Education and Community Engagement is committed to introducing children, particularly those in under-served and at-risk populations, to the beauty and grace of life through dance.  Last year they reached over 39,000 students through various programming.  One of Houston Ballet’s Education and Community Engagement teachers, Ellie Blanchat recently returned from New York City where she attended the National Dance Institute (NDI) Teaching Artists Training.

ECE teacher Ellie Blanchat with master teachers (L to R) Kelly Buwanda, Ellie Blanchat, Emily Meisner and Kay Gayner at the National Dance Institute Teacher Training in NYC.

Ellie Blanchat with master teachers (L to R) Kelly Buwanda, Ellie Blanchat, Emily Meisner and Kay Gayner at the National Dance Institute Teacher Training.

The training is a two week-long workshop that gives participants hands on experience working directly with children. The workshop is led by renowned National Dance Institute instructors and is designed to deepen each participant’s understanding of the power of the arts in education.

This year, Ms. Blanchat teaches Houston Ballet After School Program (HBASP) classes and has shared some of her experiences from the training.

Describe your overall experience at the training program this year.

In the mornings we would work with kids in the NDI teaching pedagogy and choreography, and in the afternoons we spent time workshopping with the NDI Master Teachers. Each day we were given a task to work on with the kids, so that we could get some real time teaching experience using the NDI techniques. We spent a lot of time working on techniques to make classes flow easily, handle discipline in a positive way, and create interesting choreography. I learned so many valuable teaching tools, and enjoyed watching the children grow throughout the 2 weeks I was in New York.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned at the training?

The most valuable lesson I learned was how to create moments of accomplishment for each student in every class. At the end of an NDI class every student should feel successful. The teacher must create an atmosphere of positivity that encourages the dancers, and also expect excellence from each student. The key is really watching each child individually and finding out what success looks like for every one of them.

Ellie Blanchat teaching during this summer's , Jump, Jive, Move and Groove collaboration.

Ellie Blanchat teaching during Education and Community Engagement’s Jump, Jive, Move and Groove collaboration. Photo by Dancy Lukeman.

How will the training you received apply or be helpful when teaching Education and Community Engagement programs this year?

The HBASP program is based on the NDI pedagogy and techniques. Everything I learned in New York will directly apply with this ECE program; from the flow of the class and dance technique, to the choreography and final performance.

Ms. Blanchat is eager to put her new training to use as many of Houston Ballet’s Education and Community Engagement 2015-16 season programs began last week including the After School Program.

For more information on all of Education and Community Engagement’s programming visit:

https://www.houstonballet.org/Education-Community-Engagement/About-Us/.  

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Ballet and Comedy: The Taming of the Shrew Stager Jane Bourne

June 10, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

Knock knock? Who’s there… Houston Ballet! Houston Ballet will close its 14-15 season with the classic The Taming of the Shrew beginning June 11- 21, 2015. The Taming of the Shrew, is a masterful choreographic depiction of Shakespeare’s perpetually battling lovers, Petruchio and Katherina, and of Petruchio’s determination to bend the feisty, independent-spirited and tempestuous Katherina to his will.

Shrew_WebSlide

Here to discuss The Taming of the Shrew is stager Jane Bourne. Ms. Bourne began her career as a choreologist – the recording of dance movement through notation. She had worked closely on the notation scores of choreographer John Cranko, she began to travel to various companies to assist in staging classical performances for the past 30 years, staging five to seven performances a year.

What are some of the challenges the dancers face when dancing The Taming of the Shrew?

Corps de Ballet, the movements are not very challenging. Involving themselves within the performance is, they are not the set or decoration. They are an integral part of the story. Principals it takes more time to master.  I also have to teach comedy. Dancers are use to acting for drama and tragedy, where this piece is a comedy.

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

What’s your favorite part of the ballet?

I like it all! I enjoy teaching it, each couple who performs it, does it differently in their own way. Being in the studio with the dancers is what I love. Once onstage my job is done and it is then up to the dancers. Watching them is rewarding – watching them perform and how far they have come and will go. Cranko ballets are not dated, they move with time.

What is it like to work with Houston Ballet?

The company is of highest standards – always producing great results and very pleased. There are familiar faces from previous years such as Louise Lester and Steven Woodgate along with several others and new faces as well.

Connor Walsh; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Connor Walsh; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Anything else you would like to add for the readers?

Come and see! It’s really great fun, it’s Shakespeare! The dancers grow and give with each performance done!

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

What a great way to beat the heat this mid June by sitting back and enjoying a comedy classical ballet performance!

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From June 11-21, 2015, Houston Ballet will present John Cranko’s staging of The Taming of the Shrew, a masterful choreographic depiction of Shakespeare’s perpetually battling lovers, Petruchio and Katherina, and of Petruchio’s determination to bend the feisty, independent-spirited and tempestuous Katherina to his will. Incorporating a stunning array of dramatic moods, virtuoso dancing and vivid characterization, The Taming of the Shrew conveys like no other ballet Shakespeare’s wit, brilliant comic invention and sharp understanding of human character.  Houston Ballet will give seven performances of The Taming of the Shrew at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston.

Watch a preview of The The Taming of the Shrew:

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Zodiac Costumer Designer – Eduardo Sicangco

June 3, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

 

The stunning costumes and magical sets just appear for each performance, right? This thought might have crossed your mind a time or two but I am here to discuss the detailed thought process in the costume design process that took place for Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s world premiere of Zodiac. The company gets ready to perform its final 3 shows of Zodiac in a mixed repertory featuring works from some of the most talented choreographers called “Morris, Welch & Kylián” this weekend.

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh as Scorpio; Photo By Amitava Sarkar

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh as Scorpio; Photo By Amitava Sarkar

Here to discuss the design process for the Zodiac costumes is Costume and Set Designer Eduardo Sicangco (http://eduardosicangco.com/). As a young boy Sicangco was taken to costume fittings by his mother who was in the opera which is where the desire to become a costume designer emerged. “I was intrigued when they would take a house mother and turn her into a beautiful, stunning opera singer with the costumes” describes Sicangco.

Taurus (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Taurus (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

What was your inspiration for the ballet Zodiac?

I met with Stanton last year in New York for lunch. He asked me “Have you seen the movie 300?” – I have. From there I went to look at the book by Frank Miller and I thought to myself “They have no cloths, just loincloths. What is there to design?” Creating a new piece has its challenges because there is no reference; I am making something new that has not been seen. I then researched each Zodiac sign, asked to hear the music that gave me the sense of seeing lots of metal and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Greco Roman to take and look at photos intensively. I studied the hair, colors and physics. I began to sketch after doing much research that allowed the sketches to flow easier. This piece was to be very sensual and celebrates the physic of the dancers.

What is the significance in the costumes for this piece?

The costumes help set the mood and tone for the piece. The costumes celebrate the dancers physic and let the choreography come to life – they help support the choreography and story telling. The costumes transport the audience into the world of Zodiac, dancers turn into gods and demi-gods not just ordinary dancers. I wanted to make them look sexy and engaging on top of their natural beauty.

Virgo (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Virgo (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Do you have a favorite design out of all the signs?

Virgo female. It is very Asian and Greek style that is visually appealing and flowy.

After doing extensive research, how long did it take you to create the designs?

It took a while after the research was completed. Once the sketches are drawn, many changes take place because of the choreography. For example, the headpieces had to be changed to work with the dancers and the choreography because originally they were heavy. I had to be able to change, adapt and evolve my sketches. Some sketches worked the first time and others pieces had to be changed. The costumes are not final until the last dress rehearsal. It is the joy of creating a new piece.

The magic is revealed in the process in making costumes for a new piece, but not just any new piece – Zodiac.

Charles- Louis Yoshiyama and Aaron Sharratt as Gemini; Photo By Amitava Sarkar

Charles- Louis Yoshiyama and Aaron Sharratt as Gemini; Photo By Amitava Sarkar

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Houston Ballet’s Summer Repertory is powerhouse program, pairing two world-premieres with the revival of a twentieth century masterpiece. Modern dance legend Mark Morris creates his first work especially for Houston Ballet. Stanton Welch explores the twelve signs of the zodiac in a new piece set to a commissioned score by the distinguished Australian composer Ross Edwards.  Set to Stravinsky’s powerful score, Jiří Kylián’s Svadebka dramatizes the events of a Russian peasant wedding, performed with a live chorus.

For more information visit:

http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/Season-Calendar/Morris-Welch-Kylian/

Watch a preview of Zodiac

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The man behind the sounds of Zodiac: Ross Edwards

May 27, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

Aries? Taurus? Leo? Whatever your Zodiac sign might be, Houston Ballet has the perfect performance for you! Houston Ballet is proud to announce Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s world premiere of Zodiac. The company will perform Zodiac in a mixed repertory featuring works from some of the most talented choreographers called “Morris, Welch & Kylián” from May 28 – June 7, 2015.

MWK_Zodiac_WebSlide4

Have you ever wondered who composes the music for new pieces? Wonder no more; I am honored to introduce Ross Edwards, one of Australia’s best-known composers. His compositions range from symphonies, children’s music, film scores, opera, music for dance and several other genres of composition.

Ross Edwards; Photo by Bridget Elliot

Ross Edwards; Photo by Bridget Elliot

How did you get your start as a composer?

It happened more than 50 years ago when I was still a student. My teacher arranged a performance of one of my early works, the score of which has fortunately been lost, but it created considerable interest at the time and gave me a start. In 1980, I gave up a tenured teaching position at the Sydney Conservatorium to compose full-time and I’ve never looked back. (See my website www.rossedwards.com for a biography and list of works).

How did the score for Zodiac come about?

I had a call from choreographer Stanton Welch, a fellow Australian who had already created a ballet based on the score of my violin concerto, Maninyas. I saw a performance of it many years ago by the Singapore Dance Company and liked it a lot. Happily, it’s still very much in the repertoire. Stanton now proposed that I write him a specially commissioned score for a ballet based on the zodiac. It seemed an interesting idea, and after some thought I got back to him and agreed.

What research did you do before composing the Zodiac score?

I did a lot of research, narrowing down the information I found on each of the twelve signs to what I considered their essential characteristics to be interpreted musically. For example, Aries, the Ram, was “adventurous, competitive, aggressive, headstrong”; Taurus, the Bull, “warm-hearted, loving, and sensual”. And so on.

Corps de Ballet Madeline Skelly as Taurus; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Madeline Skelly as Taurus in Stanton Welch’s Zodiac; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

How are you trying to differentiate between each of the signs? Does each sign have its own theme or something to make it stand out?

Each sign has its own distinctive musical characteristics and the orchestral scoring for each reflects its individuality. For example, Aries is a tempestuous, driving dance scored for the full orchestral resources with some electronic effects mixed in, while Taurus is a limpid love duet, lightly scored, with harp accompaniment. Since the music for each of the signs is necessarily distinctive and there can be no thematic link, Stanton asked me to create a context in the form of eerie, psychic “bookends” – a Prelude, recurring at the end as a Postlude – to suggest that the intervening activity isn’t bound by natural laws.

How long did it take you to compose the score?

(Sigh)… as usual, much longer than anticipated. A forty minute orchestral score and piano reduction for rehearsal is no small task, especially as I compose with a pencil and ruled paper, later to be typeset. I had to work on other pieces at the same time in order to ensure all my deadlines were met – a constant juggling act.

What do you enjoy about working on commissioned works?

They all have a different kind of challenge. I’ve just completed a piece for two pianos and didgeridoo. Before that, a double concerto for alto saxophone and percussion, and now I’m doing a movement for a ballet to which several other composers are contributing. All quite different and all totally absorbing.

Ladies and gentlemen, your horoscope reading for today is: You do not want to miss this world premiere performance!

Check out a video of Zodiac

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From May 28 – June 7, 2015 Houston Ballet offers up a mixed repertory program titled Morris, Welch & Kylián featuring three of today’s most dynamic and musical choreographers. A world premiere of The Letter V by acclaimed American choreographer Mark Morris, the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s Zodiac and the revival of Jiří Kylián’s iconic Svadebka make this program a must-see for all ballet lovers. Zodiac is made possible through the generosity of Leticia Loya. Houston Ballet will give six performances of Morris, Welch & Kylián at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston.

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FREE Performance at Miller Outdoor Theater – This weekend only!

May 13, 2015

By: Kalyn Oden, PR Intern
Houston Ballet returned from its Canada tour ready to perform in Houston! The dancers are back in the studio preparing for this weekend’s three FREE performances of Giselle and Clear at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Giselle; Melody Mennite; photo by Amitava Sarkar

Giselle; Melody Mennite; photo by Amitava Sarkar

Here to express her excitement about performing Giselle for the first time is Principal Dancer Melody Mennite.

“At the end of my first year in Houston I had the pleasure of watching my two favorite Houston Ballet ballerinas rehearse and then perform the role of Giselle. Dawn Scannell and Barbara Bears always inspired me but watching them in this role was my favorite. I was 16 and I would go home to my apartment that I shared with 4 other girls and practice the mad scene in our bathroom… So, in earnest, I’ve been waiting in the wings (and as a Wili or peasant on the side) to get a chance at this role for fifteen years. To say I’m excited is an understatement,” Mennite cheerfully proclaims.

Miller Outdoor Theatre; photo by Leonel Nerio

Miller Outdoor Theatre; photo by Leonel Nerio

Giselle and Clear will run May 15-17, 2015 at 8 pm each evening. The famous ballet, Giselle is from the Romantic era and tells the story of a beautiful peasant girl who is deceived by the duplicitous Count Albrecht. The evening will open with Stanton Welch’s one-act ballet Clear, set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

Giselle; Artists of Houston Ballet; photo by Amitava Sarkar

Giselle; Artists of Houston Ballet; photo by Amitava Sarkar

While all performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre are free of charge, Houston Ballet’s performances of Giselle and Clear require tickets to the seated area. Tickets are available on the day of the performance from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Miller Theatre Box Office. Any tickets remaining are distributed one hour before curtain. There is a limit of four tickets per person. Please call 281.FREE.FUN (281-373-3386) for further ticket information or visit www.milleroutdoortheatre.com.

For casting information visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing-Schedule/GiselleClear-Casting/

Watch a clip of Houston Ballet performing Giselle

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