The Road to Montréal

Guest writer: Jim Nelson, general manager

Houston Ballet’s performances of Madame Butterfly in Montréal mark the second round of exchanges between the two companies. Previously, Houston Ballet presented Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal at the Cullen Theater in 2005 with Ohad Naharin’s ballet Minus One, and the following spring, Houston Ballet performed the classic Giselle on Les Grands’ 2005-2006 season.  The model of reciprocal exchange is one of the innovative ways Houston Ballet and Les Grands are keeping large-scale touring of dance alive.  Following our performances here over the next three days, Houston Ballet will again present Les Grands in Houston in November 2008 as part of Houston Ballet’s Cullen Series.  They will perform Didy Veldman’s TooT and Stijn Celis’ Noces.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008
While the crew is busy loading in the Butterfly production at Place des Arts, the dancers’ journey north starts with airport bus-calls at 8:00 am from Houston Ballet Academy to IAH.  As there are no direct flights between Houston and Montréal and as Continental Airlines (the official airline of HB) has only smaller aircraft going into YUL with our routing, getting the company to Canada requires a stopover and two separate itineraries.  Half of the group travels through Cleveland and the other half travels through Newark.  Luckily we had no delays and both groups arrive on time (5:30 and 6:15).

The evening is free to recover from the travel day and rest up for the marathon day on Thursday.  Oliver Halkowich, the company’s resident foodie, lead a group of dancers to Le Club Chasse et Peche, while Ballet Mistress Louise Lester and I head to Au Pied de Cochon.  Both groups return with raves for the local fare.

Thursday, May 01, 2008
Thursday morning starts with a master class given by Ballet Master Steven Woodgate to local dance students at Ballet Divertimento.  To deepen our impact on the communities we visit, Houston Ballet provides at least one master class in each city we tour to.  This was the first of two Montréal master classes arranged by our presenter, Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal and US Consulate General. 

                  

The dancers start their day with company class at noon at Place des Arts followed by their one and only dress rehearsal from 2:30-5:30.

7:00 PM
In a similar format to Houston Ballet’s Dance Talks series, Stanton Welch participates in a pre-performance lecture/discussion about the creation of Madame Butterfly.  I’m impressed with the sophistication and insight of the questions from the audience.  Montréal obviously loves and supports dance, and they are very complimentary of Houston Ballet.

8:00 PM, opening performance
The company, lead by principals Amy Fote and Ian Casady as Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton, danced beautifully.  The audience response in Montréal is quite reserved throughout performances compared to Houston audiences where they respond after solos or pas de deux.  Here they generally wait until the end of the act to respond.  I noticed this when we were here performing Giselle.  Obviously the audience loved Madame Butterfly—they jumped out of their seats and gave the company a standing ovation!

I managed to sneak in a few shots from backstage before the performance:

Friday, May 02, 2008
This morning, Ballet Mistress Louise Lester taught the second master class at École supérieure de ballet contemporain de Montréal.

This afternoon the dancers have a couple hours of rehearsal after company class, and tonight Mimi Hassenboehler and Nicholas Leschke dance Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton. Tomorrow night, Melody Herrera and Connor Walsh have their first full performance of the ballet.

From all accounts, the company is having a great time here in Montréal, and we hope to come back soon.

-Jim

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