Guest writer: Andrew Edmonson, director of marketing and public relations
Houston Ballet’s dancers are leaping towards the conclusion of our 2009-2010 season. Instead of a leisurely stroll around the home stretch, the company is engaged in an all-out sprint to the finish line on June 20, performing seven ballets, in three venues, in two different states, over the next seven weeks.
First up on the calendar is an annual rite of spring for the company: three free performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre Friday, May 7 – Sunday, May 9. This year, Stanton has put together a stellar program that showcases the contemporary side of the company’s repertoire: Nacho Duato’s modern classic Jardí Tancat (literal translation: Enclosed Garden), set to the haunting Spanish folk songs of Marie del Mar Bonet; Twyla Tharp’s groundbreaking work In the Upper Room that takes its audience on an exalted journey from earth to a more transcendent space; and Stanton’s beautifully classical work for five couples to the music of Mozart, Falling. Take a peak at Stanton’s Falling on Youtube.
From May 27 – June 6, the company returns to Wortham Theater Center to present Pecos, a mixed repertory program featuring the company premiere of George Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina. A very special style is required to perform Balanchine’s works. Our dancers have been blessed to be taught and coached in Ballo by the legendary American ballerina Merrill Ashley, who not only had the good fortune to work with Balanchine from 1967 to 1983, but also created the leading female role in Ballo in 1978.
“Balanchine always seemed to take special delight in challenging me with difficult steps, and since he knew I excelled at moving quickly, he decided to make that the feature of Ballo – virtuoso steps at high speed,” commented Ms. Ashley. “He highlighted all my strengths in Ballo, giving me a ballet that not only was challenging and fun to dance, but one that gave me the opportunity to communicate the joy of dance, which was my favorite mood to express on stage. Ballo epitomizes the essence of the technique that he advocated, as it requires extreme precision, clarity, speed, and expansive movement. Dancers who are not trained in the Balanchine style are always startled to find how much easier the steps are when they use the technique Balanchine advocated. His choreography is constructed with the idea that the steps will be done as he would have taught them. That is what makes the angles of the steps look best, and what makes the transitions from step-to-step possible at high speeds.”
For more information on Ms. Ashley and her amazing career, read a 1997 interview with her in The New York Times discussing her special link to Balanchine, and the 1997 review of her final performance with New York City Ballet detailing so many of the qualities that audience adored about her.
A very different balletic style is required to perform the works of Sir Frederick Ashton, whose 1960 masterpiece La Fille mal gardée closes Houston Ballet’s season on June 10-20. The English critic Alastair Macaulay has observed, “The ballet style shown in Ashton’s ballets is a particularly intricate one, with upper and lower body maintaining a lively activity, and many internal embellishments of head, arms, épaulement and footwork.” Two experts in the Ashton style have been in Houston helping our dancers to prepare to perform Fille: Englishman Christopher Carr, a former dancer and ballet master with London’s Royal Ballet, and Australian Grant Coyle, principal dance notator to The Royal Ballet.
There will be no rest for the weary. The weekend after Fille opens, ten Houston Ballet dancers will hop on a plane to Washington, D.C. to perform Stanton’s work, Falling, for the prestigious national ballet festival, Ballet Across America II, at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Houston Ballet was a part of the very successful first installment of Ballet Across America in 2008 and is very happy to make its 8th appearance at The Kennedy Center. Houston Ballet opens the festival Tuesday, June 15 and Wednesday, June 16 on a program with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre.
Then the ten dancers who performed in Ballet Across America will rush back to Houston for the final four performances of Fille June 18 – 20. And then, it’s off to a very well-deserved long summer break for most of the company.