Discovering Stanton Welch’s THE NUTCRACKER (Part 1 of 3)

There are many behind-the-scenes aspects to consider when constructing a brand new full-length ballet. The first facet we’ll be discuss in this three-part blog series comes in the form of the company’s recent fundraising campaign, simply referred to here as “The Campaign for the New Nutcracker” This week we discuss the enduring generosity from our supporters, our partnership with Houston Methodist, and Nutcracker favorites with Campaign Chairman and Vice President of Development, Shawn Stephens.

Watch our video promo for Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker below:

“The Gift of Giving”

 There’s a lot riding on the success of every major American ballet company’s holiday tradition, The Nutcracker. It happens to be one of the most beloved stories in America and, typically, the first ballet experience for audiences of all ages. Houston is no exception to that convention.

The payoff from about two years of planning, designing, and building have helped produced a Nutcracker to last for generations. After the first week of world premiere performances, there’s no doubt that Stanton Welch’s latest full-length production—with designs by Tim Goodchild—is a tremendous gift to Houston, following Welch’s lavish production of Giselle at the end of the 2015/16 season.

The creation of large ballet productions is an expensive endeavor and would not be possible without the generosity of Houston Ballet’s esteemed board members and donors. Since its founding, the Houston community has proven to be incredibly supportive of the company, including a past fundraising campaign to fund the Houston Ballet’s first production of Giselle in 1967, and more recently, the “Dance With Us!” campaign launched in 2006 to make possible our beautiful home in the Center for Dance, one of the largest facility of its kind in America.

The construction of Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker couldn’t have been possible without the financial support of countless individuals and organizations. We are particularly honored by the strengthening of our relationship with longtime partner Houston Methodist. As the Official Health Care Provider of Houston Ballet, Houston Methodist has long been a valued contributor, especially in the elite medical care they provide to each of our company dancers and many of our Academy students and HBII dancers. The level of world-class care that Houston Methodist provides plays a vital role in keeping our dancers’ healthy and thriving year-round.

 The Nutcracker is a revered part of the holiday season in Houston, steeped in beloved family traditions for some audience members and the perfect opportunity to create new memories for ballet first-timers.

Shawn Stephens, Chairman of “The Campaign for the new Nutcracker,” commented on the transition from past to present with the future in mind saying, “You can’t leave behind the past traditions and choreography of The Nutcracker. That’s part of the charm of this ballet year after year: tradition. And that’s certainly part of Stanton’s vision, to keep it fresh as well as familiar.”

Stephens’s love of dance runs deep, with lessons at the age of four leading to many years of serious  study. Though she chose another professional  path, her commitment to furthering dance never wavered. During law school, she participated in classes through our adult  program. Later, she joined the Houston Ballet Guild and has since taken on many leadership roles including President of the Houston Ballet Guild, Nutcracker Market Chairman, Houston Ballet Ball Chairman, and Vice President of Development. She’s been an ongoing member of the Houston Ballet Board of Trustees since 1995, and currently serves on the Executive Committee.

Supporting a new production, especially such a cherished classic, is a leap of faith. In conversation Stephens recalled her admiration for Stanton Welch’s previous full-length visions:

My first experience with a Stanton Welch story ballet was Madame Butterfly. The set is almost a character of the show. It’s phenomenal because the set is both simple and grand and helps to advance the story. My family and I were also able to accompany Houston Ballet on its recent Australian tour of Welch’s Romeo and Juliet. That production alone lets you know that Stanton and his team are capable of putting this huge endeavor together.

The costumes and sets in Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker are undeniably opulent, with exquisite attention to detail. This type of enduring quality requires considerable resources. “You can’t do something on the scale of this without a lot of support on all sides,” acknowledged Stephens. “You need money to pay for the new sets and effects, and it is expensive. It takes so many events and people working together before opening night.”

“The Campaign for the New Nutcracker” helped galvanize support from more than 200 donors. We’re honored to have the collective support of our presenting sponsor Houston Methodist, our Board of Trustees, the Houston Ballet Guild, and the unique individual support from parents of Houston Ballet Academy students involved in The Nutcracker, among many others.”

Stephens was quick to recognize the broad and sustained effort needed to make this campaign successful:

There are so many groups of people to thank! Early leadership support from a number of generous arts philanthropists such as Anne and Albert Chao, the Elkins Foundation, and The Beauchamp Foundation fueled the creative and logistical process required to stage a brand new version of such a powerhouse holiday classic. Board Chairman Phoebe and Bobby Tudor as well as Board President Allison and Troy Thacker offered generous matching funds sparking many others’ generosity. On top of their significant existing commitments, The Houston Ballet Guild organized a fundraising drive among its members to successfully underwrite the Sugar Plum Fairy costume. Longtime partner Houston Methodist became our first-ever presenting sponsor. The Texas Commission on the Arts provided significant underwriting and marketing support to help us attract more out-of-town ticket buyers. And of course, many parents of Houston Ballet Academy students generously underwrote a number of charming children’s costumes. The support of the parents is such a terrific way to salute what their children are doing here.

This year, Houston Methodist generously serves as our first-ever Presenting Sponsor of Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker. Houston Methodist has generously provided extraordinary financial support to underwrite the new sets and costumes on top of the priceless medical care and services their physicians and staff members provide each of our dancers on a daily basis. Their commitment to Houston Ballet sets a new standard for arts philanthropy in Houston.

And the result of so much generosity? Fresh, unique ballet magic to last for ages. Stephens affirmed that “all of the funds raised were well spent. It’s a real holiday treat for the city, the region. I’m confident that it’ll remain a delight for years to come, gloriously offered by Houston Ballet year after year. Everything in this production enhances the storytelling, so undeniably it is money well-invested.”

“The Campaign for the New Nutcracker” and the resulting production have Stephens beaming with pride and joy. “I even included a special insert in our annual Christmas card to celebrate this lovely world premiere,” she gleefully admitted. “I want all my friends and family to be a part of its premiere season.”

In fact, Stephens has underwritten the construction for one classic character’s costume. “I knew I wanted to underwrite the Snow Queen costume in honor of my friends and family,” Stephens remarked. “I saw the sketch and thought it was absolutely beautiful. I love the Tchaikovsky score of that specific scene too! This new crown is particularly stunning.”

Regal and graceful, the Snow Queen in Welch’s The Nutcracker tenderly greets Clara and the Nutcracker Prince after their battle with the Rat King and invites them into the Land of the Sweets. She’s been recreated for this production in a gossamer white dress with a long glittering train and immaculate icicle crown; wardrobe expenses that couldn’t have been spared. Thanks to Stephens’ particular contribution, this new visionary Snow Queen design was completed in full.

The behind-the-scenes financial support is often the first step to get a ballet production formed. “The Campaign for the New Nutcracker” has made an enormous and long-lasting impact. From all of us at Houston Ballet, we thank the many supporters for their time, generosity, and dedication in bringing Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker to life!

Artists of Houston Ballet, HBII, and Houston Ballet Academy. Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.


Tickets for Houston Ballet performances of The Nutcracker are on sale now by phone or online at our website with performances running until Tuesday December 27.

Be on the look out for the continuation of this three-part blog series here at ‘En Pointe’  about Stanton Welch’s The Nutcracker which runs at the Wortham Center until December 27. Next week we’re getting the insider’s view of this new production from two of our stellar company dancers!

Written by Development & PR/Marketing of Houston Ballet


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