Archive for the ‘Artistic’ Category

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Behind the Scenes of Aladdin: Christopher Gray Flies High as the Djinn of the Lamp

February 28, 2014

Christopher Gray and Artists of Houston Ballet

Christopher Gray as the Djinn (Genie) with artists of Houston Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

-by Stephanie Brown, Public Relations Intern

David Bintley’s Aladdin, which continues in performance through Sunday, March 2, has a way of enchanting the audience with beautiful, unique props and exquisite, colorful costumes. I had the honor of attending Aladdin on opening night, and I swear I was under some mystifying spell; each intermission was a startling call back to reality. I didn’t want it to end! What was even more exciting was the chance I had to go backstage at Wortham Theater Center and see the props up close and personal. Below are some photos for your viewing pleasure!

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Behind the scenes shots by Stephanie Brown

One of my favorite characters in Aladdin was the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie), and demi soloist Christopher Gray danced his heart out. I was intrigued by his experience in creating his own version of the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie), so we asked a few questions about the role.

Watch video of Christopher Gray as the Djinn in Aladdin.

Houston Ballet: Tell us about dancing as the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie). What are the most challenging aspects? What are the most exciting?

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Christopher Gray; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Christopher Gray: Hands down, one of the most challenging things is that some of the magical reveals were hidden in set pieces for long periods of time before some pretty difficult dancing.  So it’s the opposite of what you would normally do, which is to stay moving, keep yourself loose and then go out and dance. Being crouched down in a small space before having to dance is pretty difficult.

For the most exciting thing, this is my third time flying in ballet, and I always love doing that. The audience always really appreciates it. On opening night during the first scene with the levitation, everybody applauded. It was great! So that’s always exciting for me. It’s a challenge as well because you’re at the mercy of the wire when you’re up there. There’s not too much you can do to keep yourself from spinning or swinging, so it’s learning how to do those small adjustments without putting yourself in a counter rotation.

Houston Ballet:  Explain your wardrobe. How do you feel about being painted completely blue?

Christopher Gray:  Fortunately, it’s not completely blue. I don’t have to paint my legs. This in terms of ballet costumes is not so difficult to dance in, which I always like. Sometimes we have pounds and pounds of clothing and wigs we have to deal with, so this is relatively simple. [I wear] just a small vest and baggy pants

Aladdin César MoralesPrincess Badr al-Budur Nao SakumaThe Mahgrib Iain MackayThe Djinn of the Lamp Tzu-Chao ChouAladdin’s Mother Marion TaitThe Sultan, the Princess’s father Jonathan PaynAladdin’s Friends James Barton, Mathias Dingman

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Bill Cooper

Any time you don’t feel constricted by a costume, which I don’t because there are even shirtless scenes for me, it’s a lot easier to deal with. I prefer pants over tights any day of the week! In terms of wigs, Amanda, our wig and makeup person, has done a great job of making a wig that fits really flush to our heads. We just have a little bit of hair, like a top knot pony tail, which I don’t feel impedes my ability to turn and it doesn’t knock me off center, which is often a problem with costumes.

Being painted blue is hard. I’m there around 6:15 for a 7:30 start time.  And that includes not even being on stage until a good 40 minutes into the first act. Overall, I face about an hour and a half worth of body makeup, face makeup, and wigs. It’s difficult and, once again, the opposite of how you would want to get ready for a show…you know, standing there half naked for an hour and a half. I do throw warm-up clothes back on top, but you don’t want to sweat the makeup off. It’s a fine line you have to deal with. I’m getting pretty used to being painted, though. I think this is my third or fourth color!

Houston Ballet:  What do you do to get in character for the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie)?

Christopher Gray:  As the body makeup and especially face makeup and wig come along, I feel like that’s part of my transformation. We have these wicked eyebrows and drag queen style makeup.  So it’s hard not to look at yourself with a little bit of humor when you see the character staring back at you.

If anything, the one thing that I have been doing is going over the mime section to try to create an aura of power, confidence, mystery, and a little bit of humor as well. Trying to work the fake eyebrows has been fun. As the shows progress, you find more time and space for that on stage and then the character grows from there.

Artists of Houston Ballet

Artists of Houston Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet:  What do you like about the props and costumes for Aladdin?

Christopher Gray:  One of my favorites is probably the most simple: the lamp that lights up. I think it’s very effective on stage. Those few times Aladdin lifts it up and then there’s a big crescendo in the music when it turns on and starts glowing…I think that’s fantastic! Also, the magic carpet is done really well.

I wish I could see the show from the front, but unfortunately that’s not in the cards for me. The lion dance in the second act is a big crowd favorite, and I also dance the head portion of the lion. It’s a lot of fun to do that. It does pose a problem because it’s difficult to hear the music, though. When you start shaking the head all you hear is rattling!

You can see Chris Gray dance the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie) in Aladdin on Friday, February 28 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, March 1 at 7:30 pm.

Houston Ballet continues its performances of Aladdin through Sunday, March 2 at 2:00 pm at Wortham Theater Center.  For tickets and more information, visit:  https://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Aladdin/

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Making Musical Magic in Aladdin

February 18, 2014

Aladdin César Morales Princess Badr al-Budur Nao Sakuma The Mahgrib Iain Mackay The Djinn of the Lamp Tzu-Chao Chou Aladdin’s Mother Marion Tait The Sultan, the Princess’s father Jonathan Payn Aladdin’s Friends James Barton, Mathias Dingman
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; Aladdin; Bill Cooper

Composer Carl Davis, who is highly acclaimed in the fields of film and musicals, has written numerous ballet, TV and film scores. (His score for The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1981  won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.)  Mr. Davis worked with English choreographer David Bintley to create the score for Mr. Bintley’s three-act magical ballet Aladdin. Houston Ballet will present the American premiere of Aladdin February 20-March 2, 2014 at Wortham Theater Center. In this blog entry, Mr. Davis talks about the evolution of his score for Aladdin, the strict demands of writing scores for films, and his genial collaboration with Mr. Bintley.


1. How has the score for
Aladdin evolved? 

Aladdin was composed for an earlier production, that of the Scottish Ballet in 2000 as a possible answer to finding an alternative to The Nutcracker for its Christmas seasons. In the case of that production the answer was “no” as the company ceased to exist in its large scale form by the following year. The score for Aladdin, until its new production by David Bintley for the National Ballet of Japan in 2008, seemed to be consigned to oblivion.

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Music Composer Carl Davis

I decided to rescue it by making a recording of the score which coincided with my composition of a new score for David Bintley’s Cyrano ballet in 2005. He responded very positively to the music and, given the nature of the subject, thought it would be suitable when he took up directorship of the National Ballet of Japan. He asked me to re-score certain sections, particularly Aladdin’s flight from the bath house and his subsequent capture and trial. We also had a change of context for the Emerald Variation in Act I.  In the 2000 version I wryly interpreted the number as meaning green with envy. The revised music was nearer to ‘The Jungle Book’.

2. Can you describe the give and take of the collaborative process between choreographer and composer when creating a new narrative ballet?

Every experience is different. David and I laughed and chatted a lot, a real party experience. The real difference in this collaboration was that, unlike composing the Cyrano ballet where I started from David’s scenario, in Aladdin David bought into an already composed score. I am amazed by how much he kept.

But even the new sections had an evolved process. First I had to understand why we were making the changes, and it was generally that he suggested a different attitude towards that particular moment. And, there were some changes in the order of some of the numbers.

 

Aladdin César Morales Princess Badr al-Budur Nao Sakuma The Mahgrib Iain Mackay The Djinn of the Lamp Tzu-Chao Chou Aladdin’s Mother Marion Tait The Sultan, the Princess’s father Jonathan Payn Aladdin’s Friends James Barton, Mathias Dingman

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; Aladdin; Bill Cooper

3. You have created orchestra works, scores for films and television, and scores for ballet. How is composing a score for ballet unique?

With film music you are given a strictly controlled time framework which you then fill with music, rather like painting by numbers. But generally other than contemporary dance where the movement may not be related to the music at all, in ballet the music has to be composed first and all inspiration for the movement is derived from it.

4. Anything else that you feel is significant about your artistic experience creating the score for Aladdin.

Aladdin was conceived as popular family entertainment based on a story from the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ and familiar to the public through reading, theatre (Aladdin is Great Britain’s most favourite pantomime –  an arcane mixture of fairy tale, pop songs, and topical gags). I felt free to be as eclectic musically as I wished. After all my subject was composed in medieval Persia, set in China, with an excursion via flying carpet to Morocco. And the magic lamp is pure sci-fi. That gave me many options.

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From February 20-March 2, 2014, Houston Ballet presents the North American Premiere of David Bintley’s Aladdin, the first work by the celebrated English choreographer to enter Houston Ballet’s repertoire. A run-in with palace guards leads young Aladdin into a whirlwind of adventure and romance, involving unbelievable riches, love at first sight, treachery, and of course a magic lamp containing a powerful genie. Tickets start at $19, and may be purchased at www.houstonballet.org or by calling Houston Ballet box office at 713 227 2787, or 1800 828 2787.

Watch a preview of Aladdin here—

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All About “The Nutcracker” – Q&A with Corps de Ballet dancer Derek Dunn

December 19, 2013

-by Kassandra Tak, Marketing/Public Relations Intern

Houston Ballet First Year Corps de Ballet Dancer Derek Dunn, took some time to share his thoughts about dancing the roles of Fritz and the Gopak in The Nutcracker, running November 29 – December 29, 2013 at Wortham Theater Center. An interesting fact about Mr. Dunn is that he was awarded a Gold medal in the Senior Division at the 2012 Youth America Grand Prix.

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Dancer Headshot: Derek Dunn; Photo: Amitava Sarkar


Q. What was your first role in The Nutcracker? How did you feel? 

A. My first ever role in the Nutcracker was a party boy when I was only 6 years old. At that age, I was just excited to be onstage any chance I got. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to act onstage, and since the party scene is filled with lots of acting, this role was very enjoyable for me.

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Dancer: Derek Dunn; Ballet: Clear; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Q. What roles were you cast in for the 2012 Nutcracker performances? How did you feel playing this character?

A. That year, I was given the opportunity to perform the role of Gopak. Although the solo is short, it’s filled with big jumps and turns, and is full of excitement. I had to be very energetic and involved with the audience. The music is fast, which really helped me get my adrenaline flowing. That being my first year in the company, I felt very privileged to perform this role, and I had a lot of fun with it.

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Derek Dunn in rehearsals at Houston Ballet Center for Dance; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Q. What role(s) are you playing for this 2013 Nutcracker season? 

A. Throughout our run of The Nutcracker, I get to play multiple different roles, including Fritz, Soldier Doll, Chinese, Mirliton, Spanish, and Gopak.

Q. Which role are you looking forward to playing? And why?

A. I am most looking forward to dancing the role of Fritz. When I was younger, I was given the opportunity to dance that role, so returning to perform Fritz again at an older age is something that I find very enjoyable. I get to bring out my youthful side, through acting and dancing around the stage. I always find theatrical characters to be a lot of fun because it forces you to act in ways that you may not act like in real life.

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Dancers: Nozomi Iijima, Christopher Gray and Artists of Houston Ballet; Ballet: The Nutcracker (Act One) Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Q. Which act in The Nutcracker is your favorite? And why?

A. Although I love the whole ballet, I really enjoy the first act of The Nutcracker. In the first act, you get a sense of the whole story. Clara is given a magical Nutcracker that enters her dreams and takes her to extraordinary places. The second act is amazing for the amount of diverse dancing it shows, but I really enjoy the set up of the story-line in the first act. In a way, the second act is like a conclusion to the story, but the first act has many different scenes that take you on a journey with Clara.

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Houston Ballet performs Ben Stevenson’s staging of The Nutcracker, featuring spectacular scenery and costumes by Desmond Heeley, November 29 – December 29 at Wortham Theater Center.  For tickets and more information, visit http://www.houstonballet.org/TheNutcracker/ or call 713 227 2787 Monday – Friday 9 am – 6 pm.

Watch a video preview of The Nutcracker:  

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All About “The Nutcracker” – Q&A with Soloist Nao Kusuzaki

December 9, 2013

–by  Kassandra Tak, Marketing/Public Relations Intern

With the holidays around the corner, Houston Ballet’s Soloist, Nao Kusuzaki, took some time to share her thoughts about The Nutcracker, running November 29 – December 29 at Wortham Theater Center. Ms. Kusuzaki joined Houston Ballet in 2004 and she has danced a variety of roles since becoming a Soloist in 2008.

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Nao Kusuzaki; Photo by Pam Francis

Q. What was your first role in The Nutcracker? How did you feel?

A.  My first Nutcracker roles, with Boston Ballet, included Marzipan, Waltz of Flowers, Snowflakes, and party scene parent. I remember looking forward to this time of the season. I grew up being involved in this production as a student, and dreamed of one day dancing next to dancers I looked up to in the company. In the early years with the company, I performed in nearly 50 shows, which I did not mind.

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Nao Kusuzaki as Clara’s Mother and Artists of Houston Ballet; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Q. What roles were you cast in for the 2012 Nutcracker performances?

A. I danced the Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Mirlitons, and Clara’s Mother.

Q. How did you feel playing Snow Queen?

A. The snow queen stands at the apex, commanding the transformation from the Battle Scene to the Snow Scene and taking everyone into her world. I enjoy portraying this confident, warm, regal woman. Although it is physically demanding, I imagine what the audience is experiencing in this moment, possibly for the first time, and it sets me free.

The Nutcracker Artists of Houston Ballet

Artists of Houston Ballet; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Q.  What role(s) are you playing for this 2013 Nutcracker season?

A. I will be dancing the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Arabian, Waltz of Flowers, Mirlitons, and Clara’s Mother.

Q. Which role are you looking forward to playing? And why?

A. One of the things that make The Nutcracker interesting is having the various roles to rotate throughout the run. For me, I particularly look forward to dancing the Sugarplum Fairy.  I enjoy the challenge for its pure classical technique, as well as in working to embody effortlessness, refinement, elegance and generosity–all of the qualities I envisioned as a young girl in the Sugarplum Fairy. Although I admit that hearing The Nutcracker music outside of the theater during the holiday season, especially after a two-show day, can be overwhelming. I look forward to dancing to this Tchaikovsky score. I think the music in Snow Scene and The Sugarplum pas de deux are so beautifully romantic and emotionally charged. This year, yet again, I’m inspired.

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Artists of Houston Ballet; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Q. Which act in The Nutcracker is your favorite? And why?

A. My favorite to watch is the transformation from the Battle Scene into the Snow Scene and until the end of Act I. I cannot get over the dramatic change, which unfolds as Clara kills the King Rat. In a flash the soldiers disappear, the mice escape, the Nutcracker turns into a Prince, Clara is in a Land of Snow where a Snow Queen welcomes her in, and the mood of the music is changed in a matter of seconds. Then, from this calmness reminiscent of first snowfall of the year, the scene builds up yet again. This time with many dancing snowflakes, they create a soaring snow storm, leading Clara’s way to the Kingdom of the Sweets.

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Houston Ballet performs Ben Stevenson’s staging of The Nutcracker, featuring spectacular scenery and costumes by Desmond Heeley, November 29 – December 29 at Wortham Theater Center. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.houstonballet.org/TheNutcracker/ or call 713 227 2787 Monday – Friday 9 am – 6pm.

Watch a video preview of The Nutcracker

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Congratulations To Houston Ballet’s Ballerina Bride, Melody Mennite

November 22, 2013

You may now kiss the bride!

On October 5, 2013, in Houston, Texas, Houston Ballet principal dancer Melody Mennite and Rick Walsh started a new chapter in their life as husband and wife. Please join me in congratulating the happy couple! In this blog entry, Melody shares the precious moments of her wedding and what’s to come of the future.

Melody will dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker on November 30 (matinee), December 8 (evening), December 23 (evening), December 26 (evening), and December 28 (matinee).

Melody Mennite Wedding Photo 1 - Jaime L.

Mr. and Mrs. Rick and Melody Walsh; Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Planning a wedding isn’t easy…and on top of that as a principal dancer you are busy year round. What sort of things did you have to consider when it came to your wedding date?

We really had to plan it around when the company was on break. October is a fairly mild month in Houston, and since I wanted to be able to be outside, it just seemed like the right option. (Plus it was either that or wait all the way until next summer, and I was too excited to wait that long!)

October 5, 2013…guests have arrived, love is in the air, and cameras are ready…..tell us about your wedding day.

It was so special… First of all, almost all of my family has never come to Houston (and I’ve been here 13 years!). There was a moment where it hit me that they were here and we were all together and Rick just had to hold me as I cried. So many happy tears that weekend…

Melody Mennite Wedding Photo 2 - Jaime L.

Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

The actual day of was a little crazy. But great. All our friends and family were so helpful and present and we just kept saying “this is so perfect”. At one point when all my girls and I were getting ready, I hid in the shower because I had to finish a letter to Rick. The room was so full of energy and life (and people, haha!) that the shower was the only place I could think quietly. I can say that one of my favorite things about our wedding was how all the players (from photography, to music, to food, to attire, etc…) were people we know and love. It made every detail and moment so dear to us both. I can’t imagine being any happier with everything about that day. 

Did it take place in Houston or somewhere else?

It was at The Gardens of Bammel Lane in Houston, Texas.

Melody Mennite Wedding Photo 2 - Jaime L.

Mr. and Mrs. Rick and Melody Walsh; Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Tell us about your prince charming?

Rick is the true and pure meaning of the word “gentleman”. He is not only heart achingly handsome, but deeply caring and thoughtful. When I met him, I recognized immediately that I was meeting someone rare, honest, and extraordinary. I am tremendously blessed and honored to be the wife of such a beautiful person. He is the best man I’ve ever known.

Melody Wedding 4 Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

When, where and how did you two meet?

Well, Rick is the older brother of Houston Ballet Principal dancer Joseph Walsh. So it was Joe that introduced us, at his old apartment, when Rick was in town visiting him years ago.

Describe your husband in 3 words or less.

Compassionate, selfless, intelligent

Melody Mennite and Rick Walsh

Mr. and Mrs. Rick and Melody Walsh

When you are on stage, is he in the audience? Are there any particular roles he enjoys you dancing in?

He says his favorite roles so far have been me as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Wendy in Peter Pan, and Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly. He says he especially enjoyed watching Joe and I perform Coppelia together. (which we did this Spring 2013 on a guesting in Louisiana). He said, “I like Coppelia. Because I don’t like seeing you die all the time…”

Melody Mennite in Romeo and JulietMelody Mennite in Romeo and Juliet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

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Houston Ballet Hosts Free Dance Talk on Thursday, Dec. 5: Dance Magazine Editor-at-Large Wendy Perron gives book reading

November 19, 2013

On Thursday, December 5 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm, Houston Ballet will host the next installment of its FREE Dance Talks discussion series featuring Dance Magazine Editor at Large Wendy Perron at Houston Ballet Center for Dance, 601 Preston Street, Houston 77002.

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Wendy Perron: Editor-at-Large, Dance Magazine

Ms. Perron will read from her new book Through the Eyes of a Dancer, and be interviewed by Nancy Wozny, editor in chief of Arts + Culture Texas, about her celebrated career as a modern dancer and choreographer as well as the topic of her new book:  dance writing from the perspective of a dancer. After the discussion, Ms. Perron will sign copies of her book. For more info, contact CCobb@houstonballet.org.

Dance Talk Website: http://www.houstonballet.org/Education_Outreach/Dance_Talks/

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Houston Ballet’s New York Tour: A Dancer’s Perspective

November 13, 2013

From October 22 – 27, 2013, Houston Ballet returned to The Joyce Theater in New York City. Corps de ballet member Harper Watters shares the highlights of the trip for him, including guerilla photo shoots in Greenwich Village with acclaimed dance photographer Jordan Matter.

1. What was one of your favorite moments about the tour?

Houston Ballet had the privilege of working with guerrilla dance photographer Jordan Matter. He is most well known for sending dancers out into everyday scenarios and having them strike athletic positions. This is exactly what the dancers of Houston Ballet did. My shoot was in Greenwich Village with demi soloist Soo Cho and soloist Nao Kusuzaki.

Jordan Matter - Harper Watters, Soo Youn Cho, and Nao Kusuzaki

Photo by Jordan Matter; Dancers: Harper Watters, Nao Kusuzaki, Soo Youn Cho

After watching Soo scale the steps and railing of a beautiful brown stone home, our second location was a busy intersection with the brand new Freedom Tower as the back drop. As the girls and I hit our pose pretending to hale a cab in arabesque and Jordan lay in the middle of the street to capture the moment, I was suddenly hit with a rush of adrenaline. It was such a thrilling moment to be in the middle of New York City dancing and being photographed. As cabs wizzed by and onlookers began taking pictures you couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment.

Other dancers who were photographed took pictures down in the subway, in the middle of times square, and even in the fountain of Washington Square Park. The whole experience provided memories I will never forget.

2. Was this your first tour with Houston Ballet? Tell us about your experience.

This was my first tour with Houston Ballet, and it was definitely an incredible way to start my touring experience by heading to the center of the arts world, New York City.

The minute you drive into the city you can’t help but feel immersed by the culture of the city. The pace is definitely much faster than what we’re used to in Texas, so it amplified our excitement to get out on stage and perform. In true New York fashion, we were thrown right into our busy schedule. The first day we had class, then a dress rehearsal, then our first show later that night.

The response was overwhelming and it was made even more special by the attendance of familiar Houston Ballet faces and past Houston dancers and ballet stagers. Over all this tour was a success and we firmly left our footprint in New York.

3. What was it like to perform in the Joyce Theater?

This was my first time ever attending the Joyce Theater, but I am certain that it will definitely not be my last. It might not be the grandest of theaters in scale, but what it lacks in size in makes up for in its artistic reputation.

Joyce Banner 2013 HB

Photo Courtesy of Houston Ballet

Just like when you enter the city, when you enter the Joyce, you immediately feel the presence of the past companies who have graced the stage. Companies such as Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, and Mark Morris have brought their greatest works to the stage, inspiring Houston Ballet to bring their most thought provoking and contemporary choreography. It’s an incredibly intimate venue, where you can easily hear the murmur of the crowd when they are wowed by a lift or moved by a gesture. You can’t help but feel like a part of something special when you perform at the Joyce.

4. Did you have time in between to visit any attractions in NYC? If so, which ones?

Unfortunately due to the number of rehearsals and performances that we had, it was really difficult to make it to any New York attractions. Aside from a pizza shop or seeing Orlando Bloom walk out of the stage door of Romeo and Juliet, there wasn’t much site seeing. However, a few of the dancers did stumble upon what some would call a New York attraction, and that was the graffiti art of Banksy.

All month long the British Artist began going borough to borough painting random images in the least expecting of places. Normally his work sells for thousands of dollars, but with NYC as his canvas, he painted on the wall of a laundromat an image of a young girl bashing a pre-existing fire hydrant and on a street corner an image of a man spray painting “I love NY”. Once he would paint his image at night, an instagram photo would appear on his website giving little armies of people clues on how to go see it. It was a treat to be able to witness a few in real life and only added to the artistic experience Houston Ballet was a part of at the Joyce.

NYC Bansky Art

Photo Courtesy of Harper Watters

5. How was opening night? Where you on stage or in the audience?

Opening night was a huge success. I was in the audience which made the evening that much more gratifying. As the theater slowly emptied out into the lobby after the show, there was a constant murmur of conversations going on and on about how much they enjoyed the evening. One woman said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the beauty of Pacific and one couple could not stop discussing the different dance genres that were showcased in the finale of Play. On a personal level, I was really touched by Twilight and was so pleased to see that it received such an excited response.

The 3 other ballets on the program I was with in or covered, so when Twilight was performed in NY, it was the first time I had seen the pas. It is really a testament to the choreographer, Ben Stevenson, that something created over 10 years ago can still have such an emotional impact on audiences today. There was no denying the strength, grace, and technique the pas de deux required and it felt great to know that New York truly appreciated past Houston Ballet, Ben Stevenson, and the Houston Ballet of today featuring the world’s leading choreographers and our artistic Director Stanton Welch.

The night appropriately ended with a champagne toast, and kind words from the representatives of The Joyce Theater. The evening was poignantly summed up by the head of the Joyce when he said, “This time of year is Fall, and it is the most beautiful time in New York. However, tonight, New York Falls for Houston Ballet.”

6. What was the funniest things that happened to you or someone on the tour?

One of the funniest things I experienced on tour was during the photo shoot with Jordan Matter. My photo session had just ended and another group of dancers had met us at Washington Square Park to begin their photo session. All the dancers had looked up his body of work and had sort of developed a slight idea of what we were getting ourselves into.

As the three girls walked up to meet us, one of them mentioned how beautiful the fountain was. Little did they know that Jordan had planned for them to be photographed inside of that fountain. In the end they were great sports about the whole thing and were more than willing to jump, turn, and kick in the water.

At one point though, the jets of the fountain were hitting one of the girls square in the face. Jordan loved how the girls were positioned, so to not ruin the shot, she tried to work with the water hitting her face and execute her pose. It did not go over well, and thankfully a new formation was made, but for that brief moment I got a pretty great laugh. When the shoot was over and the girls stepped out of the fountain, he asked “Do you girls have a towel”? The looks on their faces were priceless.

Jordan Matter - Houston Ballet - Harper Watters

Photo by Jordan Matter; Dancer: Harper Watters

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Making Magic Happen Behind The Scenes In New York At The Joyce Theater

November 4, 2013

Houston Ballet has been extremely busy during the month of October, preparing for two major tours: to New York’s Joyce Theater from October 22-27; and to the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris, France October 31 – November 4.

Joyce Banner 2013 HB

Image Courtesy of Houston Ballet

Over the last decade Houston Ballet’s Director of Production Brian Walker has managed the production aspects of Houston Ballet’s tours to Moscow, Spain, Montreal, New York City, and to many cities small and large across the U.S. In this blog entry, Brian discusses the challenges and rewards that Houston Ballet’s production staff faces when the company takes to the road.

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 Brian Walker; Photo by Kaye Marvins Photography, Inc.

1.)  If Houston Ballet opened at the Joyce on Tuesday night, when did the Houston Ballet crew arrive in NYC to get ready for the show?

We arrived Sunday evening and started working Monday morning at 9am.

2.)  How much time did production have to tech the show in Manhattan, compared to what you would have in Houston?

We loaded in for 8 hours on Monday and had 4 hours Tuesday morning. Our typical load in before the first tech rehearsal consists of about 36 hours total.

3.)  Does having 7 shows a week (-vs- our usual 4 shows a week in Houston) present any special challenges for the wardrobe department in terms of laundering the costumes?

Mary Clare (our wardrobe person) did have to stay late after each show to do laundry, but that’s a normal part of our process. On Saturday, when we had two shows, it was definitely more of an ordeal trying to get things cleaned and dried between shows. Mary Clare didn’t have a crew to assist, so she spent a lot of time during the matinee working to get things started so she had enough time to get it all done. 

4.)  What are the challenges of working in a much smaller theater (Joyce with 500 seats) versus working in your home theater, Wortham Theater Center (2300 seats, and our home venue)?

Because the Joyce doesn’t have the ability to fly any of their legs or other goods out, they have to come up with creative ways to get rid of things. 

 Play (Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet)

For Stanton Welch’s ballet Play, for example, Stanton wanted to reveal the back wall.  When we did the ballet at the Wortham, all of the legs, borders and up stage goods were flown out to reveal the backstage. At the Joyce, the legs cannot fly out and are hard flats, so they don’t go away. The upstage goods had to be “west coasted” which means bundling and tying them to the pipe that they’re hanging on. 

Lisa J. Pinkham - Joyce Lighting

Lighting Designer, Lisa J. Pinkham; Photo by Brian Walker

Play also used several moving lights in the original version. Our lighting designer Lisa Pinkham had to adapt those looks to conventional lights for the Joyce because we didn’t have moving lights, nor the time to program them.

5.)  What has it been like to work with the Joyce tech staff?

The Joyce Tech Staff are fantastic. They’re really good at what they do and have a keen eye on how to approach their venue and are very helpful in getting our show up and running.

6.) What’s been the most challenging aspect of the tour for production?

The most challenging aspect for this tour would have been putting Play back together. It’s been several years since we’ve done the ballet, and it was only done by Houston Ballet on the Wortham stage. 

Touring often requires an adapted version of shows we do at home, but having to adapt Play on the road to a unique venue, not having done it recently presented some challenges. It definitely gave us a place to start the next time we present the ballet outside the Wortham and we have a better idea of how Stanton would like to approach the ballet.

7.) What’s been the most rewarding aspect of the tour for production?

The most rewarding aspect for Stage Manager Michelle Elliott was getting to perform in New York. We all dream at one point or another of getting to do a show in New York City. This was Michelle’s first time stage managing a show in New York and she really enjoyed the experience. 

Stage Manager Michelle Elliott - Joyce HB

Stage Manager, Michelle Elliott; Photo by Brian Walker

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Choreographer Melissa Hough: Inspired by Machiavelli, The Moonwalk, and Gabriel Prokofiev

September 4, 2013

From September 5 – 15, Houston Ballet launches it 44th season with Four Premieres, featuring three world premieres and the American premiere of Christopher Bruce’s Intimate Pages. Choreographer Melissa Hough has been hard at work in the studios on  her new piece, …the third kind [is] useless. For this week’s blog, Melissa takes time out from rehearsals to explain the sources of inspiration for her ballet.

C Walsh and Artists of Houston Ballet - Amitava

Ballet: …the third kind is useless; Dancers: Connor Walsh and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

1.) Tell us about the music you chose for your new work.  Who is the composer? Why were you drawn to this particular piece of music?

Melissa Hough: The music I chose is String Quartet No. 1 by Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Sergei Prokofiev! I was drawn to this music because of its edginess, rhythmic intricacy and dark sense of humor (all attractive qualities to me).

2.) How many dancers are in your ballet? Does it have a specific structure, with different movements?

Melissa Hough: The ballet is 15 minutes long and has 4 movements. I am using 13 dancers and 4 musicians to create mayhem :)

3.) What type of movement vocabulary are you using for your new work? Neoclassical?  Contemporary? Will the ladies be on pointe?

Melissa Hough: I am using a wide range of vocabulary. Each movement is completely different from the next, so I used emotional themes to create the style for each movement. There is a bit of a story that goes with my ballet and the arc of the story is what ties it all together. I have everything from a la seconde turns and double tours to the moonwalk and conga!

IMG_6284_Melissa Hough and artists of Houston Ballet

Melissa Hough at Houston Ballet; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

4.) Tell us about your choreographic process. Do you enter the rehearsal hall with the steps choreographed in advance and a firm conception of what you want the ballet to look like when it’s finished? Or do you begin working with the dancers with no fixed idea in mind, open to the inspiration of the moment and what comes from your collaboration with the dancers?

Melissa Hough: My process is a little different each time. Often it has to do with how much time I will have to work in the studio. For this particular piece, I knew exactly how many hours I would have to initially create it, which was really helpful! I worked on the concept and story for a long time on my own prior to starting with the dancers. All the steps, however, were made in the moment and then worked and tweaked up over time.

5.) Tell us about the title of your work. Where does it come from?  What does it mean?

Melissa Hough: The title is a fraction of a quote by Niccolo Machiavelli, whose work has been a big inspiration for this piece. He talks about how there are three kinds of intelligence and…….the third kind is useless.

the third kind is useless 1

Ballet: …the third kind [is] useless.; Costume Sketch by Monica Guerra

6.) Are there any specific ideas or themes that you are exploring in …the third kind [is] useless.?

Melissa Hough: Containment, auto phobia, the use of classical mime and power.

7.) Is there anything else that you would like the audience to know about …the third kind [is] useless.?

Melissa Hough: I am hoping I’ve created something that is intriguing and interesting. Watch it with an open heart and having had caffeine prior to sitting in your seat because the ballet moves very quickly!

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To learn more about the other works on Four Premieres, running September 5 – 15, watch this video interview with Stanton Welch and 

Christopher Bruce about the program.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit:  http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Four_Premieres/

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Houston Ballet Hosts Free Dance Talk on Friday, Sept 6: Politics and Pop Music in Ballet

August 27, 2013

On Friday, September 6 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm, Houston Ballet will sponsor the first FREE Dance Talk of its 2013 -14 season: Politics and Pop Music in Ballet. The event will feature an open rehearsal of Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s hip one-act work Play, followed by a discussion with Mr. Welch and a group of Houston Ballet dancers. The Dance Talk will be held at Houston Ballet Center for Dance, 601 Preston Street, Houston 77002.

 Play (Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet)

Ballet: Play; Dancers: Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Drew Donovan

Created in 2004, Mr. Welch’s imaginative and youthful work Play is set to several selections from the Grammy-nominated 1999 album Play by DJ/techno artist Moby. The ballet’s story is driven by the music: blues-inflected electronica, which provides the ideal musical backdrop for the ballet. “I always wanted to choreograph to Moby and techno music,” said Mr. Welch. “Moby was a pioneer of that genre.”

 Play is city life made into ballet with classical technique. The dancers wear street clothes, but are on pointe. However, the pointe shoes look like sneakers. Mr. Welch’s inspiration for this piece comes from the media-saturated, heavily politicized twenty-first century environment that urban dwellers experience. “The ballet is set on the street,” explained Mr. Welch, “where walking becomes choreography.” Everyday city life is dance: the dancers brush their teeth, rush to and from work, and play video games.

Play (Artists of HB)

Ballet: Play; Dancers: Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Drew Donovan

Originally created for BalletMet Columbus in 2004, Play had its New York premiere at the Joyce Theater that spring, where it was a great success. Anna Kisselgoff, chief dance critic of The New York Times, called Play “a quirky exploration of youthful alienation….This is Mr. Welch in a witty disco mode.” (May 28, 2004) Barbara Zuck of The Columbus Dispatch said that it “was a hit…Welch’s newest piece has the hustle and bustle of a New York street as well as a humorous eye…[Play] quickly caught the audience in its grasp.” (May 27, 2004)

Houston Ballet will host its second Dance Talk of the 2013-14 season on Tuesday, September 24 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm at Houston Ballet Center for Dance, 601 Preston Street, Houston 77002. Artists and speakers participating in the Sept 24 Dance Talks will be announced at a later date.

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