Archive for the ‘Production’ 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?

Christopher Gray_Photo Amitava_2012

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 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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The Return of Choreographer Garrett Smith

August 23, 2013

On September 5, Houston Ballet will launch its 44th season, unveiling a new work by choreographer Garrett Smith as part of the program Four Premieres, running September 5 – 15. Garrett got his start as a choreographer in 2007 at Houston Ballet Academy, where he created five works for Houston Ballet II. He then joined the professional company, dancing with Houston Ballet for three years, and winning the prestigious Fellowship Initiative Grant from the New York Choreographic Institute. In 2012, Garrett joined the Norwegian National Ballet.

 Garrett Smith - Courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet

Garrett Smith; Image courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet

For the last three weeks, Garrett has been hard at work on Return, his first commissioned work for Houston BalletIn this blog entry, he talks about the inspiration of John Adams’s music and the sense of gratitude he feels to be coming home to his dance family in Houston.

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The music that I selected for my new work is by John Adams. I decided on using “Short Ride ” and also “Harmonielehre pt. III” I have never listened to much of John Adams before, but these two pieces I found were quite energetic and big. They made me want to dance, and I immediately got visuals of bodies on stage. Stanton seemed to be right on board and supportive of this decision which was very good. What was also exciting about this selection of music, is that John wrote back personally within about two weeks of asking for the music rights. It felt like this was the right choice.

The music is big and calls for larger cast. I saw many bodies filling the stage. Ideally I plan to use six men and six women. I don’t want the cast to be too big. I still want it to feel intimate and friendly, and also special to the dancers.

There isn’t necessarily a story to follow, but more of an experience between a group of friends. In my mind I feel that this group of  friends have traveled to a secret place that is special to them.

I decided to give the title of “Return” to the piece. There will be two movements:  one very energetic and explosive movement, and another energetic and sort of mystical movement. The title is slightly symbolic to me. Not only do these characters as good friends “return” to a place that is special to them within the piece. But this work is also my return back to Houston, or should I say my dance home.

Cave Lake Image

For me the setting is inside of a cave. But it can also be open to interpretation as the set is not so literal. Production director Brian Walker has helped me find a way to keep the idea with a more abstract and minimal approach. The cave element has served as a great source of inspiration for lighting and costume ideas. Ever since I found out about the commission, I have been surfing for photos online, as well as a few movies that were compiled into an inspiration album that I shared closely with my costume designer Travis Halsey, and lighting designer Lisa J. Pinkham, who is Houston Ballet’s lighting designer.

Garrett Smith Sketch 1

Sketch by Travis Halsey

I am very happy to have Travis do the costumes for this piece. He designed the costumes for my first big choreographic opportunity when I was in Houston Ballet II. He has now designed four of my ballets. I always knew I would ask him to design something for a big opportunity like this on Houston Ballet.

I am also very excited about Lisa being the lighting designer. I have seen many pieces she has designed for Stanton Welch. She is very talented and I have full trust in her ability to make something spectacular.

I am coming back to a place that is very special to me, Houston Ballet, where many of my close friends and dance family are. It feels like coming back home, but also now as choreographer. I feel it is the best way I could ask to come back. I am beyond excited to also return, and create something special here.

-Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith Headshot 2 - Courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet

Garrett Smith; Image courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet

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From two choreographers at the beginning of their careers and two of the world’s most respected and sought after, comes a program of all new works. Acclaimed by The London Times as an artist who “could change the face of British dance,” master Christopher Bruce’s Intimate Pages conveys the joy and the anguish of unrequited love in a deeply moving ballet of strong emotions and powerful actions. James Kudelka, hailed by the New York Times as “the most imaginative voice to come out of ballet in the last decade,” stages his second commissioned work for the company. The program also features new ballets by Garrett Smith and Melissa Hough, both winners of prestigious awards from the New York Choreographic Institute, both who got their start choreographing on Houston Ballet.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 713 227 2787 or by visiting http://www.houstonballet.org.

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Queen of the Wilis: A Conversation with Ai-Gul Gaisina

September 23, 2011

Guest Writer: Nao Kusuzaki, Soloist

White romantic tutus fill the studios at Houston Ballet Center for Dance, where the company and Houston Ballet II intensely prepare for Ai-Gul Gaisina’s staging of Giselle.

“more body forward.  The style is very, very important”, “Focus outward and downward”, Ai-Gul and Louise Lester instruct during one of the latest Wili rehearsals. Demanding yet warm, they are like our real life Queens of Wilis: checking each dancer’s slightest angling of the head, where the finger falls, the placement of the feet, how high the arabesque…  At this point, it’s all about details and about creating the atmosphere in Act II.

It’s been seven weeks since Ai-Gul’s arrival, and after a long day of coaching and rehearsals, I catch her for a conversation on Giselle, and to get to know just a bit more about her.

Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

 

Do you have a special memory of Giselle?

When I was a student of Kirov ballet school, we were allowed to go see the performances without tickets, and we would sit with the gods, on the steps in balcony section. We never had seats.

I was 10 years old when I saw Giselle for the first time from there. Irina Kolpakova was Giselle.  For me, it was profoundly, deeply impressive.

My pink world of ballet–pink ballet shoes, pink tutus– started to disappear. I realized that ballet is a drama and a story as well.

It’s a complicated story to understand at that age, but because it was told and danced so beautifully, I could comprehend, and shed tears at the end.

And I remember, the second act was impressive, especially the work of the corps de ballet. Back in the 50’s, corps work of Kirov ballet was an absolute gem.

Giselle was first performed in 1841, and is one of the oldest ballet in the romantic style. Why do you think Giselle has survived for so long and it’s a favorite for so many? 

La Sylphide was the first romantic ballet and featured the famous ballerina, Marie Taglioni. Giselle has survived to this day because Giselle’s got everything required in a ballet. It gives dancers, not just Giselle and Albrecht, opportunities to express artistic qualities with technique. It also has human drama we can all relate to: emotions of love, betrayal, relationship with the mother, disappointments, joy…

In contrast, choreography in the second act is impossible to forget because of the spiritual and supernatural atmosphere it creates. In my research, I found that back in the day in Paris, this ballet was called Giselle: Les Wilis. The Wilis scene in the second act was a significant part of the ballet, and it still is.

In your staging, what did you pay particular attention to?  Did you intend to keep the tradition, or make updates?

The style and tradition-how it’s been done-are very important. it’s simple and beautiful, with no complications. Steps, by themselves, are like your class work. To it, I bring the Russian style, emphasizing the beauty of port de bras. Also, I want to allow each dancer to bring and create a particular character suited for them; I’m talking not just about Giselle and Albrecht, but also bringing Giselle’s mother more into focus.  I want my Bathilde to be young and beautiful. It creates even more tragedy that Albrecht betrays not only Giselle but also Bathilde.

In Act II, I paid particular attention to bringing lightness and beauty, not coldness. If you listen to the music, it’s very gentle.  I want all my Wilis to be beautiful and reflect that lightness in music. I want to preserve the image of dancing and beauty, the supernatural.   For example, when we have memories, even in the sad ones of someone passing away, you can still remember the beauty, and grieve with the spiritual lightness.

This is not your first time working with Houston Ballet dancers.  What is your impression of the company, and how was the process of working with them on the new staging?

I’m always very impressed with the company. Their work ethic is just amazing, as well as their attitude toward coaches, guest teachers, and generally through class and rehearsals. This company stands as an example.

This time, it’s a different experience, because I’m here working on a big production.  It has been a satisfying and a challenging process.   I suppose that challenge comes with the process of creating.  The company has been amazing, however.

You have been here in Houston for 7 weeks. Do you miss home?

I miss Melbourne. It’s spring now, and a beautiful time of the year. I miss friends and getting together for coffee or catching a movie.  Artistically, Melbourne is so rich. There is one festival after another, which is great for me. I love opera and musicals. I also like my own space and miss going to my library and reading for hours.

What do you like to do on your off time?

Abstract painting. I wasn’t always good with my hands, like sewing or crocheting. So when I retired, I challenged myself. It started out with finger painting, and now I have a tiny space in my flat in Melbourne. I use acrylic, and occasionally, lipstick and a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and let the emotions take over.

You’ll be surprised that I’ve even sold a few!

For me, when I look at abstract painting, it’s the color, the expression, the first impression of it that I take in. Some people will either like it or hate it.  But that’s okay. There are moments when you are ready for certain experiences, and that can happen later on in life.

Nao Kusuzaki & Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Nao Kusuzaki & Artists of Houston Ballet Photo: Amitava Sarkar

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Developing a Dancer’s Toolbox: Setting the Stage

July 20, 2011

Guest writer: Jaclyn Youngblood, Academy intern

Arts and crafts aren’t just for elementary school children. Half of the Level 8 students, the highest level at Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program, are taking Set Design for their career studies class. Like its partner course, Costume Design, the Set Design class aims to introduce students to other aspects—beyond exceptional dancing—of producing a world-class ballet.

Thomas Boyd, Director of Production and former dancer with Houston Ballet, teaches 21 students about the use of space, imagery, color, and the relationship between performer and environment—all essential elements of set design. In this case, that means enabling students to use the knowledge they’ve gained to create a 3D scale model of a set for a scene from a ballet, either Giselle or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As with the Costume Design class, students are designing through the lens of John Neumeier, renowned American choreographer and Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet.  Boyd said he guided the students through research of Neumeier’s style and had them brainstorm a few themes they saw in his set designs. “They noticed he is an unconventional designer, and he tries to represent the unexpected,” Boyd said.  Students incorporated nuances of Neumeier’s style into their designs by playing with elements out of scale, surrealism, and surprise.

Student Set Design of Giselle

In this model of a Giselle scene, the student team explores proportions relative to the figure of the dancer.

Boyd said the first few classes are designed to equip students with the “tools of the trade,” so by the third and fourth classes the students are already working on their models.  The students cut, glue, paint and design their models, paying attention to things like prop placement, the proportion of set elements relative to the dancers, and coloring as one moves upstage; that is, that elements get cooler as they recede from the front of the stage.

Ellen (VA) and Shelby (NC), teammates who are designing Act I from Giselle, love the creative aspects of the class. “I like that the class is hands-on,” Ellen said. “It’s not like we’re just hanging out in chairs getting lectured.” Shelby has enjoyed using a different part of her brain during the Set Design class. “It’s nice to have a change of pace from the intensely physical routine of our classes,” she said.

Student Set Design - Tree

Students use watercolors and markers to create the standing set elements for their models.

The students will present their work to one another during tomorrow’s last Set Design class. Just like the Costume Design class, the top teams will then present their models at the beginning of the Lower School performance at 12 p.m. on July 29.

Jessica (CA) echoed Ellen’s and Shelby’s sentiments, adding that the opportunity to try something new, apart from physical dancing, was terrific. “It’s fun to explore the visual and creative side of producing a ballet,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this.”

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Houston Ballet brings new tutus to the stage with the help of Holly Hynes

May 9, 2011

Guest writer: Lorena Capellan, PR intern

Costume designer Holly Hynes has worked closely with choreographer Jorma Elo to create costumes for his newest ballet, ONE/end/ONE, to be premiered by Houston Ballet in late May. Holly Hynes served as director of costumes at the New York City Ballet for over 20 years and has been entrusted by The George Balanchine Trust and the Jerome Robbins estate to teach the execution of costume designs for Mr. Balanchine’s and Mr. Robbins’s ballets to companies all over the world. Ms. Hynes has also designed costumes for many of Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s ballets, including Tu Tu, The Core, Falling and many more.

LC: What is the process like working with a choreographer to design a costume?
HH: After the choreographer tells me the chosen music, I listen to it for hours. Sometimes I’ve listened to a score 20 times before I put pencil to paper. If the dancers have started to work in the studio it helps to see a video of the beginnings of the ballet. Next I flush out ideas with pencil and watercolor. I’ll scan the art work and then send it to the choreographer who usually is not in the same city I am. Houston Ballet flew me in to overlap with Jorma’s rehearsal period, but before that we met in Moscow to talk about ideas. We talk about movement, color, aerobic needs, numbers of dancers, if atmosphere changes between movements…is there a story?

Man's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

Man's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

Woman's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

Woman's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

LC: Where did you shop for the materials needed to make the tutus?
HH: Sometimes I’ll swatch first in New York to help guide a shop with what I am after. I prefer to find fabric sources in the same city as the ballet company because that way it’s faster to buy more if they need it now or in the future. Houston has some amazing fabric stores, and Houston Ballet wardrobe manager Laura Lynch is the queen of shopping!

Woman's corset. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

Woman's corset. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

LC: Have you worked with Jorma before?
HH: This is my 4th original Elo ballet. We collaborated before on Slice to Sharp (New York City Ballet-2006, Stanislavsky Music Theatre in Moscow-2010, Stuttgart Ballet in Germany-2009 and Tulsa Ballet-2011); Double Evil (San Francisco Ballet-2009 and National Ballet of Finland-2012); and Pur ti Miro (National Ballet of Canada-2010).

Woman's tutu. Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston North.

Woman's tutu. Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston North.

LC: What do you enjoy most about designing tutus vs. full body costumes? Are there certain things you have to keep in mind?
HH: I adore creating tutus. I suppose I enjoy them so much because the top plate seems to be a canvas for an artist just waiting to be designed on. I learned how to make tutus from assisting Barbara Matera who had her own shop for 32 years, and by remaking Karinska tutus for over 20 years as the Director of Costumes for the New York City Ballet. I always do my research about what a company prefers before I crash into a situation, design something and then find out the artistic director prefers a different style on the company’s dancers. Thank goodness I have designed many tutus for Stanton as well. Getting to work with Jorma in Houston feels like bringing home a friend to meet the family!

Man's leotard. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

Man's leotard. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

The tutus created by Hynes for ONE/end/ONE are “old school” mixed with “new school”. The four ladies’ tutus consist of a mix of nets and incorporate a modern edge to the top layer. They are made with horsehair cloth and are stiff like the tutus seen in Stanton Welch’s Divergence.

ONE/end/ONE will be premiered by Houston Ballet on Thursday, May 26 as part of the program Raising the Barre.  More information can be found at Houston Ballet’s website.

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Stage Load-In for The Nutcracker

November 20, 2009

Today is load-in day for The Nutcracker, which means costumes, backdrops, set pieces, and props are being moved into the theater from our studios on W. Gray and our warehouse in the 5th ward.  Three 18-wheelers are currently inhabiting the Wortham loading dock as each piece is carefully unloaded, moved to its proper location, and re-assembled on Brown Stage.   I was able to snap a few pictures while I was at the theater today to give you an idea of the organized chaos…let’s just say, regardless of our doing this every year for the past 22 years, it’s still not easy.  And just think: all of this will be completed and arranged just-so for the curtain to go up on November 27.  Click here to see the pictures.

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Update from Pamplona and Murcia

April 27, 2009

Guest writer: Brian Walker, production manager

April 25:  We’ve survived the first week.  It’s Saturday night, and we just finished our show in Pamplona.  This was show #4 this week.  We arrived in Pamplona this morning at 11am (having left Santander this morning at 8am after performing a show there last night). Our advance team started working yesterday to get the show set up. It was a pretty major push to get the things that are moving with us in the air and to finish up the focus of the lights and check the light cues.  The dancers had a short rehearsal on stage due to the travel time in the morning.  All in all the show went well.  We had a couple of technical glitches, but considering the pretty monumental task presented to us, it all went really well.  So far this week we’ve been in Vigo, A Coruña, Santander and Pamplona.  By the end of the day Saturday, the production staff will have worked over 60 hours.  The crew has worked really hard, and I can’t say enough about how great the guys have been.  Everyone has jumped in to help get the show up and to make sure we do the best we can.  Tomorrow morning we drive to Murcia.  It’s about a 9 hour drive, but fortunately for the crew, we don’t have to go to the theater until Monday.  Basically, we’re looking at the travel day as a free day even though we’ll be on a bus for such a long time.  We’ve gotten through the hardest part of the tour, so hopefully next week will be a little easier…though we have a really tough travel day between Murcia and Oviedo.  
 
April 27:  It’s a new week and a new theater.  After a 9+ hour bus ride yesterday from Pamplona to Murcia, the crew is relatively rested and ready to start again.  This week is organized differently than last week in that we only do 2 shows and we have some time in between each.  We are loading in today (Monday) and performing the show tomorrow night.  We travel and load in to Oviedo on Wednesday and do a show Thursday night.  The main problem this week is going to be that Murcia and Oviedo are on opposite sides of the country, so we will be getting up at about 4am on Wednesday to catch an early flight to get to Oviedo in time to do the load-in that morning.  Needless to say, we’ll be a little tired after loading out of Murcia until midnight and then turning around a few hours later to get on a plane.

But enough about what’s to come…we had a great trip across the country to get here.  Even though it was gray and rainy for a lot of the ride, the hours that we were awake (we definitely caught up on our sleep), we saw some amazing scenery.  We got to Murcia around 7pm, so we were able to enjoy the rest of the evening and have a nice meal. 

I can’t say enough how proud I am of the Houston Ballet crew.  This has been a really rough tour so far and everyone has really worked hard.  Everyone has really gone above and beyond to make these shows work.

More to come later. Pictures of the bus trip here.

-Brian

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Update from Vigo

April 22, 2009

Guest writer: Brian Walker, production manager

OK – we’ve survived the rehearsal in our first city, Vigo. It’s almost 8 am, and I’m sitting in the hotel lobby getting ready to travel to A Coruña to meet the other production team that started working yesterday.  We loaded out of the theater last night until about 11:30 pm.  In total, we worked 34 hours in 3 days to get the first show up on its feet.  Needless to say, the crew are all a little worn out, and we still have five cities to go.  Everyone is still in good spirits though and are still working hard.  We brought five multipacks of 5 Hour Energy Shots to help keep the blood flowing.  Today is going to be a long one.  Only one day in A Coruña and then heading to Santander tomorrow morning.  It will be another late night tonight and early morning tomorrow.

Our tour catch-phrase is quickly becoming “One Night Only”.

More later.
 
-Brian

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Company Departs for Spain Tour Tomorrow

April 17, 2009

Guest writer: Brian Walker, production manager

Today is the final day of preparation before we leave for Spain.  We’ve been working on this tour off and on for about a year.  We started with a different promoter that ended up having to back out of the project after having some organizational problems.  We thought the tour had fallen through at that point, which was in August.  In late October another promoter picked up the project and after some negotiations and concessions, we were able to sort out a two week tour.  We start the tour in Vigo, then travel to A Coruna, Santander, Pamplona, Murcia and end in Oviedo.  We perform back-to-back in Vigo and A Coruna, then Santander and Pamplona.  It will mean very long days for the crew since we will have to travel to the new city and finish the load-in the day of the show.  Fortunately we are bringing an extra person from Houston who will be traveling ahead with a lighting designer from Spain. 

This is what the schedule looks like –
Vigo – April 21
A Coruna – April 22
Santander – April 24
Pamplona – April 25
Murcia – April 28
Oviedo – April 30

We are performing two different programs while we are in Spain.  Our main “full” program consists of Stanton Welch’s Nosotros and Divergence and Christopher Bruce’s Hush.  Due to the size of some of the venues, we weren’t able to do Divergence in all of the cities, so we came up with a “gala” alternative program.  That will consist of Stanton Welch’s Mediaeval Baebes, Han van Manen’s Solo, Hush, and  a modified version of Stanton Welch’s Nosotros.  We do the “gala” program in Vigo, A Coruna and Oviedo.  The full program will be in Santander, Pamplona and Murcia.  To give you a little perspective on the scale of things, the stage in Vigo and A Coruna are about 33’ deep by 37’ wide.  Our normal set up at the Wortham in the Brown is 55’ deep by 48’ wide.  Vigo also happens to have a 4% rake to the stage. 

This is going to be a very new touring experience for most of the company.  We generally take more time to get into the theater and rehearse.  This is going to be much more like the touring that Houston Ballet did in the past where one-night engagements were more common and the approach taken was much simpler.  General manager Jim Nelson will be writing blogs from the road, and if I have time between cities and I’m awake enough, I will try to do a blog or two.  Hopefully we’ll come back with some great pictures and funny stories.

Wish us luck!

-Brian

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