Archive for the ‘Production’ Category


The Ballerina’s Legacy of GISELLE

June 10, 2016

We’ve reached the end of our 2015/16 season! Our Spring Mixed Repertory Program was just one week ago, but we’re back and ready to close this season at the Wortham with a revitalized classic. Artistic Director Stanton Welch has crafted a new production of Giselle with sets and costume designs by Roberta Guidi di Bagno. For this production, Mr. Welch handpicked principal dancer Yuriko Kajiya as his muse for the iconic role of Giselle. For this blog post we’ll be digging into our archives to showcase four of the past Houston Ballet ballerinas who’ve portrayed Giselle, the loving country girl and supernatural wili.

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

Watch a preview of Houston Ballet’s Giselle below:

Performing the title role of Giselle is regarded as high an honor as performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the ballet lexicon tragic heroines are attached to a range of technical feats, emotional hurdles, and extensive storylines. Giselle has become an all-inclusive force of storytelling for major ballet companies. And like performing Hamlet for theater troupes, the complex history of ballet continues to flow through each dancer involved in retelling this full-length story ballet.

In the Romantic era of ballet, around the time Giselle premiered in 1841, the overall atmosphere and aesthetic of the story was already sorted out; presenting pastoral settings and supernatural spirits in the same story was in vogue during the Romantic era for many art forms. The ballerina’s role up until the early 1800s had been fairly simple: she must present clear, simple footwork and smile sweetly while dancing in corsets and heavy brocade costumes. The male danseur in France and Italy experienced a burst of attention in previous eras, but in Romantic era ballets, the ballerina transformed and transcended.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

Giselle was an especially important character for ballerinas to perform in later Russian productions. Pointe work started to become more cohesive and complex due to blocked pointe shoes rather than heavily darned slippers. The loose but modest Romantic costumes–before the flatter Classical tutu–allowed for higher jumps and closer partnering. And to engage with the audience of the 1800s even further, mime in ballet began to echo the dramatics found in opera and theater, which meant characters started thinking and feeling on stage. Female characters became more ethereal and enchanting beyond their social status as we see with Giselle, a simple country girl who loves to dance but is fated to die.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

As Giselle’s technical feats progressed with altered and added variations, her dramatic qualities expanded. Russian productions of Giselle provided her character with increased flare and virtuosity, British productions revitalized her previous Romantic era innocence and purity, and so on and so forth. The most beloved performances by famous international ballerinas include the role of Giselle. Houston Ballet is just one example of Giselle‘s progression in America. How do American ballet companies connect to a decades old story about a village in the Rhineland? The role of Giselle and her powerful story of love, loss, and forgiveness is just one reason why dancers and audiences still adore this ballet.


Carla Fracci as Giselle; Act I. First Houston Ballet Foundation full-length performance. 1967. Photographer unknown.

Carla Fracci helped introduce professional ballet to Houston. Houston Ballet Foundation’s Giselle was first performed in 1967 with students from the already established Houston Ballet Academy and other local dance schools. Fracci, along with the incomparable danseur noble Erik Bruhn as Albrecht, performed this role with devout sensibility and eminence. Her performance as Giselle in this production undoubtable inspired many of the young students whom danced alongside her.


Carla Fracci as Giselle with dancers from Houston Ballet Foundation; Act II. First Houston Ballet Foundation full-length performance. 1967. Photographer unknown.


Janie Parker as Giselle; Act I. 1985. Photography by Kenn Duncan


Janie Parker as Giselle; Act II. 1985. Photography by Geoff Winningham

Janie Parker’s numerous performances as Giselle during the 1980s and 1990s have always be cherished in Houston. In Giselle her partners were two iconic Houston Ballet principals: Kenneth McCombie and Li Cunxin. In her book, Generous Hearts and Gentle Spirits (2001), Parker wrote, “I adored dancing Giselle and have mostly fond memories associated with it.” She notably performed on an injured foot during her fourth year at Houston Ballet, conveying an enormous amount of raw emotions during the mad scene in Act I especially.


Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht; Act I. 1981. Photography by Jim Caldwell


Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht; Act II. 1981. Photography by Jim Caldwell



Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle with David Makhateli as Albrecht with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. June 2001. Photography by Geoff Winningham

Mireille Hassenboehler dominated the stage as a principal during the early 2000s. Filling in for an injured dancer and joining legendary principal Carlos Acosta during her first performance of Giselle in 2001 was a huge responsibility and an enchanting surprise. The following night’s performance was canceled due to Tropical Storm Allison, which flooded the basement of the Wortham and destroyed and damaged many costumes and shoes. Remarkably, the second weekend of performances for Giselle that year did continue thanks to many helping hands. Hassenboehler’s lyrical depiction of Giselle continued to grow with each performance.


Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle, Carlos Acosta as Albrecht; Act II. June 2001. Photography by Jann Whaley


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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

Yuriko Kajiya is Stanton Welch’s inspiration for the title role of Giselle. She’s already danced the role before, so this year’s production won’t be a complete introduction to Giselle. Instead, Kajiya will get to build upon her illustrious portrayal of this character. Many of the Romantic era qualities and Russian influences are alive in Kajiya’s depiction of Giselle thanks to her previous training. “She has remarkable balance. She moves without moving, she seems to float, hovering like she is moving underwater,” Mr. Welch told writer Nancy Wozny. Like Houston Ballet’s ballerinas before her, Kajiya continues to craft her individuality onto Giselle with each and every performance.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht; Act II. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar


Watch Yuriko Kajiya discuss Giselle below:

Tickets for Stanton Welch’s Giselle are on sale now by phone or online at with performances running until Sunday June 19.

Join us next time on ‘En Pointe with Houston Ballet’ for posts dedicated to our 2016 Summer Intensive in collaboration with our Academy and HBII’s upcoming graduation and tour, as well as some updates from abroad as our company takes Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet on tour in Australia.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet. She’s an active member of the Society of Dance History Scholars and a freelance dance writer for Arts & Culture Texas.


Researching THE SLEEPING BEAUTY part 2

March 3, 2016

“A Magical Love Affair”

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

It’s our Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson’s 80th birthday this year! On February 16, we helped him celebrate with an informative and fun ‘Dance Talk’ at our Center for Dance. With Lauren Anderson at his side, he delighted our audience and staff with stories about his time in dance. When asked what inspires him, he simple repeated, “Music, music, music.” With so many ballet productions and reconstructions, ever wondered which historic version of The Sleeping Beauty Houston Ballet’s production derives from? Read on and you’ll soon find out! In part two of this two-part blog post, we dig into our archives and share some fun facts and photos about Ben Stevenson and his cherished production of The Sleeping Beauty now running at the Wortham Theater until March 6.


Prologue of the Sadler's Wells Ballet production of 'The Sleepin

Prologue of The Sleeping Beauty. Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Photograph by Frank Sharman © ROH. 1946

The Sleeping Beauty—with designs by Oliver Massel and additional choreography by Sir Anthony Dowell and Sir Frederick Ashton—was Ben Stevenson’s first full-length ballet he performed in at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (formerly Vic-Wells Ballet, now Royal Ballet). This is where the direct inspiration for Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty derives from, but it took a while for it to get from Stevenson’s memory to the Wortham Theater.

While at Sadler’s Wells, Stevenson learned mime for classical ballets like The Sleeping Beauty from the legendary ballerina, Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978). “She would make your imagination come alive. She’d mime DYING with all her emotion and passion, wildly crossing her arms for everyone in the audience to see.” This dedication to authentic storytelling is a tradition which Karsavina—a former principal with the Imperial Russian Ballet (renamed Kirov, now Mariinsky Ballet)—directly handed down from her time on stage with the Ballets Russes to Stevenson and Dame Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991).


Tamara Karsavina rehearsing Margot Fonteyn for Le Spectre de la Rose. Sadler’s Wells Ballet. 1950s.

Years later a draft of Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty was first created in 1967 for London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet). The illustrious Dame Margot first starred as Stevenson’s Princess Aurora at a later performance with Festival Ballet in Venice.

After its initial success, it was then recreated in collaboration with Fredric Franklin with Dame Margot guest performing as Aurora in 1971 for The National Ballet in Washington D.C. during the inaugural season at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This was the first full-length American production of The Sleeping Beauty since Philadelphia Ballet’s staging in 1937. Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty was later brought to Houston Ballet in 1978 with Peter Farmer’s secondhand designs from a short-lived London-South African company.


Ben Stevenson featured his The Sleeping Beauty with Peter Farmer designs in the 1978 Southwest Tour across Texas.

In 1990 a newly designed version by Desmond Heeley was crafted to Stevenson’s staging in celebration of the centennial of Marius Ivanovich Petipa’s 1890 original production of The Sleeping Beauty. The 1990 original cast included Janie Parker as Princess Aurora, Li Cunxin as Prince Florimund, Lauren Anderson as Lilac Fairy, and Kristine Richmond as Carabosse.

This production was the phenomenal closing program for Houston Ballet’s 20th anniversary season. It’s the completed version seen today at Houston Ballet. Dame Margot Fonteyn considered Stevenson and Heeley’s lavish production a “ravishing” and “authentic” addition to The Sleeping Beauty tradition.


“Even after so many years, Ben had brought out something that I hadn’t thought of. That’s why it’s never boring.” Dame Margot Fonteyn on Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. May 1990. Houston Post.

Desmond Heeley’s entire set and costume overhaul for The Sleeping Beauty in 1990 rang up to about $757,000 with 225 original costumes and 33 hand-painted back drops that pay tribute to British designer Oliver Massel’s Vic-Wells/Royal Ballet production. After spending two years planning and nine months crafting his designs, Heeley once said, “I call a production like this the ultimate collage. It’s a juggernaut, a glorious ballet to do, but it could break you.” Heeley’s costumes and sets are still under constant maintenance during our 2016 performances with all five casts rotating through them during the two-week run.

Along with the production team, The Sleeping Beauty is also a marathon for musicians. But just like the dancers of Houston Ballet, members of our Houston Ballet Orchestra–conducted by Ermanno Florio and David LaMarche for all 2016 performances–enjoy performing the classical aspects of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s technical score. Those are just a few reasons why more successful productions of The Sleeping Beauty are often found at highly-trained major ballet companies with sufficient time, funding, and orchestration.


Janie Parker as Aurora on Desmund Heeley’s hand-painted backdrop in Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. Photography by Jack Mitchell. May 1990.

Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty is also memorable because Dame Margot—at the age of 71—personally coached the dancers, specifically former principal Janie Parker, for the premiere. “I’ve known Ben [Stevenson] since he was 18 and in the corps [of the Sadler’s Wells/Royal Ballet]. He has a fine company here,” she once fondly mentioned in an interview from the premiere.


Janie Parker as Aurora in Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. Her last performance after 20-years with the company was Saturday June 15, 1996 as Aurora. She was greeted with a 20 minute standing ovation.

During her two-week stay in 1990, Dame Margot meticulously fine-tuned the company with her proficient wisdom. “What I try to help them with is in getting more light and shades of drama within the dancing. There has to be the thought and the understanding of what is going on,” she said. At our February ‘Dance Talk’ Stevenson added, “Dame Margot always said stillness and the eyes are the most important elements for ballet dancers. The eyes must connect with the audience, especially during The Sleeping Beauty.”

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Artists of Houston Ballet, Act I. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. 2016.

Emotional brilliance from the entire cast was vital for Stevenson and Dame Margot, sometimes more so than the dancer’s virtuosity. In keeping with Royal Ballet’s British style, Stevenson once noted that, “Aurora is not trying to win over the audience by showing how high she can get her legs up. I want her to be immersed in the story and dance with taste.”

Although she doesn’t appear as a fully-formed ballerina until Act I, Princess Aurora is undeniably the heart and soul of this fairy tale. “Aurora has to be a burst of sunlight and energy from the moment she first arrives to her wedding day,” recalls Stevenson.

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Lauren Anderson as the Queen and Sara Webb as Princess Aurora and Artists of Houston Ballet, Act I. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. 2016.

At our ‘Dance Talk’ in February, Ben Stevenson only had kind words to say about Houston Ballet. “I’ve learned so much about myself from the dancers of this company,” he said. “It’s always been very special here, now and forever.” From all of us at Houston Ballet we thank you for your dedication to ballet and wish you a happy birthday, Ben Stevenson!

Join us next week on En Pointe with Houston Ballet for a new blog post about our brilliant Winter Mixed Rep program! Tickets for Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty are still on sell now by phone or online at with performances running until Sunday March 6.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet and writes about dance in Houston for Arts & Culture Texas while passionately researching dance and literature in her spare time.


Zodiac Costumer Designer – Eduardo Sicangco

June 3, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern


The stunning costumes and magical sets just appear for each performance, right? This thought might have crossed your mind a time or two but I am here to discuss the detailed thought process in the costume design process that took place for Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s world premiere of Zodiac. The company gets ready to perform its final 3 shows of Zodiac in a mixed repertory featuring works from some of the most talented choreographers called “Morris, Welch & Kylián” this weekend.

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh as Scorpio; Photo By Amitava Sarkar

Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh as Scorpio; Photo By Amitava Sarkar

Here to discuss the design process for the Zodiac costumes is Costume and Set Designer Eduardo Sicangco ( As a young boy Sicangco was taken to costume fittings by his mother who was in the opera which is where the desire to become a costume designer emerged. “I was intrigued when they would take a house mother and turn her into a beautiful, stunning opera singer with the costumes” describes Sicangco.

Taurus (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Taurus (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

What was your inspiration for the ballet Zodiac?

I met with Stanton last year in New York for lunch. He asked me “Have you seen the movie 300?” – I have. From there I went to look at the book by Frank Miller and I thought to myself “They have no cloths, just loincloths. What is there to design?” Creating a new piece has its challenges because there is no reference; I am making something new that has not been seen. I then researched each Zodiac sign, asked to hear the music that gave me the sense of seeing lots of metal and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Greco Roman to take and look at photos intensively. I studied the hair, colors and physics. I began to sketch after doing much research that allowed the sketches to flow easier. This piece was to be very sensual and celebrates the physic of the dancers.

What is the significance in the costumes for this piece?

The costumes help set the mood and tone for the piece. The costumes celebrate the dancers physic and let the choreography come to life – they help support the choreography and story telling. The costumes transport the audience into the world of Zodiac, dancers turn into gods and demi-gods not just ordinary dancers. I wanted to make them look sexy and engaging on top of their natural beauty.

Virgo (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Virgo (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Do you have a favorite design out of all the signs?

Virgo female. It is very Asian and Greek style that is visually appealing and flowy.

After doing extensive research, how long did it take you to create the designs?

It took a while after the research was completed. Once the sketches are drawn, many changes take place because of the choreography. For example, the headpieces had to be changed to work with the dancers and the choreography because originally they were heavy. I had to be able to change, adapt and evolve my sketches. Some sketches worked the first time and others pieces had to be changed. The costumes are not final until the last dress rehearsal. It is the joy of creating a new piece.

The magic is revealed in the process in making costumes for a new piece, but not just any new piece – Zodiac.

Charles- Louis Yoshiyama and Aaron Sharratt as Gemini; Photo By Amitava Sarkar

Charles- Louis Yoshiyama and Aaron Sharratt as Gemini; Photo By Amitava Sarkar


Houston Ballet’s Summer Repertory is powerhouse program, pairing two world-premieres with the revival of a twentieth century masterpiece. Modern dance legend Mark Morris creates his first work especially for Houston Ballet. Stanton Welch explores the twelve signs of the zodiac in a new piece set to a commissioned score by the distinguished Australian composer Ross Edwards.  Set to Stravinsky’s powerful score, Jiří Kylián’s Svadebka dramatizes the events of a Russian peasant wedding, performed with a live chorus.

For more information visit:

Watch a preview of Zodiac


Swan Lake in the Costume Shop: Memories of Kristian Fredrikson

June 6, 2014

Guest Writer:  Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager


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Sara Webb and Connor Walsh in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

It’s opening day of Swan Lake. This production brings with it so many bittersweet memories. Kristian Fredrikson, the internationally acclaimed production designer who created the scenery and costumes for this Swan Lake, died in November 2005 during the build of the show before it opened in February 2006. So many decisions were made without him. But we did our best to honor his design choices and I think we succeeded.


Kristian Fredrikson. Courtesy of The Australian Ballet

Kristian was an incredible designer and human being! Swan Lake was the second design build with him here at Houston Ballet. Our first build with Kristian was for the Pecos section of Stanton’s Tales of Texas in 2004. It was during that build process that I fell in love with Kristian as a designer and friend.

Watching the dress rehearsals of Swan Lake over the past two days has brought back so many fond memories of him, his witty sense of humor and the particular way he spoke to the crew to explain his designs and what he expected of us.

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Artists of Houston Ballet in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Whenever I watch any of our productions that are built here in Houston Ballet’s Costume Shop, I see the talented artists that work with us to create these productions. I watch Swan Lake and I remember who built particular costumes and the process we went through to get the show built.

Swan Lake is a staple in any ballet company, and our dancers certainly have created a beautiful work for us all to enjoy. But beyond the dance, I see the people who created the physical aspects of the show on stage right alongside the dancers as they bring the story to life.

Enjoy the show, feel the magic and be transformed if only for a few hours.


Houston Ballet will perform Swan Lake June 5 – 15 at Wortham Theater Center. Swan Lake tells the classic tale of Odette – a beautiful maiden transformed into a swan by an evil knight – and the prince who swears his enduring love for her. Tickets may be purchased at

For more information on this program, visit:

To watch a video preview of Swan Lake


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!


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:


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.


 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


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.


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


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


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


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.”


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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