Archive for the ‘Wardrobe’ Category



September 30, 2015

This weekend from October 2-4, 2015 Houston Ballet performs its final 3 shows of the Fall Mixed Repertory Program featuring Stanton Welch’s Tapestry, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, and Garrett Smith’s RevealReveal had its world premiere on September 24. The work is set to music by Philip Glass and focuses on the ideas of self-reflection and vulnerability. To realize Mr. Smith’s vision for the costumes, Houston Ballet’s Costume Shop’s Resident Textile Artist Monica Guerra collaborated closely with choreographer Garrett Smith to create and make the designs come to life. Here, Ms. Guerra discusses her design process for Reveal.

Reveal; Jessica Collado and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Reveal; Jessica Collado and Karina Gonzalez; Photo by Amitava Sarkar


Can you share with us your inspiration and creative process for the designs of Garrett Smith’s Reveal?

When Garrett asked me to design this piece for him early this year he gave me a few key words that would best represent his vision for Reveal.  ‘Chic’ and ‘fashionable’ were among a few of them. It was perfect, I was so excited! When I design for dance it’s always important for me to keep fashion at the forefront since that is my aesthetic and my background. So for Garrett, shape, form and color all help shape his vision, as well as mine.

Reveal sketches by Monica Guerra

Reveal sketches by Monica Guerra

He came to me first with the music and the idea of his piece, then he showed me some pictures of textures and colors he liked. One of the pictures was of a scrunched up layered leotard worn down to the waist as many dancers wear in rehearsals. He was very drawn to the look. He also happens to love the sheer and stretchy quality of mesh, so I fused both and added my love of silk to it. This is how it started. I began playing with a knotted detail with long bands/ribbons stretched and cut at different widths and pleated organically to create a texture that is light and comfortable, yet beautiful as well.

For the women I wanted to add to this texture by joining silk along with the mesh for added depth. The more I played with the mesh overlaid onto the silk I loved the way the shiny silk would bleed through the mesh and then in other moments where the mesh was randomly heavier it mattified the silk. This idea then became the cohesive element for both the men and women.

Fabrics for Reveal

Fabrics for Reveal

The knotted detail is used on the ladies corsets, and for the men it is used on their pant waistbands. I would drape these ideas on my dress form at home and send Garrett pics so he had a more dimensional concept, not just a flat sketch to go by. This was usually done around 3am, lol. I sketched a lot as I presented new ideas to him or challenged myself to rework some existing designs he had already approved, and then we would talk about it. We spoke almost every night for months and locked down designs, details and fabric choices.

Garrett Smith’s piece Reveal features the men in very edgy black coats; can you explain the design process behind these coats?

In choosing the fabric for the black coats Garrett just wanted to keep them black. In my many trips to the fabric store here in Houston I came across a metallic silk and cotton blend fabric. The metallic wasn’t incredibly shiny, and the reverse side of it was a nice deep black. These coats are long and take up a lot of yardage so keeping that in mind the price of this fabric was good, and there was a possibility for more to be ordered, which is always important.

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

These coats were going to be choreographed into the piece so I knew they had to have a little weight at the front after Garrett explaining some of the choreography with me, but they needed to stay mostly lighter at the back so they could fly behind the dancers. This was also something that was important to Garrett. Very early on he sent me a pic of a dancer wearing a heavy, ill fitting coat, but the focus was on the fantastic movement the coat had. I took that idea of it flying into the air and amplified it!

For these coats I was originally looking for a waxed linen but couldn’t find it in a lighter weight. I told Garrett about the idea of making the coats out of this metallic fabric I had found and he liked it, but was a little hesitant about it, as was I.. But I had this feeling that it could definitely work! I had it purchased since we had to get moving on the coats.. They were the first costumes to get done so the dancers could have them in rehearsal their first week.

Have you worked with Garrett Smith in the past? What’s it been like collaborating for the designs of Reveal?

I have worked with Garrett before but not at this level. In 2012 I designed and built costumes for his NYCDA piece Unseen. It was a pas de deux, only two costumes. He always wanted to work together again so I was honored and ecstatic when he asked me to design Reveal. Being able to collaborate with Garrett on Reveal has been inspiring, and thrilling! He’s every bit a perfectionist like me, which I love. It’s been fun to work through ideas with him since he’s such an artist himself, always recognizing color and fit. It’s always so rewarding to be able to present a different concept, or challenge a choreographer with fresh ideas or interesting fabric choices, and Garrett always listens to the possibilities which makes for a great collaboration. I have always loved his choreography and watching him work is like seeing art in motion..It’s his gifting. So to be a part of it has been truly wonderful.

Reveal costume sketch by Monica Guerra

Reveal costume sketch by Monica Guerra

Any challenges?

As far as challenges go..I always believe everything is possible, so with that said the costume shop had to tackle building a tear-away tutu that is functional and able to be fully ‘ripped-away’ on stage. Garrett’s choreography has the tutu being ripped off from side to side so that meant the center front and center back had to be split open and slightly overlapped. With the construction of a tutu there are usually 12 layers of net all hand tacked together. Also, a key component to helping a tutu structurally stand the way it does is with a hoop strategically sewn inside of a hidden casing. It was tricky since our talented pattern maker had to split the hooping in half.. therefore already weakening the structure. She added spokes and Velcro to help it along, usually not a norm for a traditional tutu. We had to test it out in rehearsal and worked closely with Nao Kusuzaki who is wearing it. She was strategic in assisting us with this. We also put a male dancer in a tutu which is new for Houston Ballet. Charles-Louis Yoshiyama was very helpful in us perfecting the tutu for what he needed. He wore it in almost every rehearsal just to get used to it. It didn’t take long though.. He was meant to wear it. He looks so powerful in it! I can’t wait for you to see it all in motion!

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Favorite pieces?

Definitely! There are several pieces that have become my favorites for various different reasons. One of my favorites is Nao’s silk ombré burnout and velvet coat that is placed on her on stage at a very strategic moment in the piece. There are panels in black velvet and others in a beautiful silk burnout velvet that I ombré dyed and painted. The entire back of it is pleated and the pleats continue to the side front. The collar is a high military style collar and looks

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

Reveal costumes by Monica Guerra

amazing on Nao! I would also have to say that another fave is the men’s look with the long black coat and black silk jersey roughed pant. The coats have these beautiful pleated panels at the center back to create an element of surprise, as well as movement and intrigue. Oh and the pants! Pure luxury in soft and stretchy silk jersey…it feels like a second skin and the dancers are loving it! The main reason I love this look is for so many reasons but also because I could easily see it on a runway. What is even better is that they are on our amazing dancers and we get to see them in full movement. Another of my favorites is the blue, as well as the white corsets worn by Katelyn May and Karina Gonzalez. They have these beautiful silk and mesh knots anchored in different places with the bands/ribbons all organically placed to wrap around the corset. The mesh and silk together form such a perfect union of draping and texture.

Reveal costume sketches by Monica Guerra

Reveal costume sketches by Monica Guerra


Reveal; Katelyn May and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Reveal; Katelyn May and Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet presents its Fall Mixed Repertory Program showcasing the best of contemporary choreography. British master and Houston Ballet’s Associate Choreographer Christopher Bruce’s hauntingly beautiful Ghost Dances returns after a twelve year absence from the Houston stage. Garrett Smith returns to Houston to create Reveal, his third new work for Houston Ballet. Rounding out the program is Stanton Welch’s Tapestry, a spectacular showcase for the company’s dancers.

When: At 7:30 p.m. on September 24, 26 and October 2, 3, 2015 & At 2:00 p.m. on September 27 and October 4, 2015

For more information visit:

Watch a preview of Fall Mixed Repertory Program: 


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


From Conception to Creation: The Costumes for “Romeo and Juliet”

February 11, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

“In Fair Houston where we lay our costumes/scene”

Oh Romeo, Romeo why are you dressed so dashingly? As the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet nears, a great deal of creativity has been brewing behind the scenes for several months at Houston Ballet. The company will perform the new production Romeo and Juliet from February 26- March 8, 2015.

The dancers glide beautifully across the stage, their movements telling the story. The scenery will have the audience feel as though they are in Verona, Italy with Romeo and Juliet. The costumes show a great deal of craftsmanship, detail and authenticity.  But why is this important?

Let me introduce one the very talented, Roberta Guidi di Bagno, Costume and Scenic Designer for Romeo and Juliet. Roberta will explain her creative process behind the costumes for the Romeo and Juliet.

Photo by: Sheila McKinnon

Photo by: Sheila McKinnon

What is the process in designing costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: The first thing is the conversation with the choreographer and the listening to the music (even if I know that particular music very well). With Stanton, we had long conversations prior to starting the designs. He had a very specific, challenging and interesting vision which immediately captured my fantasy and allowed me to start dreaming.

What was your inspiration for the costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: I drew my inspiration from the major Italian old masters from the 15th century; many of them came from Ferrara, my home town in Italy, such as Luca Signorelli, Piero della Francesca, Pisanello, Cosmè Tura, Perugino, Andrea Mantegna, Ercole de’Roberti, Lorenzo Costa, Andrea del Castagno, Francesco del Cossa, and Il Pollaiolo. In their paintings, I found many sources for colours and settings.

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Are the colors and designs of the Montague and Capulets costumes significant?

Guidi di Bagno: Yes, very much so. Stanton has done a very specific and detailed study of Romeo and Juliet and wanted to define each family so that we can tell immediately, through the colors, who belongs to which group (Capulets, Montagues and Escalus). At the same time, he wanted every single character to be individual in its own colour within the family group.

That was probably the harder part: finding fabrics or trims that would tie everybody in its own family colour.

I know the headpieces have significance, what is this significance?

Guidi di Bagno: In those times, people would always wear a headpiece as a symbol of their status or just for practical reasons. It is rare to see a painting where women, especially, are not wearing something on their heads. Even the Madonna’s will wear their auras!

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

Sketches by Costume and Scenic Designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno

What are the most difficult parts in designing these particular costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: As in most of the ballets where you’re trying to tell a story, the definition of the characters through the costumes is the real challenge: you want them to seem to be wearing real clothing, but they need to be able to dance as if they were just wearing a second skin.

I always say that I try to create a skin over their own skin so that the dancers don’t feel restricted in their movements and the choreographer is totally free to create what he has in mind with his art.

What was the most exciting part in the designing process?

Guidi di Bagno: The most exciting and challenging was to find the fabrics and the ways to adapt fabrics such as leathers to a particular cut. It was exciting to find, together with Laura Lynch, the key to this, by sewing these materials, especially the leathers, on lycra [type of stretch fiber], so that they could fit the bodies perfectly.

For the women, we had fabrics especially made, which have both body and shine, and which are also extremely light and flowing.

What would like the audience to take away from the costumes?

Guidi di Bagno: There are various elements: I would like them to feel that they are actually part of the story. I would like them to forget that they’re seated on a modern chair. At the same time, I think people should feel that it is only theatre.

Now that your imagination is running wild, why not put it to ease and let Houston Ballet sweep you off to Verona, Italy for a magical evening?


From February 26 – March 8, 2015, Houston Ballet presents the highlight of the 2014-2015 season:  the world premiere of a new production of Romeo and Juliet by Stanton Welch. One of Shakespeare’s most famous tales, Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet will be a fresh, brilliantly imagined interpretation of the classic love story of two star-crossed lovers. The production is set to the exquisite score by Sergei Prokofiev and designed by renowned Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, who will create the spectacular scenery and costumes for the production. This new production, Houston Ballet’s first in 28 years, is made possible through the generosity of longtime Houston Ballet supporters Ted and Melza Barr.

For more information:

Watch Romeo & Juliet – A Spectacle in the Making:


Swan Lake in the Costume Shop: Memories of Kristian Fredrikson

June 6, 2014

Guest Writer:  Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager


IMG_7580-Swan Lake_Sara Webb Connor Walsh_Amitava

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.

Houston_Ballet_Swan Lake_Welch 2009

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


Holly Hynes Creates Tuxedos “Worthy of the Red Carpet” in The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

March 5, 2014

From March 6 – 16, Houston Ballet will unveil the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s new version of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, set to the beloved score by Benjamin Britten and featuring costumes designed by Holly Hynes. 

Costume sketch by Holly Hynes

Costume sketch for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Holly Hynes

Ms. Hynes has enjoyed a long, distinguished career as a costume designer, with commissions from the Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet, among many others.  She has collaborated with Stanton Welch on eleven productions, including The Core, his homage to New York City in the 1940s, and Brigade, his delightful classical showpiece created in 2006.

Holly Hynes - Headshot

Holly Hynes; Photo by Paul Kolnik


Houston Ballet:Your costumes for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra seem inspired by tuxedos and have an air of 1930s Hollywood glamour. Can you talk about your concept for the costume design of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra? 

Holly Hynes: Stanton and I had been working on this idea for months. Batting around several different looks, we finally settled on an “orchestra uniform” for all, men and women, I wanted to come up with a glamorous streamline look for the main body of the ballet. Adjustments had to be made to the tailcoats so the dancers could move. But for the real meat of the choreography, I wanted something worthy of the red carpet: something tailored but showing their amazing bodies.

Houston Ballet: You’ve worked with Stanton Welch on several projects. Can you describe your collaborative process, and how it worked for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra?

Holly Hynes: This is my eleventh ballet with Stanton. He’s created some wonderful ballets for me to design all over the United States but the experience has been the best in his own backyard at the Houston Ballet. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is very special to me because I worked with Jerome Robbins and have supervised the recreation of Irene Sharaff’s designs for his Fanfare for the New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet which is set to the same music. To hear this piece played by the masterful Houston Ballet orchestra is a treat. But to watch the Houston Ballet dancers interpret Stanton’s vision in my clothes is a blessing.

Because I am based on the East Coast, our first meeting was in Central Park in New York City over coffee on a beautiful sunny day. I love that our collaborations are based on hard work but we always manage to get laughter and fun in there too. My first drawings were on little scraps of hotel note paper. Stanton is so trusting and we have worked well together for so long that even those little scratches could turn into full costume renderings. Of course living in two different cities, the internet has made our process much easier.

 Costume sketch 4

Costume sketch for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Holly Hynes

Houston Ballet: Can you talk about your collaboration with Houston Ballet’s costume shop in constructing the costumes for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra? When did you first provide them with costume sketches? How did you interact with them? 

Holly Hynes: Houston Ballet has a wonderful brand new costume shop in the Center for Dance. The workroom is filled with old and new friends. Wardrobe Manager Laura Lynch, who runs the department, is the first person after Stanton to receive the sketches. This is my twelfth build with Laura and we often finish each other’s’ sentences.

Our first conversation centered around budgets. We decided it would be more cost efficient to try and purchase the tailcoats but to make the pants and shirts and cummerbunds. That said, this started us on a long journey of trying to find black material and off the rack coats that would appear to be the same color on stage. The fabric needed to stretch as well, and extra jacket material had to be bought so we could add gussets under everyone’s arms.

Laura found some interesting fabrics and samples were made. But when I came in for my first trip, I didn’t love any of them. Next we went back to High Fashion Fabrics where I found a wonderful stretch fabric for all the pants. We held our breath while the store tried to find the right amount of yardage for us.

Costume sketch 3

A month passed and I flew in from New York a second time, and we fit the first cast which is over 30 dancers. Costume Shop Supervisor Sara Seavey, who is in charge of the work room, was amazing at keeping the fittings on time and everything tagged and organized. Not one dancer missed a fitting, something I wish other companies could boast about. Not sure how the tailors and drapers keep all parts together since from a distance it is a sea of black and white sameness. Follow up fittings and second casts were seen without me, but by then everyone owned the ballet.

I flew in last Thursday for the technical rehearsal and now we are waiting to begin the dress rehearsals leading up to the opening.

Houston Ballet: What was the first project on which you collaborated with Stanton Welch as costume designer? Did you realize at the time that it would lead to such a long and fruitful collaboration?

Holly Hynes: When I was Director of Costumes for the New York City Ballet I also had an active career designing both for the company and for outside ballet companies. One group, called the Chamber Dance Project, had invited a young choreographer from Australia to create a new piece for them. I was already working with them on another piece so they asked me to design for Stanton as well.

It is always scary to be suggested for a collaboration when you don’t know the other partner. Stanton couldn’t have been nicer and we immediately spoke the same language. He had grown up behind the scenes at The Australian Ballet with his performing parents and spent many an hour running around the costume shop. He has a great eye, and we have a very similar love of color.

Over the years he has really helped me find my voice as an artist. I owe him a lot as a friend and as a collaborator. The name of that first ballet was Kisses…I think that says it all.


Houston Ballet will perform The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra March 6 – 16 at Wortham Theater Center.  Also featured on the program are Stanton Welch’s ballets Maninyas and the company premiere of Of Blessed Memory.  Tickets start at $19, and may be purchased at

 For more information on this program, visit:

To watch a video preview of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra:


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


From Storyboards to the Stage: The glamorous costumes and jewelry for The Merry Widow

September 16, 2013

Guest Writer: Ashley Roberts, Wardrobe Intern

First as an operetta in 1905 and as a ballet in 1975, The Merry Widow has been performed on countless stages around the world. Choreographer Ronald Hynd’s glamorous production is once again being produced by Houston Ballet September 19-29 at Wortham Theater Center. Featuring lavish and spectacular scenery by Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, The Merry Widow takes place in 1905 Paris, the ballet is comprised of two love stories. One story is about previous lovers and the other about forbidden love. However, the spotlight is on the wardrobe. As a Wardrobe Intern I got to sit in on a fitting for The Merry Widow. I even got a chance to repair some of the jewelry pieces used in the show and additionally got to attend the first technical rehearsal for The Merry Widow. I never saw The Merry Widow performed or had any background information of the ballet before I started interning.

The Merry Widow_ Artists of Houston Ballet 2N9Y9460

Ballet: The Merry Widow; Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

My introduction to The Merry Widow started by completing storyboards for all the characters in the show. A storyboard is made of pictures or illustrations that comprise a story. The finished boards are then put in the dressing rooms of the dancers. They give the dancers and dressers, who come to help get the dancers in and out the costumes, a visual idea of their completed look. The wardrobe of the two main female characters Hanna and Valencienne stood out the most to me. Hanna, a wealthy widow, and Valencienne, the wife of a nobleman, have four different wardrobe changes each. The women are dressed in bodices made of rich velvets that are designed with attention to detail and are outfitted in gowns that sparkle.

 Storyboard The Merry Widow

An example of one of the storyboards that are placed in the dancer’s dressing rooms.

My favorite part of the wardrobe in The Merry Widow are the accessories! Almost every character has a set of accessories. In Act III the women have tiaras and the men carry top hats. The most meaningful accessory is a little pink scarf. Danilo pulls out a handkerchief that Hanna gave him many years ago as young lovers in Act I and of course Hanna is surprised. My favorite accessory for Hanna is a feathered shawl that is floor length in Act III. My favorite accessory for Valencienne is in Act I where she is wearing a chandelier necklace that lights up the stage. The Merry Widow has a great plot, fabulous wardrobe and is sure to fill your heart with delight!

Merry Jewelry

Valencienne’s necklace that she wears in Act I. The necklace has French elastic at the bottom that hooks into the bodice of Valencienne’s costume so the necklace won’t fall off or hurt the dancer on stage.


From September 19-29, 2013, Houston Ballet revives Ronald Hynd’s deliciously comic love story, The Merry Widow, featuring spectacular scenery and costumes by Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno. Set in turn of the century Paris, this production has it all:  lilting waltzes by Franz Lehár; saucy can-can girls, glamour and champagne; and a wonderful love story featuring an unlikely couple, separated in their youth, who rekindle their lost romance.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 713 227 2787 or by visiting

Watch a video preview of Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow.





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!


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:


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


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