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She’s Baaaack!

July 1, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Miss Natalie Payne, everyone’s favorite Aussie, has returned to once again provide an inside look into the life of a Summer Intensive Program dancer. “The training is so good here,” she says, forming a beaming smile. “I love working with all my teachers, as well as the new ones who come just for the summer.” Now a year-round student, Natalie feels “at home” here at the Center for Dance and hopes she can help other students to feel the same.

Click below to hear Natalie discuss her growth since we last saw her, tips for new students in the program, as well as how she fights fatigue during those long-haul flights from Australia!

Her favorite modern ballet is SechsTanze (Six Dances) choreographed by Jiří Kylián. The piece is quick-paced and witty – just like Natalie. After watching it myself, it was easy to see why she loves it! As for the classical, she could not stop raving about our very own Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake. “I saw it multiple times” she gushed. “It was beautiful.”

While Natalie had lots to share about the artistic elements of ballet, we also talked about some pretty quirky habits in her day-to-day life at the Center.

“What’s a must-have item in your ballet bag?” I ask as our time together winds down.

“Lip balm,” she laughs, “I’ve tried to go without it but I simply can’t! I’m obsessed! ”

She also always carries a small Pac-Man notebook with her to write down corrections during class. Did you spot it in the video?

Natalie sends love to her mom, dad and sister and will be back during week four to update us on her final performance, but I return next week to introduce you to our next two vloggers.

 

See you soon!

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Education and Outreach “Goes Global”

June 27, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Friday, June 27, 2014

Houston Ballet partners with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center (ERJCC) to put on “Jump, Jive, Move and Groove!” now in its second year.  This year, the program is hosted by Ripley House, a local service site of Neighborhood Centers, one of the largest charitable organizations in Texas, located at 4410 Navigation Boulevard.

Houston Ballet Education and Outreach staff partner with teachers from the ERJCC to design a summer camp curriculum which is modeled after the pedagogy created by Jacques d’Amboise at the National Dance Institute.  This year, over 50 children are taking two classes daily creating both dances and crafts. Following the theme “Wonders of the World” the young dancers are hard at work learning choreography for multiple pieces and creating costumes and props inspired by cultures from around the globe!

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Sommers leading the group during warm ups

I was invited to join Outreach Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist, Jennifer Sommers, to observe a Tuesday morning class. We were joined by Michele Kitchen and Sarah Oakley, Education and Outreach staff acting as assistant teachers and the lead teacher for ERJCC, Valerie Handy. Live music was provided by Pedro Huertas and Pelaya Parlade.

On the day I visited, the kids were learning a new dance, an Indian-inspired number to the tune of Jai Ho. I later discovered, along with the students, that it roughly translates to “let there be victory” from Hindi. A fitting mantra for a successful class!

Before the students arrived, Sommers rehearsed the steps she planned to teach and ran through the educational song she created to close the class. It was set to a fun, easy-to-remember rhyme scheme and as she sang about India, we followed her hand motions to learn about its capital, native animals and geographical location.
The students were working to prepare a short showcase of dances to present to friends and family this morning, Friday, June 27th.  Both classes already had a Greek-inspired dance in their repertoire, and while the younger students later immersed themselves in India, the older students took on China.

 

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Students strike a pose during the Greek-inspired number

The Greek dance was electric! It had goddess-inspired poses, an Olympic opening and a triumphant cry of “Opa!” ended the piece.  The energy was hard to resist! Even the slumped shoulders of the older kids weren’t enough to convince me that they weren’t enjoying themselves. The smiles twitching on the edge of their lips gave them away.

As a classics major, it was only right that the students quiz me on their Greek dance.

“Did you recognize the goddess in our dance? What about the god?” They were so proud of themselves– I had to make sure to get it right!

There was an embarrassing pause as I racked my brain for possibilities. I had been so enthralled in the overall feel of the dance that I hadn’t picked up on it. After a quick hint from Sommers, I guessed that their outstretched right arms were arrows, and as their left hand rested on their hip, the curve of their arm represented the bow. They were Artemis and her brother Apollo – the hunting twins!

Between the two classes, I had a chance to visit with the students. They grilled me about the trip to Greece I took through my study abroad program, and I was able to share my love of ancient history with a kindred audience. I mentioned that in college, you can choose to study classics exclusively. I could see the wheels begin to turn in their heads. “You mean…if I go to college, I can talk about this stuff all the time?”

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Discussing history and dance

Moments like this are what make these programs essential. They not only provide a safe space for the kids to spend their summer mornings, all the while learning about cooperation, confidence and coordination, but they also serve to introduce the dancers to the endless possibilities for their futures.

While some of the students discovered a love for Greek culture and history through this dance, others’ preexisting passion was simply nourished through the program. Maybe a few of the students don’t love Greek history – but that of India or China may fascinate them.

Students with a knack for the artistic can hone their skills in arts and craft class and even the simplest notion that this program allows these kids to just dance is significant.

“Jump, Jive, Move and Groove” allows students, many of whom don’t normally have access to dance classes and live music, to discover their passions.

At the end of each class, Sommers leads the students in thanking the live musicians, the assistant teachers, as well as themselves for a job well done.   We said it in Hindi that day: pronounced “Dhan’yavāda” the sentiment flowed off everyone’s tongue as they celebrated a successful class.

 

For more information about Education and Outreach programming please click here.

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The 2014 Summer Intensive Program is Here!

June 20, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

June 20, 2014

It’s that time of year again! On June 14th over 600 dancers from across the USA and around the world arrived in Houston for a jam-packed six week dance adventure.  The first week of the summer intensive program is drawing to a close, but the excitement here at Houston Ballet Center for Dance continues to build! The hallways are filled with student’s enthusiastic chatter, dance bags and energy.

Houston Ballet Summer Intensive 2013

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive – Photo by Cameron Durham

Want an inside look at all this excitement? You’re in luck! Each week a student will take us into their world right here on En Pointe. They’ll show us what it’s really like to dance in Houston’s summer intensive, all while having fun. This year we’ll be featuring a seasoned veteran with lots of advice to impart, as well as a fresh-faced brother-sister duo who can’t wait to share their excitement with you!

These videos will be uploaded to the Houston Ballet YouTube and Facebook pages as well – so keep an eye out!

Ciao for now!

Emily

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HOUSTON BALLET ACADEMY 2014 SUMMER INTENSIVE PROGRAM SETS NEW RECORD

June 19, 2014

The studios and corridors of the Houston Ballet Center for Dance are buzzing with hundreds of young bodies and an influx of electric energy as Houston Ballet Academy’s 2014 Summer Intensive Program kicks into high gear.

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer IntensiveHouston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

From June 16 – July 25, the Academy Summer Intensive welcomes 679 dance students from 45 states and 10 countries, including China, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Paraguay, Japan, Argentina, Israel, Brazil, and Mexico.  2014 marks the largest summer intensive program in the Academy’s 49-year history.

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

The young dancers — the majority of them teenagers — train intensively six days a week at Houston Ballet Center for Dance while also squeezing in time for some fun and field trips to Houston landmarks such as NASA.It is an exciting period of learning, growth, creativity and forging new friendships.

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive

Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

Claudio Munoz teaching students at the Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive

In January and February 2014, Academy teachers and coaches fanned out across the country to identify the most talented students at auditions held in 15 cities across America, from San Francisco to New York City. They also recruited from such ballet competitions as the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland and Youth America Grand Prix in New York City.

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive

Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

The Summer Intensive culminates in a fully-staged performance.  On July 11 at 7:00 pm, the Academy joins forces with the young composers of American Festival for the Arts to debut new works by teenage choreographers set to specially created scores by AFA students at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance, 601 Preston Street.  The performance is free and open to the public. Join us, and share the excitement of the 2014 Summer Intensive Program!

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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 www.houstonballet.org

For more information on this program, visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Swan_Lake/

To watch a video preview of Swan Lake

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DANCING BALANCHINE AND KYLIAN: AN INTERVIEW WITH SOLOIST LAUREN STRONGIN

May 23, 2014

-by Stephanie Brown, Public Relations Intern

Houston Ballet is exploring the diverse artistic genius of George Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Jiří Kylián in its program Modern Masters, currently running now through June 1st. The imaginative and powerful choreography of these three masters can be described as immensely challenging, yet a pure joy and honor to perform.

Artists of Houston Ballet - The Four Temperaments

Photograph from The Four Temperaments, Choreography by George Balanchine, © The George Balanchine Trust. Dancers: Artists of Houston Ballet (Lauren Strongin [right]). Photo by Amitava Sarkar

The dreams of Soloist Lauren Strongin are finally coming true; she will be dancing in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. We spoke with Lauren to find out what she loves about these two choreographers, as well as the challenges and triumphs she has faced in her journey of preparing for Modern Masters.

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Soloist Lauren Strongin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet:  Explain to us the art of dancing a George Balanchine piece. How does Balanchine stand out from other choreographers?

Lauren Strongin:  Balanchine was a revolutionary. His style permeates many contemporary choreographers work. Even within the Modern Masters program, his influence on Kylián and Forsythe is noticeable. His musicality and requirement for extreme precision always pushes me. There is always a sense of accomplishment after performing one of his works.

Houston Ballet:  Tell us about your solo in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. What are some challenges you have faced in dancing this piece?

Lauren StronginThe Four Temperaments is a ballet I remember seeing while in school in Stuttgart, Germany. I was in awe of the use of modern movements incorporated into a seamless non-narrative. I loved the way the body was used as a means of expression rather than relying on facial emotion or pantomime techniques to get his vision across. It’s a classic Balanchine that I am honored to perform not one, but two roles in. It’s a ballet I’ve always hoped to dance.

The Four Temp Artists of Houston

Photograph from The Four Temperaments, Choreography by George Balanchine, © The George Balanchine Trust. Dancers: Artists of Houston Ballet. Photo by Amitava Sarkar

It’s sexy in an understated way. There is a confidence that is built into the choreography. The challenge in dancing a Balanchine ballet is to let the movement and musicality drive the emotional intent. His works are physically very revealing and require pure use of technique and precision. His ballets always make me feel like I am improving on myself. This experience working with Judith Fugate, who has staged The Four Temperaments for Houston Ballet, has also been such a treasure, that I feel confident and excited to be a part of this ballet.

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Ballet: Petite Mort; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet:  Jiří Kylián is another great choreographer honored in Modern Masters. Explain to us what you have learned from Kylián’s choreography and how his style differs from other ballets.

Lauren Strongin: Kylián to me is genius. His use of movement is so fluid and natural. I find his work to be very thoughtful and genuine. He is confident in what he is trying to say and therefore does not over decorate or add unnecessary movements to fill in his work. He is a true original, and I am always honored to dance in his ballets. It seems that his works have a living quality to them, as if they have a soul.

Houston Ballet:  You are performing a pas de deux in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. I understand this is a very sensual piece; how does it make you feel and what do you do to prepare for this role?

Lauren Strongin:  Petite Mort is a ballet I had always hoped to dance at some point in my career. I’m thrilled to have the chance, now, to be a part of it. It’s also an honor to be coached once more by Ros Anderson. She’s such an expert on Kylián’s work and always makes me feel very confident and secure in the movement.

It is a very sensual ballet and to me really explores individual personal relationships between couples. Each couple is expressing a different part of a partnership. It’s a ballet that makes the audience and dancers want to focus on every detail, so as not to miss a moment. It’s a true masterpiece.

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Houston Ballet continues its performances of Modern Masters through Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm at Wortham Theater Center.  For tickets and more information, visit:  https://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Modern_Masters/

 

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Dancing the Black Swan

May 9, 2014

-by Jennifer Sommers, Houston Ballet Outreach Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist

Houston Ballet's Swan Lake

Mireille Hassenboehler and Andrew Murphy, artists of Houston Ballet; Swan Lake; Amitava Sarkar

 

Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film Black Swan traces the psychological breakdown of a ballerina preparing to dance the leading role in Swan Lake in a fictional New York ballet company. When it premiered on the big screen, it received fantastic reviews such as these:

“To induce a state of dread and mesmerize with beauty is a rare, paradoxical achievement.”  –USA Today

“Wild and wooly, the movie is a breathtaking head trip that hails from a long tradition of backstage melodramas…” –Philadelphia Inquirer

 And reviews that panned it like these:

 “For all its dazzling allure, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, a feverishly psycho thriller set in the hermetic world of classical ballet, proves a meaningless exercise in Grand Guignol exhibitionism.” –NPR

 “Not just any kind of trash, it’s high-art trash, a kind of “When Tutu Goes Psycho” that so prizes hysteria over sanity that it’s worth your life to tell when its characters are hallucinating and when they’re not. –The Los Angeles Times

But what do dancers who have prepared for and danced Odette/Odile in Swan Lake think of the movie? That’s what we will find out when Houston Ballet concludes its 2013-14 Dance Talks series on May 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm with a special screening of Black Swan at Sundance Cinemas, followed by a panel of current and former Houston Ballet principal dancers. The dancers will share their thoughts about the film’s portrayal of the lead dancer, life in world-class ballet company, and what it’s like to prepare for and dance the lead role Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.

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

Former principal dancer Dawn Scannell, who danced her first Swan Lake for Houston Ballet on opening night in 1996 with Carlos Acosta, will moderate the panel. She will be joined by a group of favorite Houston dancers including: former principal dancer Lauren Anderson, who first danced Odette/Odile in 1996 with Sean Kelly; Barbara Bears, who first danced the lead in Swan Lake with Li Cunxin in 1991 while she was still a corps de ballet member; Mireille Hassenboehler, who danced the Stevenson version of Swan Lake with Carlos Acosta and performed with Andrew Murphy on opening night for the premiere of Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake; Sara Webb, who has danced both the Stevenson and Welch version and is preparing to perform Odette/Odile again in June; and Karina Gonzalez, who Houston will see in Swan Lake for the very first time in June.

Join us on Tuesday, May 27th, at 7:00 PM, at Sundance Cinemas, 510 Texas Avenue, for a fun and insightful night of ballet and film!

 For more information about our Dance Talks visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/Education_Outreach/Dance_Talks/

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Barbara Bears and Connor Walsh in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Seating for the free screening of Black Swan is first-come, first-served, and tickets may not be obtained in advance.  Please note that Black Swan is a psychological horror film, and is not suitable for younger or more sensitive audiences.

Image from Black Swan Film

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Houston Ballet Academy Students Take Voyage Of Discovery And Inspiration In Germany At The Fourth Dance Education Biennale 2014 Dresden

March 21, 2014

–by Shelly Power, Houston Ballet Academy Director

From February 15 – 23, 2014, a group representing Houston Ballet Academy enjoyed a full week in Dresden, Germany, participating in workshops, classes, performances and a two-day symposium on the creative process. Being one of three international schools and the only school from America, we were privileged and honored to be a part of the Biennale.

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Houston Ballet Academy Dancers,  Jack Thomas and Charlotte Larzelere

As I reflect back on our trip to Germany it reminds me of the importance of Houston Ballet’s international relationships with the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition in Switzerland, with Canada’s National Ballet School, and with ballet schools in Japan. They not only help us continue the evolution of dance in the broad perspective; they also impact us personally.

Jason Beechey, Director of the Palucca Schule in Dresden, hosted the week, which inspired our students, challenged our thinking and allowed us to experience performances in the beautiful Semperoper Opera House as well as the Hellerau European Center for the Arts.

Our contingent included Houston Ballet II Ballet Master Claudio Munoz,  Houston Ballet II dancers James Potter and Jack Thomas, and level 8 students Charlotte Larzelere and Madison Young. Claudio arrived with our students on Saturday, February 15, and classes began early Sunday morning. The teaching staff was fantastic and featured  free-lance teachers Christine  Anthony, Artistic Director  Frederic Flamand, Choreographer and Ballet Director Marguerite Donlon, and Semperoper Ballet’s Principal Ballet Mater Gamal Goud — to name a few. Check out the entire roster at http://www.biennale-tanzausbildung.de/en/participants/teachers/.

The Student Workshops

Students rotated throughout the week, allowing for a different daily class experience. The workshop met daily, and students worked with the same group and leader all week, giving them time to get comfortable with the process. The end results of the workshop were informally demonstrated at the Hellerau European Center for the Arts, which is a creative space plunked right down in the middle of a residential area.  It has an important history for the Dresden community as well as for the creativity the space itself is designed to bring about.

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Houston Ballet Academy Dancer, Charlotte Larzelere

I witnessed each group as they maneuvered themselves through the process each leader created for them. Charlotte seemed to expand her long arms and legs and move more freely.  James absorbed a sense of confidence. Although already intense in his thought process, he seemed to deepen his conviction to the movement. Jack was inspired by the process in that he had never experienced improvisation in this way and gave of himself fully. Madison was a trouper as she observed the process because her injured toe prevented her from participating. However, through her observation, I believe she witnessed much of what I observed:  individual personal growth in each student.

Houston Ballet Academy - James Potter

Houston Ballet Academy Dancer, James Potter

In an interview later, James expressed how he was able to feel more assured overall because the process helped him to develop his own movement and emotion, which he plans to incorporate in his investment in future roles as a dancer. It is most difficult to put yourself out there in this manner — rather than copying what you believe a role should be.  You give of yourself to the role, and you become the role as one.

Performance Time!

Mr. Beechey invited us to bring two pieces of student choreography to Dresden. James Potter had just finished a new piece for his evaluations in the fall, and we invited him to bring a second piece he had done last summer for the choreographic workshop. Both pieces were performed in the Semperoper House on Tuesday night, February 23. Other schools joined him with an array of works that represented work from each school.

Before both pieces, we showed a video in which James and his dancers shared their journey in creating the work which had been filmed and edited by David Rivera of Houston Ballet. The audience loved both pieces as well as the film on the creative process.

During the week, we were fortunate to see The Forsythe Company perform Sider. Watching this improvisational piece develop on the spot was incredible. I found out later that the dancers heard commands through ear pieces that directed them when to stop and start and move to another section as well as hearing Shakespearean dialogue which crafted much of the story. I heard from audience members who had attended again the second night that the piece looked totally different from the first night. Now German audiences have experienced this type of performance many times before. However many of us saw this process for the first time.

The week ended for me with a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Semperoper House danced by the Dresden Ballet company. The choreography and contemporary concept by Stijn Celis were unique. I am not sure balletomanes would enjoy it. But I was most impressed with the ballet dancer’s ability to tell the story in a language so different from classical ballet. Celis was brave in his choices, such as having Juliet (Julia Weiss) in tennis shoes, a white button down shirt and shorts. She danced beautifully. Elena Vostrotina as Lady Capulet is over 6 feet tall in her stilettos heels, and carried much of the show simply with her powerful walks across stage.  Jiří Bubeníček was incredible as Romeo.

The Symposium

Over two days, we discussed the creative process in several different scenarios during the symposium. We focused on how creativity affects the artist, an institution, the funding, an audience, the profession and education as a whole.

Houston Ballet Center for Dance

Houston Ballet Center for Dance; Photo by Nic Lehoux

I participated as a panelist in a forum in which we discussed how creative our own institutions were. Given that we offer several different venues at Houston Ballet that actually push the creative engine, I felt proud of our investment of time and energies. The Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab (the 175-seat black box theater at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance) came to mind.  This space gives us the opportunity to create new works, present performances, and educate through Dance Talks and Studio Series. Also, through collaborations such as Pink at the Brown, we give artists the opportunity to give of their talents to raise awareness and resources, all in the name of breast cancer awareness and using the arts to heal.

Other topics such as the conflict between education and the profession were discussed, which highlighted the growth the US has made in college dance programs across the country, juxtaposed with German schools which offer B.A. and M.A.’s by the hundreds. We considered the usefulness of such degrees, and how Europe and America differ in hiring with such degrees.

The key note speech on Creativity and Promoting Creativity was presented by Professor Dr. Rainer Holm-Hadulla who is a specialist in psychiatry and has written a book on this topic. He walked us through the analysis of creative processes, revealing the implications for the promotion of ordinary and extraordinary creativity. That said, it is more about an individual’s interest in an art form than it is on DNA. Those who pursue what they love often end up succeeding in some manner. Those who are extraordinary might be individuals who take something out of chaos and form structure from it. Often those in our culture who have been extraordinarily creative have built an inner structure within themselves that may have been missing, thus producing an external art form such as painting, music or dance. I won’t go any further as I am afraid Dr. Hadulla might be horrified by my interpretation. But I found his thought process intriguing.

Houston Ballet Academy Dancers in Germany

Houston Ballet II dancers James Potter and Jack Thomas, and level 8 students Charlotte Larzelere and Madison Young

Wrap Up

The symposium wrapped up the week with the articulate and bright spirited Deborah Bull, Mistress of Ceremonies, capturing the inspiration and discovery that both students and directors experienced. Meeting with my colleagues from across the globe was also important as we were able to network and brain storm on how we might bring a new creative energy back home.

 

Watch this video in which Academy student and choreographer James Potter discusses his creative process for creating a new work for Houston Ballet Academy.

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Acclaimed Actor Steps into New Role in “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

March 13, 2014

Over the last month, Houston Ballet has been pleased to welcome the beloved Texas actor Jaston Williams as a guest artist, performing the role of the narrator in Stanton Welch’s new production of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which continues in performance at Wortham Theater Center through Sunday, March 16 at 2:00 pm.

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Ballet: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Since 1982, Mr. Williams has served as co-author and co-star of the Tuna trilogy (including Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas), chronicling the citizens of the small fictional town of Tuna, Texas on and off Broadway, at The Kennedy Center, the Edinburgh International Arts Festival, the Spoleto Festival USA and on tours across America. He won the LA Dramalogue  and the San Francisco Bay Area Critics Awards for his performances in both Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas. A native of Austin, Mr. Williams toured for several years in Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, and received a nomination for best actor for Washington DC’s prestigious Helen Hayes Awards.

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Jaston Williams; Photo by Brenda Ladd

In this week’s blog, he spoke about his surprise at being asked to collaborate with Houston Ballet, his admiration for the work ethic of the dancers, and the solicitude of music director Ermanno Florio in working with him during the rehearsal process.

Houston Ballet: When you were first approached about appearing as the Narrator in The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, what was your initial response?

Jaston Williams: I first met members of the Houston Ballet last year when they and I were being honored with the Texas Medal of the Arts Awards. I must say then when I got the call I feared they might have dialed the wrong number! But of course I’m honored to be a part of this production.

Houston Ballet: You’ve worked with actors and theatrical companies across the nation. What was it like to collaborate with dancers and orchestra musicians?

Jaston Williams: Sadly I can’t allow myself to watch the dancers in the performance because I will get so mesmerized that I’ll forget what I’m supposed to be doing. As for the orchestra the conductor has taken great care of me and has been beyond patient and helpful.

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Ballet: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet: What has been the most challenging part for you about appearing as the narrator in The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Jaston Williams: My greatest challenge has been trying not to show my age among these beautiful young people. I fear I look like everyone’s grandfather when I’m up there on stage.

Houston Ballet: What has been the most rewarding part of the experience?

Jaston Williams: I find it humbling to observe the work ethic of dancers. We don’t work that hard in the world of theatre.

Houston Ballet: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about your experience working with Stanton Welch, collaborating with Houston Ballet and its orchestra?

Jaston Williams: It has been a distinct pleasure to observe Stanton in all his brilliance and to be allowed to have this unique performance opportunity. I will recall it fondly.

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Houston Ballet continues its performances of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra through Sunday, March 16 at 2:00 pm. For more information and to purchase tickets:  https://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Young_Persons_Guide/

Or call Houston Ballet’s Box Office at 713 227 2787 Monday – Friday 9 am – 5pm.

Watch a clip of Stanton Welch’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, with narration by Jaston Williams.

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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.

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Holly Hynes; Photo by Paul Kolnik

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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.

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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 www.houstonballet.org

 For more information on this program, visit:  http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Young_Persons_Guide/

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

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