Posts Tagged ‘blog’


Discussing Ekman’s CACTI with Stager Spenser Theberge

May 27, 2016

We are nearing the end of our 2015/16 season following a refreshing Winter Mixed Repertory Program in March and wonderful company performances at the Miller Outdoor Theatre and Cynthia Woodlands Mitchell Pavilion earlier this month! Now we welcome our Spring Mixed Repertory Program running May 26 to June 5 at the Wortham Theater. We are delighted to showcase George Balanchine’s iconic Serenade, Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria, and introduce Alexander Ekman’s Cacti to Houston. For this blog post we’ll be talking one-on-one with Cacti‘s stager and freelance dancer-choreographer Spenser Theberge. Get ready to laugh and smile with us as we discuss the triumphs of staging this captivating ballet!

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

Watch a preview of Houston Ballet’s 2016 Spring Mixed Repertory Program below:

Alexander Ekman’s Cacti is a rarity in the ballet world. Few classical ballets balance humor and beauty in ballet effectively, and even fewer major contemporary ballets bring a heavy dose of laughter alongside 21st century virtuosity. But if Serenade is essentially Balanchine’s love letter to technique and Gloria is Sir MacMillan’s elegy to WWI, then Cacti is definitely Ekman’s deconstruction of the very word “contemporary.”

“What does it mean?” It’s a simple but immense question which many audience members have often asked themselves following performances choreographed in the 20th and 21st centuries. Ballet was initially created as a form of refined entertainment and social dance–so, full-length Romantic and Classical ballets like Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty follow specific narratives with distinct characters–but moving into the 20th and 21st centuries ballet, in general, absorbed many modern and contemporary art concepts, eventually creating what is widely regarded today as “contemporary ballet.”

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

Our Spring Mixed Repertory Program follows a fairly recent historic pathway through dance leading up to Cacti‘s contemporary 21st century roots: The first conception of Serenade was in 1934, Gloria was created for the Royal Ballet in 1980, and Cacti premiered with Nederlands Dans Theater 2 in 2010. In terms of movement, Ekman’s Cacti represents one of many contemporary dance creations that are currently circulating across various countries. From on-stage laughter to body percussions to pretentious spoken text, Cacti offers a wide-range of  entertainment but with a certain 21st century grit attached.

Watch a preview of Alexander Ekman’s Cacti below:

This is Spenser Theberge’s first time staging Cacti, but it’s been a part of his life for many years. Off the top of his head, he mentioned he must have performed Cacti well over 100 times with Nederlands Dans Theater 2, which is a company that usually gets to perform mixed rep pieces like Cacti over a long period of time. “I’ve had a 3-year gap since I last touched it, but it still takes up a large part of my muscle memory,” he says. Theberge holds a BFA in dance from the Juilliard School. He’s performed extensively with Netherlands Dance Theater 2 and Netherlands Dance Theater 1 and was a member of The Forsythe Company in Germany during William Forsythe’s last years as director. Theberge now travels across the world as a freelance dancer and choreographer.

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

Theberge treats this ballet with a high level of pride and values all of its oddities and silliness. Watching the dancers during this staging process, he noticed that both casts from nearly the entire company also felt the same way. “It can be difficult to embrace everything that Cacti has to offer,” he admits. The entire first group section, for instance, with audible gasps and shouts is one area that can be particularly challenging for more reserved dancers.

But like most contemporary ballets, Cacti allows individuality to expand beyond reservations and limitations. During the staging process of this piece ranking company members invested themselves in each other’s progression. “I’m moved by their strong ability to process it all and help one another along the way. They’re such an honest group of committed artists who value their time together in the studio just as much as performing on stage,” he says with a smile.

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Artists of Houston Ballet. Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet. 2016.

Referring back to his time away from this piece Theberge notes, “Having a good sense of body knowledge is an important take-away for all mixed reps. My personal dance mantra is to take each piece with me into the future and respect my time with it.”  Looking ahead, Houston Ballet’s 2016-17 season includes two mixed repertory programs–American Ingenuity and Legends and Prodigy–that will feature similar contemporary movement. Time is a precious thing for everyone involved in the process of staging a ballet. “Because there can be so many programs in a season, it can become a series of ‘check-lists’ in many ways,” says Theberge. “But it’s important that the dancers ask themselves, what is being worked on today.”

During this month alone the company must find a balance between six performances (three per cast) of CactiSerenade, and Gloria for this mixed repertory program, crafting Giselle for its June world premiere, and rehearsing Romeo and Juliet for the upcoming Australian tour. Additionally, this is Houston Ballet’s third mixed repertory program of the 2015-16 season. “They have an extraordinary ability to walk into each studio without distractions and prioritize their studio time,” Theberge remarks. “They really enjoyed their time with Cacti, I think, and respect its value. I hope the audience will also come to enjoy and respect it too.”

Tickets for the Spring Mixed Repertory Program are on sale now by phone or online at with performances running until Sunday June 5.

Watch our video promo for George Balanchine’s Serenade below:

Watch our video promo for Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria below:

Join us next time on ‘En Pointe with Houston Ballet’ for posts about our last program of the 2015/16 season, Stanton Welch’s new staging of Giselle which premieres at the Wortham June 9-19! And later we’ll have a series of posts dedicated to our 2016 Summer Intensive in collaboration with our Academy.

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


Zodiac Costumer Designer – Eduardo Sicangco

June 3, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern


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

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

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

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

Taurus (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Taurus (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

What was your inspiration for the ballet Zodiac?

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

What is the significance in the costumes for this piece?

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

Virgo (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

Virgo (Woman); Costume Sketches by Eduardo Sicangco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

For more information visit:

Watch a preview of Zodiac



March 17, 2015

By Kalyn Oden, PR Intern

One, two, three! One, two, three! Those are not only counts but also the number of ballets to be presented during Houston Ballet’s spring mixed repertory program “Modern Masters” from March 12-22, 2015. The program features George Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina, Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato’s poignant Jardí Tancat, and Harald Lander’s Etudes.

Etudes; Artists of Houston Ballet; photo by Amitava Sarkar

Etudes; Artists of Houston Ballet; photo by Amitava Sarkar

Etudes is a ballet that takes the audience through the exercises dancers go through for their warm-up from start to finish. Here to teach this ballet to the artists of Houston Ballet is guest stager Johnny Eliasen. A stager is someone who has danced the performance before and teaches current dancers the steps, timing, architecture and intention of the ballet – they are reproducing the steps already created by the choreographer.

Johnny Eliasen and Connor Walsh; photo by Amitava Sarkar

Johnny Eliasen and Connor Walsh; photo by Amitava Sarkar

As a young boy, Mr. Eliasen danced Etudes then began staging after Leslie Lander saw how he had tackled the performance. From this point Mr. Eliasen has been staging Etudes around the world to several companies.

Etudes is like any other ballet, it is difficult. It is very highly technical and precise, it is not new. However, it is exposed, no makeup or props – just technique,” describes Eliasen. “By dancing this piece, dancers can continue getting into good shape and along with the knowledge and understanding of being in a unit to work together – being on the same beat and making the movements all flow together”, explains Eliasen.

Etudes; Connor Walsh and artists of Houston Ballet; photo by Amitava Sarkar

Etudes; Connor Walsh and artists of Houston Ballet; photo by Amitava Sarkar

This piece will give the audience a sneak peek into the hard work the dancers put forth to make a production happen. Mr. Eliasen wants the audience to, “sit back and enjoy but be aware of the amount of meticulous work the dancers have put into it to have people sit there and enjoy and feel in awe.”

Watch a clip of Houston Ballet performing Etudes


Checking in with Natalie Payne

July 21, 2014

 By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

 Time is just flying by and preparations for the final summer showcase are well underway here at the Center for Dance. This week, we’ll be highlighting one student’s path to the performance. Although her days are already brimming with learning, including jazz, gyrotonics, social, and Pilates classes in addition to ballet, Level 7 student Natalie Payne is working diligently to improve her technique for the show.

“I’m always working and focusing on my technique, but now I’m doing it in a way where I can be relaxed on top, and still really enjoy what I’m doing,” she said. “I think that you actually tend to dance better in class that way.”

Click below to hear her discuss the other ways she is preparing for the showcase, as well as her favorite non-dance aspects of the program!

The Level 7 students have been steadily working on Stanton Welch’s Paquita in variations class, but they also have dabbled with Aurora, the variation from Act I of Sleeping Beauty. Natalie mentioned that her class was “fortunate enough to have two lessons with former Houston Ballet principal dancer, Dawn Scannell. It was amazing to learn the variation from her, and hear what the story is behind it!”

We also laughed about the excited atmosphere in the building as the World Cup soccer tournament was often playing in the 5th floor lunch area. “A lot of the guys will go and watch the matches during their breaks,” she said.“We were in class with Claudio [Muñoz] and we had the studio door open. We suddenly heard this giant yell coming from the fifth floor kitchen! It was all the guys screaming because Argentina had scored. It’s been a really fun thing this summer, with everyone going for their teams. It’s been crazy!”

Clark and Lilian will be back next week to give their “multi-level” perspective on the so-called craziness of this summer!


Until then!


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!



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

November 4, 2013

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

Joyce Banner 2013 HB

Image Courtesy of Houston Ballet

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


 Brian Walker; Photo by Kaye Marvins Photography, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Play (Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet)

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

Lisa J. Pinkham - Joyce Lighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage Manager Michelle Elliott - Joyce HB

Stage Manager, Michelle Elliott; Photo by Brian Walker


The Return of Choreographer Garrett Smith

August 23, 2013

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

 Garrett Smith - Courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet

Garrett Smith; Image courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet

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


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

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

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

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

Cave Lake Image

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

Garrett Smith Sketch 1

Sketch by Travis Halsey

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

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

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

-Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith Headshot 2 - Courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet

Garrett Smith; Image courtesy of Norwegian National Ballet


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

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


Reflection – Goals You Set for Yourself: Jonathan Vecseri!

July 23, 2013

Guest Writer: Kate Owen, Academy Intern

Tuesday July 23, 2013

Jonathan is a 16 year old level 6 student from Houston, Texas. Jonathan has been dancing for 3 years at the Ballet Center of Houston and with Houston Repertoire Ballet. He has been in ballets such as Nutcracker, Midsummer Nights Dream, Cinderella, and Storybook. Other activities that he is involved in include speech, debate, square dancing, Civil Air Patrol, and viola. Talk about well-rounded! Jonathan has a love for engineering and mathematics, and ballet of course. During this Summer Intensive, he intends to decide whether he should continue with his ballet career. I don’t know about y’all, but I sure hope he sticks with it!

Please click the link below to meet Jonathan Vecseri and hear him talk about his past few weeks!

Jonathan wants to be a Summer Intensive video blogger to gain interview experience; therefore I will do my best to improve his skills! Besides being involved in Color Guard, speech, and debate, Jonathan has no experience in front of the camera. Dancers must present themselves in front of an audience and with his performance background; this blog will be a breeze!

This courageous young man is attending the Summer Intensive here at Houston Ballet in order to improve his technique and repertoire. He also would like to gain knowledge in what it would be like to be a part of a professional ballet company. Jonathan hopes to decide based on the outcome of this intensive whether or not he will become an engineer or continue with ballet. I know one thing for sure and that is no matter which direction he goes, Jonathan will most definitely flourish.

Stay tuned for the last student video blog post coming soon! The video will show various students sharing their favorite parts of summer and some unique talents.



Round 2 of Dance Advantage’s Top Blogs of 2011 Competition Starts Today

December 27, 2011

We made it to Round 2 of Dance Advantage’s Top Blogs of 2011! Thanks to our readers who commented, En Pointe with Houston Ballet is now in the running for best Dance Organization/Dancer Blog.

So how can you help us win the top spot? Click on the Vote button below and be sure to select En Pointe with Houston Ballet in the best Dance Organization/Dancer category. Voting is open from Dec 27 – Jan 4. We can do this!



December 15, 2011

Dance Advantage is starting their 2nd annual Top Dance Blog Competition and Houston Ballet is throwing their hat in the ring! So how can Houston Ballet be listed as one of the best blogs out there? This is the best part: it’s up to YOU. Our readers, our supporters, our cheerleaders, will determine if we make it to the next round.

Here is how the contest works: if you find yourself constantly checking in to see what Houston Ballet and our amazing dancers are up to, just post a comment on this blog entry! It’s that easy to show your support. After December 20, Dance Advantage will vote on the twenty blogs that received the most comments.

Make our holiday wishes come true and get us on Dance Advantage’s Top Dance Blog List!



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