Posts Tagged ‘dance’

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Academy Students Leap On To World Stage At Prix De Lausanne Competition In Switzerland

January 30, 2014

Houston Ballet Academy students Tyler Donatelli, who is 17 and from Huntington Beach, California, and Michael Ryan, who is 17 and a native of Plano, Texas, have been accepted into the  prestigious international ballet competition Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland January 26 – February 1.

Tyler Donatelli & Michael Ryan - Amitava Sarkar Houston Ballet

Dancers: Michael Ryan and Tyler Donatelli; Photo by Cameron Durham

They are in Switzerland this week for an once-in-a-lifetime experience: taking classes, being coached by international experts, and networking with other gifted young students from across the world.  The public can follow their daily progress and watch the final round of the competition on Saturday morning, February 1, via live streaming at the Prix de Lausanne’s web site, www.prixdelausanne.org

Since 2009, five HoustonBalletAcademy students have won awards at the Prix de Lausanne, with one student, Emanuel Amuchastegui, taking the top prize, and the “Audience Favorite” Award in 2010.  Other Houston Ballet dancers who have won awards at Prix de Lausanne include Joel Woellner, Harper Watters, and Aaron Sharatt.

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Joel Woellner at Prix 2013; courtesy of Prix de Lausanne

Behind each of these five winners and Tyler and Michael are a superb group of Houston Ballet Academy instructors who spend months preparing, coaching, teaching and nurturing the young dancers to ready them for the rigors of competition – and in the upper levels of the Academy’s professional training program.

Claudio Munoz is ballet master of Houston Ballet II, and has played a major role in producing the stellar crop of gifted young male dancers in the Academy over the last decade.  He enjoyed a distinguished career as a principal dancer who performed in Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, and New York.  He then went on to serve as an instructor for the Ballet Nacional de Chile, Ballet de Santiago, and Ballet Nacional de Peru.  He joined the staff of Houston Ballet Academy in 1999.  With his charismatic manner, his exacting standards, and his humorous banter in the studio, he has won the affection and dedication of his male students.

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Claudio Munoz teaching Houston Ballet Academy students; Photo by Cameron Durham

“Claudio understands competitions and balances the pace of the students coaching. He knows when to push and when to step back and allow the student room to find his way,” comments Academy Director Shelly Power.  “Claudio has a wealth of experience that makes his intuitive approach to coaching unique and nurturing.”

Priscilla Nathan Murphy is principal of Houston Ballet’s Lower School, and typically focuses her attention on the Academy’s youngest students.  But recently she has taken a significant role in helping to prepare Tyler and Michael for this year’s Prix de Lausanne.  Priscilla has served on the Academy faculty since 1985, having taught creative movement, ballet and modern dance in the pre-professional and professional divisions of the Academy. As a dancer, she has performed in Singapore and the United States with several companies.  She has also choreographed extensively in the United States.

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Priscilla Nathan Murphy

“Priscilla is an organic mover,” observed Ms. Power. “Although she might not have worked with the contemporary choreographers whose works the students are required to perform at the Prix, she understands the genesis of the movement. She prepares our students who are competing from a technical level, making them open and responsive to the coaching that they will receive at the Prix. We depend on this foundation because the students cannot go to Prix worried about how to do a contraction. Our students need to focus on how the flow of the movement makes them unique, and they need to be sensitive to the feedback from coaches at the Prix that they are expected to embrace.”

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Sabrina Lenzi and students of Houston Ballet Academy

A native of Rome, Sabrina Lenzi brings a wealth of international experience to her role as ballet mistress of Houston Ballet II from having danced as a principal at two very prestigious European companies, the Stuttgart Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom. “Sabrina’s a great coach; she’s very intuitive. She understands the great classical roles because she’s performed them,” observes Ms. Power, “Because Sabrina has been trained in Pilates, she comprehends the body from many different perspectives — from injury prevention to strengthening. Sabrina understands the many different phases of developing a career in dance: from training to become a professional dancer. And she’s very good at helping her students make that transition.  She’s also a mom who has a daughter in the Academy, and being a mother gives her a special understanding of the process.”

A native of Sidney Australia, instructor Andrew Murphy enjoyed a distinguished career as a leading soloist with The Australian Ballet and as a principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet and Houston Ballet. “Andrew is an excellent male role model. He’s very good at helping the male students (some of whom may have been in a school with a majority of girls) to develop an athletic approach with strong attack when they come to Houston Ballet Academy,” commented Ms. Power. “Being very well travelled as a dancer, he brings many experiences from a lifetime of dance in Australia, the United Kingdom, and in America. He started studying ballet very early, and joined a professional company at age 16, which is quite young. Having danced all of the principal roles with companies across the world, he brings a wealth of experience to his coaching.  Andrew is an excellent turner, and he has a superb understanding of the nuances of male dancers executing turns.”

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Andrew Murphy and students of Houston Ballet Academy; Photo by Nerio Photography

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All About “The Nutcracker” – Q&A with Corps de Ballet dancer Derek Dunn

December 19, 2013

-by Kassandra Tak, Marketing/Public Relations Intern

Houston Ballet First Year Corps de Ballet Dancer Derek Dunn, took some time to share his thoughts about dancing the roles of Fritz and the Gopak in The Nutcracker, running November 29 – December 29, 2013 at Wortham Theater Center. An interesting fact about Mr. Dunn is that he was awarded a Gold medal in the Senior Division at the 2012 Youth America Grand Prix.

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Dancer Headshot: Derek Dunn; Photo: Amitava Sarkar


Q. What was your first role in The Nutcracker? How did you feel? 

A. My first ever role in the Nutcracker was a party boy when I was only 6 years old. At that age, I was just excited to be onstage any chance I got. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to act onstage, and since the party scene is filled with lots of acting, this role was very enjoyable for me.

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Dancer: Derek Dunn; Ballet: Clear; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Q. What roles were you cast in for the 2012 Nutcracker performances? How did you feel playing this character?

A. That year, I was given the opportunity to perform the role of Gopak. Although the solo is short, it’s filled with big jumps and turns, and is full of excitement. I had to be very energetic and involved with the audience. The music is fast, which really helped me get my adrenaline flowing. That being my first year in the company, I felt very privileged to perform this role, and I had a lot of fun with it.

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Derek Dunn in rehearsals at Houston Ballet Center for Dance; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Q. What role(s) are you playing for this 2013 Nutcracker season? 

A. Throughout our run of The Nutcracker, I get to play multiple different roles, including Fritz, Soldier Doll, Chinese, Mirliton, Spanish, and Gopak.

Q. Which role are you looking forward to playing? And why?

A. I am most looking forward to dancing the role of Fritz. When I was younger, I was given the opportunity to dance that role, so returning to perform Fritz again at an older age is something that I find very enjoyable. I get to bring out my youthful side, through acting and dancing around the stage. I always find theatrical characters to be a lot of fun because it forces you to act in ways that you may not act like in real life.

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Dancers: Nozomi Iijima, Christopher Gray and Artists of Houston Ballet; Ballet: The Nutcracker (Act One) Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Q. Which act in The Nutcracker is your favorite? And why?

A. Although I love the whole ballet, I really enjoy the first act of The Nutcracker. In the first act, you get a sense of the whole story. Clara is given a magical Nutcracker that enters her dreams and takes her to extraordinary places. The second act is amazing for the amount of diverse dancing it shows, but I really enjoy the set up of the story-line in the first act. In a way, the second act is like a conclusion to the story, but the first act has many different scenes that take you on a journey with Clara.

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Houston Ballet performs Ben Stevenson’s staging of The Nutcracker, featuring spectacular scenery and costumes by Desmond Heeley, November 29 – December 29 at Wortham Theater Center.  For tickets and more information, visit http://www.houstonballet.org/TheNutcracker/ or call 713 227 2787 Monday – Friday 9 am – 6 pm.

Watch a video preview of The Nutcracker:  

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All About “The Nutcracker” – Q&A with Soloist Nao Kusuzaki

December 9, 2013

–by  Kassandra Tak, Marketing/Public Relations Intern

With the holidays around the corner, Houston Ballet’s Soloist, Nao Kusuzaki, took some time to share her thoughts about The Nutcracker, running November 29 – December 29 at Wortham Theater Center. Ms. Kusuzaki joined Houston Ballet in 2004 and she has danced a variety of roles since becoming a Soloist in 2008.

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Nao Kusuzaki; Photo by Pam Francis

Q. What was your first role in The Nutcracker? How did you feel?

A.  My first Nutcracker roles, with Boston Ballet, included Marzipan, Waltz of Flowers, Snowflakes, and party scene parent. I remember looking forward to this time of the season. I grew up being involved in this production as a student, and dreamed of one day dancing next to dancers I looked up to in the company. In the early years with the company, I performed in nearly 50 shows, which I did not mind.

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Nao Kusuzaki as Clara’s Mother and Artists of Houston Ballet; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Q. What roles were you cast in for the 2012 Nutcracker performances?

A. I danced the Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Mirlitons, and Clara’s Mother.

Q. How did you feel playing Snow Queen?

A. The snow queen stands at the apex, commanding the transformation from the Battle Scene to the Snow Scene and taking everyone into her world. I enjoy portraying this confident, warm, regal woman. Although it is physically demanding, I imagine what the audience is experiencing in this moment, possibly for the first time, and it sets me free.

The Nutcracker Artists of Houston Ballet

Artists of Houston Ballet; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Q.  What role(s) are you playing for this 2013 Nutcracker season?

A. I will be dancing the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen, Arabian, Waltz of Flowers, Mirlitons, and Clara’s Mother.

Q. Which role are you looking forward to playing? And why?

A. One of the things that make The Nutcracker interesting is having the various roles to rotate throughout the run. For me, I particularly look forward to dancing the Sugarplum Fairy.  I enjoy the challenge for its pure classical technique, as well as in working to embody effortlessness, refinement, elegance and generosity–all of the qualities I envisioned as a young girl in the Sugarplum Fairy. Although I admit that hearing The Nutcracker music outside of the theater during the holiday season, especially after a two-show day, can be overwhelming. I look forward to dancing to this Tchaikovsky score. I think the music in Snow Scene and The Sugarplum pas de deux are so beautifully romantic and emotionally charged. This year, yet again, I’m inspired.

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Artists of Houston Ballet; The Nutcracker; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Q. Which act in The Nutcracker is your favorite? And why?

A. My favorite to watch is the transformation from the Battle Scene into the Snow Scene and until the end of Act I. I cannot get over the dramatic change, which unfolds as Clara kills the King Rat. In a flash the soldiers disappear, the mice escape, the Nutcracker turns into a Prince, Clara is in a Land of Snow where a Snow Queen welcomes her in, and the mood of the music is changed in a matter of seconds. Then, from this calmness reminiscent of first snowfall of the year, the scene builds up yet again. This time with many dancing snowflakes, they create a soaring snow storm, leading Clara’s way to the Kingdom of the Sweets.

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Houston Ballet performs Ben Stevenson’s staging of The Nutcracker, featuring spectacular scenery and costumes by Desmond Heeley, November 29 – December 29 at Wortham Theater Center. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.houstonballet.org/TheNutcracker/ or call 713 227 2787 Monday – Friday 9 am – 6pm.

Watch a video preview of The Nutcracker

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Congratulations To Houston Ballet’s Ballerina Bride, Melody Mennite

November 22, 2013

You may now kiss the bride!

On October 5, 2013, in Houston, Texas, Houston Ballet principal dancer Melody Mennite and Rick Walsh started a new chapter in their life as husband and wife. Please join me in congratulating the happy couple! In this blog entry, Melody shares the precious moments of her wedding and what’s to come of the future.

Melody will dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker on November 30 (matinee), December 8 (evening), December 23 (evening), December 26 (evening), and December 28 (matinee).

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Mr. and Mrs. Rick and Melody Walsh; Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Planning a wedding isn’t easy…and on top of that as a principal dancer you are busy year round. What sort of things did you have to consider when it came to your wedding date?

We really had to plan it around when the company was on break. October is a fairly mild month in Houston, and since I wanted to be able to be outside, it just seemed like the right option. (Plus it was either that or wait all the way until next summer, and I was too excited to wait that long!)

October 5, 2013…guests have arrived, love is in the air, and cameras are ready…..tell us about your wedding day.

It was so special… First of all, almost all of my family has never come to Houston (and I’ve been here 13 years!). There was a moment where it hit me that they were here and we were all together and Rick just had to hold me as I cried. So many happy tears that weekend…

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Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

The actual day of was a little crazy. But great. All our friends and family were so helpful and present and we just kept saying “this is so perfect”. At one point when all my girls and I were getting ready, I hid in the shower because I had to finish a letter to Rick. The room was so full of energy and life (and people, haha!) that the shower was the only place I could think quietly. I can say that one of my favorite things about our wedding was how all the players (from photography, to music, to food, to attire, etc…) were people we know and love. It made every detail and moment so dear to us both. I can’t imagine being any happier with everything about that day. 

Did it take place in Houston or somewhere else?

It was at The Gardens of Bammel Lane in Houston, Texas.

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Mr. and Mrs. Rick and Melody Walsh; Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Tell us about your prince charming?

Rick is the true and pure meaning of the word “gentleman”. He is not only heart achingly handsome, but deeply caring and thoughtful. When I met him, I recognized immediately that I was meeting someone rare, honest, and extraordinary. I am tremendously blessed and honored to be the wife of such a beautiful person. He is the best man I’ve ever known.

Melody Wedding 4 Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

When, where and how did you two meet?

Well, Rick is the older brother of Houston Ballet Principal dancer Joseph Walsh. So it was Joe that introduced us, at his old apartment, when Rick was in town visiting him years ago.

Describe your husband in 3 words or less.

Compassionate, selfless, intelligent

Melody Mennite and Rick Walsh

Mr. and Mrs. Rick and Melody Walsh

When you are on stage, is he in the audience? Are there any particular roles he enjoys you dancing in?

He says his favorite roles so far have been me as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Wendy in Peter Pan, and Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly. He says he especially enjoyed watching Joe and I perform Coppelia together. (which we did this Spring 2013 on a guesting in Louisiana). He said, “I like Coppelia. Because I don’t like seeing you die all the time…”

Melody Mennite in Romeo and JulietMelody Mennite in Romeo and Juliet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

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Houston Ballet Hosts Free Dance Talk on Thursday, Dec. 5: Dance Magazine Editor-at-Large Wendy Perron gives book reading

November 19, 2013

On Thursday, December 5 from 6:00 – 7:00 pm, Houston Ballet will host the next installment of its FREE Dance Talks discussion series featuring Dance Magazine Editor at Large Wendy Perron at Houston Ballet Center for Dance, 601 Preston Street, Houston 77002.

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Wendy Perron: Editor-at-Large, Dance Magazine

Ms. Perron will read from her new book Through the Eyes of a Dancer, and be interviewed by Nancy Wozny, editor in chief of Arts + Culture Texas, about her celebrated career as a modern dancer and choreographer as well as the topic of her new book:  dance writing from the perspective of a dancer. After the discussion, Ms. Perron will sign copies of her book. For more info, contact CCobb@houstonballet.org.

Dance Talk Website: http://www.houstonballet.org/Education_Outreach/Dance_Talks/

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Houston Ballet’s New York Tour: A Dancer’s Perspective

November 13, 2013

From October 22 – 27, 2013, Houston Ballet returned to The Joyce Theater in New York City. Corps de ballet member Harper Watters shares the highlights of the trip for him, including guerilla photo shoots in Greenwich Village with acclaimed dance photographer Jordan Matter.

1. What was one of your favorite moments about the tour?

Houston Ballet had the privilege of working with guerrilla dance photographer Jordan Matter. He is most well known for sending dancers out into everyday scenarios and having them strike athletic positions. This is exactly what the dancers of Houston Ballet did. My shoot was in Greenwich Village with demi soloist Soo Cho and soloist Nao Kusuzaki.

Jordan Matter - Harper Watters, Soo Youn Cho, and Nao Kusuzaki

Photo by Jordan Matter; Dancers: Harper Watters, Nao Kusuzaki, Soo Youn Cho

After watching Soo scale the steps and railing of a beautiful brown stone home, our second location was a busy intersection with the brand new Freedom Tower as the back drop. As the girls and I hit our pose pretending to hale a cab in arabesque and Jordan lay in the middle of the street to capture the moment, I was suddenly hit with a rush of adrenaline. It was such a thrilling moment to be in the middle of New York City dancing and being photographed. As cabs wizzed by and onlookers began taking pictures you couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment.

Other dancers who were photographed took pictures down in the subway, in the middle of times square, and even in the fountain of Washington Square Park. The whole experience provided memories I will never forget.

2. Was this your first tour with Houston Ballet? Tell us about your experience.

This was my first tour with Houston Ballet, and it was definitely an incredible way to start my touring experience by heading to the center of the arts world, New York City.

The minute you drive into the city you can’t help but feel immersed by the culture of the city. The pace is definitely much faster than what we’re used to in Texas, so it amplified our excitement to get out on stage and perform. In true New York fashion, we were thrown right into our busy schedule. The first day we had class, then a dress rehearsal, then our first show later that night.

The response was overwhelming and it was made even more special by the attendance of familiar Houston Ballet faces and past Houston dancers and ballet stagers. Over all this tour was a success and we firmly left our footprint in New York.

3. What was it like to perform in the Joyce Theater?

This was my first time ever attending the Joyce Theater, but I am certain that it will definitely not be my last. It might not be the grandest of theaters in scale, but what it lacks in size in makes up for in its artistic reputation.

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Photo Courtesy of Houston Ballet

Just like when you enter the city, when you enter the Joyce, you immediately feel the presence of the past companies who have graced the stage. Companies such as Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, and Mark Morris have brought their greatest works to the stage, inspiring Houston Ballet to bring their most thought provoking and contemporary choreography. It’s an incredibly intimate venue, where you can easily hear the murmur of the crowd when they are wowed by a lift or moved by a gesture. You can’t help but feel like a part of something special when you perform at the Joyce.

4. Did you have time in between to visit any attractions in NYC? If so, which ones?

Unfortunately due to the number of rehearsals and performances that we had, it was really difficult to make it to any New York attractions. Aside from a pizza shop or seeing Orlando Bloom walk out of the stage door of Romeo and Juliet, there wasn’t much site seeing. However, a few of the dancers did stumble upon what some would call a New York attraction, and that was the graffiti art of Banksy.

All month long the British Artist began going borough to borough painting random images in the least expecting of places. Normally his work sells for thousands of dollars, but with NYC as his canvas, he painted on the wall of a laundromat an image of a young girl bashing a pre-existing fire hydrant and on a street corner an image of a man spray painting “I love NY”. Once he would paint his image at night, an instagram photo would appear on his website giving little armies of people clues on how to go see it. It was a treat to be able to witness a few in real life and only added to the artistic experience Houston Ballet was a part of at the Joyce.

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Photo Courtesy of Harper Watters

5. How was opening night? Where you on stage or in the audience?

Opening night was a huge success. I was in the audience which made the evening that much more gratifying. As the theater slowly emptied out into the lobby after the show, there was a constant murmur of conversations going on and on about how much they enjoyed the evening. One woman said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the beauty of Pacific and one couple could not stop discussing the different dance genres that were showcased in the finale of Play. On a personal level, I was really touched by Twilight and was so pleased to see that it received such an excited response.

The 3 other ballets on the program I was with in or covered, so when Twilight was performed in NY, it was the first time I had seen the pas. It is really a testament to the choreographer, Ben Stevenson, that something created over 10 years ago can still have such an emotional impact on audiences today. There was no denying the strength, grace, and technique the pas de deux required and it felt great to know that New York truly appreciated past Houston Ballet, Ben Stevenson, and the Houston Ballet of today featuring the world’s leading choreographers and our artistic Director Stanton Welch.

The night appropriately ended with a champagne toast, and kind words from the representatives of The Joyce Theater. The evening was poignantly summed up by the head of the Joyce when he said, “This time of year is Fall, and it is the most beautiful time in New York. However, tonight, New York Falls for Houston Ballet.”

6. What was the funniest things that happened to you or someone on the tour?

One of the funniest things I experienced on tour was during the photo shoot with Jordan Matter. My photo session had just ended and another group of dancers had met us at Washington Square Park to begin their photo session. All the dancers had looked up his body of work and had sort of developed a slight idea of what we were getting ourselves into.

As the three girls walked up to meet us, one of them mentioned how beautiful the fountain was. Little did they know that Jordan had planned for them to be photographed inside of that fountain. In the end they were great sports about the whole thing and were more than willing to jump, turn, and kick in the water.

At one point though, the jets of the fountain were hitting one of the girls square in the face. Jordan loved how the girls were positioned, so to not ruin the shot, she tried to work with the water hitting her face and execute her pose. It did not go over well, and thankfully a new formation was made, but for that brief moment I got a pretty great laugh. When the shoot was over and the girls stepped out of the fountain, he asked “Do you girls have a towel”? The looks on their faces were priceless.

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Photo by Jordan Matter; Dancer: Harper Watters

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Nutcracker Market: 33 Years of Consecutive Growth

November 5, 2013

From November 7 – 10, “Candy Cane Lane,” the thirty-third Nutcracker Market will roll into Reliant Center, welcoming over 100,000 guests and featuring over 300 national and international merchants with unique holiday gifts ranging from food to home décor to jewelry to clothing.

Nutcracker Market

In 2013, Houston Ballet Director of Special Events Patsy Chapman celebrates twenty-five years organizing and executing this beloved holiday event.  In this blog entry, Patsy looks back at how the market has grown and evolved, and shares some of the secrets of what makes the event so successful.  Click here for more information about The Nutcracker Market.

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From first year gross revenues of $28,000, the Nutcracker Market now generates more than 100 times that amount, raising a net total of more than $3.8 million in 2012. Since its inception in 1981, the Market has raised more than $39 million for Houston Ballet, its Academy and Scholarship Programs.

Nutcracker Market booth

Patsy Chapman, Director of Special Events for the Ballet, and the driving force behind the Market’s success, has seen total sales grow from $13.7 million in 2009 to $15.6 million in 2010, to $16.4 million in 2011, and $17.7 million in 2012.  She has three explanations for the continued success of the Market – the very nature of the holiday season, the fresh environment every year, and the world’s best shoppers!

“People love to celebrate the holidays, in good times and in bad,” she said. “The Nutcracker Market gives them a reason to focus their energies on family, the spirit of giving, and spreading holiday cheer.  Every year we try to give them a totally new experience with a different theme.”

The 2013 chairman, Cynthia Brown, selected “Candy Cane Lane” as the theme.  Some past themes are:  Waltz of the Flowers, A Shopping Safari, Rockefeller Center Christmas, Puttin’ on the Dog, and Holiday Under the Big Top.

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With only two full-time staff dedicated to planning and coordinating the annual Nutcracker Market – Chapman and her assistant – the event now represents a nationally-renowned holiday shopping extravaganza for over 104,000 attendees. She gives much of the credit to over 1,000 volunteers who work tirelessly every year to make the Market a reality.

“Some people put in 18 hours of work in one day because they love Houston Ballet and being a part of the Nutcracker Market,” Chapman said. “I’m in awe of those who choose to give their time and talents out of the goodness of their hearts.”

When Chapman first joined the organization, roughly 80 merchants offered their products at the Market. That number is now 300+ merchants from 149 cities in over 32 states. Between 15 and 30 new vendors are approved each year, out of around 400 who apply.

The Market used to be held in a 120,000 sq. ft. space at the George R. Brown Convention Center. As the event drew more attention from vendors and shoppers, it required more space, so it expanded to a 226,000 sq. ft. space in Astrohall, then to a section of Reliant Center. In 2009, the Nutcracker Market took over all of Reliant Center — over 1 million square feet!

“I always wonder what we can do to top the year before,” said Chapman. “One year, I heard a little girl ask, ‘Grandma, are we in Heaven?’ and I knew we had done well. But that just raises the bar for the next Nutcracker Market.”

The 2013 Nutcracker Market takes place November 7-10. For more information, visit www.nutcrackermarket.com and www.facebook.com/nutcrackermarket.

Watch a video preview of The Nutcracker Market.

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

November 4, 2013

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

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Image Courtesy of Houston Ballet

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

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 Brian Walker; Photo by Kaye Marvins Photography, Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Play (Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage Manager Michelle Elliott - Joyce HB

Stage Manager, Michelle Elliott; Photo by Brian Walker

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Join us for an exclusive book reading of “The Making of Markova” by Tina Sutton!

October 25, 2013

On Thursday, November 7, 2013 from noon until 1pm at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance, Houston Ballet and the Jewish Book and Arts Fair join forces to present a free reading by author Tina Sutton of her acclaimed book, The Making of Markova, about the great 20th century English ballerina Dame Alicia Markova. For more information, contact CCobb@houstonballet.org

"The Making of Markova" by Tina Sutton. Book Cover.

“The Making of Markova” by Tina Sutton. Book Cover.

British Lilian Alicia Marks became the most acclaimed classical ballerina of her generation. She overcame oppressive anti-Semitism, poverty, envy, sexism, and more. This is a spellbinding story of a smart, self-reliant, adventurous woman, proudly Jewish and ahead of her times. Given unprecedented access to Dame Markova’s journals and correspondence, Tina Sutton paints a full picture of the dancer’s astonishing life and times of one of the 20th century’s great artists. A writer, researcher, and journalist for over 35 years, Tina Sutton is a feature writer for The Boston Globe. “… Wonderment lights up every page” —Booklist, starred review.

To learn more about The Making of Markova please visit, http://themakingofmarkova.com.

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Ballet Ball Kickoff — a Delightful Spectacle!

October 23, 2013

Guest Writer: Suzie Cadey, Special Events Manager

On October 8, more than 600 guests joined together to kick off the 2014 Houston Ballet Ball, chaired by S. Shawn Stephens, at an extravagant celebration at the Galleria. The ice rink, covered with layers of protection, was transformed into an elegant and dazzling environment complete with food stations, bars, lounge furniture, and chandeliers.

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman.

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman.

On October 8, more than 600 guests joined together to kick off the 2014 Houston Ballet Ball, chaired by S. Shawn Stephens, at an extravagant celebration at the Galleria. The ice rink, covered with layers of protection, was transformed into an elegant and dazzling environment complete with food stations, bars, lounge furniture, and chandeliers.

Ballet Ball 2013

The Ballet Ball, themed La Mille et Deuxième Nuit, or “The Thousand and Second Night,” will be held on Saturday, February 15, 2014, at the Wortham Theater Center. The exotic theme will usher in the American premiere of David Bintley’s Aladdin the following week, and Houston Ballet dancers begin Aladdin rehearsals at the Center for Dance shortly.

Dancer: Joseph Walsh; Ballet: Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Dancer: Joseph Walsh; Ballet: Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

The kickoff celebration piqued the guests’ interest in the Ball, which offers individual tickets starting at $1,500, as well as tables starting at $15,000.

Kickoff party hostesses Carmina Zamorano and Nancy Arreguin, co-owners of Carnan Properties, which celebrated its Houston grand opening during the evening, spared no expense in providing guests with a one-of-a-kind event.

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

Seventeen Academy students, dressed in costumes from Houston Ballet’s American premiere of Aladdin (February 20 – March 2, 2014), performed a “costume parade” in the exquisite Sue Blane-designed costumes never before seen in the U.S.

Guests were also entertained by the performance by two majestic Lusitano horses, which shared the floor with the Academy students, and who pranced to the same music. Rafael Chavez, Zamorano’s husband, breeds and trains the beautiful horses at Haras dos Cavaleiros in Magnolia.

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

A cocktail hour included a lavish spread from Zamorano’s Haras Catering, as well as wines from the family vineyards in Spain.

De Beers Jewelers, which is donating a stunning $20,000 necklace to the Ball auction, provided more than $1 million in diamond jewelry for the hostesses, Ball chair Stephens, and emcees KPRC’s Dominique Sachse and KHOU’s Katherine Whaley.

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

In attendance were Lynn Wyatt, Beth Muecke, Nick Florescu, Jim Jordan, Diane Lokey Farb, Kristy Bradshaw, Diane and Phil Bazelides, Phoebe Tudor, Patti Murphy, and Philamena and Arthur Baird, among many other Ballet patrons.

Ballet Ball 2013 Kick Off Party

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman.

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

© Gary Fountain and David Rossman

For more information about the Ball, contact Suzie Cadey at (713) 535-3230, or scadey@houstonballet.org

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