Posts Tagged ‘The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’

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Blogging from the Road: The Kennedy Center Tour

June 16, 2010

Guest writer: Jim Nelson, general manager

Monday, June 14
One hour after the curtain fell on Sunday afternoon’s matinee of La Fille mal gardée, sixteen dancers (including the Sunday performance leads Connor Walsh and Melody Herrera), artistic director Stanton Welch, ballet mistress Louise Lester, and Maestro Ermanno Florio headed to IAH to catch the last flight to D.C. to participate in The Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America II festival which opens tomorrow. 

Houston Ballet will kick off the festival with Stanton Welch’s gorgeous ballet Falling.  Also on the program is The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre.

Houston Ballet was included in the inaugural festival in 2008, and we’re thrilled to be asked back for round two.  The Kennedy Center describes the festival as “an exploration of the breadth and depth of the art form, showcasing companies from across the nation.”  Other ballet companies participating in the festival include Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Arizona, Ballet Memphis, Tulsa Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and The Joffrey Ballet.

Today the dancers are loosening up with a class with Louise Lester, and they will have the remainder of the day to explore D.C. and to rest.  Maestro is rehearsing The Kennedy Center Orchestra and production manager Brian Walker and lighting designer Lisa Pinkham are focusing lights and preparing cues.  Tomorrow is jam-packed with class, dress rehearsal and the opening performance.

The festival is a shining example of the terrific programming The Kennedy Center presents.  The lineup allows dance-goers to see nine great companies over three nights with diverse rep from nine different choreographers such as Balanchine, Duato, Elo, Millipied, Welch and others.  It’s also a great opportunity for the dancers participating in the festival to interact with each other. Houston Ballet dancers will have the opportunity to take class with the dancers from the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre companies during the three days we’re here.

Tuesday, June 15
The dancers have their one rehearsal on The Kennedy Center stage from 2:30-3:30, and it’s their first time to dance Falling with The Kennedy Center Orchestra.  They have just enough time to run the ballet once, go back and correct a few tempos and spacing and re-run problem sections.  Stanton and Louise give the dancers a few notes and then release them for the afternoon.  Houston Ballet is first on the program, and the theater is absolutely packed.  Tonight’s awesome cast is Ian Casady and Melody Herrera, Peter Franc and Amy Fote, Nao Kusuzaki and Chris Coomer, Elise Judson and Joe Walsh, and Connor Walsh and Kelly Myernick.

I’m always struck by the D.C. audience.  They are well informed dance-goers, and they are so responsive.  In some parts of the world, the audience is extremely quiet throughout the ballet—they do not respond to solos or pas de deux sections, and it’s not until the ballet is concluded that you can judge the audience’s reaction.  D.C., like Houston, is on the other end of the spectrum, and they enjoy responding immediately and generously.  Tonight is no exception, and the audience cheers the Houston dancers on throughout the ballet and resoundingly at the end of the ballet.  The bravos and multiple curtain calls are reflected in the dancers’ beaming faces.

-Jim

Photos from dress rehearsal:

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 1

Dancers Connor Walsh and Kelly Myernick

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 2

Dancer Melody Herrera

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 3

Ballet mistress Louise Lester, Maestro Ermanno Florio, and The Kennedy Center Orchestra

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 4

Dancers Connor Walsh (left) and Joe Walsh (right)

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 5

Left to right: lighting designer Lisa Pinkham, artistic director Stanton Welch, and ballet mistress Louise Lester

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Off to the Races

May 3, 2010

Guest writer: Andrew Edmonson, director of marketing and public relations

Houston Ballet’s dancers are leaping towards the conclusion of our 2009-2010 season.  Instead of a leisurely stroll around the home stretch, the company is engaged in an all-out sprint to the finish line on June 20, performing seven ballets, in three venues, in two different states, over the next seven weeks. 

First up on the calendar is an annual rite of spring for the company:  three free performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre Friday, May 7 – Sunday, May 9.   This year, Stanton has put together a stellar program that showcases the contemporary side of the company’s repertoire:  Nacho Duato’s modern classic Jardí Tancat  (literal translation:  Enclosed Garden), set to the haunting Spanish folk songs of  Marie del Mar Bonet; Twyla Tharp’s groundbreaking work In the Upper Room that takes its audience on an exalted journey from earth to a more transcendent space; and Stanton’s beautifully classical work for five couples to the music of Mozart, Falling.   Take a peak at Stanton’s Falling on Youtube. 

From May 27 – June 6, the company returns to Wortham Theater Center to present Pecos, a mixed repertory program featuring the company premiere of George Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina.  A very special style is required to perform Balanchine’s works.   Our dancers have been blessed to be taught and coached in Ballo by the legendary American ballerina Merrill Ashley, who not only had the good fortune to work with Balanchine from 1967 to 1983, but also created the leading female role in Ballo in 1978. 

“Balanchine always seemed to take special delight in challenging me with difficult steps, and since he knew I excelled at moving quickly, he decided to make that the feature of Ballo – virtuoso steps at high speed,” commented Ms. Ashley.  “He highlighted all my strengths in Ballo, giving me a ballet that not only was challenging and fun to dance, but one that gave me the opportunity to communicate the joy of dance, which was my favorite mood to express on stage. Ballo epitomizes the essence of the technique that he advocated, as it requires extreme precision, clarity, speed, and expansive movement. Dancers who are not trained in the Balanchine style are always startled to find how much easier the steps are when they use the technique Balanchine advocated. His choreography is constructed with the idea that the steps will be done as he would have taught them. That is what makes the angles of the steps look best, and what makes the transitions from step-to-step possible at high speeds.”

For more information on Ms. Ashley and her amazing career, read a 1997 interview with her in The New York Times discussing her special link to Balanchine, and the 1997 review of her final performance with New York City Ballet detailing so many of the qualities that audience adored about her.

A very different balletic style is required to perform the works of Sir Frederick Ashton, whose 1960 masterpiece La Fille mal gardée closes Houston Ballet’s season on June 10-20.  The English critic Alastair Macaulay has observed, “The ballet style shown in Ashton’s ballets is a particularly intricate one, with upper and lower body maintaining a lively activity, and many internal embellishments of head, arms, épaulement and footwork.”  Two experts in the Ashton style have been in Houston helping our dancers to prepare to perform Fille:  Englishman Christopher Carr, a former dancer and ballet master with London’s Royal Ballet, and Australian Grant Coyle, principal dance notator to The Royal Ballet.

There will be no rest for the weary.  The weekend after Fille opens, ten Houston Ballet dancers will hop on a plane to Washington, D.C. to perform Stanton’s work, Falling, for the prestigious national ballet festival, Ballet Across America II, at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  Houston Ballet was a part of the very successful first installment of Ballet Across America in 2008 and is very happy to make its 8th appearance at The Kennedy Center.  Houston Ballet opens the festival Tuesday, June 15 and Wednesday, June 16 on a program with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre.

Then the ten dancers who performed in Ballet Across America will rush back to Houston for the final four performances of Fille June 18 – 20.  And then, it’s off to a very well-deserved long summer break for most of the company. 

-Andrew

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