Posts Tagged ‘theater’


The Ballerina’s Legacy of GISELLE

June 10, 2016

We’ve reached the end of our 2015/16 season! Our Spring Mixed Repertory Program was just one week ago, but we’re back and ready to close this season at the Wortham with a revitalized classic. Artistic Director Stanton Welch has crafted a new production of Giselle with sets and costume designs by Roberta Guidi di Bagno. For this production, Mr. Welch handpicked principal dancer Yuriko Kajiya as his muse for the iconic role of Giselle. For this blog post we’ll be digging into our archives to showcase four of the past Houston Ballet ballerinas who’ve portrayed Giselle, the loving country girl and supernatural wili.

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

Watch a preview of Houston Ballet’s Giselle below:

Performing the title role of Giselle is regarded as high an honor as performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the ballet lexicon tragic heroines are attached to a range of technical feats, emotional hurdles, and extensive storylines. Giselle has become an all-inclusive force of storytelling for major ballet companies. And like performing Hamlet for theater troupes, the complex history of ballet continues to flow through each dancer involved in retelling this full-length story ballet.

In the Romantic era of ballet, around the time Giselle premiered in 1841, the overall atmosphere and aesthetic of the story was already sorted out; presenting pastoral settings and supernatural spirits in the same story was in vogue during the Romantic era for many art forms. The ballerina’s role up until the early 1800s had been fairly simple: she must present clear, simple footwork and smile sweetly while dancing in corsets and heavy brocade costumes. The male danseur in France and Italy experienced a burst of attention in previous eras, but in Romantic era ballets, the ballerina transformed and transcended.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

Giselle was an especially important character for ballerinas to perform in later Russian productions. Pointe work started to become more cohesive and complex due to blocked pointe shoes rather than heavily darned slippers. The loose but modest Romantic costumes–before the flatter Classical tutu–allowed for higher jumps and closer partnering. And to engage with the audience of the 1800s even further, mime in ballet began to echo the dramatics found in opera and theater, which meant characters started thinking and feeling on stage. Female characters became more ethereal and enchanting beyond their social status as we see with Giselle, a simple country girl who loves to dance but is fated to die.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

As Giselle’s technical feats progressed with altered and added variations, her dramatic qualities expanded. Russian productions of Giselle provided her character with increased flare and virtuosity, British productions revitalized her previous Romantic era innocence and purity, and so on and so forth. The most beloved performances by famous international ballerinas include the role of Giselle. Houston Ballet is just one example of Giselle‘s progression in America. How do American ballet companies connect to a decades old story about a village in the Rhineland? The role of Giselle and her powerful story of love, loss, and forgiveness is just one reason why dancers and audiences still adore this ballet.


Carla Fracci as Giselle; Act I. First Houston Ballet Foundation full-length performance. 1967. Photographer unknown.

Carla Fracci helped introduce professional ballet to Houston. Houston Ballet Foundation’s Giselle was first performed in 1967 with students from the already established Houston Ballet Academy and other local dance schools. Fracci, along with the incomparable danseur noble Erik Bruhn as Albrecht, performed this role with devout sensibility and eminence. Her performance as Giselle in this production undoubtable inspired many of the young students whom danced alongside her.


Carla Fracci as Giselle with dancers from Houston Ballet Foundation; Act II. First Houston Ballet Foundation full-length performance. 1967. Photographer unknown.


Janie Parker as Giselle; Act I. 1985. Photography by Kenn Duncan


Janie Parker as Giselle; Act II. 1985. Photography by Geoff Winningham

Janie Parker’s numerous performances as Giselle during the 1980s and 1990s have always be cherished in Houston. In Giselle her partners were two iconic Houston Ballet principals: Kenneth McCombie and Li Cunxin. In her book, Generous Hearts and Gentle Spirits (2001), Parker wrote, “I adored dancing Giselle and have mostly fond memories associated with it.” She notably performed on an injured foot during her fourth year at Houston Ballet, conveying an enormous amount of raw emotions during the mad scene in Act I especially.


Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht; Act I. 1981. Photography by Jim Caldwell


Janie Parker as Giselle, Kenneth McCombie as Albrecht; Act II. 1981. Photography by Jim Caldwell



Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle with David Makhateli as Albrecht with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. June 2001. Photography by Geoff Winningham

Mireille Hassenboehler dominated the stage as a principal during the early 2000s. Filling in for an injured dancer and joining legendary principal Carlos Acosta during her first performance of Giselle in 2001 was a huge responsibility and an enchanting surprise. The following night’s performance was canceled due to Tropical Storm Allison, which flooded the basement of the Wortham and destroyed and damaged many costumes and shoes. Remarkably, the second weekend of performances for Giselle that year did continue thanks to many helping hands. Hassenboehler’s lyrical depiction of Giselle continued to grow with each performance.


Mireille Hassenboehler as Giselle, Carlos Acosta as Albrecht; Act II. June 2001. Photography by Jann Whaley


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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with artists of Houston Ballet; Act I. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar

Yuriko Kajiya is Stanton Welch’s inspiration for the title role of Giselle. She’s already danced the role before, so this year’s production won’t be a complete introduction to Giselle. Instead, Kajiya will get to build upon her illustrious portrayal of this character. Many of the Romantic era qualities and Russian influences are alive in Kajiya’s depiction of Giselle thanks to her previous training. “She has remarkable balance. She moves without moving, she seems to float, hovering like she is moving underwater,” Mr. Welch told writer Nancy Wozny. Like Houston Ballet’s ballerinas before her, Kajiya continues to craft her individuality onto Giselle with each and every performance.

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Yuriko Kajiya as Giselle with Connor Walsh as Albrecht; Act II. Stanton Welch’s Giselle. June 2016. Photography by Amitava Sarkar


Watch Yuriko Kajiya discuss Giselle below:

Tickets for Stanton Welch’s Giselle are on sale now by phone or online at with performances running until Sunday June 19.

Join us next time on ‘En Pointe with Houston Ballet’ for posts dedicated to our 2016 Summer Intensive in collaboration with our Academy and HBII’s upcoming graduation and tour, as well as some updates from abroad as our company takes Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet on tour in Australia.

Jessica Maria MacFarlane is the PR/Marketing Archival Intern for Houston Ballet. She’s an active member of the Society of Dance History Scholars and a freelance dance writer for Arts & Culture Texas.


Researching THE SLEEPING BEAUTY part 2

March 3, 2016

“A Magical Love Affair”

By Jessica Maria MacFarlane

It’s our Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson’s 80th birthday this year! On February 16, we helped him celebrate with an informative and fun ‘Dance Talk’ at our Center for Dance. With Lauren Anderson at his side, he delighted our audience and staff with stories about his time in dance. When asked what inspires him, he simple repeated, “Music, music, music.” With so many ballet productions and reconstructions, ever wondered which historic version of The Sleeping Beauty Houston Ballet’s production derives from? Read on and you’ll soon find out! In part two of this two-part blog post, we dig into our archives and share some fun facts and photos about Ben Stevenson and his cherished production of The Sleeping Beauty now running at the Wortham Theater until March 6.


Prologue of the Sadler's Wells Ballet production of 'The Sleepin

Prologue of The Sleeping Beauty. Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Photograph by Frank Sharman © ROH. 1946

The Sleeping Beauty—with designs by Oliver Massel and additional choreography by Sir Anthony Dowell and Sir Frederick Ashton—was Ben Stevenson’s first full-length ballet he performed in at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (formerly Vic-Wells Ballet, now Royal Ballet). This is where the direct inspiration for Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty derives from, but it took a while for it to get from Stevenson’s memory to the Wortham Theater.

While at Sadler’s Wells, Stevenson learned mime for classical ballets like The Sleeping Beauty from the legendary ballerina, Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978). “She would make your imagination come alive. She’d mime DYING with all her emotion and passion, wildly crossing her arms for everyone in the audience to see.” This dedication to authentic storytelling is a tradition which Karsavina—a former principal with the Imperial Russian Ballet (renamed Kirov, now Mariinsky Ballet)—directly handed down from her time on stage with the Ballets Russes to Stevenson and Dame Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991).


Tamara Karsavina rehearsing Margot Fonteyn for Le Spectre de la Rose. Sadler’s Wells Ballet. 1950s.

Years later a draft of Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty was first created in 1967 for London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet). The illustrious Dame Margot first starred as Stevenson’s Princess Aurora at a later performance with Festival Ballet in Venice.

After its initial success, it was then recreated in collaboration with Fredric Franklin with Dame Margot guest performing as Aurora in 1971 for The National Ballet in Washington D.C. during the inaugural season at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This was the first full-length American production of The Sleeping Beauty since Philadelphia Ballet’s staging in 1937. Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty was later brought to Houston Ballet in 1978 with Peter Farmer’s secondhand designs from a short-lived London-South African company.


Ben Stevenson featured his The Sleeping Beauty with Peter Farmer designs in the 1978 Southwest Tour across Texas.

In 1990 a newly designed version by Desmond Heeley was crafted to Stevenson’s staging in celebration of the centennial of Marius Ivanovich Petipa’s 1890 original production of The Sleeping Beauty. The 1990 original cast included Janie Parker as Princess Aurora, Li Cunxin as Prince Florimund, Lauren Anderson as Lilac Fairy, and Kristine Richmond as Carabosse.

This production was the phenomenal closing program for Houston Ballet’s 20th anniversary season. It’s the completed version seen today at Houston Ballet. Dame Margot Fonteyn considered Stevenson and Heeley’s lavish production a “ravishing” and “authentic” addition to The Sleeping Beauty tradition.


“Even after so many years, Ben had brought out something that I hadn’t thought of. That’s why it’s never boring.” Dame Margot Fonteyn on Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. May 1990. Houston Post.

Desmond Heeley’s entire set and costume overhaul for The Sleeping Beauty in 1990 rang up to about $757,000 with 225 original costumes and 33 hand-painted back drops that pay tribute to British designer Oliver Massel’s Vic-Wells/Royal Ballet production. After spending two years planning and nine months crafting his designs, Heeley once said, “I call a production like this the ultimate collage. It’s a juggernaut, a glorious ballet to do, but it could break you.” Heeley’s costumes and sets are still under constant maintenance during our 2016 performances with all five casts rotating through them during the two-week run.

Along with the production team, The Sleeping Beauty is also a marathon for musicians. But just like the dancers of Houston Ballet, members of our Houston Ballet Orchestra–conducted by Ermanno Florio and David LaMarche for all 2016 performances–enjoy performing the classical aspects of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s technical score. Those are just a few reasons why more successful productions of The Sleeping Beauty are often found at highly-trained major ballet companies with sufficient time, funding, and orchestration.


Janie Parker as Aurora on Desmund Heeley’s hand-painted backdrop in Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. Photography by Jack Mitchell. May 1990.

Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty is also memorable because Dame Margot—at the age of 71—personally coached the dancers, specifically former principal Janie Parker, for the premiere. “I’ve known Ben [Stevenson] since he was 18 and in the corps [of the Sadler’s Wells/Royal Ballet]. He has a fine company here,” she once fondly mentioned in an interview from the premiere.


Janie Parker as Aurora in Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty. Her last performance after 20-years with the company was Saturday June 15, 1996 as Aurora. She was greeted with a 20 minute standing ovation.

During her two-week stay in 1990, Dame Margot meticulously fine-tuned the company with her proficient wisdom. “What I try to help them with is in getting more light and shades of drama within the dancing. There has to be the thought and the understanding of what is going on,” she said. At our February ‘Dance Talk’ Stevenson added, “Dame Margot always said stillness and the eyes are the most important elements for ballet dancers. The eyes must connect with the audience, especially during The Sleeping Beauty.”

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Artists of Houston Ballet, Act I. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. 2016.

Emotional brilliance from the entire cast was vital for Stevenson and Dame Margot, sometimes more so than the dancer’s virtuosity. In keeping with Royal Ballet’s British style, Stevenson once noted that, “Aurora is not trying to win over the audience by showing how high she can get her legs up. I want her to be immersed in the story and dance with taste.”

Although she doesn’t appear as a fully-formed ballerina until Act I, Princess Aurora is undeniably the heart and soul of this fairy tale. “Aurora has to be a burst of sunlight and energy from the moment she first arrives to her wedding day,” recalls Stevenson.

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Lauren Anderson as the Queen and Sara Webb as Princess Aurora and Artists of Houston Ballet, Act I. Photography by Amitava Sarkar. Houston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. 2016.

At our ‘Dance Talk’ in February, Ben Stevenson only had kind words to say about Houston Ballet. “I’ve learned so much about myself from the dancers of this company,” he said. “It’s always been very special here, now and forever.” From all of us at Houston Ballet we thank you for your dedication to ballet and wish you a happy birthday, Ben Stevenson!

Join us next week on En Pointe with Houston Ballet for a new blog post about our brilliant Winter Mixed Rep program! Tickets for Ben Stevenson’s The Sleeping Beauty are still on sell now by phone or online at with performances running until Sunday March 6.

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.


Behind the Scenes of Aladdin: Christopher Gray Flies High as the Djinn of the Lamp

February 28, 2014

Christopher Gray and Artists of Houston Ballet

Christopher Gray as the Djinn (Genie) with artists of Houston Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

-by Stephanie Brown, Public Relations Intern

David Bintley’s Aladdin, which continues in performance through Sunday, March 2, has a way of enchanting the audience with beautiful, unique props and exquisite, colorful costumes. I had the honor of attending Aladdin on opening night, and I swear I was under some mystifying spell; each intermission was a startling call back to reality. I didn’t want it to end! What was even more exciting was the chance I had to go backstage at Wortham Theater Center and see the props up close and personal. Below are some photos for your viewing pleasure!


Behind the scenes shots by Stephanie Brown

One of my favorite characters in Aladdin was the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie), and demi soloist Christopher Gray danced his heart out. I was intrigued by his experience in creating his own version of the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie), so we asked a few questions about the role.

Watch video of Christopher Gray as the Djinn in Aladdin.

Houston Ballet: Tell us about dancing as the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie). What are the most challenging aspects? What are the most exciting?

Christopher Gray_Photo Amitava_2012

Christopher Gray; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Christopher Gray: Hands down, one of the most challenging things is that some of the magical reveals were hidden in set pieces for long periods of time before some pretty difficult dancing.  So it’s the opposite of what you would normally do, which is to stay moving, keep yourself loose and then go out and dance. Being crouched down in a small space before having to dance is pretty difficult.

For the most exciting thing, this is my third time flying in ballet, and I always love doing that. The audience always really appreciates it. On opening night during the first scene with the levitation, everybody applauded. It was great! So that’s always exciting for me. It’s a challenge as well because you’re at the mercy of the wire when you’re up there. There’s not too much you can do to keep yourself from spinning or swinging, so it’s learning how to do those small adjustments without putting yourself in a counter rotation.

Houston Ballet:  Explain your wardrobe. How do you feel about being painted completely blue?

Christopher Gray:  Fortunately, it’s not completely blue. I don’t have to paint my legs. This in terms of ballet costumes is not so difficult to dance in, which I always like. Sometimes we have pounds and pounds of clothing and wigs we have to deal with, so this is relatively simple. [I wear] just a small vest and baggy pants

Aladdin César MoralesPrincess Badr al-Budur Nao SakumaThe Mahgrib Iain MackayThe Djinn of the Lamp Tzu-Chao ChouAladdin’s Mother Marion TaitThe Sultan, the Princess’s father Jonathan PaynAladdin’s Friends James Barton, Mathias Dingman

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Bill Cooper

Any time you don’t feel constricted by a costume, which I don’t because there are even shirtless scenes for me, it’s a lot easier to deal with. I prefer pants over tights any day of the week! In terms of wigs, Amanda, our wig and makeup person, has done a great job of making a wig that fits really flush to our heads. We just have a little bit of hair, like a top knot pony tail, which I don’t feel impedes my ability to turn and it doesn’t knock me off center, which is often a problem with costumes.

Being painted blue is hard. I’m there around 6:15 for a 7:30 start time.  And that includes not even being on stage until a good 40 minutes into the first act. Overall, I face about an hour and a half worth of body makeup, face makeup, and wigs. It’s difficult and, once again, the opposite of how you would want to get ready for a show…you know, standing there half naked for an hour and a half. I do throw warm-up clothes back on top, but you don’t want to sweat the makeup off. It’s a fine line you have to deal with. I’m getting pretty used to being painted, though. I think this is my third or fourth color!

Houston Ballet:  What do you do to get in character for the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie)?

Christopher Gray:  As the body makeup and especially face makeup and wig come along, I feel like that’s part of my transformation. We have these wicked eyebrows and drag queen style makeup.  So it’s hard not to look at yourself with a little bit of humor when you see the character staring back at you.

If anything, the one thing that I have been doing is going over the mime section to try to create an aura of power, confidence, mystery, and a little bit of humor as well. Trying to work the fake eyebrows has been fun. As the shows progress, you find more time and space for that on stage and then the character grows from there.

Artists of Houston Ballet

Artists of Houston Ballet; Aladdin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet:  What do you like about the props and costumes for Aladdin?

Christopher Gray:  One of my favorites is probably the most simple: the lamp that lights up. I think it’s very effective on stage. Those few times Aladdin lifts it up and then there’s a big crescendo in the music when it turns on and starts glowing…I think that’s fantastic! Also, the magic carpet is done really well.

I wish I could see the show from the front, but unfortunately that’s not in the cards for me. The lion dance in the second act is a big crowd favorite, and I also dance the head portion of the lion. It’s a lot of fun to do that. It does pose a problem because it’s difficult to hear the music, though. When you start shaking the head all you hear is rattling!

You can see Chris Gray dance the the Djinn of the lamp (the Genie) in Aladdin on Friday, February 28 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, March 1 at 7:30 pm.

Houston Ballet continues its performances of Aladdin through Sunday, March 2 at 2:00 pm at Wortham Theater Center.  For tickets and more information, visit:


Houston Ballet brings new tutus to the stage with the help of Holly Hynes

May 9, 2011

Guest writer: Lorena Capellan, PR intern

Costume designer Holly Hynes has worked closely with choreographer Jorma Elo to create costumes for his newest ballet, ONE/end/ONE, to be premiered by Houston Ballet in late May. Holly Hynes served as director of costumes at the New York City Ballet for over 20 years and has been entrusted by The George Balanchine Trust and the Jerome Robbins estate to teach the execution of costume designs for Mr. Balanchine’s and Mr. Robbins’s ballets to companies all over the world. Ms. Hynes has also designed costumes for many of Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s ballets, including Tu Tu, The Core, Falling and many more.

LC: What is the process like working with a choreographer to design a costume?
HH: After the choreographer tells me the chosen music, I listen to it for hours. Sometimes I’ve listened to a score 20 times before I put pencil to paper. If the dancers have started to work in the studio it helps to see a video of the beginnings of the ballet. Next I flush out ideas with pencil and watercolor. I’ll scan the art work and then send it to the choreographer who usually is not in the same city I am. Houston Ballet flew me in to overlap with Jorma’s rehearsal period, but before that we met in Moscow to talk about ideas. We talk about movement, color, aerobic needs, numbers of dancers, if atmosphere changes between movements…is there a story?

Man's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

Man's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

Woman's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

Woman's costume for ONE/end/ONE. Costume design by Holly Hynes. All rights reserved.

LC: Where did you shop for the materials needed to make the tutus?
HH: Sometimes I’ll swatch first in New York to help guide a shop with what I am after. I prefer to find fabric sources in the same city as the ballet company because that way it’s faster to buy more if they need it now or in the future. Houston has some amazing fabric stores, and Houston Ballet wardrobe manager Laura Lynch is the queen of shopping!

Woman's corset. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

Woman's corset. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

LC: Have you worked with Jorma before?
HH: This is my 4th original Elo ballet. We collaborated before on Slice to Sharp (New York City Ballet-2006, Stanislavsky Music Theatre in Moscow-2010, Stuttgart Ballet in Germany-2009 and Tulsa Ballet-2011); Double Evil (San Francisco Ballet-2009 and National Ballet of Finland-2012); and Pur ti Miro (National Ballet of Canada-2010).

Woman's tutu. Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston North.

Woman's tutu. Photo by Leonel Nerio of Art Institute of Houston North.

LC: What do you enjoy most about designing tutus vs. full body costumes? Are there certain things you have to keep in mind?
HH: I adore creating tutus. I suppose I enjoy them so much because the top plate seems to be a canvas for an artist just waiting to be designed on. I learned how to make tutus from assisting Barbara Matera who had her own shop for 32 years, and by remaking Karinska tutus for over 20 years as the Director of Costumes for the New York City Ballet. I always do my research about what a company prefers before I crash into a situation, design something and then find out the artistic director prefers a different style on the company’s dancers. Thank goodness I have designed many tutus for Stanton as well. Getting to work with Jorma in Houston feels like bringing home a friend to meet the family!

Man's leotard. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

Man's leotard. Photo by Valerie Reeves of Art Institute of Houston North.

The tutus created by Hynes for ONE/end/ONE are “old school” mixed with “new school”. The four ladies’ tutus consist of a mix of nets and incorporate a modern edge to the top layer. They are made with horsehair cloth and are stiff like the tutus seen in Stanton Welch’s Divergence.

ONE/end/ONE will be premiered by Houston Ballet on Thursday, May 26 as part of the program Raising the Barre.  More information can be found at Houston Ballet’s website.


Mark Your Calendars

March 30, 2011

We’ve got two great events coming up in Houston Ballet’s season, so save the date!

Academy Spring Showcase: April 29-30

See the rising stars of Houston Ballet’s professional training school as they showcase their talents.  The Spring Showcase is always a great look at future company members “before they were famous”.  The repertoire for this year’s showcase will include Stanton Welch’s Brigade, a pas de deux from Le Corsaire, and a pas de deux from Ben Stevenson’s staging of Don Quixote.

HBII, Houston Ballet’s second company, will also perform Jane Weiner’s Bloom Where You Are Planted, which was created especially for HBII. Ms. Weiner currently serves as executive director of Hope Stone Dance in Houston.

There will be two performances of the Academy Spring Showcase: Friday, April 29 at 7 PM and Saturday, April 30 at 1:30 PM.  Tickets start at $25 and may be purchased by calling 713.227.ARTS.

FREE Performances at Miller Outdoor Theatre: May 6-8 at 8 PM

Houston Ballet will give three free performances on May 6, 7, and 8 at 8 PM at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.  The repertoire will include Christopher Bruce’s Hush and Stanton Welch’s Tu Tu and The Core

Performances are free and open to the public, but tickets must be picked up from the Miller Theatre Box Office to sit in the covered reserved section of the theatre.  Learn more about how to obtain tickets by visiting our website.  We hope to see you there!


Q&A with New First Soloist Danielle Rowe

January 3, 2011

Guest writer: Lori Lang, PR intern

We are so excited to introduce the newest member of our company, first soloist Danielle Rowe! Danielle joins Houston Ballet from The Australian Ballet just in time to perform in Stanton Welch’s Marie. Onstage, critics have praised her “seductive assurance” and “transfixing vigour”. Here, Danielle tells us a little more about herself, offstage:

When did you start dancing?
I began dancing at the age of four. I was a rather hyperactive child so my mother thought ballet might be a good outlet for my energy. She was right, and not only did I expel some of my excess energy, I also discovered a life-long passion!
What was the first ballet you ever saw?
The first ballet I ever saw was The Australian Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty. I was eight years old, and I still remember falling in love with the beautiful costumes and music. My mum said I couldn’t stop dancing all the way home.

What is the most exciting thing about joining Houston Ballet?
Mostly, I’m looking forward to the varied repertoire Houston Ballet performs. I’m used to doing up to forty performances of one ballet, so the thought of performing a ballet for only one or two weeks and then moving quickly onto the next ballet is quite appealing and refreshing to me.
What are you most looking forward to dancing in the spring?
I have heard such wonderful things about Stanton Welch’s Marie. I can’t wait to see the production and anticipate witnessing some divine costumes and sets. I’m also looking forward to the Raising the Barre program.  I have not yet seen a work by Christopher Bruce or Jorma Elo, so I am intrigued to see what their choreography is like. 
What do you love most about dancing professionally?
I love the sense of fulfillment I experience when I know that I have invested all of myself into a performance. When I step out on stage and allow my nerves to dissipate, I can be whoever or whatever I want to be. 
Do you have a favorite moment in you dance career?
I was fortunate enough to perform on opening night in Graham Murphy’s Swan Lake at the Théâtre Du Châtelet in Paris. It will always be a night that I remember fondly. To dance in a theatre so beautiful and rich in history is every ballerina’s dream, and I feel so lucky to have experienced that.
Any embarrassing or funny moments from the stage you’d like to share?
I have had so many embarrassing moments on stage, it’s hard to know where to begin! Possibly the funniest moment was when I was dancing the Snow Fairy in The Nutcracker and my tiara got caught on the wing. I was completely stuck and had to thrust my head around like a mad woman to release myself. Not a very elegant look! After freeing myself from the tiara (and the wing!), I only then realized that the corps de ballet were already in their final position and the curtain was coming down. Needless to say, there were a lot of suppressed giggles on stage that night!
What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I love reading, listening to records, sewing, going to the theatre, sifting through vintage stores and sleeping!
What is your favorite…
I would love to dance Odette/Odile in Swan Lake again.       

TV Show?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett 
Fresh seafood

Danielle Rowe, photo: Jo Duck

Photo by Jo Duck.


Corps Member and Choreographer Garrett Smith’s Work to be Performed at Jubilee of Dance

November 29, 2010

Guest writer: Lorena Capellan, PR intern

Each year Houston Ballet performs the Jubilee of Dance, a one-night-only gala performance of audience favorites and dancer showcases.  This year’s Jubilee of Dance, held on December 3, will feature the second movement of Garrett Smith’s Vivacious Dispositions.  A corps de ballet member with Houston Ballet, Mr. Smith is a burgeoning young choreographer whose work has already been performed in the United States and abroad.  I had a chance to chat with him about his work and what it means to him for his choreography to be featured in a Houston Ballet performance.

LC:  What inspired you to create this piece? Is there a story/meaning behind it?
GS:  The music is what inspired me because there is something special and unique about Baroque music.  The distinct harpsichord accompanied by the dramatic strings act like the bass of a modern pop song.  Vivaldi has a way of bringing dramatic sound to the strings with the heavy and pounding beat that intensifies but is also playful.  When I hear his cello concertos in a minor key, I relate so well to the dark and mysterious tones.  Also, the liveliness and vivacious energy you feel when listening to the music of his double cello concerto immediately draws me in, making my body move which inspires contemporary movement.

LC:  How did you pick the music? Is it a piece you always wanted to choreograph to?
GS:  I was searching for cello concertos, mainly works composed by Antonio Vivaldi when choosing music for this piece.  I was actually on YouTube when I first heard his double concerto in G minor.  I loved it! I played the music over and over, that whole night.

LC:  What essence or mood were you trying to capture with your choreography?
GS:  There were specific moods I wanted to capture through the three different movements, or “dispositions”.  The first movement was first created when I heard “La Nolte,” which means “The Night.”  This was a very fast and energetic flute concerto by Vivaldi and was meant to be the “Vivacious” disposition.  It is full of energy with a hint of flirt and dramatics.  The ideas were mainly about vivacious personality or energy.  The second movement was inspired by a calm beautiful oboe concerto.  This dance happens first as a pas de deux between a man and a woman.  It also represents a calm, shy, expressive, and more intimate disposition.  The last movement is inspired and created from the music itself, Vivaldi’s Double Cello Concerto in G minor. The music says it all: power, playful, friendly, expressive, and positive.  This music just makes me want to dance!   For the Jubilee of Dance, we’ll be performing the second slower movement.

LC:  How was it choreographing on your fellow company members?  Did you pick the cast?  If yes, why did you pick who you did?
GS:  Choreographing on my fellow company members was a huge treat.  I really had no limitations.  The talent in this company is crazy!  I did select a certain few dancers from pieces I had choreographed in the past because I am a big fan of their movement and versatility.  I also picked some others I had not yet had a chance to work with yet.  I was very anxious to work with them because I knew they would bring my ideas to life without words.

LC:  Were there any unanticipated challenges?
GS:  There were of course challenges here and there.  Sometimes I get a crazy idea or lifts in my head that are almost impossible, so I recreated them in rehearsals and changed the vision a little.  This cost time, but I grew from the experience and any other challenge I faced.

LC:  What does it mean to you for an excerpt to be performed on the Brown Theater with the professional company?
GS:  For me to have an excerpt from my choreography on the Brown Theater stage for the very first time is some of the most exciting news Stanton could have told me this season.  The Brown Theater stage is massive.  I am so excited to have my work on such a great stage so the dancers can utilize all the space and let the movement really come to life as they dance this again.  It really is a big step for me to have the opportunity of using this professional venue to show the viewers the second movement of Vivacious Dispositions on this stage at the gala.  I think the most exciting part of this opportunity is it gives my mom and dad a good reason to fly here to see my choreography!  They have never seen Houston Ballet perform, and have never been in the Brown Theater.  I’m so happy that they will be here to see an important first moment for me.



Houston Ballet will receive $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts!

November 23, 2010

Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, today announced that Houston Ballet  has been approved for a grant of $50,000 to support the world premiere of a new work by the celebrated Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo and the American premiere of Christopher Bruce’s Grinning in Your Face, two works featured as part of the spring repertory program Raising the Barre, running May 26 – June 5, 2011.

Houston Ballet is one of 1,057 not-for-profit organizations recommended for a grant as part of the federal agency’s first round of fiscal year 2011 grants. In total, the Arts Endowment will distribute $26.68 million to support projects nationwide.  An independent agency of the federal government, the National Endowment for the Arts advances artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. 

The National Endowment for the Arts has a generous two-decade history of supporting projects at Houston Ballet with substantial gifts.  Most recently in 2010, the NEA awarded Houston Ballet $50,000 for the company premieres of Jerome Robbins’s Fancy Free and George Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina.  For more information on the National Endowment for the Arts, visit their web site at


The Rat Stanley Project

November 18, 2010

Guest writer: Sarah Meals, marketing manager

If you have kids or nieces/nephews, I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Flat Stanley Project.”  Started in 1995 by a Canadian elementary school teacher, the Flat Stanley Project involved school children creating a two-dimensional cutout of a little man, then mailing him to friends and family members, who would take pictures of Flat Stanley around the city they lived in.  Stanley would be passed from family member to family member until eventually Flat Stanley made his way back to the original owner with the photos of where he had traveled.

We at Houston Ballet are very familiar with the Flat Stanley idea.  Many of our ballerina mommies and daddies have taken stuffed animals (or other assorted toys) on tour with them, and documented their travels with said objects.  Former principal dancer Barbara Bears took “Teen Titan Robin” on our 2009 Spain tour for her little boy Ethan.

teen titan robin

Teen Titan Robin boarding Air France

One day, as I was having lunch with some pals from Schipul the Web Marketing Company (thanks Michael and Katie!), we brainstormed the idea of Rat Stanley.  How funny would it be for a rat from our production of The Nutcracker to “travel” around the world via our Facebook fans?  The possibilities are endless!  The rat on the Great Wall of China, the rat in front of the Taj Mahal…maybe I’m getting carried away.  But the rat is just so darn cute, who wouldn’t want to tuck him in their pocket and take his picture?

I have a confession to make…this project did present a special perk for me.  Since I began working for Houston Ballet I’ve had a dream to be a rat for just one day.  Thank goodness our costume shop played along and let me use the costume for a very quick photo shoot around Houston so I could show you “samples” of good Rat Stanley pictures.  After two hours of sweating in the costume, I can safely say I will never repeat the process again.  But it’s one more thing to be checked off my bucket list!

Rat in front of Wortham

Photo by Zuzana Leckova of Art Institute of Houston North

So here’s how it’s going to work:

1) Visit this link and download your very own Rat Stanley (don’t forget to cut him out!).  When you get to the landing page, click the “download the large size of this photo” link toward the top of the page.

2) Take pictures of your Rat Stanley in front of well-known tourist attractions in your city.

3) Submit your favorite image (one only, please!) to me, Sarah Meals, at with the subject “Rat Stanley Project.”  Also include your full name and a brief description of your Rat Stanley’s backdrop in the email.  The deadline for submissions is Friday, December 17 at 12pm Central.

4) Houston Ballet staff will narrow down the submissions to ten semi-finalists.  The semi-finalists will be posted to Houston Ballet’s Facebook page by Saturday, December 18, where our Facebook fans will vote for their favorite by “liking” the picture. 

5) The photo with the most likes by Monday, December 27 at 12pm Central will be declared the winner.  The winner will receive a Houston Ballet poster signed by the company, as well as a pair of pointe shoes signed by principal dancer Mireille Hassenboehler.

We are SO looking forward to seeing all of your photos, and thanks for participating!



HBII Touring Update from Guatemala and the U.S. Midwest

November 5, 2010

Guest writer: Jim Nelson, general manager

We are in the home stretch of Houston Ballet II’s fall touring schedule.

Earlier this month, Houston Ballet II gave two performances in Guatemala City at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin. The program featured Stanton Welch’s Long and Winding Road and Blue, Ma Cong’s Calling (created on HBII last season), and Claudio Muñoz’s staging of Act III of Raymonda. The dancers performed beautifully for the two packed performances and were received warmly by the audience. After the first performance, a dinner was held in the company’s honor given by our presenter—Geraldina Baca Spross and her board of directors. Following the second performance, the dancers were congratulated by Stephen McFarland, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, on their tremendous performance, and he thanked Houston Ballet for the outreach activities conducted during HBII’s time in Guatemala.

Claudio Munoz in Guatemala

Ballet master Claudio Munoz teaching a master class in Guatemala

Luckily, we had the very good fortune to be able to fit in an excursion to the ancient former capital of Guatemala, Antigua. The dancers spent the morning learning about Antigua and visiting ruins and restored structures before heading back to Guatemala City for their second performance.

We’re now nearly finished with the 7-performance, 5-city tour of the Midwest, and this hasn’t been a leisurely tour for anyone. With the exception of Kansas City, each location required some significant travel. We left Houston on October 25 and flew to Kansas City. Production manager Brian Walker and I each drove a 15 passenger van filled with dancers and costumes to our first stop in Springfield, Missouri. After a full day of travel, the dancers had an evening class to get their bodies ready for the next day, which involved a 10:00 am student performance followed by a short rehearsal and an evening performance. We performed at a terrific venue called the Juanita K. Hammons Hall on the campus of the Missouri State University to an extremely responsive audience. It was a great performance and a great way to kick off the Midwest tour.

On October 27, we traveled to Emporia, Kansas for Stop #2. In retrospect, I question the wisdom of relying on Google Maps for navigation. We drove for four hours without seeing much of anything other than cows and farmland. It was two lane roads with no gas stations, no fast food, and not a rest stop in sight. The dancers cheered when we pulled up to a Subway about an hour outside of Emporia.

Midwest corn fields

Our view for most of the tour.

The Emporia performance was on the campus of Emporia State University at Albert Taylor Hall, and the dancers were very warmly received. I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with the dedication of the presenting organizations who have booked Houston Ballet II. For a city like Emporia with a population of 26,000 people, I’m encouraged to see arts presenters bringing dance to their communities. The dancers performed a student show on Friday morning before making the two hour drive to Kansas City.

Kansas City was well positioned in the middle of the tour and on Halloween weekend. The dancers enjoyed being in a bit larger city with more food options and with a fraction more free time than the previous two cities. They also raved about their sleep number beds! The afternoon that we arrived, Claudio led a master class at Kansas City Ballet. All of the HBII dancers attended, along with the top level students of Kansas City Ballet.

Kansas City Ballet

Ballet master Claudio Munoz teaching a master class at Kansas City Ballet. Photo courtesy of William Jewell.

For the Kansas City engagement, Houston Ballet principal dancers Mireille Hassenboehler and Jun Shuang Huang joined HBII to perform The Sleeping Beauty pas de deux and the lead roles of Raymonda and Jean de Brienne in Raymonda, Act III. I could tell how excited the young dancers were to be performing with our principals, and it was a spectacular performance. Academy director Shelly Power also joined us for Kansas City. Thanks Shelly for the making the trip to support HBII!

On Sunday, we flew from Kansas City to Chicago and Chicago to Duluth, Minnesota. Then we drove an hour and a half from Duluth to Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids is the smallest town on the tour with a population of 8,000. It was a great surprise a few weeks ago to learn that one of our former HBII dancers, Daniel Blake, is now heading the dance program at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids. Daniel and his wife Julia hosted a post-performance party at their home for the HBII dancers.

Today we’re traveling to Winona, Minnesota for the last city in our Midwest tour. It’s a long trek to Winona, and I know the dancers will be glad to get a good night’s sleep before their final show at the Page Theater on the campus of St. Mary’s University.

This year marks the most ambitious touring schedule ever for Houston Ballet II, and having seen every performance so far, I’m thrilled to report that the effort has paid off. Dancers need performances to grow as artists, and these opportunities are golden in developing young dancers. The level of responsibility we’re giving these 16-19 year old dancers is huge, and they have truly risen to the occasion. The next time you see one of the HBII dancers, please give them a word of congratulations for representing Houston Ballet so well.



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