Stanton Welch Creates Memorable If Uneven Romeo and Juliet

Categories: Ballet

Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez.

The Execution:

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most well-known love story in the West, not because the play is his best work but because its themes of young passion and ill fortune are as universal as it is adaptable to just about any form of dramatic artistic expression. The tale of star-crossed lovers has been in the ballet repertory since 1940, when it first premiered in the Soviet Union alongside Sergei Prokofiev's now iconic score. Houstonians have cherished Ben Stevenson's take of the ballet since 1987, but now Houston Ballet's artistic director Stanton Welch has created an all-new version with only Prokofiev's music as the unifying thread.

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Houston Ballet Unveils Stanton Welch's Take on Romeo and Juliet

Categories: Ballet

Courtesy of the Houston Ballet
Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez will dance the leads opening night.
Imagine that you've been doing the same choreography by a revered figure in the dance world for a classic ballet with beautiful music for more than two decades. Audiences like it, so why not leave well alone? That makes sense, right?

Except that Houston Ballet's Artistic Director, Stanton Welch, decided he couldn't leave it alone. For the past three and a half years, he's been developing his own new choreography for Romeo and Juliet, and when the ballet is unveiled this week, it will be the first new production telling the tale of the two star-crossed lovers here in 28 years.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Is Moving to the Unexpected

Sharon Bradford

People don't usually associate ballet with the music of Prince and Stevie Wonder, but Complexions Contemporary Ballet isn't interested in replication. "We are not afraid to entertain," says Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder Desmond Richardson.

Hailing from New York City, Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by Richardson and Dwight Rhoden--two directors who both value multiculturalism as well as breaking artistic barriers. Their focus is to be continuously evolving, a group that changes with the culture and time. Their success in doing this has brought them such honors as the New York Times' Critics Choice Award.

Rhoden, the company's resident choreographer, has worked with The Joffery Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and The Dance Theater of Harlem.

"Dwight often begins his creative process with the music, which informs what he has to say...the current social climate also affects the work at times," says Richardson, former principal dancer with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, and Ballet Frankfurt. "I assist in the studio by workshopping movement before we teach it to the dancers," says Richardson, who also choreographs on occasion.

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Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet Brings Authentic Italian Design to Houston

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Juliet_Sketch.jpg
Courtesy of Roberta Guidi di Bagno
Sketch of Juliet
For the past year and a half, world-renowned Italian costume and scenic designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno has worked to design the sets and costumes for the first new production for Houston Ballet in 28 years -- Artistic Director Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet.

Guidi di Bagno and Welch met in 1998 while working on his commission of Ønsket for the Royal Danish Ballet. When it came time to look for a designer, that's who Welch reached out to in his search for authenticity in the classic tale of young lovers doomed by a family feud, a story set in Renaissance-era Verona, Italy,

"After speaking with Stanton, I looked at paintings from the Old Italian Masters of the 1400s," Guidi di Bagno says. "I took inspiration from those real representations of the time period and then I washed a surface away in my mind and added my own interpretation."

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Elton John's Music Paired With the Alberta Ballet = Love Lies Bleeding

Categories: Ballet

Photo by Charles Hope
A mashup of ballet and pop music
Pair the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin with ballet and what do you have?

Believe it or not a show that has traveled to considerable acclaim from its home in Canada. As part of the Houston Ballet's The Cullen Series, Love Lies Bleeding is headed for the Wortham Theater.

Created by the company's artistic director Jean Grand-Maître and performed by 36 dancers from the Albert Ballet, it features 14 classic songs in a story that traces a lot of things from John's own life: his rise to stardom and the good and bad things that followed in his life.

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The Nutcracker Returns Courtesy of Houston Ballet

Categories: Ballet

Photo provided courtesy of Houston Ballet
Melissa Hough and Simon Ball dance The Nutcracker

There's giant mice, a King Rat, toy soldiers that come to life, and Clara who seems a nice enough young girl whirled into a wild post-party night when magic and Tchaikovsky's music take over the evening's events. Yes it's time once again for Houston Ballet's annual offering of The Nutcracker.

Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Simon Ball has been doing The Nutcracker for 30 years now. Initially recruited by his-ballet-lessons-taking sister to fill out the ranks of little soldiers in the party scene, Ball says he discovered he loved the energy of the ballet. "And I made a career of it."

This year Ball will reprise his role as the Nutcracker Prince which means he's in Act 1 and II, pairing with the Snow Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy. "That's a definite challenge, but I do like that we have a character who appears throughout the ballet," he says. He will also dance the role of the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer who presents Clara with the doll in the first place.

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Ballet and the Bard: How Shakespeare With All His Words Became a Source for Dance

Categories: Ballet

Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Karina Gonzalez and Aaron Robinson in Houston Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream
This season the Houston Ballet is presenting three - count them, three! - ballets based on the works of William Shakespeare. One is John Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which opened September 4, to be followed by Romeo and Juliet opening February 26, and John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew, opening June 11.

As part of the Houston Ballet's Lecture Series, a discussion of Shakespeare as a source for ballet was held at the Houston Ballet on September 5 at 6 p.m. Cecil C. Conner, Jr., managing director emeritus of the Houston Ballet, provided an illuminating review of ballets going back to the 18th century, including some fascinating slides. One, of Vivien Leigh as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, caught a gesture so commanding it made me wish I had seen the ballet, which was presented in 1937. Conner reported that the first ballet of Hamlet was choreographed in 1934 by Bronislava Nijinska, sister of Vaslav Nijinsky - she danced the title role herself.

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Houston Ballet Opens Its Shakespeare Season With A Midsummer Night's Dream

Categories: Ballet

Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Karina Gonzalez and artists of Houston Ballet.

The Setup:
Choreographers have never shied away from adapting the works of Shakespeare to world of ballet, but A Midsummer Night's Dream is an altogether different endeavor. There's the large roster of characters to deal with, the circuitous nature of the key relationships, and not to mention the transitions in and out of a fairy world. Dance doesn't lend itself well to backstory, but it does lend itself to tales of passion. Choreographer John Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1977) is all body; no text needed here. Houston Ballet opened its 2014-2015 season with Neumeier's classic last Thursday night, becoming the first American company to perform the work.

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Houston Theater District's Open House and Our Theater Awards Issue

Photo by Marie Noelle Robert
For entry level opera-goers: Sweeney Todd
Besides the ballet, the theater companies and the symphony, this year's 21st Annual Theater District Open House will feature food trucks in Jones Plaza, tango lessons from the Society for the Performing Arts and has expanded to include Bayou City Music Center and Bayou Place (known rather more for their rock music than classical works).

And even though Alley Theatre has moved to a temporary home at the University of Houston where its first show of the season The Old Friends opens Wednesday, its personnel will still be on hand to show visitors through its production rooms to plumb the mysteries of costumes and wigs and rehearsal halls.

Perryn Leech, acting board chair of the Houston Downtown Alliance and Houston Grand Opera's managing director, says this year as always gives visitors an up-close-and personal (and free!) look at the Houston arts scene with the added benefit of being able to sign up for discounted subscriptions. "There are good bargains to be had," he says.

Tying in to all the occasion, the Houston Press this week presents its annual Houston Press Arts Guide as well as the third year of our Houston Theater Awards, in which we draw attention to what we believe were the outstanding theatrical performances in our city during the 2013-14 season.

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Houston Ballet Dazzles With Stanton Welch's Version of Swan Lake

Categories: Ballet

Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Sara Webb as the White Swan.
The Setup:
Few ballets are as well-known as Swan Lake the Russian ballet made famous by Marius Petipa's and Lev Ivanov's 1895 revival. Stanton Welch staged his version with Houston Ballet in 2006; inspired by John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shallott, his Swan Lake takes its aesthetic from the fairy tale valence of pre-Raphaelite painting. Houston Ballet closes its 2013-2014 season with this Tchaikovsky-fueled classic.

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