Stanton Welch Celebrates 10 Years at the Houston Ballet

Categories: Ballet

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Artists of Houston Ballet in The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.


The Setup:
Houston Ballet's Stanton Welch is celebrating ten years as artistic director of one of the country's most respected ballet companies. To commemorate his decade of dance, Houston Ballet presents a mixed repertory of Welch choreography, including the world premiere of The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, set to Benjamin Britten's seminal composition of the same name.

The Execution:

The program opens with Of Blessed Memory (1991), Welch's first professional commission for The Australian Ballet. It's a deeply personal meditation of the mother role as benevolent prime mover, as the giver of life and moral compass of youth and impressionable posterity. Danced to Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne and the heavenly vocal accompaniment of soprano Nicole Heaston, the dance is successful in capturing the emotional and spiritual bond between mother and child that goes beyond mere maternal responsibility.


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Houston Ballet Creates Magic With Aladdin

Categories: Ballet

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Joseph Walsh, Karina Gonzalez, and artists of Houston Ballet in Aladdin.

The Setup:
Aladdin may not be one of Western culture's primary princess fairy tales (i.e., Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves), but it might as well be. It's the most famous of the stories that make up Scheherazade's One Thousand and One Nights, and thanks to Disney's 1992 film, a generation of millennials know the story of the scrappy urchin who wins the heart of a princess with the help of a powerful lamp-entrapped genie. The story has been fashioned into just about every form of entertainment, including ballet. David Bintley's visually evocative interpretation of this storybook classic joins the rich narrative repertoire of Houston Ballet for an action-packed production that doesn't skimp on the dancing.

The Execution:
Like just about every popular version of Aladdin, Bintley's places the narrative in a generic setting somewhere in the Arab world, but what many people don't know is that the original story is set in China. Bintley stays true to this element by making Aladdin, his mother and his two best friends Chinese, a small band of foreigners who are themselves just as enamored of the colorful, textured world onstage as the audience. Otherwise, Bintly's take is similar to most popular versions of the story.


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Connor Walsh Takes on the Role of Aladdin for Houston Ballet & Keeps Up With His Favorite Soccer Team on the Side

Categories: Ballet

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Photo by Bill Cooper
Principal dancer Connor Walsh will star in Aladdin
OK there's a dragon, some of the names are a little different and Aladdin is Chinese but other than that, the ballet Aladdinthat the Houston Ballet has planned tracks along the same lines as the story most people came to know growing up, says Connor Walsh, principal dancer for the Houston Ballet, who'll be performing the title role.

"Aladdin being a poor boy who steals food and is always getting into trouble ends up meeting this guy who asks him to go into the cave to get the lamp and then he gets the lamp and there's a Genie."

As Walsh prepares to play the character who will keep him on stage for almost all the three acts of this full-length story ballet, he says he looked forward to the challenge. "It's really great for a dancer to have that much time on stage. The less time we spend in the wings the more honest the character feels and the story feels to us as performers."

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The Top Five 2013 Dance Concerts in Houston

Categories: Ballet, Dance



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Photo by Simon Gentry
Up for Air, by Recked Productions

I was filling in my calendar for January and February, making note of the dance concerts I wanted to make sure to cover when I realized it's the start of the final month of the year. 2013 is about to close, which ends another chapter in my book of dance watching. It's been a full one, and the treasures have been plentiful. From Houston Ballet's sumptuous story ballets to the Society of the Performing Arts' megawatt Great American Dance Series to the city's cherished contemporary dance companies, Houston was overflowing with world-class dance. In closing out this year, I went through my notes and compiled a shortlist of concerts that I still find myself talking about from time to time. Here's my personal list of the best dances of 2013.

5. Up for Air, Recked Productions
Any writer compiling a 2013 retrospective of Houston dance would be hard-pressed not to include Erin Reck's enchanting site-specific work Up for Air. The Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool at Hermann Park is a cherished Houston landmark that belongs to so many of our childhood memories, but in Reck's hands, the site was given a new layer of purpose and meaning.

The wonder of Reck's work rests not so much in the sheer size of the concept or its angelic choreography, but its ability to breathe life into an institution while staying true to its ethos. If the spirit of the Reflection Pool was somehow conjured, Up for Air would be the shape it would take. The dancers, all dressed in life, evoked pulses of nature, from their birdlike perching at water's edge to their flutter of hands in the air amidst falling leaves. In the sun of May, the shimmering imagery approached the fleetingness of an Impressionist painting. Fleeting, but indelibly now a part of the Reflection Pool's memories.

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Photo by Margo Stutts Toombs
Purging Honey!, by "there...in the sunlight."

4. Purging, Honey!, "there ... in the sunlight."
For the record, this spot might have very well have gone to B.L.K. Gurls ~n~ W.H.T. Boiz: Singin' 'bout Gawd! jhon r. stronks and his personal brand of revelatory, dance-from-the-soul movement are so intimate, yet, universal in their truths that the work of "there ... in the sunlight." can only be described as essential viewing. In Purging, Honey!, stronks dives head first into an exploration of maturation, identity, and queerness. What makes a man? And what makes him Miss Understood?

This heartfelt and heartily danced concert answered those questions and then some. Gender isn't a static label. It's a continuously morphing form of self-expression. And it's also to be celebrated in whatever shape it manifests itself. The movement of Honey! is of the dance party variety, with a street-savvy attention to rhythm and beat. In a stronks show, the hips and torso move in abundance; it's dance that really grooves. I don't think there was another dance concert this year that had so much to say, and had so much fun saying it.

This story continues on the next page.

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Our Annual Thanks to the Houston Arts Scene

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Photo by Jann Whaley
Venus in Fur with Nicole Rodenburg as Vanda and Michael Bakkensen was just one of many endeavors that fired up the Houston arts scene in the past year

It's become a tradition to ask our Art Attack bloggers what they are thankful for in the Houston arts scene this year. Here's this year's reaction:

Think of our performing arts scene as a grand banquet, a great groaning board full of savory dishes. Just since the official opening of the current season, look upon the entrees we've already tasted: classic fare like Main Street's The Real Thing; Houston Ballet's The Merry Widow; the Alley's You Can't Take It With You; Houston Grand Opera's Aida; A.D. Players' Arsenic and Old Lace, all prepared by the finest of chefs.

Then there were the mouth-watering side dishes, like TUTS new underground series that began with the grunge musical Lizzie; GEXA on Broadway's Peter and the Starcatcher and Chicago; and the Alley's Venus in Fur, the flavors were tantalizing. And let's not forget the highly spiced appetizers: Music Box Musicals' Avenue Q; Mildred's Umbrella's Carnival Round; Catastrophic's The Pine, Bayou City Concert Musicals' The Pajama Game. The food never stops, it's finely served, and just makes you hungry for more.

Not satisfied yet, just wait. Look what's in store for the next seating: 50 Shades of Grey; Wagner's Das Rheingold; Other Desert Cities, Aladdin, The Diary of Anne Frank, Vera Stark, American Idiot. The banquet in Houston never stops. Go gorge yourself, giving thanks all the while for Houston's performing arts bounty which is, as we all know, food fit for the gods. - D.L. Groover

I've written several Creatives profiles this year and I am so grateful to see so many people in Houston making a living (or at least a go) at a lifestyle that does not require sitting inside a cubicle. It gives me immense confidence in the creative diversity of this city. It's also so inspiring on a personal level to talk to people who are overwhelmingly passionate about what they do. That makes me want to be a better writer. - Brittanie Shey


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Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker Sees New Sugar Plum Fairy

Categories: Ballet

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Soloist Allison Miller as Clara in The Nutcracker.


The Nutcracker isn't just a holiday spectacle; for many children, it's their introduction to ballet. For a few, it is the start of a lifelong love affair with all things dance. It's a Christmas story, but one that has lasting appeal beyond the holiday season. The Yuletide setting is really just a backdrop for a story that spans the fantastical realms of childhood imagination. All of the best fairy tale elements can be found in The Nutcracker, including a dashing prince, an enchanted queen (of the more benevolent variety), magical landscapes, and a plucky heroine that goes on the adventure of her life.

The story appeals to every kid who loves Christmas, but in the world of dance, The Nutcracker means getting the opportunity to watch classical ballet in its finest form. There are no filler scenes in Ben Stevenson's celebrated version, and the two-act ballet is nonstop dance from start to finish. For the dancers of Houston Ballet, the annual production allows them to polish their technique in the production's familiar and beloved roles.

When it comes to beloved roles, none is quite as coveted among ballerinas as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Clara may be the central character, but it's the Sugar Plum Fairy who gets to dance with the Nutcracker Prince in that wonderful final pas de deux. Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker opens this Friday, and this year, recently promoted soloist Allison Miller will take on the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy for the first time.

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Mireille Hassenboehler Waltzes The Merry Widow

Categories: Ballet

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Mireille Hassenboehler is The Merry Widow.


The Setup:
Houston Ballet's first full-length ballet of the new season is Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow, a charming, sweet delight of a narrative about young love reawakened in maturity. Opening night saw Principal Dancer Mireille Hassenboehler in the lead role; her run as Hanna Glawari marks her final bows before her retirement from the company after a twenty-one year career.

The Execution:
For all its fun and friskiness, The Merry Widow, based on the popular operetta by Franz Lahár, is one of those story ballets that require some program note assistance for those unfamiliar with the plot. Hanna Glawari is a wealthy widow from the fictitious country of Pontevedro. The nation's aristocracy largely resides in Paris, and it is here that they ponder their homeland's dire financial crisis. The Pontevedrian expat community needs Hanna to marry a fellow countryman to keep her fortune safe from foreign hands, so they choose the affable, yet, perpetually tipsy Count Danilo for the job. All bets are off when Hanna and Danilo meet and the pair realizes they share more than their beloved motherland of Pontevedro.

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Houston Ballet Opens New Season With Four Premieres

Categories: Ballet, Dance

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Joseph Walsh, Karina Gonzalez, and Lauren Strongin in Passion.

The Setup:
Houston Ballet kicks off its 2013-2014 season with Four Premieres, a mixed-rep program featuring the works of master choreographers Christopher Bruce and James Kudelka, and Houston Ballet alumni Melissa Hough and Garrett Smith.

The Execution:
If there's one common denominator that links the four pieces in Four Premieres, it's the high-concept nature of the choreography. Take for example James Kudelka's Passion, the one dance I felt appealed both to the intellect and heart. Like the Beethoven concerto it is danced to, Passion is a baroque construction in all its busyness. The composition has no center; the eye shifts between a paired embodiment of idealized love, a paired depiction of what love really is, and five preternaturally pretty ballerinas who move across the stage in a line like carefully placed pearls.


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FrenetiCore's "The Rite of Summer" Would Have Made Stravinsky Proud

Categories: Ballet, Dance

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Trish Badger
When Igor Stravinsky premiered his renowned orchestral concert The Rite of Spring at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in the spring of 1913 a riot broke out. Deemed too far-out by theatergoers and critics, the nature of Stravinsky's emphasis on meter and rhythm over melody as well as Vaslav Nijinsky's sexually charged choreography was ahead of its time. Luckily, it and Stravinsky persevered and what was once an unacceptable piece of art is now considered one of the composer's greatest and has been heralded for decades. Ten decades, in fact, is how long audiences have been enjoying this masterpiece of music and dance; this year The Rite of Spring celebrated its 100th anniversary.

To commemorate this monumental event, dance companies around the globe have been performing and reimagining the work with modern reinterpretations. This past weekend, Houston's FrenetiCore Dance Company boldly took on this challenge with its own choreographed concept of the famous work entitled The Rite of Summer. Right off the bat, credit is due for taking this on; it is no small feat. But FrenetiCore did not just change some of the choreography and call it a day. The entire production was a colossal undertaking consisting of video projections, a rescoring of the music and more costume changes than when Anne Hathaway hosted the Academy Awards.

In her program notes, FrenetiCore's Artistic Director Rebecca French describes her apprehension with taking this on; she goes on to say that eventually, "in the spirit of Stravinsky" she and composer Chris Becker said to themselves, "let's just have some fun." And that "fun" shines through this production. Although, if I were to find one word to describe The Rite of Summer, "fun" would be the last word on my list. Awe-striking, bold, impressive, inspiring, maybe even magical are more like how I felt about this piece. In a word, it was excellent.

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Houston Ballet Flies High with Peter Pan

Categories: Ballet

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Joseph Walsh and Sara Webb in Trey McIntyre's Peter Pan.


The Setup:
Houston Ballet brings to life J.M. Barrie's fairy tale, Peter Pan, the first time since the ballet's 2002 premiere. Choreographer Trey McIntyre's interpretation is filled with the story's usual suspects of pirates, fairies and lost boys, but expands on the original's Victorian preoccupation with the enchantment of childhood, and the subsequent loss of it, for a ballet that is as weighty and introspective as it is light and whimsical.

The Execution:
McIntyre's Peter Pan opens with the frightful image of giant puppet nannies safeguarding the Darling babies, an almost macabre motif that is repeated in the portrayal of the Darling parents. Both mother and father dance in masked faces, all sense of their interiors lives - the wellspring of imagination - blocked by veiled decorum. They move in stilted, structured waltzes, like possessed marionettes. Adulthood, then, takes on a nightmarish quality that the Darlings must be rescued from. They are, and none other than by the boy in green.


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