The Nutcracker Returns Courtesy of Houston Ballet

Categories: Ballet

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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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Houston Ballet Performs Work by Modern Masters

Categories: Ballet

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Connor Walsh and Nozomi Iijima in William Forsythe's In the middle, somewhat elevated.
The Setup:
Houston Ballet is in the middle of its run of Modern Masters, a mix-rep program that features work by Balanchine, Jiří Kylián, and William Forsythe. Last Thursday night's opening performance featured some of the company's finest dancing in recent memory, including standout bits danced by Karina Gonzalez, Connor Walsh, Katharine Precourt, Nozomi Iijima, and Derek Dunn.


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Houston Ballet's Academy Spring Showcase Shows Off Its Youngest Stars

Categories: Ballet

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Photo courtesy of Houston Ballet
Mallory Mehaffey and Joel Woellner in Houston Ballet's Sleeping Beauty
Mallory Mehaffey ran track in high school and just wanted a summer experience with the Houston Ballet's Academy for younger ballet students.

"By the time the summer program was over I wanted nothing more than to be here and train at the school so I joined as a student and trained for one year. Then I was offered a position in Houston Ballet II, the second company where I'm about to graduate from there and join the main company," the young star from Richmond, Texas told Art Attack.

This Friday, 18-year-old Mehaffey,will dance the role of the Waltz Girl in George Balanchine's Serenade and will also perform in Stanton Welch's Studies as one of about 20 young performers in the Houston Ballet's annual Academy Spring Showcase.


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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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