Houston Ballet Showcases Its Students in the Annual Spring Recital

Categories: Dance

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
A 2014 Houston Ballet Academy performance
With music by Benjamin Britten and choreographed by Houston Ballet's Artistic Director Stanton Welch, The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is one of those pieces both illuminating and just plain fun to experience.

Now, student dancers in the Houston Ballet Academy will have a chance to show how they negotiate it as part of their Spring Showcase which this year will feature four Stanton Welch creations, said to be the most in any Spring Showcase.

Simon Ball, principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, was put in charge of setting the orchestra guide piece which involves 29 dancers. "There are five lines of people dancing at the same time, doing completely different things, all to the same music," he says, adding that although he danced the Viola role in the professional performance in 2014, he checked out the videotape over and over again to make sure he was getting everyone where they should be, noting that Welch is known for his preciseness.


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Suchu Dance Imagine The End. of the World in New Show

Categories: Dance

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Photo Courtesy of Suchu Dance

The Setup:
This weekend saw the premier of choreographer Jennifer Wood's Destroyed. The End., a darkly comic take on the final days of humanity as embodied by five dancers, including Suchu Dance veterans Shanon Adams, Sarah Leung, Tina Shariffskul, Prudence Sun, and newcomer Somya Gupta. The latest production offers grim imagery and ruthless passages of aggressive movement, but always with a subliminal tongue-in-cheek grin that makes for a surprisingly gleeful experience.

The Execution:

What's the first thing you do if you've survived the end of the world? If your world belongs to Jennifer Wood, then you grab a boho-chic wardrobe by costume designers Flower and Figaro and a gas mask - in exactly that order. The costumes create a vivid spark of purple coloring against a largely stark landscape of ominous red lighting. Fashion statements asides, this full-length dance work begins with a striking first impression which sees the five dancers circle the space in a hypnotic processional that's as interesting to watch as the larger choreography in the later sequences.

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RIDE Indoor Cycling Will Put a New Spin on Your Workout Routine

Categories: Dance, Pop Culture

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Photo courtesy RIDE Indoor Cycling
Any new workout has a high intimidation factor, but a dance-based workout can be especially scary -- particularly when your feet are clipped into bike pedals and you're expected to keep a beat for 45 minutes. RIDE Indoor Cycling on West 19th Street in the Heights keeps that intimidation factor low with a highly trained hands-on staff, low-lit classes and an unbeatable introductory class offer -- your first visit, including shoe rental, is completely free.

"It's really hard trying anything new, because you're putting yourself out there, taking a risk," said RIDE founder Kimberly Dowling. "Just have fun and don't be too hard on yourself. Like a dance class, it's choreographed, and so it's a skill you'll develop with practice."


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Swan Lake Flies in Straight from Saint Petersburg

Categories: Dance

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Photo by Larisa Linnikova
From Russia With Love: Swan Lake

It's no secret that Russia adores its ballet. Nothing from history illustrates this devotion quite as much as when Russian fans of Marie Taglioni made a soup out of her used pointe shoes in 1842. (Yes, they ate it.)

But now, more than a century and a half after the shoe soup episode, Russia is still enthusiastic about ballet and continues to produce the highest quality dancers who are deserved of such wild fandom.

This month, Saint Petersburg State "Russian Ballet" performs its version of Swan Lake in Houston for two nights as part of their limited six-city tour of the United States. Set to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's classic score, Swan Lake tells the well-known story of a girl (Odette) who bears the curse of transforming from a white swan during the day to an ethereal maiden at night. When the prince (Siegfried) ventures into the woods after dusk, he sees Odette from across the lake and falls instantly in love; tragedy and beautiful dancing ensues in Acts two and three.

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The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Dance Salad, John Biggers and More

Categories: Dance

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Photo by Hans Gerritsen

Members of Introdans in Trompe L'Oeil by Jiri Kylian
Li Cunxin, a former member of the Houston Ballet, is set to attend the 20th annual Dance Salad Festival. (The festival has two programs, one on Friday and another on Saturday.) Cunxin won't be dancing; he's here as the artistic director of Australia's Queensland Ballet, one of the companies showcased in the festival. "[This] city holds so many wonderful memories for me...the Wortham stages are where my dancing career was shaped and advanced," recalls Cunxin, who was with the Houston Ballet for 16 years. Queensland Ballet presents Short Dialogues by world-renowned Dutch choreographer Nils Christie, with Phillip Glass's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra as the music.

"This intensely involving piece offers a tantalizing, sometimes unsettling glimpse into three couples' relationships...[a] combination of sculpture-like elegance, grace, fluidity, control and intricate partnership," Cunxin explains. The company will also dance Through to You, choreographed by up-and-comer Andrew Simmons (New Zealand), a work that uses lighting effects to investigate personal connections and mirror images.

Presented by the Houston International Dance Coalition, the Dance Salad Festival hosts established as well as emerging dance-makers and companies from all around the globe. This year's performers include Bereishit Dance Company (Korea), Introdans (Netherlands) and Semperoper Ballett (Germany). Works by choreographers Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa are on the schedule.

Each company performs twice during the festival. Attend both Friday and Saturday to see everything on the program. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit dancesalad.org. $17 to $50.

This story continues on the next page.


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Dance Salad Festival Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary With Dance (of Course)

Categories: Dance

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Photo by David Kelly
Queensland Ballet: Nils Christie's Short Dialogues
Li Cunxin suspects it may feel a little strange for him to sit in the audience of the Cullen Theatre and not be the person dancing on-stage.

"[This] city holds so many wonderful memories for me when I danced with Houston Ballet for nearly 16 years...the Wortham stages are where my dancing career was shaped and advanced," recalls Cunxin.

Returning to Houston as the current Artistic Director of Australia's Queensland Ballet, Cunxin's company will be showcased in this year's Dance Salad Festival, along with seven other local and international acts.


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The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Dancing With the Machine, Texas Abstract Group Signing and More

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Photo by Anthony Rathbun Photography
Members of FrenetiCore Dance in Dancing with the Machine
There are two great shows opening this week so it's going to be tough deciding which performance to attend on Friday. Thankfully, both continue through next week so you'll have time to catch them both before either ends their run.

First up on Friday is FrenetiCore Dance's first full-length narrative production in two years Dancing with the Machine. The conflict between 21st-century technology and 19th-century morality is at the center of the narrative.

"[Our current] humanity is in an era of high technological advancement, but socially and morally, many people are stuck in the 1800s. There are those who still believe the world would be a better place if women were second-class citizens and gays would simply vanish," says FrenetiCore member and sometime Houston Press contributor Adam Castañeda.

The stylized Steampunk production follows Aida, a young, free-spirited heroine living in a postapocalyptic world who's on a quest to challenge the society's troublesome political climate. Throughout Aida's journey, she unearths personal family secrets, discovers a mystical machine and falls in love with a fellow revolutionary.

Based on a story by Castañeda, Dancing features choreography by company Artistic Director Rebecca French and costumes by dancer/filmmaker/designer Ashley Horn. Horn was asked to design wardrobes for "sketchy barmaids, dispossessed wanderers, rebel fighters [and] minions of the crooked government," Castañeda explains. "The movement [in the show] reflects each character's temperaments and inclinations." In order to exhibit such personality in the dancing, French called upon her knowledge of modern and contemporary vocabulary while mixing in hip-hop, jazz, ballet and Broadway-musical dance.

Dance with the Machine runs 8 p.m. March 27, 28, 29 and April 2, 3, 4; 2 p.m. March 29. Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation. For information, visit freneticore.net. $5 to $30.

This story continues on the next page.

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Houston Ballet Shines in 2015 Modern Masters Program

Categories: Dance

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Allison Miller, Oliver Halkowich, and Artists of Houston Ballet

The Setup:
Houston Ballet's spring mixed rep, Modern Masters, is an annual program that sees the company perform seminal works by the best choreographers of the 20th Century and today. This year saw Houston Ballet shine in works by George Balanchine, Nacho Duato, and Harald Lander.

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Houston Ballet's Modern Masters Presents 3 Distinct Dance Performances

Categories: Dance

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Photo by Amitava Sarkar
Dancers get earthy and down in Jardi Tancat
Ballet lovers of all types as well as people not too sure what part of the art form appeals to them will have a chance to look at it in some variety as the Houston Ballet presents Modern Masters, a program featuring three distinctive dance performances.

Oliver Halkowich, a soloist with the Houston Ballet will be dancing two roles; he's in George Balanchine's Ballo della Regina and Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato's Jardi Tancat.

Halkowich did the same roles five years ago and thinks he's doing them both better now since, he says, he understands them more clearly.


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Stanton Welch Creates Memorable If Uneven Romeo and Juliet

Categories: Dance

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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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