Happy New Year!
My dance education blog, Dance Advantage, has kept me on my toes. And did I mention I’ve been doing some freelance work for the Rockettes website, too? It’s about time I get some of my more recent dance writing work on this blog.
So, I’m kicking off January with some links to the past to catch up to the present.
Complexions Contemporary Ballet Ready To Rock Houston
What does a dance company have in common with U2, one of rock music’s biggest acts?
With a big smile on his face, Dwight Rhoden quips, “I think dancers are rockstars”.
Rhoden’s New York City company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, is about to rock… and roll through Houston on October 14 with a program that includes musical accompaniment big and bold enough to blow off the Wortham’s roof: The Rolling Stones, Roy Buchanan, “The Hallelujah Chorus,” and, of course, U2. The evening will close with Rise, a work set entirely to tunes from the Irish rock band’s catalog.
Rhoden gets no argument here about the exceptional qualities of dancers. However, as I see it, the troupe he founded with dancer Desmond Richardson in 1994 is like U2 in other ways, too. Both have accessibility and wide appeal, traits which some in their respective fields dismiss as if it were harder to be obscure. Both groups resist being bound by or excluded from the circles of commercial and “high” art. Both even have a frontman (in Complexions’ case, Richardson) who can command a stage like few others.
World premiere of inventive Tapestry highlights Houston Ballet’s “Rock, Roll & Tutus”
If any company can rock a goofy strut and some tutus made of air conditioning filters it’s Houston Ballet. They proved it at the opening of “Rock, Roll & Tutus” last week.
The program, which includes the world premiere of artistic director Stanton Welch‘s Tapestry plus two ballets previously performed (Rooster and Divergence), continues with three performances Friday through Sunday.
Marquee aside, Welch planned for Tapestry to be the antithesis of rock and roll as he set it to Mozart‘s Violin Concerto No. 5. While it showcases the rock star qualities of violinist, Denise Tarrant, the only thing “in your face” about this ballet is the talent of the company.
Daring, inventive and occasionally just plain jaw-dropping partnering punctuates the entire first section during which dancers appear in a muted tangerine and blue. To the delight of the audience, Karina Gonzalez is tossed between Connor Walsh and Ian Cassidy like a wisp of smoke — particularly sweet-scented smoke.
Houston Contemporary Dancesquared
No, The Stoners and The Metronics are not emerging indie-rock bands.
More coming this way in 2013!
HOUSTON BALLET’S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, Stanton Welch wasted no time ascending to world renown as a choreographer. Once he got started, that is.
Most dancers expect to spend years in the studio and on the stage before moving on to a choreographic career. The offspring of professionals in the field usually start clocking their hours even before they can walk.
Nevertheless, Welch, whose parents Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch were both principal dancers with The Australian Ballet and pillars in their country’s dance community, managed to grow up without taking more than an arbitrary jazz class until he was 17.
Still, one cannot have dancing parents without a great deal of exposure to the art form. It was the perspective he gained as an audience member that finally drew a teenage Welch into the dance studio, where he began an intense period of training and excelled, making his mother and father progenitors of what would become known as “The Royal Family of Ballet” in Australia.
Before dance, acting captured Welch’s attention. “I did some TV shows as a child and lots of film and acting lessons;” he recalls, “even writing plays and films.” –– transferable creative skills put to good use when, right away, as part of his dance training, Welch began to choreograph at his parents’ ballet school.
“I had always wanted to be involved in the creation as well as performing,” explains Welch.
And, create he did. His very first piece, “Hades,” made during his initial year of training, won numerous prizes and praise. Therefore, it should not surprise that only four years into his pursuit of ballet, he took on his first professional commission, creating “The Three of Us” for The Australian Ballet and “A Time to Dance” for The Dancers Company (the regional touring arm of The Australian Ballet) in 1990.
Patrons were already buzzing about Welch’s work when in 1994 his ballet “Divergence” debuted. A milestone work for the choreographer that continues to delight audiences worldwide, the sultry and virtuosic piece entered Houston Ballet’s repertoire on its 10th anniversary. Not yet another decade later, Houston audiences will likely find that the iconic “Divergence” remains as fresh and relevant as ever when it appears again this season in the mixed-bill “Rock, Roll, & Tutus.”
“I liken Stanton Welch’s choreography to a well-tailored suit; intelligently constructed, refined, and neatly executed, Stanton’s choreography expects impeccable technique and beautiful line,” says Houston Ballet’s newest principal, Danielle Rowe, who as a former dancer with The Australian Ballet has appeared in “Divergence” in her home country.
“Divergence” is not the only work Welch is dusting off in 2012. Though it has not sat long on Houston Ballet’s shelf, his darkly romantic (with a feminist twist) version of “Cinderella,” created in 1997 for The Australian Ballet, has a revival in late-February.
“Ballet is a living art form,” Welch explains. “The ballets don’t start to age until I am dead. Every revisit can feel new. Every time it evolves.”
Though he created “Cinderella” while still in his 20s, it was not Welch’s first full-length ballet. In 1995, The Australian Ballet gave Welch the opportunity to pour his passion for the opera, “Madame Butterfly,” into a ballet. The production received a standing ovation on its opening night and is frequently considered Welch’s signature work. Restaged by not only The Australian Ballet and Houston Ballet (look for it again in 2013), but also by companies throughout the world, “Madame Butterfly” resulted in the naming of Welch as a resident choreographer of The Australian Ballet and sparked a prolific period of dance making as his work became internationally sought-after.
Recognized as a choreographic shapeshifter within the dance world, Welch explores classical technique and execution while easily adapting to ballet’s contemporary or classical modes of expression –– all with a hint (sometimes more) of rebellion and defiance. Welch’s “Cinderella,” for example, is no waif pining for a prince. Instead, a tomboy that in the end –– well, let us not spoil the ending here. To say that it is a fairytale fit for young girls in the 21st century will suffice.
In 1999, Welch created his first work for Houston Ballet, then under the direction of Ben Stevenson. Veteran principal dancer, Mireille Hassenboehler notes that before “Indigo,” she had never danced in a ballet with bared legs and midriff.
“I think it was the first time I felt like a strong, sexy woman on stage,” she exclaims. Probably due to his early acting experiences, helping dancers develop a role is one of Welch’s strengths. “He is very good at communicating motivation and expectation,” says Houston Ballet principal, Melody Mennite, who has created roles in several of Welch’s ballets, including another strong female — the title character in “Marie,” Welch’s ballet about the doomed Marie Antoinette. Assuming artistic directorship of Houston Ballet in 2003 hardly inhibited Welch’s creative habit. He has premiered more than 20 ballets in less than a decade. He affirms that ideas for new ballets sometimes hit him suddenly, while others slowly come to a boil in his imagination.
For the triple-bill, “Rock, Roll, & Tutus,” which in addition to “Divergence” will feature the Jagger-inspired, “Rooster” by Christopher Bruce, Welch aims to debut a new piece that is the polar opposite of the other dances.
“I hope ‘Tapestry’ will be a very different type of work from the high-impact ‘Divergence;’ says Welch “I’d like it to be a very subtle, pastel, romantic work.”
Now in his early 40s, Welch has been creating diverse and notable choreography for nearly half his life. “We are preparing to do a newly composed score,” he divulges, “This is a new, difficult, and exciting frontier.”
It is just one more challenge to meet as he finishes his ninth season as Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director. Asked if his work has changed during this time, Welch’s answer is matter-of-fact: “I must focus not just on what I need as a choreographer, but also on what the company and the city needs.”
February 23–March 4: “Cinderella”
March 8–18: “Rock, Roll & Tutus”
Brown Wortham Center
The term ‘winning’ may have changed in nuance of late but it still seems a fitting description of the three contemporary works Houston Ballet has delivered to its audience with Raising The Barre. Introducing a World, American, and Houston premiere, the company displays its versatility, the prowess of its members, and three impeccable examples of ballet’s alive-and-wellness with one fell swoop.
Jorma Elo, resident choreographer at Boston Ballet, is clearly winning throughout the ballet world with a characteristically playful, always satisfying catalog that now includes ONE/end/ONE, created for and on Houston Ballet. To be the instrument and focus of Elo’s creativity is a rather victorious notch in the HB belt, as well.
Adorned in straight black tutus and rich bodices with embroidered necklines for both, men and women, the dancers’ classical appearance is a red herring in this ballet. Classical lines and structure do embed the framework of ONE/end/ONE’s three sections but Elo turns tradition and expectation on their side, if not completely on their head, as he weaves in his unique language of quirk.
With head dives and kicking legs, hip swivels and the occasional body roll, the charm of Elo’s dances is that throughout their twists and surprises, we see something human. Personality. Elo’s work is full of it, and Houston Ballet’s eight couples each add his/her own to the work.
Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez have a romantic but mischievous chemistry as he ducks a rotating leg or leads her in a somersault offstage. Melissa Hough, having danced Elo during her time at Boston Ballet and with a strong background in jazz and contemporary forms, is unleashed in the energetic third section. Following this lightening round, ONE/end/ONE skids to a halt with the final strains of a Mozart violin concerto, played with wicked agility by the Houston Ballet Orchestra and featured violinist, Denise Tarrant.
America’s past and the music of its heartland is a fascination for many an artist ‘across the pond.’ New to Houston Ballet and surprisingly, on this side of the Atlantic, is the 10-year-old Grinning in Your Face by Christopher Bruce. Set to selections from guitarist, Martin Simpson’s album of the same name, Bruce bid farewell to Rambert Dance Company with this ode to America’s Dust Bowl. Simultaneously timeless and old-timey, the slide and scratches of Simpson’s acoustic folk renderings are immediately transporting while vocals rich and raw evoke the hardships of life in the Depression-era Midwest.
With a vocabulary that borrows more from modern and folk dance than ballet, Bruce’s choreography brings a barefooted ensemble to what you might imagine is a dirty, earthen floor. The men gamble, win hearts (or not), and swagger in work clothes. The women fret, confab, and tend to one another in loose feedsack dresses.
Grinning is the theatrical centerpiece of Houston Ballet’s program, displaying a series of encounters rather than a single narrative. Assuming the velocity of a hummingbird, Melody Mennite (formerly Herrera) flits charmingly through one scene as the yellow-winged “Little Birdie.” The heart sighs along with Rupert Edwards and Jaquel Andrews as their duet recalls the exuberance and mischief of young love. Their entanglement resolves with a twinge of menace before giving way to lighter subject matter, including a stamping, sweeping social soirée featuring the full cast. As a lone motherly figure, Jessica Collado is the witness weaving each episode into the fabric of memory.
Where war seems at times celebrated as the boon that brought America out of their 1930’s economic depression, Bruce wraps up his work with a disquieting homily reminding us of the cost and violence of combat. The connection this Texas audience has with the often somber but heartfelt Grinning In Your Face is palpable.
In contrast to the sepia palette of Grinning, Christopher Wheeldon’s acclaimed Rush cascades onto stage with a splash of color. The elegant geometry of the costume design and opposing lines and diagonals of the staging have a cool art deco feel. The ballet, originally choreographed for the San Francisco Ballet in 2003, has a familiarity rooted in Balanchine and the traditional ballet hierarchy of two principals, four soloists, and a corps of ten.
Having attended the Saturday performance, I missed the pairing of Houston Ballet’s new addition, Danielle Rowe with Simon Ball. It was my good fortune, however, to view the exquisite Sara Webb whose quintessential feet and legs seem to go on forever as they envelop partner Ian Casady. Though a single red line of light extends across the backdrop, the central pas de deux frequently surrenders Webb to the floor and the air in what seems an unbroken helicoidal pathway. Is the homage to the spiral intentional? Who knows, but Wheeldon breaks through this aloof and evasive magic with more canon and color, ending it all in a gratifying flourish.
Ripe with prepossessing charm, all three works are welcome additions to the Houston Ballet repertoire. This city is winning as our resident ballet company continues to raise the bar… barre.
Raising the Barre performances continue this weekend, June 3-5. Visit houstonballet.org or call 713.227.2787 for tickets or more information.
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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a fun little summary of the content found here at Nichelle Dances:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2010. That’s about 10 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 10 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 45 posts. There were 19 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 3mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.
The busiest day of the year was February 16th with 43 views. The most popular post that day was Tap is Back in Space City.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were danceadvantage.net, facebook.com, dancebloggers.com, bigextracash.com, and mail.yahoo.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for ballet, sweet, ben stevenson, jeanine durning, and houston ballet.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Tap is Back in Space City February 2010
REVIEW: Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy Showcasing Bright Futures April 2009
Sweet on Aspen Santa Fe Ballet May 2009
Flash Response: “Marie” Houston Ballet March 2009
Images December 2008
Uptown Dance Company threw its hat into the Houston ring of contemporary dance ensembles not much more than a year ago, becoming an all-professional troupe after focusing for several years on providing pre-professionals at Uptown Dance Centre (the company’s affiliated school) an outlet to hone their performance skills. Their latest project, Dance Infusion, staged October 18th at Zilkha Hall, displayed a capable cast of dancers performing entertaining and tasteful choreography. Though the repertoire was eclectic in mood and theme, the mix of contemporary styles lacked innovation and occasionally charisma. However, with support from another of Houston’s mixed-rep ensembles, Revolve Dance Company, as well as guest artists on loan from Houston Ballet, Uptown Dance Company presented a classy show.
The core ensemble consists of five primary members, Adrian Ciobanu, Phoebe Waggoner, Lindsay Cortner, Martha Perdomo, and Ray Dones, along with three apprentices rounding out the group. Many not only have a history of training with Artistic Director Beth Gulledge-Brown, but also do double duty as teachers at Uptown Dance Centre. On the whole, these accomplished professionals consistently dance well together and display technical finesse. Dones has an electric energy on stage, his high level of attack often draws the eye. Waggoner is another standout, exuding a mature confidence in her approach to each work.
Chano, by Chet Walker (most famous for his work on the award-winning musical FOSSE) was a lively end to Act I and a choreographic high point of the evening. The work, set to Lalo Schrifrin’s spirited Afro-Cuban jazz composition of the same name, is a fun and provocative frolic. The dancers executed the broad and energetic movement with clarity. They looked hot, they moved with conviction, but missing was the go-for-broke personality and flirtatious spark (dancer to dancer, and dancer to audience) that would have made this piece a show-stopper.
A similar problem occurred in the production’s finale, Gulledge-Brown’s Dancing Days, which was set to selected tunes from the Led Zeppelin catalog. Ciobanu and Waggoner kicked off the work with a dramatic duet that was suitably rock and roll. Lighting designer Jeremy Choate makes the color green sexy, silhouetting the pair against an emerald backdrop. Later, the entire cast engages in some playful shirt exchanges which are delightful surprises but are not enough to fill the expansive accompaniment. Though a robust passage of unison choreography comes close to hitting the runway, the piece never manages liftoff.
Paola Georgudis’ more tranquil contemporary dance piece Orbita successfully integrated young student, Emily Healey, who showed great poise throughout her appearance. Orbita seemed innately suited to this small band of dancers. An introspective expression of relationships and the expanding circle of family, the choreography is imbued with cultural dance traditions and shows clear development. It was also the one piece I would have liked to see Ray Dones approach with more subtlety and nuance. His own work, The Beauty of Being Numb, was a better vehicle for his supercharged fluidity. A clanging industrial score (in this case, by electronic musician, Richard Devine) as a metaphor for detachment is not a new idea. However, as an opening number, it highlighted the polished dexterity of the five-member company.
As always, the talented dancers of Revolve Dance Company performed with passion. A series of solos and duets, their work Everyone has a Story features some gorgeous phrasing within the context of a collection of moody love songs. However, there is little else tying each section together. Watching these dancers, it is easy to sit back and just enjoy the aesthetics. When the work ends, however, questions linger. “Who are these people?” “What brought this mismatched group together?” “Why were they huddled around a trash can fire?”
Gulledge-Brown’s In The Moment, performed by Houston Ballet corps members, Lauren Ciobanu and Alex Pandiscio was a beguiling addition to the production. Gulledge-Brown’s sensitive and melodic composition was befitting this well-matched duo. Free of narrative, the contemporary ballet piece had a mesmerizing affect, as did Ciobanu’s stunning line which was fortunately unconcealed by Laura Phillips Hampton’s graceful costume design.
Overall, Gulledge-Brown has chosen quality and sophisticated material for her company to perform. Good dancing is the core and strength of this fusion (or infusion) of artists. It will be interesting to see how Uptown Dance Company take things to the next level as they strive to distinguish and promulgate their voice and vision within the Houston dance community.