"It just feels a little surreal now," says Artistic Director Stanton Welch of the new $53 million Center for Dance the company will move into in the spring of 2011. "It's exciting to watch the building going up next to Wortham Theater Center where the company performs." With six floors, nine dance studios, office and rehearsal spaces and a dance laboratory, the new Center for Dance will be the largest professional dance facility of its kind in the country.
But that's hardly the only news for the 2010-2011 season, the schedule is also packed with old favorites and world premieres by both legendary choreographers and hot new dancemakers. It all kicks off this September with a repertory evening called Body, Soul & Gershwin that brings back Welch's Tu Tu, a playful and saucy riff on classical ballet with two-piece tutus by Holly Hynes that wowed audiences back in 2007.
The Gershwin part of the program is Welch's jazzy The Core: Gershwin, the Heart of the Big Apple while the soul section is Jiˇr‹ Kylišn's 1981 Forgotten Land. A truly soulful work for 12 dancers, the ballet was inspired by an Edvard Munch painting and the choreography is evocative of rising water engulfing the land. Which turned out to be pretty prophetic when the company first premiered this ballet back in 2006.
"We only did it four times," remembers Welch. "That rep was interrupted when Hurricane Rita was headed our way, so I'm glad to be getting a chance to do it again."
There are seven news works entering Houston Ballet's repertory next season, including the George Balanchine treasure Jewels. Considered the first evening-length abstract ballet, it is really more like three separate ballets in one. The sections, Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds range in style from pure Balanchine to his take on classical Russian ballet. Welch describes it as one of his favorite evenings of dance. It's a must-see for balletomanes.
The year winds down with Houston's 38th The Nutcracker run and the stellar one-night only Jubilee of Dance before launching into 2011 with a reprise of Welch's hit Marie from 2009.
"It's nice to be returning to Marie so soon," says Welch. "With so many of the original cast still here."
The gorgeous opulence of the French court is recreated by London-based designer Kandis Cook's sets and costumes. Welch tells the compelling tale of the child-queen through sweeping choreography. Marie is a wonderfully theatrical evening of dance and should whet the appetite for the second story ballet of next year; Ben Stevenson's lavish The Sleeping Beauty. A true crowd pleaser for audiences of all ages and ballet experience, the tale of Princess Aurora: whose Rose Adagio is one of the iconic partnering pieces of the ballet world: her prince, his quest and their marriage, blends fantasy with fleet footwork. And it allows for some cute divertissements by Puss 'n' Boots and a fluffy White Cat that will delight the younger ones in the audience.
On the other hand, Raising the Barre, the spring mixed repertory evening, is all about new and cutting edge choreography. It will offer Houstonians a first look at Christopher Bruce's Grinning in Your Face. Bruce, Houston Ballet's associate choreographer since 1989, already has ten works in the company repertory, including such audience favorites as Rooster, Ghost Dances, and Sergeant Early's Dream. Incorporating music by blues guitarist Martin Simpson Grinning in Your Face is a folksy anthology depicting characters and incidents from the 1930s.
Also on the program is Christopher Wheeldon's thrilling Rush, which often seems to do just that as the ten-member corps whips into a blizzard of movement set against some very sensual partnering. The English-born Wheeldon is always a welcome addition to any Houston Ballet evening. As a dancer he was a gold medal winner at the Prix de Lausanne competition and a soloist with New York City Ballet, but it's been his delightfully fresh choreography that has been appreciated here in Houston. Both his stagings of Carnival of the Animals (which was first seen in Houston in 2007 with John Lithgow in the role of the narrator) and Carousel (A Dance) in 2009 were audience and critic favorites here.
Another dancer turned choreographer, the Finnish dancemaker Jorma Elo, will create a world premiere as the third ballet on the program.
"Elo is a great dancer, a wonderful dancer," says Welch, whose brother danced with Elo. "He is a product of Kylišn's company, Netherlands Dance Theater. You can see Kylišn's influence, but Jorma has his own unique voice. Some critics have said he 'deconstructs ballet' but I think it's more of a fusion. Like you go to a fusion Asian-French restaurant. He fuses classical with contemporary movement. It's just very unique."
Houston Ballet's final program of the season will be John Cranko's full-length The Taming of the Shrew, a masterful balletic version of the beloved Shakespeare classic.
"It's something I've wanted to bring here for a long time," says Welch. "It's one of Cranko's most important historical ballets and role of Kate, who goes from fighting and scrapping to this lovely lady, is a great role for a ballerina."
The South African-born Cranko is one of the most revered masters of full-length story ballets and this is one of his finest and funniest. A not to be missed evening of ballet.
So, as Houston Ballet turns 41, and moves from the former dress factory-cum-studio on West Gray: where it's been ensconced for 25 years: into a new state-of-the-art facility near its performing venue, the company also embarks on a season of wonderful dance. Welch, who has now helmed the company for seven years, says they are "positioned to take a great leap forward."
Or, as we here in Space City might say: That's one small step for man; one giant jet_ for ballet kind.