"It's a really exciting year," says artistic director Stanton Welch, who, ironically, also turns 40 this year. "There's a real variety of style and emotions."
Houston Ballet kicks off the season by bringing back Sir Kenneth MacMillan's beautiful full-length Manon with its drama of love, sex and corruption in September before ranging from the beloved The Nutcracker and La Fille mal gard_e to Houston premieres of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, George Balanchine's Ballo Della Regina and Jir‹ Kylišn's Falling Angels.
"Falling Angels is part of Kylišn's black and white series," says Welch. "I've wanted to do it for a long time. Falling Angels is part of his newer style that the company hasn't really explored yet." Falling Angels is a work for eight women which combines classical lines with percussive movements and stark lighting and costumes. It will appear on Without Boundaries, the fall mixed repertory program, September 24 through October 4 along with the Houston premiere of Twyla Tharp's energetic In The Upper Room and a world premiere by Welch. The new work, Elements, will be "a ballet about the four elements, with a mother earth figure and her four sons," Welch says of the piece he is setting to music by Paul Hindemith.
The second mixed repertory program in March, American at Heart, showcases Robbins's American classic Fancy Free alongside Balanchine's 1928 forerunner to his neoclassic works, Apollo and Christopher Bruce's 2006 Hush, a light-hearted romp to feel-good music by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin.
The summer mixed repertory heats up May and June 2010 with another Balanchine beauty, Ballo Della Regina juxtaposed with the more modern Mark Morris piece of whimsy Sandpaper Ballet and Welch's own Texas tale: Pecos Bill.
But the highlight of the season will be the world premiere of Welch's La Bayadre ("The Temple Dancer") February 25 through March 7, 2010. The story of the beautiful temple dancer Nikiya is one of love, lust and death, first turned into an exotic ballet by Marius Petipa in 1877 for the Russian Imperial Ballet. Welch puts his own spin on this big ballet by adding just a touch of Bollywood.
"It's a story that is so dramatic : she loves Solor, he's engaged to another. The High Brahmin lusts after her, there's a catfight. I just think it needs a little tongue-incheek," says Welch. Which, of course, made him think of India's fabulous, over-the-top, escapist musicals from Mumbai known collectively as Bollywood.
"They're kind of like Spanish TV, they have their own sense of style," he said, having admitted to seeing several of the genre's films. Welch also spent time trolling the Indian and Pakistani shops along Harwin Drive, being inspired by the collision of brightly colored costumes. "I think we'll see a lot of color, a lot of midriffs and harem pants from Peter Farmer." Farmer, the acclaimed English designer, will do both sets and costumes for the new ballet, just as he did for Manon. "We wanted a big ballet for the 40th anniversary season, and this will be like a big Bollywood production," promises Welch.
But don't expect him to "Bolly-fy" the famous "Kingdom of the Shades" section. The Act III dance for 32 ballerinas zigzagging down a ramp in perfect unison as they take two steps into an arabesque in pli_, then two steps to pose in tendue derriere, is one of purest forms of ballet-blanc or the white tutu ballets. It is so popular that it is often performed on its own. Tampering with the shades choreography would be tantamount to ballet sacrilege.
"Obviously I won't change that," says Welch. "But not much else of the original choreography has survived. The rest of the ballet is pretty much up for grabs, which I love."
A Bollywood ballet, full-length classics, and a host of contemporary choreographic masterpieces, Houston Ballet's 40th anniversary season promises be an entertaining one.
Next up on Houston Ballet's current season schedule is the premiere of Marie, a new full-length ballet created by Welch and featuring the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. For tickets and information, visit Houston Ballet.
Read more on Marie in the Playbill Arts feature article Who Was Marie?
Marene Gustin is the dance critic for the Houston Press and a freelance writer in Houston, Texas whose work has appeared in Dance Magazine and Dance International.