"A Texas-Sized Celebration": Inside Houston Ballet's Jubilee of Dance

Classic Arts Features   "A Texas-Sized Celebration": Inside Houston Ballet's Jubilee of Dance
With its new Center for Dance - the largest of its kind in the United States - the company has cause to celebrate. The Dec. 3 Jubilee will feature a virtual sm‹rgê‰sbord of delights, with excerpts of upcoming ballets, past triumphs, and a look at what's happening in the rehearsal studio.


Houston Ballet's Jubilee of Dance is a time to look ahead and honor the past. But more importantly, to treasure the moment. Why not celebrate the ever changing nature of dance? It's a one-of-kind evening, never to be performed again. "With all the dancers on stage at once, there's such potential to create a buzz and excitement," says Stanton Welch, artistic director. As Welch enters his eighth year as director, the Jubilee has become a crowd favorite, and one of the most coveted tickets of the season.

With the Center for Dance, Houston Ballet's new home for the company and academy opening this spring, the Jubilee proves yet another cause for celebration. The building, the largest of its kind in the U.S., will be a shining landmark for dance both nationally and at home.

Welch first proposed the idea of a gala while auditioning for the job of artistic director. "I modeled my idea around what I had seen work so well at American Ballet Theatre and San Francsico Ballet. The term 'Jubilee' was a collaborative effort with the marketing team," remembers Welch. "We wanted it be a separate entity, apart from the rest of the season."

For those new to Houston Ballet, the Jubilee is a sure fire way to find out what all the hoopla has been about. The format features a virtual sm‹rgê‰sbord of delights, with excerpts of upcoming ballets, past triumphs, along with what's happening in the rehearsal studio right now. "Think of it like a tasting. It's a perfect season sampler. If you don't like one ballet, don't worry, it'll be done quickly and the next course will be out soon," quips Welch, who often peppers his conversations with food metaphors.

It's an ideal time to introduce a friend to ballet. For those tried and true ballet lovers, the Jubilee will help you decide what not to miss. Audiences can expect snippets of the upcoming The Sleeping Beauty and Marie, flashbacks to La Bayadre, along with some last-minute surprises.

Although the program itself may be fluid, the structure is solid. "I like to divide the evening in three distinct sections or moods. The first act is designed to show off every single principal; they each get their moment to shine," he says. "Audiences will surely get to meet our newest principal, Jun Shuang Huang, along with new soloists Melissa Hough and Karina Gonzalez."

The center of the evening is ideal for a pice d'occasion. Last season, for the fortieth anniversary celebration, Welch created the aptly titled ensemble, 40 (2009), which showed off the entire company and his ability to masterfully engineer the ensemble in complex and eye-popping constellations. Past galas included Welch's striking Bolero (2004). Both 40 and Bolero utilized the entire company, while the precise Punctilious (2007) highlighted the company's corps de ballet and demi soloists. "It's rare that these works will enter the repertory, yet they may be perfect down the road for Miller Outdoor Theatre or Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in the Woodlands," adds Welch.

The second act is also a perfect time for a tribute. "We can acknowledge people through dance; that's what I love about the gala," says Welch. Who could forget Lauren Anderson's tribute in 2006? Audiences were able to share in Anderson's rise from a promising student to one of the few African American principal dancers in a major ballet company. Last year's moving farewell to retiring principal Barbara Bears allowed fans to follow another stellar career, marked by uncompromising technique and dramatic flair. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.

Welch cherishes the opportunity to show off the entire company. "So often people only see who is dancing on opening night, yet we have this depth of talent from the principals to the corps," he says. "This is a chance to see everybody, including dancers that you may have not noticed before."

This is Texas, so the evening ends on a Lone Star size note. "We close with a big blockbuster full-company ballet," reports Welch. "Audiences get to see exactly how much talent we have in one night on one stage."

It makes sense that the most ethereal of art forms should have a celebration in tune with ballet's more ethereal qualities. Welch relishes the evening's down-to-the-wire energy. "It's a one night special, if you miss it, it's gone. There's no chance of seeing those dancers in those ballets again," beams Welch, with pride about what he has built during his tenure. "We get to spread our peacock feathers and say 'hey look at us.' As a company and team we are full of pride and camaraderie."

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