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Future and role for the classics at Houston?


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Mme. Hermine posted a Link yesterday to the following article about new directions at Houston Ballet:


Molly Glentzer in the Houston Chronicle on the future of ballet in Houston:



"Five years from now, will traditional classical ballet exist in Houston? Maybe not, if Houston Ballet continues on the neoclassical arc artistic director Stanton Welch has set.

"He characterizes the company's 2006-2007 season, announced today, as "gems of the ballet world."

"It's ambitiously contemporary, adding "vintage" works by modern masters Hans van Manen, Glen Tetley, Jerome Robbins, Jirí Kylián and (pending contract negotiations) Christopher Wheeldon.


The article points out that Houston does have a rep of full-length ballets, some in Ben Stevenson productions, which are popular with the audience. It implies, however, that Stanton Welch and others find them not technically demanding and possibly not as interesting as other non-classical alternatives.


-- classics (which are popular and need to be performed consistently in order to maintain the company's ability to do them)?

-- or contemporary (which brings the company in line with Europe, is popular with dancers and creative people, etc.)?

-- or both (which is not all that easy to balance in practice)?

Any thoughts about this? As it applies to Houston -- or to other companies (and there are many of them) in a similar boat?

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I'll start off by excusing my lack of artistic knowledge of ballet. My knowledge is limited but growing, thanks primarily to this site. I live in South Texas. We drive to Houston often because we have next to no funding for the arts here. It's bitterly sad. We're getting a golf resort and Toyota, but nobody wants to give a plug nickel (or so it seems) to the arts, ballet in particular. Or such is my experience, anyway. I worry that this short-sighted attitude might also be prevalent in Houston, i.e., will Stanton Welch's wonderful contemporary ballets be the big draw that Stevenson's classics were? I wish I felt optimistic but I don't. Every time I visit New York or San Francisco or any other major city that does support the arts, I ask myself why it can't be more like this in Texas? Houston probably leads, although Austin might run a close second as far as people willing to support the arts. But I fear that Welch will struggle as he tries to bring Houston along in its view of how art is evolving. Anything that jeopardizes that huge flow of financial and community support for the arts in Texas makes me very nervous. Hopefully I am wrong. Will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.

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Looking at the article, there doesn't seem to be much controversial in adding Van Manen, Kylian, and Tetley to the rep. They're really mainstream nowadays, and hardlyh cutting edge. And the Wheeldon Carnival of the Animals seems likely to be a popular choice.

My question has to do with (a) the implication that classics are somehow on the way out and (b) that Welch's own ballets -- five more next season -- are definitely on the way in. Also © is this the route to popularity in the Houston market?

P.S. I note that the separate contemporary series is being dropped. Edward Villella, on the other hand, is creating such a series in Miami.

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I do have some thoughts as applies to Houston and other companies. First, I would like to point out that Houston Ballet and Stanton Welch in particular seem to be honoring classical ballets in their rep currently. (as is evident by his committment to creating an all new Swan Lake, premiering in a few weeks.) So, I was actually confused at first by the article in the Houston Chronicle. The author seems to contradict herself from beginning to end. She starts by bemoaning the fact that Houston may be fazing out the classics yet later mentions that colaborations with two notable contemporary choreographers is long overdue. Additionally, as Mr. Welch is a world renowned choreographer in his own right, why wouldn't his own company be performing his ballets? (as she negatively comments on the upcoming season as the "year of Stanton Welch.")

Each and every ballet company in the US has an interest in keeping and expanding it's audience base. No company wants to be caught behind the eight ball in addressing trends towards perferred entertainment. You must anticipate and deliver what the audience wants to see. By mixing the classics and contemporary, you address those issues and offer up "something for everyone."

I do believe that Houston is ready for this change and Mr. Welch is anticipating what is to come. Full length classical ballets, hugely expensive to produce, put a strain on the resources of ballet companies. They must find a balance between that classical rep and a more contemporary fare, which is oftentimes less costly to produce. Only time will tell if Houston is successful in doing so.

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An "all new" Swan Lake would indicate to me exactly the opposite - little committment to the classics. Look at some of the all new "Swan Lakes" out there and see how they further classical ballet style, training and ability. But heck, New York doesn't have an actual Swan Lake to be seen, why should Houston? :)

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Well Mr. Witchel - I would have to agree with you there re: NYCB's Swan Lake! ABT's is quite nice though. Houston remains to be seen - which I will be doing in a few weeks. Perhaps "all new" is an indication of new costuming and staging ... With classical coaches brought in to work with the dancers - it's difficult to believe that the Houston version will be a Stanton Welch contemporary remake. Perhaps just "tweaking?"

Edited by pattypirouette
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I totally understand your reasoning Mr. Witchel. (after reading your website and some of your blogs...) Your passion for classical ballet is shared by many, including me.

I'll weigh in on the "new" version after I have seen it.

I do bow down to your knowledge, regarding ballet, as much superior to mine! Additionally, I am truly envious of your knitting technique as well! Perhaps I need to read more and comment less... However, as for "tweaking" - that's been going on forever, with every ballet.

Edited by pattypirouette
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Isn't Classical choreography necessary to keep Classical dancers Classical?

As far as expenses, there are plenty of classical works that can and often are presented in one act versions, such as Aurora's Wedding from Sleeping Beauty, or Act II of Swan Lake, Act III of Don Q, or a pastiche of dances from Raymonda or Paquita. Granted, the costumes are much more expensive than those for leotard ballets, but perhaps they can be shared with or rented from another company? Sharing sets and costumes seems to be fairly common nowadays, which makes good sense :) , unless you're a designer or maker :( .

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:) I have just returned from Houston's performance in Ottawa, Canada - Triple Bill - Nosotros, The Accidental and Divergence. Opening night and audience loved it. I especially liked Divergence - I think the dancers really connected to Welch's choreography in this piece. It was joyful, strong, liberating and what wonderful male dancers, excellent partnering (my son studies ballet - I wish he had been with me). I'm very tired so will comment more tomorrow. I'm not a critic, just a ballet fan, but I'll take Houston's neo-classicalism over The National Ballet of Canada's "Italian Straw Hat" (Kudelka) any day.
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