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Welch- to become next Artistic Director?

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You win the prize, OF -- it's Welch!

Here's the press release:



Acclaimed Young Australian Choreographer

Succeeds Ben Stevenson as Leader of Texas Troupe

Houston, Texas -- Mr. Nicholas L. Swyka, president of Houston Ballet Foundation, announced today that the acclaimed Australian choreographer Stanton Welch has been selected to succeed Ben Stevenson as artistic director of Houston Ballet. Mr. Welch will take over the leadership of the company in July 2003, when Mr. Stevenson assumes the title of artistic director emeritus.

Mr. Welch has emerged as one of the most gifted young ballet choreographers on the international dance scene, having created works for many of the world's best companies, including Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, the Australian Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, among others.

Mr. Jesse H. Jones II, the leader of the search committee formed to select the new artistic director, commented, "As the search committee worked through the process, it became clear that having a director who was also a choreographer and who created a unique repertoire for the company was a defining feature of Houston Ballet's identity over the last twenty-seven years. We wanted to continue that tradition of having a gifted choreographer creating a distinctive repertoire that is unique to Houston Ballet. In Stanton Welch, we are fortunate to have found an exceptional dance maker of international distinction with close ties to Houston Ballet.

"When we began the search, Ben Stevenson advised us to look closely at Stanton Welch. With his passionate commitment to the creation of new full-length narrative ballets, his deep roots in British ballet, and his intimate knowledge of our company, Stanton is ideally positioned to build upon Ben Stevenson's legacy at Houston Ballet."

"I want to preserve and protect the legacy of the company that Ben Stevenson has built in Houston," Mr. Welch observed. "Houston Ballet is unique in North America in that it is the only big company that is regularly producing new story ballets. Houston Ballet has built an environment that makes high quality productions of this nature possible. Houston is also the only big company in the states that gives a choreographer four stage rehearsals. The company has really established a healthy environment for the creation of new work.

"I am also interested in bringing new choreographers such as Julia Adam to Houston. The dancers and the audience of Houston Ballet should have a checklist of the great choreographers, and should be able to see their works. Jiri Kylian's Forgotten Land is an absolute masterpiece, and I would be very interested in seeing Houston Ballet perform it. Christopher Bruce is a genius, and the company should continue to dance his works."

Mr. Welch will be the fourth director of Houston Ballet. Tatiana Semenova, a former dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, was director of Houston Ballet Academy, the school and precursor of the current professional company, from 1955 until 1966. Nina Popova, a former dancer with the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo and Ballet Theatre, assumed the leadership of the professional company from 1967 until 1975, when James Clouser, the company's ballet master and choreographer, served as acting artistic director. In 1976, Ben Stevenson took over as director of the company, doubling its size, increasing its touring engagements, and building an international reputation for the ensemble during his twenty-seven year tenure.

With an annual budget of $13 million, Houston Ballet is America's fifth largest ballet company, an ensemble of over fifty dancers who have been hailed by The New York Times as "one of the nation's best ballet companies." Founded in 1969, Houston Ballet performs an extensive repertoire of works, ranging from the great nineteenth century classics (Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Giselle) to new pieces by some of the world's most exciting young dance makers. Over the last ten years, Houston Ballet has emerged as one of Houston's most effective international ambassadors, touring to Moscow, London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Washington, D.C. In 1995, Houston Ballet was the first full American ballet company invited by the Chinese government to tour the People's Republic of China, giving performances in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

American Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, who commissioned Mr. Welch to create the one-act ballet Clear in October 2001 and who has asked him to stage a new version of Carmina Burana in May 2003, commented, "Houston Ballet is very fortunate to have Stanton Welch as its next artistic director. He is steeped in ballet, has a fresh and energetic approach to the art form, and is an enormously inventive choreographer. Bravo!"

Mr. Welch: From a Ballet Family, but a Latecomer to the Field

Born in Melbourne, Australia, on October 15, 1969, Mr. Welch is the son of two of Australia's most celebrated classical ballet dancers of the 1960s and 70s: Garth Welch and Marilyn Jones. (His brother Damien Welch is also a much admired dancer who has appeared with the Australian Ballet and other companies internationally.) Mr. Welch began his study of ballet at the relatively late age of 17, but quickly made up for lost time by winning a scholarship to study at San Francisco Ballet School. In 1989, he joined the Australian Ballet, and he eventually rose to the level of leading soloist with the company, performing such principal roles as Des Grieux in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Manon, Lensky in Cranko's Eugene Onegin, Camille in Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow and Alan Strang in Equus. In 1990, Mr. Welch created his first work for the Australian Ballet, The Three of Us, followed by Of Blessed Memory (1991), Divergence (1994) and others. He was appointed resident choreographer of the Australian Ballet in 1995, and has created two full-length works for that company: Madame Butterfly in 1995 and Cinderella in 1997. In May 2003, Mr. Welch will create a new version of Carmina Burana for American Ballet Theatre.

During the late 1990s, Mr. Welch's career as an international choreographer took off, with commissions coming from around the globe. He has created two works especially for Houston Ballet: Indigo, to music by Vivaldi in February 1999, a work that has become a signature piece for Houston Ballet and was last performed by the company on tour at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow; and Bruiser, which was featured as part of the company's mixed repertory program at the Sadler's Wells Theater in London in March 2001. In September 2002, Houston Ballet performed Mr. Welch's celebrated production of Madame Butterfly, a popular and critical success in Houston. Mr. Stevenson has also previously commissioned him to create a new evening-length work for Houston Ballet to premiere in March 2004.

The Oxford Dictionary of Dance characterizes Mr. Welch's work as a choreographer as follows: "His classically based style reflects the influence of modern choreographers such as Graham and Limon in its weight and fluency, but also tends towards a more fractured edginess. He has become one of the most sought-after choreographers of his generation."

Maina Gielgud to Join Houston Ballet's Artistic Staff

Mr. Welch has invited the celebrated British ballerina Maina Gielgud to join Houston Ballet's artistic staff in a senior role. After a successful performing career with Maurice Bejart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century, the London Festival Ballet, and numerous other international companies, Ms. Gielgud served as artistic director of the Australian Ballet from 1983 to 1996 and of the Royal Danish Ballet from 1997 - 1999. Writing in The International Dictionary of Ballet, Emma Manning observed, "Maina Gielgud's career has encompassed many areas in the world of dance: she has succeeded as both classical and as a contemporary dancer, and as an indefatigable artistic director, and she has brought the Australian Ballet to international acclaim….Gielgud adamantly believes in the nurturing of young dancers and in giving them major roles while still young….Her drive is relentless, her gaze piercingly astute, and her devotion to dance unquestionable." Ms. Gielgud is the niece of the legendary English actor Sir John Gielgud.

An Exhaustive, International Search for a Successor to Stevenson

In looking for the next leader of Houston Ballet, the board of Houston Ballet conducted an exhaustive, international search. The process included the retention of a consultant, Genovese, Vanderhoof & Associates, to help conduct the search. Eight candidates from across the globe were flown to Houston to interview for the position. Each candidate did a series of extensive interviews with the search committee, the dancers, the faculty of Houston Ballet Academy, and the company's artistic, administrative, and production staffers -- in addition to leading a ballet class and conducting rehearsals with the dancers. The search committee met with the dancers to hear their responses to each of the candidates and to receive their input.

The search committee met over thirty-five times, for a total of eighty hours, in their quest to find the right candidate. Serving on the search committee were Mr. Isaac Arnold, Jr., Mrs. Lorne Bain, Mr. Robert T. Blakely III, Houston Ballet Managing Director Cecil C. Conner, Houston Ballet Music Director Ermanno Florio, Mrs. Barry J. Galt, Mrs. Donald M. Graubart, Ms. Karen J. Hartnett, Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Mireille Hassenboehler, Mr. Kenneth F. Jones, Houston Ballet Soloist Nicholas Leschke, Mrs. Virginia Mithoff, Louisa Stude Sarofim, Mr. Stevenson, Mrs. Mike S. Stude, Mr. Nicholas L. Swyka, Richard W. Wortham III, and Mrs. Oscar S. Wyatt.

Mr. Welch: A Choreographer Nurtured and Developed by Ben Stevenson

Ben Stevenson was responsible for initially bringing Mr. Welch to Houston and for helping to nurture his talent as a choreographer. "When I was working with San Francisco Ballet in February 1997 doing my ballet Four Last Songs, I saw Stanton's Maninyas, a very sensual piece about relationships with men and women strutting around onstage," commented Mr. Stevenson. "What struck me about his work was that he moved dancers with great skill and that he was a young choreographer who really had something to say. When you're a young choreographer making a new ballet, it's very difficult to pull the work together so that you have inventive steps and it's also entertaining for the audience.

"I commissioned Stanton to do two pieces specifically for Houston: Indigo in 1999 and Bruiser in 2000. I saw his production of Madame Butterfly in 2001, and knew that I wanted it for Houston Ballet's repertoire. I also wanted him to create a work that would be unique to Houston Ballet, so I have commissioned him to create a new full evening program for the company's 2003-04 season."

Mr. Welch first came to Houston in the early 1990s to visit a colleague from San Francisco Ballet School who went on to dance with Houston Ballet, and attended a performance of The Nutcracker. "I loved Ben Stevenson's version of The Nutcracker," Mr. Welch remembers. "I thought the first act of Ben's version of The Nutcracker was the best Nutcracker I'd ever seen. And, as a dancer, I've seen so many Nutcrackers.

"I really love story ballets, and I've done a lot of them in Australia. Someone who can make a crowd scene work as well as Ben does in the first act of his Nutcracker -- who can give it humor and make all the characters individual -- is a person I admire. It's a goal that I hope to achieve some day."

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Very exciting!

I've only seen two pieces by Stanton Welch...one was performed by ABT's Studio Company with some SUNY Purchase Dance Corps members, to Beatles music, and the other is called "Orange" and Dance Galaxy performs it.... theirs looked especially good at The Joyce...and I hear it went over quite well in Palm Springs.

Good for Houston and good for Welch.

Any Houstonites out there?

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I'm not that familiar with Houston Ballet but I'm curious why Ben Stevenson is leaving to work for another ballet company in Texas. He was enjoying so much success in Houston but now he wants to start over?

Any thoughts from those of you who know the situation better?

That reminds me -- do any of you know how their unique marketing piece went over? They sent it out about 6 months ago -- it was a piece where you could request a free brochure but it was set up like a tabloid. "Geisha kills herself over betrayal!" (for Madama Butterfly), etc.

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Yup.:) Read it in the paper yesterday.

The thing with Stevenson is that his "golden age" with HB was long over. Without his muse, Janie Parker, he just didn't become inspired much anymore, and the reputation of the company had gone down a bit. Not that he doesn't enjoy working with HB of today, but he feels he needs to move on and spread his work. I think it explained it in the article I posted, but it's not there anymore.

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Links to articles expire eventually, that might be why it isn't there anymore.

What do you Texan's think? Someone here in San Fran said he thought Mr. Welch is awfully young, but I heard Mr. Stevenson was too when he started in Houston. Any historians out there with an opinion?

I don't know enough about either the company or the choreographer to make any educated comments, except that I think it's good news for all parties involved.

Those ADs have all got to start somewhere.

I wonder if there will be major purges of personnel.

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I like the idea that he's continuing the tradition of creating new, full-length ballets instead of turning so much towards modern dance for new choreography. Age is not an issue for me; I believe he will carry the company well. Also, keep in mind that he isn't doing it alone. Mr. Stevenson will still have a lot of input and Welch has Maina Gielgud with him.

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thanks, old fashioned. i too was wondering why stevenson was leaving houston, when his name has been tied to the company for so long.

i don't know anything about janie parker, so i am still somewhat in the dark.

i am intrigued by the choice of geilgud as assistant (or is it 'associate?) director...quite an unusual choice, it seems to me, for a young person to make. if i were in such a position, i would want support - but not from someone who has done it ALL before, for years - and who is potentially in a position to undermine, or to compete with you. i guess he must respect her skills, and be VERY sure of her.

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After her two most recent experiences, Gielgud may have realized that her talents do not lie in running companies but in working with dancers. She could be there to maintain the repertory, teach class -- and advise -- and let Welch choreograph.

I am not one of the legion of Gielgud fans, I'm afraid. From her repertory ideas in Copenhagen, she seems firmly rooted in the 1980s. But I do trust her eye for dancers. At least there, she used the classical dancers who'd been benched during the Schaufuss-Eliason years.

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The company will take on alot of his ballets and they have Acosta and some graduates from the Houston Ballet Academy have gone and some will be auditioning for spots for next season. Mr. Stevenson will be returning to houston to stage his Sleeping beauty next season and may return to stage others as Stanton Welch plans to keep the stevenson ballets in Houston's rep.

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