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Journey with the Masters Features Company Premiere of George Balanchine's Legendary Ballet Imperial in May 2013 

From May 30 - June 9, 2013 Houston Ballet offers up a mixed repertory program titled Journey with the Masters featuring the company premiere of Ballet Imperial, George Balanchine's tribute to Marius Petipa and Peter Tchaikovsky, alongside revivals of Jiří Kylián's exuberant and joyous Sinfonietta and Jerome Robbins's The Concert, a laugh-out-loud ballet depicting a group of concertgoers at a performance with keen insight to human behavior.

Balanchine created Ballet Imperial for American Ballet Caravan, and it premiered on June 25, 1941 at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro. Ballet Imperial, a ballet for two principals, three soloists, and 24 corps de ballet dancers, is set to the music of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.2 in G major, Op. 44. A sumptuous tutu ballet, with a hierarchical cast, and a brilliant courtly atmosphere, Ballet Imperial, in Balanchine's words, is "a contemporary tribute to Petipa, 'the father of the classic ballet,' and to Tchaikovsky, his greatest composer."

The celebrated American dance critic John Martin noted: "It would be a grave mistake to imply anything old-fashioned in any respect except the psychological setting. The virtuosity of the old academic style, the grandiloquence of manner, even the conventional mime [Balanchine] has looked back on with a certain tenderness but with an artistic objectivity as well, which allows him to treat it purely as choreographic material and to compose it freely and imaginatively." Indeed, the ballerina's role is still considered perhaps the most difficult in Balanchine's repertory. The choreography of the entire piece has been described (by the respected American dance historian Nancy Reynolds) as "a non-stop outpouring of kinetic exuberance."

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, George Balanchine (1904-1983) is regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet. Balanchine served as its ballet master and principal choreographer for New York City Ballet from 1948 until his death in 1983. Balanchine's more than 400 dance works include Serenade (1934), Concerto Barocco (1941), The Nutcracker (1954), Symphony in Three Movements (1972), Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972), Vienna Waltzes (1977), and Mozartiana (1981). Houston Ballet has 14 Balanchine works in its repertory, including Apollo (1928), Serenade (1934), Concerto Barocco (1941), The Four Temperaments (1946), Symphony in C (1947), Theme and Variations (1947), La Valse (1951), Western Symphony (1954), Pas de Dix (1955), Agon (1957), Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (1960), and Jewels (Diamonds, Rubies, and Emeralds) (1967).

Jiří Kylián, one of the most important choreographers of our time, has influenced generations of dance-makers since creating his first works with Stuttgart Ballet in the 1970s. "Kylián is one of the leading influencers in dance. He has a rich career with a broad range of style and ability that work well with classically trained dancers," states Mr. Welch. "He is one of my idols and his work is constantly challenging the dancers musically and intellectually."

"I make ballets because dance can express things which are inexpressible with words," Mr. Kylián has said. "My choreographies have been based on classical ballet, influenced by modern dance, folk-dance and extremely natural movements."

Kylián set his Sinfonietta to the music of Janáček to create this fluid, spacious, romantic ballet which has become a milestone in contemporary choreography. The forceful fanfares of Janáček's music are matched by a ceaselessly energetic and exuberant display of movement, creating and image which carries through the composer's intention of evoking the spirit of what Kylián calls the "free Czech man . . . [and] represents free men in general."

Mr. Kylián considers Sinfonietta "perhaps my most spontaneous work." He created it in 1978 for Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, when the company had little sense of direction and a tight deadline, but "the result was quite remarkable. The audience at the Charleston premiere never heard the end of the music, because they already stood on the top of their chairs cheering and throwing the program books into the air. This was the moment that tore the company out of a depression and this work where simplicity is one of the major characteristics, became a cornerstone of the repertoire of Nederlands Dans Theater."

The ballet, choreographed for seven couples, begins with a rousing series of leaps for the men, set to Janáček's celebratory opening fanfares. The most classically based of Mr. Kylián's ballets, Sinfonietta has five sections. Both men and women leap joyously through the air, seemingly effortless in their transcendence of gravity, building to a thrilling conclusion. Sinfonietta entered Houston Ballet's repertoire in 1995.

Born in Prague, Jiří Kylián studied at Prague Conservatory and The Royal Ballet School in London before joining Stuttgart Ballet in 1968 under the direction of John Cranko. He began his choreographic career in Stuttgart, creating his first work for that company in 1970. Mr. Kylián joined Nederlands Dans Theater in 1973 as a guest choreographer, and was appointed artistic director in 1978. After joining Nederlands Dans Theater he created and realized over 60 productions for the company including such works as: Sinfonietta (1978), Forgotten Land (1981), Bella Figura (1995), and Last Touch (2003). In 1995 Mr. Kylián celebrated 20 years as artistic director with Nederlands Dans Theater with the large-scale production Arcimboldo as well as receiving Holland's highest honor, Officier in de Orde van Oranje Nassau. In 1999 Mr. Kylián retired as artistic director, but still has an active role as resident choreographer and artistic advisor with the company. Houston Ballet has seven works by Mr. Kylián in its repertoire, including Falling Angels, Soldiers' Mass, Petite Mort, Svadebka, Forgotten Land, Sinfonietta, and Symphony in D.

Jerome Robbins's The Concert is a comic spoof of a classical music concert. Set to music by Chopin and orchestrated by Clare Grundman, the piece begins with a pianist onstage. The audience for this particular concert is made up of dancers who file in carrying chairs. This audience, like many others, gets distracted once the music starts, and that is when the fun begins.

Mr. Robbins once observed, "One of the pleasures of attending a concert is the freedom to lose oneself in listening to the music. Quite unconsciously, mental pictures and images form." This sentiment is brought comically and vividly to life in his choreography, when the hilariously unthinkable happens in the concert hall. Some of the vignettes from the ballet feature a young lady whose enormous hat blocks the view, a bickering married couple who chase each around the stage, and confusion with the tickets which causes everybody to switch seats. 

Comments Mr. Welch, "The Concert is one of the funniest ballets ever created. It's still fresh and funny today. Jerome Robbins was one of the true masters of dance. He had a unique and subtle sense of choreography which is lovely."

The Concert was created for New York City Ballet and was premiered at New York's City Center on March 6, 1956. Houston Ballet first performed The Concert in 2007 and has three other works by Jerome Robbins -- Fancy Free (1944), Afternoon of a Faun (1953), and In the Night (1970) -- in its repertory. The Concert is widely regarded as a 20th century classic, one of the few works to successfully integrate humor into its dramatic storytelling.

New York-born choreographer Jerome Robbins, one of the first great American ballet masters, had a wide-ranging career in the fields of both theater and dance - as a performer and choreographer in ballet and musical theater, and as a director and choreographer in theater, movies, television and opera. In a career that spanned five decades, he won four Tony Awards, two Academy Awards, an Emmy, and countless other awards for his achievements. He joined Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) in 1940 and choreographed his first work, Fancy Free, for that company in 1944. This was followed by Interplay (1945) and Facsimile (1946), after which he embarked on a prolific and enormously successful career as a choreographer and later as a director of Broadway musicals and plays. He was simultaneously creating ballets for New York City Ballet, which he joined in 1949 as associate artistic director with George Balanchine. Among his outstanding works for that company were The Guests (1949), Age of Anxiety (1951), The Cage (1951), The Pied Piper (1951), Afternoon of a Faun (1953), and Fanfare (1953). For his own company, Ballets U.S.A. (1958-1962), he created N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz (1958), Moves (1959) and Events (1961). After the triumph of Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, Mr. Robbins dedicated his energies to creating ballets for New York City Ballet, for whom he became ballet master in 1972. After the death of Balanchine in 1983, he shared the post of ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet with Peter Martins until 1990 when he resigned. He died at the height of his creative powers in 1998 at the age of 79.