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FOR RELEASE SEPTEMBER 2, 2012
HOUSTON BALLET LAUNCHES ITS 43RD SEASON WITH
SEPTEMBER 6 - 16
Beloved Company Ballerina Amy Fote
Begins Final Performances with Houston Ballet in Title Role
Japanese Soloist Nao Kusuzaki Makes First Appearances as Madame Butterfly
Linnar Looris and James Gotesky Debut as Pinkerton
Program opens with Clear,
a Stellar Showcase for the Company's Men
HOUSTON, TEXAS - Fresh from its appearances at the Chicago Dancing Festival on August 25, Houston Ballet opens its 2012-13 season with artistic director Stanton Welch's signature work Madame Butterfly on a program with his one-act ballet Clear, set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) , running September 6 - 16. With a magnificent score by Puccini, in an arrangement by John Lanchbery, Madame Butterfly tells the love story of a beautiful Geisha and handsome American naval officer, Lieutenant Pinkerton. The production unfolds dramatically on Peter Farmer's picturesque sets, which beautifully evoke the mystery and languor of nineteenth century Japan. Houston Ballet will give six performances of Madame Butterfly and Clear at Wortham Theater Center at 501 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston. Tickets may be purchased by calling 713-227-2787 or by visiting www.houstonballet.org.
One of the World's Great Love Stories
Premiered by The Australian Ballet in 1995, Madame Butterfly was Mr. Welch's first full-length ballet. The production features beautiful scenery and costumes by English designer Peter Farmer to bring to life the mystery and stillness of 19th century Japan. The love story of a beautiful Geisha Cio-Cio San and a handsome American, Lieutenant Pinkerton, is told in an exhilarating two-act ballet. Cio-Cio San renounces her faith and her family to wed Lieutenant Pinkerton, which leads to a heartbreaking betrayal and ending to her life.
Since its premiere, Madame Butterfly has become Mr. Welch's international signature piece, having entered the repertoires of Houston Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Singapore Dance Theatre, Boston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Ballet West, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The work was revived in 2011 after a long absence from The Australian Ballet's repertoire, with performances in Sidney and Melbourne winning glowing notices from the critics. "This ballet, restored to its rightful place in the repertoire through this opulent production, is never less than enchanting and, indeed, gripping... The brilliant pas de deux which brings to a climax, quite literally, Act One it is breathtaking," enthused the critic for The Herald Sun on February 28, 2011.
Writing in The New York Post, critic Clive Barnes raved that Madame Butterfly is "a vividly compelling piece of dance theater, which could prove a genuine addition to the international ballet repertory" and remarked the choreography as "cool, uncluttered and for the most part extraordinarily effective."
Principal dancer Amy Fote, who has performed the lead role of Butterfly more frequently around the world than almost any other ballet dancer, will reprise the role for the last time. Ms. Fote plans to retire at the end of December 2012, and September's performances of Madame Butterfly begin her farewell to Houston audiences. On performing the ballet again, Ms. Fote observed, "Madame Butterfly is one of my favorite ballets I have ever danced. It's a gift to perform the title role in such a beautiful work." Ms. Fote's first experience with this work was in 2004 in a guest appearance with the Royal New Zealand Ballet where she performed the role 16 times and was coached by Houston Ballet's Ballet Master Steven Woodgate, who recognized her exceptional talent and set in motion the process of her joining Houston Ballet. "The emotional arc that Madame Butterfly endures throughout the story is so moving and tragic - experiencing first love and getting married, to defying her religion and becoming an outcast, having a child and holding on to hope for years that Pinkerton will return, to eventually taking her own life," says Ms. Fote of the emotional love story.
Mr. Woodgate, who created the featured role of Goro in the original production of Madame Butterfly in Australia in 1995 and has staged the work for companies across the world, gave Ms. Fote the freedom and space to discover her own conception of Cio-Cio San. "He would offer suggestions and tell you if something didn't work, but he would let you discover the character on your own," observed Ms. Fote. "He wanted everyone to be their own artist." Madame Butterfly has many characters and it is very rare that someone setting a piece does not refer to a video. Ms. Fote says that "the dancer notation that Steven does allows us to use our rehearsal time much more efficiently."
This September's performances of Madame Butterfly will feature three dancers making their debuts in leading roles of Madame Butterfly and Pinkerton. Debuting in the role of Madame Butterfly will be Houston Ballet Soloist Nao Kusuzaki, who was born in Ehime, Japan and grew up in Japan, Washington, D.C. and Boston.
"It is an honor to portray the role of Cio-Cio San through this beautifully poetic ballet Stanton has crafted," says Ms. Kusuzaki. "I am especially excited to share with the audience the Japanese cultural heritage which speaks to me most authentically, and to tell the story of this ballet's pure beauty, unwavering strength, and passionate drama."
Debuting as Pinkerton are first soloist Linnar Looris and demi soloist James Gotesky. Principals Mireille Hassenboehler and Sara Webb will revisit the role of Cio-Cio San, and principals Simon Ball, Ian Casady and Connor Walsh will reprise the role of Pinkerton.
At the ballet's Houston premiere, Marene Gustin of the Houston Press wrote, "Houston Ballet needs more story ballets like this one...the company really danced, flowing through the choreography and shining in the storytelling." (September 26, 2002) Houston Ballet last performed Stanton Welch's Madame Butterfly in 2007.
An Abstract Study of Life's Connections
The program opens with Mr. Welch's Clear, an abstract work, for seven men and one woman, showcasing Houston Ballet's male dancers and set to Bach's Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor and the first and second movements from the Violin Concerto in G minor. Noted fashion designer Michael Kors created the costumes for Clear. Sleek and sexy, Mr. Kors's flesh-toned designs focus the attention on the dancers, emphasizing the emotional impact of Mr. Welch's choreography.
When American Ballet Theatre premiered Clear on October 25, 2001 in New York City, Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times enthused:
Seven Men And One Woman Equals Explosion
Clear is already the major hit of American Ballet Theater's season. The choreography is explosive, fiercely danced by seven men with no show of diminished energy by the sole woman in the cast. Yet under the almost aggressive exuberance there is a hint of sadness, resolved finally in the comfort of a lover's embrace....
Above all Clear is a work that uses classical technique but not classical style. That is, it is not a classical ballet. (Think Balanchine or Petipa.) But it explores the academic dance idiom in depth. Mr. Welch knows how to play around with that idiom: Clear has a contemporary look but not the self-consciousness about the ballet vocabulary sometimes seen in Ballet Theater's works by modern-dance choreographers.
This naturalness extends to the way Mr. Welch has matched the ferocity of his fast footwork with the delicate sound of the violin and oboe in Bach....
As a choreographer Mr. Welch, 32, is something of a chameleon. When The Australian Ballet introduced his work to Americans at the Kennedy Center in Washington in 1994, the roots of his British-derived classical training were obvious. But so was his rebellion against tradition. Clear is a variation on that theme; the early promise is being fulfilled." (October 30, 2001)
About Houston Ballet
On February 17, 1969 a troupe of 15 young dancers made its stage debut at Sam Houston State Teacher's College in Huntsville, Texas. Since that time, Houston Ballet has evolved into a company of 55 dancers with a budget of $20.5 million (making it the United States' fourth largest ballet company by number of dancers), a state-of-the-art performance space built especially for the company, Wortham Theater Center, the largest professional dance facility in America, Houston Ballet's $46.6 million Center for Dance which opened in April 2011, and an endowment of just over $57.6 million (as of May 2011).
Australian choreographer Stanton Welch has served as artistic director of Houston Ballet since 2003, raising the level of the company's classical technique and commissioning many new works from dance makers such as Christopher Bruce, Jorma Elo, James Kudelka, Trey McIntyre, Julia Adam, Natalie Weir and Nicolo Fonte. Executive director James Nelson serves as the administrative leader of the company, a position he assumed in February 2012 after serving as the company's general manager for over a decade.
Houston Ballet has toured extensively both nationally and internationally. Over the last decade, the company has appeared in London at Sadler's Wells, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Ottawa, in six cities in Spain, in Montréal, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in New York at City Center and The Joyce Theater, and in cities large and small across the United States. Houston Ballet has emerged as a leader in the expensive, labor-intensive task of nurturing the creation and development of new full-length narrative ballets.
Writing in Dancing Times on June 2012, dance critic Margaret Willis praised Houston Ballet and highlighted the fact that "During his own tenure, (Stanton) Welch has upped the standard and Houston Ballet now shows off a group of 55 dancers in splendid shape. With fast and tidy footwork, they are technically skillful and have strong, broad jumps and expansive, fluid movements. The dancers' musicality shines through their work, dancing as one with elegance and refinement -and they are a handsome bunch too!...if ballet were an Olympic sport, see Houston Ballet well on the way to achieving gold."
Houston Ballet Orchestra was established in the late 1970s and currently consists of 61 professional musicians who play all ballet performances at Wortham Theater Center under music director Ermanno Florio.
Houston Ballet's Education and Outreach Program has reached over 20,500 Houston area students (as of the 2011-2012 season). Houston Ballet's Academy has 509 students and has had four academy students win prizes at the prestigious international ballet competition the Prix de Lausanne, with one student winning the overall competition in 2010. For more information on Houston Ballet visit www.houstonballet.org.
WHAT: MADAME BUTTERFLY (1995)
Music by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), arrangement by John Lanchbery (1923-2003)
Choreography by Stanton Welch
Scenic and Costume Designs by Peter Farmer
Lighting Design by Lisa J. Pinkham
Choreography by Stanton Welch
Music by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor
and the first and second movements from the Violin Concerto in G minor
Costumes by Michael Kors for Celine
Lighting by Lisa Pinkham
ABOUT THE PROGRAM: A signature work for Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch since its creation in 1995, Madame Butterfly depicts the story of a beautiful Japanese geisha who gives up her faith and her family to marry an American naval lieutenant. Set to Puccini's powerful score with exquisite costumes and sets by Peter Farmer, Stanton Welch's Madame Butterfly is a stunning achievement in neoclassical ballet that has been an international success, with performances on three continents. The program opens with Welch's Clear, a stellar showcase for seven of the company's men, set to music by Bach.
WHEN: At 7:30 p.m. on September 6, 8, 14, 15, 2012
At 2 p.m. on September 9, 16, 2012
WHERE: Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston
TICKETS: Start at $18. Call (713) 227 ARTS or 1 800 828 ARTS.
www.houstonballet.org. Also available at Houston Ballet Box Office at Wortham Theater Center downtown at 501 Texas at Smith Street.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit Houston Ballet online at www.houstonballet.org.