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Company Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Wortham Theater Center
with a Revival of the Production that Inaugurated the Facility 

Amy Fote, Melody Mennite, Sara Webb and Karina Gonzalez Dance Title Role 

Principals Connor Walsh and Joseph Walsh Debut as Romeo 

Principals Simon Ball and Ian Casady Return to the Role of Romeo


HOUSTON, TEXAS - From June 7-17, 2012, Houston Ballet will revive its lavish production of Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Ben Stevenson. In the ballet, two teenagers from warring families meet, fall in love and rush headlong towards their romantic destiny. With its magnificent evocation of Renaissance Italy by David Walker and Prokofiev's gorgeous score, the flagship production brings this classic love story thrillingly to life. Houston Ballet will give seven performances of Romeo and Juliet 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.

Houston Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet has played a key role in the history of the company. In September 1987, the ballet's world premiere inaugurated the opening of Houston Ballet's opulent new home theater, the $66 million Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston - a milestone in the company's development. In July 1995, Houston Ballet was the first full American company to be invited by the Chinese government to tour the People's Republic of China. A performance of Romeo and Juliet at Beijing's Exhibition Theater launched the two-and-half-week tour to Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. The opening night performance of Romeo and Juliet was broadcast live on Chinese television, with officials estimating that an audience of 500 million viewed the telecast.

"Romeo and Juliet is part of Houston Ballet's history," commented Mr. Welch. "The ballet was created on Li Cunxin and Janie Parker who danced the title roles at the premiere in 1987. I think every dancer wants to perform Romeo and Juliet because it is a great iconic story with a wonderful Prokofiev score. We will have a lot of wonderful new Romeo's and Juliet's making their debut in these performances."

Principal Sara Webb reprises the role of Juliet, partnered by newly promoted principal Joseph Walsh, who will give his first performance as Romeo in June. Principal Melody Mennite will be partnered by principal Connor Walsh, with both making title role debuts. Principal Amy Fote will appear opposite principal Simon Ball, who last performed as Romeo in 2005. While Ms. Fote has appeared in Bruce Wells's production of Romeo and Juliet for Milwaukee Ballet, these performances in Houston will mark the first time that she has performed Ben Stevenson's staging of the work. Soloist Karina Gonzalez also makes her debut as Juliet and will perform opposite Ian Casady.

Sara Webb, who will be featured on opening night, commented "I look forward to dancing the role of Juliet. In the seven years that have passed since I first performed the role, I have gained more life experience that I think will help me enrich and more believably portray the range and depth of emotions that Juliet feels during the ballet."

Houston Ballet most recently performed Romeo and Juliet in March 2005, with Molly Glentzer, dance critic for the Houston Chronicle, noting that, "the pas de deux are meltingly good, soaking up the Prokofiev score's emotional sweep. And the grand ball scene perfectly and simply evokes the deep-throated grandeur of the score's most thrilling section."

Writing in the January 1988 edition of Dance Magazine, critic Josie Neal observed at Romeo and Juliet's premiere, "Stevenson has an eye for grand drama, and it serves him well here, with sweepingly regal dances in the ballroom scene, robust dances and swashbuckling swordplay in the marketplace scenes, and poignant pas de deux, all of them an apt expression of the ravishing Prokofiev score."

Prokofiev's 1935 score and Shakespeare's dramatic play have inspired many notable choreographers. In 1940, Leonid Lavrovsky created the first Soviet production for Kirov Ballet. Among other treatments of the work are Sir Frederick Ashton (for Royal Danish Ballet in 1955), John Cranko (for La Scala Ballet, Milan in 1958, revised for Stuttgart Ballet in 1962), Sir Kenneth MacMillan (for The Royal Ballet in 1965), John Neumeier (for Royal Danish Ballet in 1974), and Rudolf Nureyev (for London Festival Ballet in 1977; also staged for La Scala in 1980 and Paris Opera Ballet in 1984).

The ballet's story is exceedingly simple, yet stunning in its emotional force. Set in 16th century Verona, Romeo and Juliet chronicles the romance of two beautiful Italian teenagers from families on opposing sides of a bitter feud. Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet first meet at a masked ball, fall headlong in love during a romantic encounter on the girl's balcony, and are secretly wed with the aid of Friar Laurence and Juliet's nurse.

The central love story is played out against a backdrop of violence, enmity, and conflict. The two lovers find themselves trapped in a vicious web of circumstance. After a bloody confrontation in the marketplace with Tybalt, a relative of Juliet's, Romeo is banished from Verona. When Juliet's parents insist that she marry the nobleman Paris, Juliet takes a potion that will give her the appearance of death, but allow her to escape and be reunited with Romeo. The two young lovers are indeed reunited in the devastating climax of the ballet in the Capulet family crypt.

Wortham Theater Center Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

The opening of Wortham Theater Center, the state-of-the-art facility built for Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, was a key moment in the civic and cultural life of Houston in the 1980s. Built at the height of the 1980s oil bust, the $66 million facility was constructed entirely with private money, on two blocks of land donated by the City of Houston, and was completed four months ahead of schedule and under budget. The facility greatly raised the international profile of both Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, and its completion was a signal moment for a city that had been battered by an economic recession and job losses.

Having its own theater also allowed Houston Ballet to expand its subscription season performances from one weekend to two weekends, giving the dancers more performance opportunities. (Prior to 1987, the company had danced in Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, and was limited in the number of performances it could give because of the venue's exceedingly busy schedule and competition for open dates.) At the end of the first of Romeo and Juliet performances in September 1987, a Houston Chronicle headline enthused, "Houston Ballet finishes best week of its history." (September 7, 1987)

The grand opera house stage of Wortham Theater Center also provided Houston Ballet with a new platform on which to stage lavish new full-length productions of both traditional works of the classical repertoire (Ben Stevenson's The Sleeping Beauty [1990] and Coppélia [1992] and Stanton Welch's Swan Lake [2006] and La Bayadére [2010]) and to commission a series of new, original full-length works (including Ben Stevenson's Dracula [1997], The Snow Maiden [1998]; and Cleopatra [2000]; Trey McIntyre's Peter Pan [2002]; and Stanton Welch's Tales of Texas [2004] and Marie [2009]). These pieces have gone on to be performed across the country and around the world.

Moving into Wortham Theater Center also allowed Houston Ballet to greatly expand the number of performances of The Nutcracker that it gave each season, rising from 11 in 1986 to 29 in 1987 to 35 in 2012. The unveiling of Houston Ballet's magical new production of The Nutcracker in 1987 launched a Texas holiday tradition that continues today. The Nutcracker also plays a key role in Houston Ballet's financial picture, generating over $3.7 million in revenues (around 19 % of the organization's annual budget) in 2011.

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 51 dancers with a budget of $19.2 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 The Financial Times on March 6, 2006, dance critic Hilary Ostlere praised Houston Ballet as "a strong, reinvigorated company whose male contingent is particularly impressive, a well-drilled corps and an enviable selection of soloists and principals." 

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 22,000 Houston area students (as of the 2010-2011 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.  





Music by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Choreography by Ben Stevenson, O.B.E.
Scenic and Costume Designs by David Walker (1934-2008)
Lighting Design by Tony Tucci
Lighting Design Recreated by Christina R. Giannelli

Houston Ballet Orchestra conducted by music director Ermanno Florio.

Generously underwritten by: Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., Sysco, ExxonMobile and Wortham Foundation

ABOUT THE PROGRAM: Set in 16th century Verona, Romeo and Juliet chronicles Shakespeare's tale of two beautiful teenagers from families on opposing sides of a bitter feud. With its sweepingly regal ballroom scenes, vivacious swordplay and poignant pas de deux, Ben Stevenson's production is a feast for the eyes. With impassioned dance and bold theatrics, it's an ideal showcase for the company's newest stars. The ballet also holds a special place in Houston Ballet history:  it inaugurated Wortham Theater Center in September 1987.

WHEN: At 7:30 p.m. on June 7, 9, 15, 16, 2012
At 2 p.m. on June 10, 16, 17, 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.