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Modern Masters Features Works by George Balanchine, Nacho Duato and Harald Lander in March 2015



Modern Masters Features Works by George Balanchine,
Nacho Duato and Harald Lander in March 2015

From March 12 - 22, 2015, Houston Ballet presents Modern Masters, a spring mixed repertory program, featuring George Balanchine's classically virtuosic Ballo della Regina, Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato's poignant Jardí Tancat, and Harald Lander's Etudes, a ballet known for its demanding technicality.

Ballo della Regina, a ballet for two principals, four female soloists, and corps de ballet, is set to the music of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Don Carlos. New York City Ballet premiered the work on January 12, 1978. George Balanchine choreographed the ballet to showcase the talents of New York City Ballet ballerina Merrill Ashley. Lincoln Kirstein, who with Balanchine co-founded New York City Ballet, wrote that the ballet seems to take place in a grotto, with reference through lighting and costumes to the original tale of a fisherman's search for the perfect pearl. "From Verdi's way of dealing with the chorus," Balanchine told biographer Bernard Taper, "I have learned how to handle the corps de ballet, the ensemble, the soloists, how to make the soloists stand out against the corps, and when to give them a rest."

Ms. Ashley commented, "Balanchine always seemed to take special delight in challenging me with difficult steps, and since he knew I excelled at moving quickly, he decided to make that the feature of Ballo --virtuoso steps at high speed. He highlighted all my strengths in Ballo, giving me a ballet that not only was challenging and fun to dance, but one that gave me the opportunity to communicate the joy of dance, which was my favorite mood to express on stage. Ballo epitomizes the essence of the technique that he advocated, as it requires extreme precision, clarity, speed, and expansive movement. Dancers who are not trained in the Balanchine style are always startled to find how much easier the steps are when they use the technique Balanchine advocated. His choreography is constructed with the idea that the steps will be done as he would have taught them. That is what makes the angles of the steps look best, and what makes the transitions from step-to-step possible at high speeds."

Ballo della Regina is one of the most technically challenging neoclassical ballets in the Balanchine canon. The piece demands dizzying turns with lightning-speed reflexes and is noted for the female lead's technically difficult allegro choreography.

Molly Glentzer, writing for the Houston Chronicle, described Houston Ballet's 2010 performance of Ballo della Regina as "kaleidoscopic magic". Julia Ramey from the Houston Press exclaimed, "Ballet classicists will savor Ballo della Regina, a George Balanchine classic set to operatic tunes!" (May 27, 2010).

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1904, George Balanchine is regarded as one of the greatest choreographers in the history of ballet and one of the 20th century's most innovative artists. Balanchine attended the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg. In 1924 he toured Europe and joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as a principal dancer and choreographer. After moving to the United States in 1933 he became director of ballet for the Metropolitan Opera House and a founder, with Lincoln Kirstein, of the School of American Ballet. In 1946 the two men founded the company that would become the New York City Ballet, and in 1948 Balanchine was named its artistic director and principal choreographer where he served in that capacity until his death in 1983.

Houston Ballet has 16 Balanchine works in its repertory: Agon (created in 1957, performed by Houston Ballet in 1996), Apollo (created in 1928, performed by Houston Ballet in 2004 and 2010), Ballo della Regina (created in 1978, performed by Houston Ballet in 2010), Ballet Imperial (created in 1941, performed by Houston Ballet in 2013), Concerto Barocco (created in 1941, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971 and 1977), The Four Temperaments (created in 1946, performed by Houston Ballet in 1988, 1997, 2003 and 2014), Jewels (Diamonds, Rubies, and Emeralds) (created in 1967, performed by Houston Ballet in 2010), La Valse (created in 1951, performed by Houston Ballet in 1988, 1996, and 2004), Pas de Dix (created in 1955, performed by Houston Ballet in 1969 and 1970), Prodigal Son (created in 1929, performed by Houston Ballet in 1974), Raymonda Variations (created in 1961, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971), Serenade (created in 1934, performed by Houston Ballet in 1985, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2008), Symphony in C (created in 1947, performed by Houston Ballet in 1992 and 2008), Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (created in 1960, performed by Houston Ballet in 1971 and 1994), Theme and Variations (created in 1947, performed by Houston Ballet in 1985, 1987, 1994, 1996, 2004, and 2012), and Western Symphony (created in 1954, performed by Houston Ballet in 1986, 1990, 1994, and 2006).

Jardí Tancat, which means "closed garden" in the Catalonian dialect, is set to Catalonian folk tales collected and passionately sung by Spanish singer Maria del Mar Bonet. With a sweet, yet passionate melancholy, these folksongs and their dance portrayal tell the story of the people who work the barren land, praying to God for the rain that does not come and enduring with great spirit in the face of hardship:

Water, we have asked for water
And You, Oh Lord, You gave us wind
And You turn Your back on us
As though You will not listen to us

Though Jardí Tancat was choreographed for classically trained dancers, its movement vocabulary is strikingly individual - and an exciting challenge for Houston Ballet artists charged with communicating the work's powerful feeling.

Reviewing for Explore Dance, Joseph Campana wrote, "The piece has about it the feel of folk or social dance, with its reliance on communal patterns of movement and emotion, but it also preserves the elegance of the balletic body. Whether wrenched into tormented shapes or twined about the bodies of their compatriots, the dancers found in this music the source of an electricity and necessity. It is hard to look away or to remember to breathe" (May 28, 2009).

Nacho Duato created Jardí Tancat, his first work, in 1983 while he was a member of the Netherlands Dance Theater, winning the first prize at the International Choreographic Workshop in Cologne. Born in Valencia, Spain in 1957, Mr. Duato started his professional ballet training with the Rambert School in London at the age of 18. To expand his studies he joined Maurice Bejart's Mudra School in Brussels and completed his dance education at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York. In 1980, at the age of 23, Mr. Duato signed his first professional contract with Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm, and a year later Jiří Kylián brought him to the Netherlands Dance Theater in Holland, where he was quickly incorporated into the company and its repertoire. In 1987, he received the VSCD Gouden Dansprijs (Golden Dance Award) for his achievements as a dancer.

In 1988, he was appointed resident choreographer for Netherlands Dance Theater, along with Hans van Manen and Jiří Kylián. He has created works for many companies including: American Ballet Theatre, Berlin Opera Ballet, The Australian Ballet, and The Stuttgart Ballet. His versatile style fuses the physical lyricism of Jiří Kylián with his own distinctive theatrical imagination. From 1990 to 2010, he served as artistic director of Compañia Nacional de Danza for which he created many works including Tabulae (1994), Por vos muero (1996), Romeo y Julieta (1997) and Multiplicity (2000). Houston Ballet has one other work by Mr. Duato in its repertoire, Without Words (created in 1998, performed by Houston Ballet in 2000).

Harald Lander's Etudes traces a ballet dancer's basic movements, the five positions of the feet and the simplest barre exercise, and develops in difficulty and in brilliance to a final cascade of turns and leaps. Inserted into the ballet is a pas de deux, frequently referred to as "the sylphide section," which recalls the nineteenth-century Romantic ballet of Denmark. Originally created by Danish choreographer Harald Lander for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948, Etudes has entered the repertoires of the world's best companies, including the Paris Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, English National Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.

"Herald Lander's 1948 Etudes [is] a pure exercise in classical steps and technique," wrote Molly Glentzer in the Houston Chronicle. " Mimicking a ballet class, it begins with basic arm and leg work by a corps of tutu-clad ballerinas at the barre ... Finally, it becomes a dazzling exhibition as the dancers jump in place, soar in jetes and spin through ever faster pique turns, pirouettes and fouettes," (May 27, 2000).

"Etudes is a very challenging classical work that is a benchmark for Houston Ballet and has been in the company's repertoire for over three decades. We last performed Etudes in 2003, and it will be exciting for our audiences to see how the company's classical technique has grown and evolved over the last decade," states Mr. Welch.

Etudes will be staged by the celebrated Danish ballet master Johnny Eliasen. Mr. Eliasen studied at the Royal Danish Ballet School, and danced with the company during the late 1960s and the 1970s, attaining the rank of soloist. A versatile dramatic performer, he created leading roles in Flemming Flindt's Felix Luna and Trio (both 1973) and Triumph of Death (1971). In 1987, he became ballet master of English National Ballet. In 1990, he was appointed deputy artistic director of the Berlin Opera Ballet, and in 1994, he returned to the Royal Danish Ballet as assistant artistic director, acting as temporary director from 1995-1997. For the last several years, he has taught and coached the dancers of Houston Ballet and its academy. In April 2008, he staged the company premiere of the 1849 Bournonville classic The Conservatory for Houston Ballet II's Spring Showcase performance. In 2008, Mr. Eliasen set his staging of La Sylphide on Houston Ballet's professional company to critical acclaim.

Houston Ballet last performed Mr. Lander's Etudes in 2003.