Written by Carl R. Cunningham, © 2009
Dance: The Early Years In The 1950's
In 1955, the founding members of Houston Ballet Foundation had a vision for dance in Houston: to create a resident ballet company and to start a school which would train its dancers. Houston Ballet Academy was established that same year under the leadership of Tatiana Semenova, a former dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1969, the professional company was founded, under the direction of Nina Popova, a former dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and American Ballet Theatre.
Ben Stevenson Transforms the Ballet Company in the 1970's
From 1976-2003, Englishman Ben Stevenson, O.B.E., a former dancer with Britain's Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, served as artistic director of Houston Ballet. He established a core of permanent choreographers whose works have greatly enriched the company’s repertory. In 1989, Sir Kenneth MacMillan joined the company as artistic associate and Christopher Bruce was named resident choreographer. Sir Kenneth worked with the company from 1989 until his death in 1992, setting five of his pieces on Houston Ballet dancers. Mr. Bruce, who currently holds the title of associate choreographer, has set eleven works on the company, including four pieces created especially for Houston Ballet.
A Great Leap Forward for Ballet in the 1980's: A New Houston Theater and a Growing Endowment
In 1987, the company moved into its new performance space, the magnificent Wortham Theater Center, a state-of-the-art facility in which the company currently performs over 75 performances seven months a year. In April 2011, the company took a great leap forward, opening into its $46.6 million, six-story, 115,000-square-foot facility, Houston Ballet Center for Dance. Designed by the internationally acclaimed architecture firm Gensler, it is America's largest professional dance facility, located behind Wortham Theater Center in the heart of Houston's Theater District. Throughout its extraordinary growth period, Houston Ballet's operating expenses have grown from less than $1 million in 1975 to over $18 million today. In May 1987, the company launched an ambitious endowment drive. Houston Ballet's endowment stands at $54.8 million, as of June 30, 2011, making it one of the largest endowments of any dance company in the United States. Houston Ballet has also taken the lead in arranging collaborations with major American ballet companies to nurture the creation of new major productions, among them Dracula (1997) with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT); The Snow Maiden (1998) and The Pied Piper (2002) with American Ballet Theatre; Cleopatra (2000) with PBT and Boston Ballet; The Firebird (2001) with the National Ballet of Canada; and Carnival of the Animals (2007) with Pennsylvania Ballet. James Nelson assumed the position of executive director in February 2012, having served as general manager of Houston Ballet for eleven years prior to that.
Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet's Artistic Director: Revitalizing the Dance Company Over the Last Five Years
In July 2003, the acclaimed Australian choreographer Stanton Welch assumed the leadership of Houston Ballet as artistic director. Mr. Welch, who has created ballets for many of the world's leading companies, has choreographed numerous ballets especially for Houston Ballet, most recently his production of Giselle in June 2016 and the his upcoming production of The Nutcracker in 2016. The Financial Times of London has praised his leadership of Houston Ballet, citing "a strong, invigorated company whose male contingent is particularly impressive, a well drilled corps and an enviable selection of soloists and principals."
Houston Ballet Tours to Europe, Asia, Canada, and Cities Across the U.S. to Dance
Through hard work and dedication, Houston Ballet Foundation has ensured Houston Ballet's place as a major cultural asset in the community and as one of the leading ballet companies in the world. The company has toured extensively to critical praise in Europe, the United Kingdom, Asia, Canada, and in cities throughout the United States. In July 1995, Houston Ballet was the first full American ballet company invited by the Chinese government to tour the People's Republic of China. An estimated 500 million people witnessed Houston Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet when the company’s opening night performance was telecast live on Chinese television. Over the last ten years, the company has emerged as one the most effective international ambassadors for the City of Houston, performing in London, New York, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, and Australia.
The Fulfillment of a Goal
Houston Ballet Foundation has seen the fulfillment of its goals: an internationally acclaimed ballet company which is now America’s fifth largest (by number of dancers) and an academy which supplies over 60 percent of the company's dancers. The New York Times has hailed Houston Ballet as "one of the nation’s best ballet companies." As of 2016, the company is comprised of 59 dancers, including artists who have won medals at major international ballet competitions.