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Houston Ballet unveiled Tales of Texas in 2004. It was the first evening-length work by artistic director Stanton Welch created especially for Houston Ballet.  The production takes an abstract panoramic view of Texas, its history, people and spirit; and tells the story of early Texas pioneers, brokenhearted women in a Texas honky-tonk, and a Texas folk legend.  The ballet, which incorporates music by Aaron Copland, Patsy Cline, and the rising young composer Matthew Pierce, consists of three acts entitled “Big Sky,” “Cline Time,” and “Pecos.” 

“Big Sky” begins with Copland’s “Open Prairie” from Billy the Kid, and tells the story of four couples working and living on the Texas frontier.  “The arid landscape was a challenge for these early European pioneers, and the ones who succeeded had a special salt about their soul,” comments Stanton Welch.  In the first movement, the pioneers arrive.  Later movements include an abstract gunfight and a pas de deux about a woman who finds out in a letter that her husband is dead.

“Cline Time” follows the romantic misadventures of a group of Texas women in a bar for the broken hearted.  Set to the music of country legend Patsy Cline (whose name inspired the title of this act of the work), “Cline Time” gives Houston Ballet dancers the opportunity to demonstrate their skill at the two step, line dancing, and country and western dancing.  Some of the music selections include Crazy, Walkin’ After Midnight and Sweet Dreams of You.

A third piece of the ballet takes as its subject the mythical Texas cowboy Pecos Bill.  One of the most colorful figures in Texas folklore, he was raised by a pack of wild coyotes after he fell from his parents' covered wagon when they were crossing the Pecos River.  The relationship Pecos establishes with these animals leads to many adventures throughout his life.  His best-known exploits include lassoing a cyclone, riding a mountain lion, and using a rattlesnake as a whip.  Legend also has it that he invented the branding iron to stop cattle rustling, drained the Rio Grande to water his ranch during an enduring drought, and taught gophers to dig postholes.

In Tales of Texas, Mr. Welch focused on the poignant romance between Pecos Bill and his beloved, Slue-foot Sue. “I’m not really touching upon the more traditional aspects that many people are familiar with, " he commented. "I’m developing the less familiar stories and the relationship with the women in his life.  I think the end of Pecos’s relationship with Sue is something that everyone can relate to.  It is similar to Madame Butterfly and Cinderella, two other full-length works that I've choreographed, in that the story is very universal.”

Mr. Welch commissioned the rising composer Matthew Pierce to compose the music for the “Pecos” section of the ballet.  Mr. Welch explains, “I wanted to have a commissioned score that was specific to the story of Pecos Bill.  On several occasions I went to San Francisco to watch some ballets choreographed by Julia Adam.  Each time I liked the music she used in her pieces.  So I asked her who created them for her, and she responded that they were all by Matthew Pierce.  I asked him to write several themes, and I found them all very successful.”  Mr. Pierce has written ballet scores for numerous companies, including The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.

In discussing themes for the piece with Mr. Pierce, Mr. Welch explained, “I would like to incorporate the sounds of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and all those old cowboy folk songs with sounds of coyotes and horses, to try to create something that is authentically Texan.”

Acclaimed New Zealander designer Kristian Fredrikson created the costumes and set for “Pecos.” Mr. Welch was excited about working with Mr. Fredrikson on this ballet.  “Kristian Fredrikson is Australia’s number one designer,” Mr. Welch comments.  “If you grew up watching Australian ballet, you would have seen at least one of his productions a year.  My most memorable childhood experiences were of his designs.  He is an icon.”

Mr. Fredrikson has designed a large number of productions for The Australian Ballet and The Australian Opera, including Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Turandot, and The Merry Widow.  He has worked with Stanton Welch on several pieces, including Mr. Welch’s first professional ballet, Of Blessed Memory, and Mr. Welch’s version of Cinderella

Mr. Welch dedicated Tales of Texas to Houston Ballet Artistic Director Emeritus Ben Stevenson.  In September 2000, Mr. Stevenson, who was then the artistic director of Houston Ballet, commissioned Mr. Welch to create an evening-ength work for the company. Mr. Welch came up with several proposed ideas, but Mr. Stevenson was most intrigued with the concept for Tales of Texas.  “I think that Ben’s attraction (and my own) to this idea was that no other company could present this work in the way that Houston Ballet could," commented Mr. Welch. "It is truly a unique flower for Houston Ballet – not only for the company’s dancers, but for the city Houston and Texas."

Music by Aaron Copland
Choreography and concept by Stanton Welch
Costumes by Pat Padilla
Set by Tomas Boyd
Lighting by Christina R. Giannelli

Music by Patsy Cline
Choreography and concept by Stanton Welch
Costumes by Pat Padilla
Set by Tomas Boyd
Lighting by Lisa Pinkham

Music by Matthew Pierce
Choreography by Stanton Welch
Costumes and scenic design by Kristian Fredrikson
Lighting by Lisa Pinkham

World Premiere on March 11, 2004, by Houston Ballet in the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center in Houston, Texas.

Dancers: Mireille Hassenboehler and Ian Casady
Photo:Drew Donovan

Dancers: Mireille Hassenboehler and Nicholas Leschke
Photo: Jim Caldwell

Dancer: Ian Casady
Photo: Drew Donovan