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Women@Art Showcases Influential Female
Choreographers September 20 - 30

From September 20-30, 2012, Houston Ballet presents Women@Art featuring a world premiere by Aszure Barton, the company premiere of Twyla Tharp's The Brahms/Haydn Variations, and the return of Julia Adam's Ketubah on a program of all female choreographers. With this program, Houston Ballet becomes one of the only American ballet companies to devote an entire program to the work of three living female choreographers. Houston Ballet is proud to nurture and support the careers of female dance makers. "It's rare and exciting for a major ballet company to curate a program featuring the works of three women," states Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch. "In many respects, ballet choreography can be a very male dominated field." 

Aszure Barton has been called a "brilliant" and "audacious" choreographer by the world's leading dance critics. Britain's Globe & Mail remarked, "The brilliant New York-based Barton produces delectable works that are quirky, deep, cheeky, and poignant. Her quicksilver, unpredictable movement always astonishes the eye." Ms. Barton's premiere for Houston Ballet will mark the first time she has choreographed on the company.

"Aszure's work is European contemporary, very much about dance theater instead of dance in general," comments Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch. "Her choreography is funny with an edge to the work. For her world premiere with Houston Ballet she is planning on using the full company."

Ms. Barton was born and raised in Canada. She received her formal training at National Ballet School in Toronto where she helped originate the Stephen Godfrey Choreographic Showcase. She has created works for Mikhail Baryshnikov, Hell's Kitchen Dance, The National Ballet of Canada, Nederlands Dans Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (Resident Choreographer 2005-2008), Sydney Dance Company, The Juilliard School, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Martha Graham Dance Company, among others. In 2006 Ms. Barton choreographed the Broadway revival production of The Threepenny Opera directed by Scott Elliott. She is the founder and director of Aszure Barton & Artists, a New York based international dance project and her works continue to tour nationally and internationally. She is an artist in residence at The Banff Centre in Canada and Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City, and was proclaimed the Ambassador of Contemporary Choreography in Alberta, Canada.

Twyla Tharp's The Brahms-Haydn Variations will have its Houston Ballet premiere. The work was originally premiered in 2000 by American Ballet Theatre and subsequently toured to Washington D.C. and Berlin, Germany. Sarah Kaufman of The Washington Post remarked "It is a marvel of musicality, soaring flight, understated wit and seamless design." (March 22, 2000) Time Out New York critic Gia Kourlas raved "As she railed against the composers completely unreasonable symmetry, frequently mimicking a mad conductor in order to help the audience follow the score, Tharp delivered the performance of a lifetime." (May 2000)

"Twyla is the world's most famous living American female choreographer. She took ballet mainstream and made it popular," states Mr. Welch. "She has become a household name because of her success in all aspects of dance in the arts: Broadway, film, and operas."

After graduating from Barnard College in 1963, Ms. Tharp founded her dance company, Twyla Tharp Dance in 1965. A leading choreographer of modern dance and ballet, Ms. Tharp rose to prominence during the dance boom of the 1960s and 1970s. In the mid-1970s, she began to cross over into ballet choreography. Her American Ballet Theatre debut, Push Comes to Shove, was very popular with audiences, and became a signature work for Mikhail Baryshnikov. Ms. Tharp went on to create several ballets for Baryshnikov, including The Little Ballet, Once More Frank, and the choreography for Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines in the film White Nights. Her dance style is a combination of modern dance and ballet, and is set to a variety of music types, including classical and popular. In addition to choreographing for her own company and ABT, she has created works for other companies including The Joffrey Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance, Martha Graham Dance Company, Miami City Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Houston Ballet has one other work by Ms. Tharp in its repertory, In the Upper Room, which had its company premier in 2010.

Julia Adam's Ketubah was the first work by the celebrated young choreographer to enter Houston Ballet's repertoire in 2004. Set to live klezmer music by The Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas, Ms. Adam's work is inspired by the rituals of a traditional Jewish wedding, following one couple from first glance to wedding night. 

Ketubah is a Hebrew term referring to the marriage contract signed by the bride and groom on their wedding day. A work involving 16 dancers - eight women and eight men - the ballet features movement that is a mixture of several styles. "I'm classically trained," Ms. Adam explains, "so I'm taking from that world, but there are contemporary and folk elements in the ballet. I'm also pulling shapes from Jewish folk dance."

The piece begins with a lighthearted game of "musical chairs" that serves to introduce the bride and groom, and then flows through the elements of a Jewish wedding, including a ritual bath, the groom's party, the unveiling of the bride, the ceremony under the chuppah - the wedding canopy - and finally ending with a celebration. Ms. Adam uses a single design element throughout the piece to unify and emphasize the underlying theme.

Comments Ms. Adam, "I take a piece of fabric that morphs from the mikvah - the bath where the bride immerses herself to cleanse her hands, feet, and body - and becomes her veil. Bedecken, the unveiling, is when the groom looks at the bride and sees that it is the woman he's supposed to marry. The veil then turns into the chuppah, and the chuppah becomes the sheet that was historically used in the marriage bed. The ballet ends with festivities, and the last song is 'Mazel Tov.'"

Ketubah is set to klezmer music, a uniquely evocative style integral to the once vibrant Eastern European Jewish culture, which is frequently played at Jewish weddings. Ms. Adam choreographed her ballet to music recorded by a Houston-based group, The Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas, which will perform live. The band embraces the past by drawing upon the musical influences of the Yiddish-speaking culture of old-world Europe, and melding them with the infectious rhythms of America's jazz age.  The 11 piece ensemble is known for its spirited performances of Jewish folk songs and traditional wedding dances, haunting, lyric melodies of East European Jews, fiery virtuosic Gypsy showpieces, and dazzling theater music, all infused with an electrifying world-beat.

Of her inspiration for Ketubah, Ms. Adam says, "I began with the idea of this wedding. I'm pulling from Eastern European Jewish Ashkenazi ritual. Pulling from ritual and tradition makes good theater." She looked to her own family and roots when creating the ballet. "I'm Jewish, so it's coming from my background," she said. "I'm visiting a part of my life. I married a non-Jew, but had a Jewish wedding: a rabbi, the chuppah, the whole thing."

Ms. Adam, a former principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, began her choreographic career in 1993. She has created numerous pieces for San Francisco Ballet including: The Medium is the Message (1993), Once is Enough (1994), Night (2000), and Imaginal Disc (2003). Night has become a signature work for the San Francisco troupe, and the company has performed it at London's Royal Opera House, at the Palais Garnier in Paris and at New York's City Center. Reviewing Night for Dance Magazine, Janice Ross wrote, "Adam's brilliance in Night resides in the way she can generate and sustain a very complicated stage picture, one that starts deep in the physical actions of each of her eleven dancers."