The Melza M. Barr Principal Dancer
Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre under Robert Kelley, Diane Cypher, and Suzanne Farrell
Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy
Houston Ballet II
Principal - 2008
Soloist - 2005
Corps - 2002
Apprentice - 2001
Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre
Whim W’Him with Olivier Wevers
Giselle, Juliet , and Manon are probably my top three favorite roles. I love the complexity of these characters. Their nuanced movement qualities and deeply relatable human experiences are woven into each of them. Each time I’ve dance these roles I’ve felt so fulfilled and challenged to dig deeper into myself and into the relationships between my partners and all the characters in each ballet to achieve more emotional and technical impact and range.
I would say that Madame Butterfly and Marie by Stanton Welch taught me to feel and share vulnerably through dance, more deeply than I ever have. For those reasons those ballets are favorites.
Petit Mort was the first Kylian ballet I saw and the first time I performed it I felt a sense of transcendence that is unforgettable. I love story ballets but I also love movement that is simply spiritual because of what it is. I have felt this in many pieces by Kylian, Christopher Bruce, and Justin Peck.
I definitely cannot choose one favorite but these types of experiences that these ballets offer, are why I dance.
A Defining Moment
I have two. I am the mother of an incredible human, my son Isaac. I have raised him as a single mother rising through the ranks all the way form Corps de Ballet. Every moment I have onstage and in the studio is a moment both for him, and that has asked for a lot of sacrifice and taken me away from him. In 2022 I created a one act ballet for Houston Ballet and after opening noght Isaac told me it was his favorite ballet he’s ever seen. That was my most proud moment that felt like I could give back some of what he’s sacrificed through my own dedication to this art.
Performing Romeo and Juliet with Chun Wai Chan in 2023 was also one of the proudest moments of my career. I felt that the dedication to our process of development that we both made over many months, often on our own time and even traveling to work together of our own accord, resulted in the most freedom and security I have ever felt on stage. Being able to dance with that much abandon and the confidence in the work of the entire cast was a very important moment for me that came at just the right time in my life and career.
A native of Santa Cruz, California, Melody Mennite trained at Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre under Robert Kelley and Diane McLarty and at Pacific Northwest Ballet. She also attended summer intensive programs with Suzanne Farrell.
At the age of 13, Mennite began her training with Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy and also attended three consecutive summer intensive programs with the academy. In the 2000-2001 season, she spent one year in Houston Ballet II on full scholarship and stipend. Mennite also won a scholarship award from Regional Dance America in 2000. At the age of 17, she joined the Company in 2001 as an apprentice, rose to Corps de Ballet dancer in 2002 then Soloist in 2005, and principal in 2008.
She was invited to tour with Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre through Tansonmer, Austria. Prior to joining Houston Ballet, she performed numerous leading roles with Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre: the Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker; Kitri in Don Quixote and Odette in Swan Lake. Mennite has performed the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy as a guest artist with Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre in The Nutcracker productions since 2006.
Mennite has performed leading roles in classical ballets including August Bournonville’s La Sylphide (The Sylph), John Cranko’s Onegin (Tatiana and Olga) and Taming of the Shrew (Kate), Sir Kenneth McMillan’s Manon (Manon), Sir Fredrick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardee (Lise), Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow (Valencienne), Trey McIntyre’s Peter Pan (Wendy), and John Neumeier’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Helena). Other principal roles include Ben Stevenson’s Giselle (Giselle), Coppelia (Swanhilda), and The Sleeping Beauty (Aurora and Carabosse).
Stanton Welch'sThe Nutcracker which debuted in 2016 starred Mennite as Clara. Welch has created many roles on her such as Psyche in Sylvia and Marie Antoinette in Marie where Mennite served as his muse and title character. She has also performed in Welch's Romeo and Juliet (Juliet), Swan Lake (Odette/Odile), La Bayadere (Nikya), Marie (Marie*), Cinderella (Cinderella), The Nutcracker (Sugar Plum Fairy and Clara*), Madame Buuterfly (Cio Cio San and Kate), *The Core, *Brigade, *Son of a Chamber, *tapestry, *Paquita, *The Four Seasons, *Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra, *Zodiac, Maninyas, Falling, Velocity, Divergence, Indigo, Carmina Burana, Of Blessed Memory, *Elements, *Rite of Spring, Play, and Wildlife.
Justin Peck created a role on her with his world premiere of Reflections in 2019 and Under the Folding Sky in 2023. Other Principal roles in neoclassical and contemporary repertoire include: Jiri Kylian’s Petit Mort, Falling Angels, Sinfonietta, Wings of Wax, Stepping Stones, Svedebka, Forgotten Land, George Balanchine’s Four Temperaments (Melancholic), Serenade (Waltz Girl), Ballo de Regina (Lead Girl), Jewels (Rubies and Emeralds), and Symphony in C, Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, The Concert, West Side Story Suite, Other Dances, William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, Artifact Suite, Christopher Bruce’s *Hush, Rooster, Ghost Dances, Sargent Early’s Dream, Aszure Barton’s *Angular Momentum, Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel and Carnival of the Animals, Trey McIntyre’s In Dreams, Cathy Marston’s *Summer and Smoke, Twyla Tharp’s The Upper Room and Brahms-Hayden Variations, Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat, Paul Taylor’s Company B and *In The Beginning, Jorma Elo’s *One end One, James Kudelka’s *The Passion and Firebird, Garret Smith’s *Reveal and *Return, Mark Morris's Pacific and Sandpaper Ballet, Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929, David Bintley’s Aladdin, and Edward Liang’s Murmuration.
In 2015, along with fellow Houston Ballet company members Oliver Halkowich and Connor Walsh, Mennite founded REACH - a choreographic project that raises money for arts education in schools. Following the success of REACH, Mennite and her colleagues were invited to create a world premiere, entitled What we keep for Houston Ballet in spring of 2018. The same year she also choreographed and premiered Oh, there you are at Houston Ballet’s Margaret Alkek Williams Jubilee of Dance.
She frequently appears as a guest artist in galas and with companies nationally and internationally. She performs in Seattle with Whim W'Him, where she originated roles in Cylindrical Shadows by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Monster by Olivier Wevers.
When she is not dancing, Mennite is a singer/songwriter who plays guitar and piano. She loves horseback riding, roller skating, and has also done acting in films.
Melody has that special undefinable quality, that ‘it’ factor. She can make something out of nothing. She’s such a good actor, human and natural, that’s why I so enjoy creating on her. You simply can’t ignore her when she is onstage.