Visions of Sugar Plums

December 1, 2006 by  
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Houston Ballet embarks upon another memorable holiday season at Wortham Theater Center

While the holiday season brings families together, the revival of faith and the spread of goodwill throughout the city, for many Houstonians, the onset of winter also coincides with the arrival of one of their most beloved tales to town. From Nov. 24-Dec. 27 in Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center, Houston Ballet will give 31 unforgettable performances of “The Nutcracker,” the cherished production that tells the story of a little girl named Clara who is given a magical nutcracker doll on Christmas Eve. Although “The Nutcracker” brings an enchanting element to every holiday season, this year’s production marks a particularly special occasion, as 41-year-old principal dancer and native Houstonian Lauren Anderson concludes her historic career with Houston Ballet by performing her signature role as the Sugar Plum Fairy, opposite Cuban sensation Rolando Sarabia as the Prince, in “The Nutcracker.” Anderson’s 24 years with Houston Ballet have been anything but ordinary, as her distinguished career includes a promotion in 1990, making her Houston Ballet’s first African American principal dancer and one of only a few African American principal ballerinas to head a major American classical ballet company. Throughout the years, Anderson has captivated audiences in the United States and internationally, and some of the world’s most renowned choreographers have created ballets especially for her performance talents. Although Anderson will take her final bow as prima ballerina this December, she will remain with Houston Ballet, serving as the community outreach coordinator, while Leticia Oliveira will fulfill the position of principal dancer for the company.

Great expectations Without a doubt, Anderson’s remarkable career as a pioneer in the world of ballet exemplifies the quality of dancers who perform with, or are trained by, the internationally acclaimed Houston Ballet. Now hailing as the fifth largest in the United States, the ballet organization was originally established in 1955 by a group of individuals who aspired to create a resident ballet company in Houston, as well as a school that would train its dancers. Fourteen years later, the professional company was founded and directed by Nina Popova, a former dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and American Ballet Theatre. In 1976, Englishman Ben Stevenson, O.B.E., a former dancer with Britain’s Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, took the reins as artistic director, elevating the company to a new level of distinction by assembling a group of permanent choreographers and enhancing the group of 28 regional artists to include more than 50 internationally acclaimed dancers. Throughout his 27 years with the company, he choreographed highly praised versions of full-length works, such as “Swan Lake,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Cinderella,” “The Nutcracker,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Dracula.” In July 2003, Stevenson assumed the artistic directorship of Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth while he was also appointed artistic director emeritus of Houston Ballet. That same year, Houston Ballet Academy was renamed Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy in recognition of his 27-year commitment and dedication to Houston Ballet. As artistic director emeritus, he continues to stage his works for Houston Ballet, as well as for ballet companies both nationally and internationally.

New direction Following Stevenson’s departure, Houston Ballet welcomed renowned Australian choreographer Stanton Welch as the company’s new artistic director. Since coming on board, Welch has choreographed six signature works for the company, including “Tales of Texas,” “Blindness,” “Bolero,” “Nosotros,” “Brigade” and a magnificent new staging of “Swan Lake,” in addition to two pieces he commissioned for Houston Ballet before permanently joining the artistic staff. By emphasizing the significance of classical technique and enabling some of the world’s most prestigious coaches to train the dancers, Welch has brought a sense of revitalization and excitement for the future of the company. Managing director Cecil C. Conner has also devoted a great deal of time and effort throughout the last nine years arranging artistic collaborations with other ballet companies throughout the nation. As a result, five major productions have been coordinated with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada.

Extraordinary times Throughout the years, Houston Ballet has grown into one of the largest and most distinguished dance companies in the nation. Consisting of 52 dancers, including many who have won gold and silver medals at major international ballet competitions, the company has achieved international acclaim, performing for audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Canada. Houston Ballet Foundation has also worked fervently to solidify the company’s significance in the city of Houston. Since 1975, the company’s operating expenses have grown from less then $1 million to more than $16 million today. In 1987, Houston Ballet kicked off a drive for the company’s endowment fund. That same year, Houston Ballet made its debut in the state-of-the-art Wortham Theater Center, where the company has continued to perform more than 75 productions seven months out of the year. As of June 2006, the ballet’s endowment reached more than $55 million, standing as one of the largest of any dance company in the United States.

Backing ballet Opportunities to support Houston Ballet are available through the endowment fund, corporate sponsorship programs, foundation support, individual donations or by joining one of the many membership groups. Each February, Houston Ballet also hosts its highly anticipated annual black-tie Ballet Ball to raise $500,000 for the institution’s operating fund and programs. In addition, since 1981, Houston Ballet Guild’s annual Nutcracker Market has contributed more than $24 million to support the academy and its scholarship programs, which help young, talented dancers fulfill their dreams of training with the world-renown ballet company. For more information about Houston Ballet, how to make a contribution, or the company’s upcoming performances, please contact info@houstonballet.org.

Houston Ballet
1921 W. Bell St.
(713) 523-6300
www.houstonballet.org

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