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Flash News, 1-16: Oz in Texas
Houston Taps Welch to Lead Ballet

By Paul Ben-Itzak
with Tim Heathcote in Australia
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

HOUSTON -- Houston Ballet has named 33-year-old Melbourne-born choreographer Stanton Welch to succeed Ben Stevenson as artistic director, Houston Ballet Foundation president Nicholas Swyka announced Wednesday.

Welch, for the last nine years one of the busiest choreographers in ballet with commissions around the world, has never directed a ballet company before. Discovered by former Australian Ballet director Maina Gielgud, he will bring Gielgud with him as artistic associate, the ballet announced and Gielgud confirmed to the Dance Insider this morning.

The selection of Welch as HB's fourth director appears to have been guided by his already heady experience as a choreographer, with commissions from San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and, from HB, "Indigo" and "Bruiser." Appointed resident choreographer of the Australian Ballet in 1995 by Gielgud -- at the age of 26 -- he has created several ballets for that company, including the evening-length works "Madame Butterfly" and "Cinderella." One of three choreographers to contribute to ABT's new "Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison" last fall, in May he premieres a new version of "Carmina Burana" on the same company.

Reviewing "Madame Butterfly" on the National Ballet of Canada in 2001, the Dance Insider's Shena Wilson wrote, "Not self-conscious, Stanton Welch's choreography is transparently engaging: it serves the story, not vice-versa." Reviewing his "Kisses" the same year on the Chamber Dance Project, the DI's Susan Yung said the work "had an elemental undertone, evoking Graham vocabulary in deep plies in second and human cruciforms, with an occasional pealing church bell adding a puritanical note. The dancers projected their acting as if they were in a far bigger house, but a simple repeated pose where one dancer covered another's eyes was dramatically, simply effective.... Choreographically, the piece felt carelessly knit, as if a stitch had been dropped here and there, leaving an occasional gaping hole. Welch employed numerous split lifts and other big, bold gestures to suggest a sense of grandeur; other partnering sequences moved through awkward twists and merely came across as uncomfortable. Still, the pioneering spirit of modern dance was palpable throughout."

Explaining the importance of Welch's dance-making experience to the Houston Ballet, Jesse Jones II, leader of the HB's search committee, said that "having a director who was also a choreographer and who created a unique repertoire for the company was a defining feature of Houston Ballet's identity over the last twenty-seven years," under Stevenson's directorship. "We wanted to continue that tradition of having a gifted choreographer creating a distinctive repertoire that is unique to Houston Ballet.... When we began the search, Ben Stevenson advised us to look closely at Stanton Welch. With his passionate commitment to the creation of new (evening-length) narrative ballets, his deep roots in British ballet, and his intimate knowledge of our company, Stanton is ideally positioned to build upon Ben Stevenson's legacy at Houston Ballet."

Welch, who could not be reached for comment at press time, promised in a prepared statement "to preserve and protect the legacy of the company that Ben Stevenson has built.... Houston Ballet is unique in North America in that it is the only big company that is regularly producing new story ballets. Houston Ballet has built an environment that makes high quality productions of this nature possible. Houston is also the only big company in the States that gives a choreographer four stage rehearsals. The company has really established a healthy environment for the creation of new work.

"I am also interested in bringing new choreographers such as Julia Adam to Houston. The dancers and the audience of Houston Ballet should have a checklist of the great choreographers, and should be able to see their works. Jiri Kylian's 'Forgotten Land' is an absolute masterpiece, and I would be very interested in seeing Houston Ballet perform it. Christopher Bruce is a genius, and the company should continue to dance his works." Bruce, most recently director of the Rambert Dance Company, is a former resident choreographer of the Houston company.

Gielgud, who directed the Australian Ballet for 13 years and the Royal Danish Ballet for two, will likely be a key advisor to Welch in the artistic realm when he takes over the company in July, with Stevenson moving to a new role as artistic director emeritus.

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