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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
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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