Jubilee of Dance
Wortham Theater Center
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No pressure here. Houston Ballet soloist Melissa Hough is choreographing a ballet for the company’s annual gala, sale the “Jubilee of Dance” December 2. And she’ll be dancing in it.
“I’m trying not to think about that part of it, sales ” says Hough of the pressure. “I just hope people respond well to it.”
Hough has dabbled in dancemaking since her days in Boston. She came to Houston last year after training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, ask D.C. and Dance Explosion in Glen Burnie, Maryland. She danced professionally with Ballet Met and Boston Ballet and was a bronze medal winner in the 2005 Helsinki International Ballet Competition and a jury award of merit winner from the Jackson International Ballet Competition in 2002. She choreographed the pas de deux that will appear at the gala, set to “Prelude in C Sharp Minor” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, for the very first choreographic workshop at the new Center for Dance’s Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab in June 2011.
Corps de ballet dancer Allison Miller designed the costumes. “I’ve always loved clothes,” says Miller. “I got a sewing machine and just stated making clothes and dance clothes and when the workshop came up Melissa asked me to do the costumes. For the gala the Houston Ballet wardrobe shop is helping me make them more professional. But having my costumes on the Wortham stage (for the gala) will just be fantastic.”
Both young women are exploring these avenues as possible future professions, although their primary focus right now is still dancing. But they are excited that Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director Stanton Welch is giving them the opportunity to experiment. “I’m not really sure what I want to do or where I want to go with choreography,” says Hough. “But I’m really happy he’s giving us these opportunities with the workshops and now at the gala.”
“This is very much the way I became a choreographer,” says Welch. “I started with workshops and then galas. It’s very important to me to help them transition. My dream would be for all our dancers to go on to be choreographers, artistic directors, teachers and fundraisers, ambassadors for dance. They have all this knowledge of ballet that they can translate into other areas of dance.”
Welch views the annual gala as a restaurant tasting, where patrons can sample a little bit of everything on the menu, as opposed to a regular repertory evening where there’s a theme.
“For a rep you have to have an appetizer, a main course and a dessert,” he says. “With the gala we can show people a little bit of everything we do. Where we’ve been and where we are going.”
Welch started the annual gala eight years ago but this “Jubilee of Dance” will be even more memorable than most because it is dedicated to Managing Director Cecil C. Conner, Jr. who retires in February after 17 years of service to the company. Conner, known to one and all as the bow-tie wearing C.C., will hand over the reins to America’s fourth-largest ballet company to General Manager Jim Nelson. In Conner’s honor, Welch is choreographing a new work, a bookend to last year’s world premiere of Welch’s “Rossini,” which featured an all female cast.
This year’s will include an all male cast to excerpts from Rossini’s comic opera “La Scala di Seta.”
“The music just makes you want to dance,” Welch says. He’s also costumed the dancers in typical Conner attire: they will wear suspenders with bow ties and seersucker suits. “And they have these serious expressions, like C.C. does, but it’s a humorous ballet.”
Just like Conner himself.
Conner, an iconic figure on Houston’s art scene with his bow tie and seersucker suits, has been a major force in making the company financially stable with an endowment of more than $57 million, spearheading international tours, smoothing the transition from longtime artistic leader Ben Stevenson to Welch eight yeas ago and helping raise money for the $46-million state-of-the-art Center for Dance, perhaps his crowning achievement.
“The workshops in our new dance lab, the gala, that’s what’s what getting into this building was all about,” says Welch.
A second choreography workshop at the Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab has already been scheduled and so far 15 dancers have signed up for it. Besides the “Rossini” ballet, the gala will also feature a video tribute to Conner and a toast at intermission. “I have to say I am touched and honored that Stanton wanted to do this for me,” Conner says. “It’s a wonderful tribute.”
— MARENE GUSTIN
Marene Gustin is a freelance writer covering the people, arts, culture and food of Texas.
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