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Houston Ballet's Of An Era Presents Two Company Premieres
Nacho Duato’s Signature Work Jardí Tancat, Set to Catalonian Folk Songs, Enters Houston Ballet’s Repertoire Christopher Wheeldon’s Carousel (A Dance) Is Inspired by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Classic Musical
By: Melissa Carroll
Jardí Tancat, which means “closed garden” in the Catalonian dialect, is set to Catalonian folk tales collected and passionately sung by Spanish singer Maria del Mar Bonet. With a sweet, yet passionate melancholy, these folksongs and their dance portrayal tell the story of the people who work the barren land, praying to God for the rain that does not come and enduring with great spirit in the face of hardship:
Water, we have asked for water
And You, Oh Lord, You gave us wind
And You turn Your back on us
As though You will not listen to us
Though Jardí Tancat was choreographed for classically trained dancers, its movement vocabulary is strikingly individual – and an exciting challenge for Houston Ballet artists charged with communicating the work’s powerful feeling.
Nacho Duato created Jardí Tancat, his first work, in 1983 while he was a member of the Netherlands Dance Theater, winning the first prize at the International Choreographic Workshop in Cologne. Born in Valencia, Spain in 1957, Mr. Duato started his professional ballet training with the Rambert School in London at the age of 18. To expand his studies he joined Maurice Bejart’s Mudra School in Brussels and completed his dance education at The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York. In 1980, at the age of 23, Mr. Duato signed his first professional contract with Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm, and a year later Jiří Kylián brought him to the Netherlands Dance Theater in Holland, where he was quickly incorporated into the company and its repertoire. In 1987, he received the VSCD Gouden Dansprijs (Golden Dance Award) for his achievements as a dancer.
In 1988, he was appointed resident choreographer for Netherlands Dance Theater, along with Hans van Manen and Jiří Kylián. He has created works for many companies including: American Ballet Theatre, Berlin Opera Ballet, The Australian Ballet, and The Stuttgart Ballet. His versatile style fuses the physical lyricism of Jiří Kylián with his own distinctive theatrical imagination. In 1990, he was appointed artistic director of Compañia Nacional de Danza for which he has created many works including Tabulae (1994), Por vos muero (1996), Romeo y Julieta (1997) and Multiplicity (2000). Houston Ballet has one other work by Mr. Duato in its repertoire, Without Words, which the company first performed in 2000.
The company premiere of English wunderkind Christopher Wheeldon’s 10-minute romance, Carousel (A Dance), will also be performed as part of the spring mixed repertory program.
Originally intended as a piece d’occasion for New York City Ballet’s gala as a part of the Richard Rodgers Centennial, Carousel (A Dance) premiered on November 26, 2002. It is set to the melodic and evocative Carousel Waltz and If I Loved You. Dancing in front of the outline of a ferris wheel projected onto a neutral backdrop, the circular movement of carnival rides and their cheerful colors are echoed in the choreography and costumes for the corps. As the dancers round the stage, in pairs, in a stylized-carousel formation, they often separate the two central characters in the work, the rough and tumble carnival worker from the beautiful, shy young woman he loves. With a simple hint at the story of the original play, Mr. Wheeldon catches the sweep and emotion of the music and the poignant, doomed nature of the lead couple’s relationship with a romantic tender central pas de deux.
Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times enthused, “Mr. Wheeldon’s ballet was too terrific not to be seen again . . . As its title indicates, ‘Carousel (A Dance)’ is primarily a dance, not a narrative ballet. Its whiff of a story is a subtext that breaks through formal metaphors, in floor patterns and the love duet, one of the finest in contemporary ballet. There are also the emotions associated with the musical score.” (February 25, 2003).
Born in Somerset, England, Mr. Wheeldon began his ballet training when he was 8, and later trained at The Royal Ballet School. In 1991 he joined The Royal Ballet and also won the Gold Medal at the Prix de Lausanne competition. In 1993, Mr. Wheeldon was invited to become a member of New York City Ballet (NYCB), where he rose to the rank of soloist in 1998. He began choreographing for NYCB with Slavonic Dances for the 1997 Diamond Project. After creating Mercurial Manoeuvers (2000), he retired from dancing to concentrate on his choreographic work. During NYCB’s 2000-2001 season, Mr. Wheeldon served as the company’s first-ever artist in residence, creating two ballets: Polyphonia and Variations Sérieuses. In July 2001 he was named NYCB’s first resident choreographer. Since that time, Mr. Wheeldon has choreographed several ballets for the company, including Morphoses (2002), Liturgy (2003), and After the Rain (2005). He has also created ballets for such companies as The Royal Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Boston Ballet. In November 2006, Mr. Wheeldon announced the formation of his own dance company, Morphoses. In its first season, the company performed in Vail, London and New York. Mr. Wheeldon completed his tenure as resident choreographer of New York City Ballet in February 2008. Houston Ballet has one work by Christopher Wheeldon in its repertory, Carnival of the Animals, which entered the company’s repertory in 2007.
Stanton Welch created Nosotros for Houston Ballet, and it premiered on February 24, 2005 at Wortham Theater Center in Houston, Texas. Set to Rachmaninoff’
The scenic and costume designs for Nosotros emphasize a work that presents a galaxy of stars to the audience. The women wear glamorous gowns inspired by high fashion couture designers such as Dior, and their partners match their romantic mood with flesh-toned, flowing costumes. The set design surrounds the dancers with a magical, star-lit atmosphere.
A critical and audience favorite, Nosotros won acclaim at its premiere. Houston Chronicle dance critic Molly Glentzer enthused, “Houston Ballet rocks with Rachmaninoff. Welch exploits his leading dancers’ best qualities in Nosotros . . . demanding extreme virtuosity and jaw-droppingly athletic partnering.”
Houston Ballet’s performances of Of An Era in Houston are generously underwritten by National Endowment for the Arts, Anadarko, and The Methodist Hospital System.