Friendswood Contemporary Ballet Kicks Off the Holiday Season Outside Houston’s Loop

Dozens of communities compose the Greater Houston area. Small to mid-sized cities unto themselves, these areas will soon begin to line their streets with twinkling lights and greenery; a signal that the holiday season is upon us. 

About halfway to Galveston in the southeast city of Friendswood, Friendswood Contemporary Ballet (FCB) is preparing to usher in the season with an annual holiday performance. While it’s hardly unusual for a suburban semi-professional dance company in a metropolitan city to do so, it’s notable that FCB’s winter production does not include nutcracker royalty or battling mice. 

“We have so many wonderful and well-respected classical companies in the Houston and Clear Lake area. They produce beautiful Nutcrackers,” says company founder Shanna Kirkpatrick, who decided a few years ago to try something fresh.

This Saturday, Nov. 16, at Friendswood Junior High School Theater, the company of pre-professional dancers, along with professional guest artists Melissa Ludwig and Edward DeShane, will perform their fourth annual winter production of The Girl with the Matchsticks.

Though elegant and spectacular, the themes of ballets like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and—yes—even The Nutcracker, have an underlying darkness. Kirkpatrick describes The Girl with the Matchsticks as a contemporary reimagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Little Match Girl. For families familiar with this source story, it’s helpful to know the FCB production of The Girl with the Matchsticks ends on a more uplifting note than the fairy tale on which it is based.

“I want people to leave the theater feeling joyful,” Kirkpatrick insists. “Taking the sad story, which originally was written like so many of the classic ballets, we’ve changed the story to fit the demographic and the needs of the audience.”

Not unlike other holiday favorites, The Girl with the Matchsticks features a young girl, Isabella, who embarks on a journey, meeting characters such as the Snow Queen, the Flame and the Angel, performed by principals and soloists of the 15-member pre-professional company. The cast is also supported by a corps of 14 children from the Friendswood, Clear Lake and Pearland communities and features professionals DeShane and Ludwig as Isabella’s grandparents, with whom she is reunited in the finale after a night outside in the cold.

“Our staff strives to compliment the amazing Houston dance community and highlight both professional and student dancers who may not always fit the ‘classical’ box, or who wish to explore outside of that box,” Kirkpatrick explains.

The ballet’s choreographer is Madison DeShane, who last year became FCB’s artistic director. Under DeShane’s direction, Kirkpatrick feels that the 5-year-old company has found its “sweet spot,” bringing together local dancers with education-minded professionals as mentors.

“She [DeShane] makes the production process peaceful and is very tuned-in to all of her dancers, knowing how to best highlight their strengths,” Kirkpatrick says of the classically trained DeShane, who hails from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Edward DeShane, a professional freelance dancer and Madison’s husband, considers it a unique opportunity to perform alongside students and encourage them in their dancing. Melissa Ludwig, who is a key member of the artistic and instructional staff at both Juxtapose Emphasis Theatre and Performing Arts Center (JET-PAC) in Clear Lake and Vitacca Vocational School for Dance in Montrose, also enjoys making a connection with young, aspiring artists.

“They get to see the way you work in the studio and how you treat others around you,” Ludwig says, emphasizing the importance of students seeing themselves, with all their strengths and limitations, among working dance artists. 

In addition to providing young dancers the opportunity to train with professionals without making the drive into downtown Houston, FCB hires dancers like Ludwig and DeShane each season as part of their mission to provide employment opportunities for talented artists. The organization also desires to enhance the landscape of dance and make it accessible within their local community. They perform at numerous events and venues throughout the year, including the Evelyn B. Newman Amphitheater at Centennial Park in Friendswood. Like Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston, the park offers reserved seating for performances as well as the family-friendly option to sit on the lawn for free.

About one-fifteenth of those living in the Greater Houston area are inner-loopers. Companies like FCB make it possible for the rest of the city’s almost 7 million people to experience a little culture and dance in their own backyards. Whether you live near or far from Southeast Houston, if you’re looking for something new to do in celebration of the season to come, you might consider making the community of Friendswood and Friendswood Contemporary Ballet’s production of The Girl with the Matchsticks your first stop.  

Tickets for Friendswood Contemporary Ballet’s Saturday, Nov. 16 production of The Girl with the Matchsticks are available at friendswoodcontemporaryballet.com

About the Author

Nichelle Suzanne is a web and social media specialist for Rice University and the founder of DanceAdvantage.net. For 10 years, she has covered dance in Houston and beyond for publications such as the Dance Dish, Arts+Culture Texas, CultureMap, and the NYC Rockettes blog at Rockettes.com.

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