Houston Ballet Academy Presents Academy Spring Showcase 2014

Kimberly Cedeno


Houston Ballet’s Academy Presents Its 2014 Spring Showcase

Stanton Welch's Studies. Mallory Mehaffey and students of Houston Ballet Academy. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Stanton Welch’s Studies. Mallory Mehaffey and students of Houston Ballet Academy. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Young Dancers Perform George Balanchine’s Masterwork Serenade for the First Time,
Coached by Former Principal Dancer Leslie Peck

David Lichine’s Comic Gem Graduation Ball Returns to the Repertoire 

HOUSTON, TEXAS – On Friday, April 25 at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 26 at 1:30 p.m., Houston Ballet II and the entire school will present its 2014 Spring Showcase in the Cullen Theater at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston. Tickets start at $28 and may be purchased by calling 713 227 ARTS (713 227 2787) or online at www.houstonballet.org. All proceeds raised by the performances will benefit Houston Ballet Academy.

Houston Ballet II is the second company of Houston Ballet, America’s fourth largest ballet company. The Spring Showcase at Wortham Theater Center is a unique opportunity for Houston Ballet II to perform for their home audience after a busy schedule of touring. Over the last few years, Houston Ballet II has given performances in Houston with Houston Symphony and with Musiqa, the nationally acclaimed contemporary music ensemble. Over the past year, Houston Ballet II toured to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania; Conway, Arkansas; Carrollton, Georgia; and Syracuse, New York.

Academy Director Shelly Power with Houston Ballet II’s Ballet Master Claudio Muñoz and Ballet Mistress Sabrina Lenzi carefully select each piece for the Spring Showcase to fully showcase the abilities of every dancer and fulfill the mission of Houston Ballet Academy. The pieces chosen for this year’s program express three unique themes that showcase the versatility of Houston Ballet Academy – elegance, humor, and charm. George Balanchine’s classical masterpiece Serenade set to the tuneful Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48. was created to give dancers an idea of how dancing on stage differs from class work and rehearsal. Graduation Ball invites students to embrace the humorous side of ballet. Stanton Welch’s Studies offers the charm and tradition for Houston Ballet Academy students of all ages to share the stage. 

Former Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Leslie Peck

Coaches the American Classic Serenade

Serenade has emerged as one of George Balanchine’s most beloved and widely performed works. It was the first ballet that Balanchine choreographed upon his arrival in America in 1934. Mr. Balanchine created the work as a classroom exercise for the students of the School of American Ballet in Hartford, Connecticut to give his dancers an idea of how dancing on stage differs from class work and rehearsal. Serenade will be coached by Leslie Peck. At the age of 17, Ms. Peck joined New York City Ballet under the direction of George Balanchine. She went on to dance leading roles with Pennsylvania Ballet and later became a principal dancer with Houston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Richmond Ballet and Ballet International in London. She was a principal dancer with Houston Ballet during a formative period, the early 1970s, when the professional company was in the first decade of its existence, performing during the directorship of Nina Popova, the company’s second artistic director.  Today, Ms. Peck is a recognized authority on Balanchine ballets and one of the few dancers authorized to stage Balanchine ballets by the Balanchine Trust.  She is currently an associate professor in the dance department of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.

Graduation Ball, Set to the Lilting Melodies of Johann Strauss

Also on the program, a revival of David Lichine’s crowd-pleasing comic ballet Graduation Ball, set to the lilting melodies of Johann Strauss and staged by Claudio Muñoz.  Set in 1840s Vienna, the ballet tells what happens when young cadets from a local military academy visit a girls boarding school for their graduation ball.  A perennial favorite in the repertories of the Royal Danish Ballet and the London Festival Ballet, the work is full of entertaining divertissements and romantic flirtations. 

Entire Academy Shines in Stanton Welch’s Studies

The highpoint of the evening will be a performance of Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s classical showpiece Studies, showcasing 226 students from all levels of the academy.  Studies has become an Academy tradition. Mr. Welch created it especially for the 2005 Academy Spring Performance, and it has been performed every year since.

The piece highlights the academy’s ability to take students from introductory ballet and develop them into skilled professional dancers. According to Mr. Welch, “The piece is designed to give the audience an idea about the different levels of technique acquired as each age group progresses through their training. As young students in our Academy participate in Studies, they see the next level of students above them and aspire to rise to those levels. Each year as they ascend to more advanced levels in Studies, they are adding to the foundation of their technique.  What makes ballet unique as an art form is that it’s a tradition transferred from generation to generation. Studies embodies this tradition.”

“The short vignettes are wonderful for showcasing the entire academy at different levels of technique,” comments Shelly Power, director of the academy. “The simple charismatic tunes are not overwhelming for an eight year old.”

Several Academy students who enrolled at the age of seven in Level 1, which introduces students to ballet, have since gone on to continue to perform in Studies year after year starting with its premiere in 2005, advancing to Level 8 at Houston Ballet Academy. Since the premiere of Studies in 2005, three students have danced in Stanton Welch’s Studies for 9 consecutive years at the Academy Spring Showcase, advancing to Level 8: Charlotte Larzelere, Eleni McGee, and Julian Goodwin-Ferris. Houston Ballet Academy acknowledges these three individuals for their hard work and commitment to the Academy.

This year, Stanton Welch celebrates his 10th anniversary as artistic director of Houston Ballet. Mr. Welch has revitalized the company, raising it to a new level. He has greatly expanded the company’s repertoire by introducing 86 new works. He has led the company on tours to cities large and small across the U.S and overseas. Under Mr. Welch’s’s artistic leadership, five Academy students have won prizes at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition since 2009, including one student who won the overall competition and the audience favorite prize in 2010. Two Academy students who competed in the 2014 Prix de Lausanne — Tyler Donatelli (a native of Huntington Beach, California who is 17) and Michael Ryan (a native of Plano, Texas who is 17) — will be featured at the Spring Showcase. Under Mr. Welch’s leadership, the Academy and Houston Ballet II have greatly expanded the scope of their activities, performing in Switzerland, German, Canada, and cities all across the United States. Enrollment in the Academy has also increased by 45% over the last four years.

About Houston Ballet Academy

Houston Ballet’s Academy is the official school of Houston Ballet and supplies more than 50% of the professional company’s dancers. Houston Ballet Principal Dancers Ian Casady, Mireille Hassenboehler, Melody Mennite, Sara Webb, Connor Walsh and Joseph Walsh were all once students of the academy. As one of the most respected dance training institutions in America, graduates of the academy have gone on to dance with numerous leading companies, including American Ballet Theatre, The Australian Ballet, Vienna State Opera Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, San Francisco Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, BalletMet, Memphis Ballet, State Street Ballet, Ballet Florida, Pacific Northwest Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada.

The academy’s main school division takes students from introduction to ballet through a full course of ballet study. The rigorous program offers classes in technique, pointe work, pas de deux, character dance and music. Students as young as four take creative dance, and six year olds take pre-ballet, both of which lay the foundation for further study of classical ballet. Students follow a structured sequence of training phases designed to enhance their technical skills, stamina and discipline.

Stanton Welch assumed leadership of the company and the academy in July 2003. As artistic director, Mr. Welch is extremely involved in the Academy and is committed to the development of its students. Academy students have had the opportunity to perform with the professional company in Mr. Welch’s premieres of Marie and La Bayadère along with Ben Stevenson’s staging of The Nutcracker among others.

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