HOUSTON PREMIERES MARIE ANTOINETTE BALLET

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FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

I’ll dedicate this particular article to my sweet lovely friend glimmer. His home town is Houston.

Even though I’m sure he never attends the ballet.

But maybe he should. Could be fun and creatively rewarding for him…

As her spending habits, wardrobe choices and over all behaviour became fodder for the media and the public, the young princess became the object of gossip, backbiting and derision that ultimately led to her gruesome downfall.

Sex, lies, but no videotape for MARIE ANTOINETTE, the legendary French queen seen by HOUSTON BALLET artistic director STANTON WELCH as an 18th century version of modern day celebrities stalked by paparazzi and splashed across supermarket tabloids.

“I thought it was an interesting parallel,” he said of the title character in his new ballet, MARIE, which holds its world premiere this week in Houston.

“She died for the sins of France and all the kings and queens that had gone before her. It wasn’t necessarily for her. She was a victim.”

While arts companies around the country are cutting productions, laying off staff and even closing, HOUSTON BALLET is readying the three act ballet about the life and death of the woman at the centre of the FRENCH REVOLUTION.

The production was on the drawing board and contracts signed before the money crunch hit nationwide, prompting companies like the SACRAMENTO BALLET to cancel the rest of its season, the NEW YORK CITY BALLET to shorten its summer season and the MIAMI CITY BALLET to eliminate its live orchestra and trim its dancer roster.

But C.C. CONNER, HOUSTON BALLET’S managing director, said the nation’s fourth largest ballet routinely provides for new productions in its annual budget.

“We’re not one of the companies that only does it if we can go raise specific money for a specific ballet,” he remarked.

“It’s philosophical for us to know we’re going to do new productions on an ongoing basis.”

He also noted that the HOUSTON BALLET, with 54 professional dancers, a $20 million budget this year and a $60 million endowment, has a tradition of staging big full length ballets with original stories.

MARIE could cost $1 million, STANTON WELCH estimated.

The production is scheduled for six performances beginning Thursday at Houston’s WORTHAM THEATER. Then the cast hits the road for New Orleans where MARIE is set to be the first dance performance at the newly renovated MAHALIA JACKSON THEATRE on MARCH 27.

STANTON WELCH acknowledges the subject matter isn’t without risk. But he sees ballet as often falling into a habit of marketing the easy sell of “anything Walt Disney did.”

“But we’re not a kid’s art form. We deal with entirely adult subjects. Although every now and again we might have a child oriented thing.”

“This lends itself to subject matter and scenes that suddenly take ballet out of this pristine little music box world and throw it into the world of opera and theatre and paintings and show it as really a very realistic way of showing raw, rough, adult emotions.”

Totally aware of the economic environment, STANTON WELCH historically sees art blooming amidst religious, governmental or financial impediments.

“It flourishes and finds its way around that. The greatest art is created around things.”

He felt that one of the challenges was to confront preconceived notions of MARIE ANTOINETTE.

“There’s going to be half of the audience that wants to see us say: ‘Let them eat cake,’ ” he said, referring to the iconic phrase attributed to her but which historians agree she never said.

“When you deal with a subject, or when you pick a piece of music everyone’s heard a million times, they have very specific emotions they want to see portrayed. Marie carries a lot of that with her.”

Instead, STANTON WELCH focuses on the personal MARIE, plucked as a young teenager from her Austrian family, where she was the youngest girl and 15th among 16 children – and into an arranged marriage that would make her the Queen of France by the time she was 20.

In the second act, at Versaille, she was saddled with the baggage of gossip and hostility from an unforgiving royal court and the public, leading to her trial and ultimate demise – a trip to the guillotine in the climactic third act.

Not that MARIE was completely without blame, STANTON WELCH reflected.

“She did some questionable things. But she was raised in a way that didn’t allow her or give her the ability to look at those situations to guide her or her husband.”

MELODY HERRERA, HOUSTON BALLET’S
principal dancer, has the lead role, playing MARIE
beginning at 13 when she learns she’s being sent to France until she is executed at 38.

“Ballets, operas and art can be enriching experiences… and certainly MARIE ANTOINETTE is a large figure in history,” MELODY HERRERA stated.

“It’s a very emotional story. It’s a very complicated story.”

At the guillotine,“Marie dies with her dignity. She served her purposes and stayed strong. I really like that part.”

The music of Russian composer DMITRI
SHOSTOKOVICH, politically persecuted by Stalin, provides the score arranged by ERMANNO FLORIO.

“The melodies are very beautiful, but there’s always this harmonic undercurrent of tension and stress,” ERMANNO FLORIO commented.

“And so the music fits very well.”

Almost two years in the making, London based designer KANDIS COOK created the sets and 150 costumes ranging from rowdy Parisian revolutionaries to MARIE’S royal wedding gown.

“It’s very exciting. It’s an honour to be doing pieces of this scale. It’s very rarely done.”

STANTON WELCH believes tears will flow from an audience that, by the end of the ballet, will sympathize greatly with MARIE and her husband, Louis XVI, who also went to the guillotine.

“The vulnerability of dying like that and feeling so hated by so many people really resonates, I think. It’s very human to not want to be the outcast, to want to belong.”

“When they died, they were made to feel completely the opposite of that. Even if you don’t like them, you’ve connected with them. There’s something so interesting about that. The idea of waiting for your death at that level is profoundly affecting.”

2 Responses to “HOUSTON PREMIERES MARIE ANTOINETTE BALLET”

  1. well thanks for the dedication that was too kind -and i’m still blushing !!! 🙂

    uh no. once again you’re correct/i never attend the ballet.

    *ducks*

    did that article say wortham theater? well this will kill you i think the wortham theatre is very close to the angelika houston. if it is where i think it is, i walk past the theatre kids walking to/from the angelika to get to/from the train. uh it can’t be that close. but i think it is…

    hitting google and i get wortham theatre 501 texas ave,77002

    angelika houston: 510 texas ave,77002.

    http://www.houstontheaterdistrict.org/en/dir/?84

    scrawl and yes i said scrawl down the page a bit and you’ll see the addy listed for the wortham theatre…

    and as always here’s the link for angelika houston/giving the addy and more…

    http://www.angelikafilmcenter.com/angelika_index.asp?hID=3854

    even weirder i think the practice space?? for the houston ballet (ok i don’t know what the building is but it says houston ballet on the outside) is pretty close to the houston landmark. really…

    so marie antoinette died for the sins of FRANCE and all the kings and queens that had gone before her.

    i think i’m gonna have to die to save cinema from oscar bait season. 🙂

  2. My darling boy, Houston is your home town.

    You’re a good friend and one of my loyal commenters. You do a lot of wonderful stuff for me.

    How the hell could I post something about your city AND not mention you???

    Yeah, it is the WORTHAM THEATER.

    I don’t know Texas at all. I’ve never been that far south.

    I bet you get much better weather than we do up here. It rains too god damn much.

    i think i’m gonna have to die to save cinema from oscar bait season.

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    HAH.

    Oh my GOD…

    glim, we need you here. F OSCAR season. It can take care of itself.

    Don’t you go anywhere, glimster.

    I mean it…

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