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Death and Shakespeare: Houston Ballet's new season is more than secret kisses and high drama

Houston Ballet 2014-15 season announcement January 2014 The Taming of the Shrew Melody Mennite Connor Walsh
The Taming of the Shrew, with artists Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh, choreographed by John Cranko Photo by © Amitava Sarkar
Houston Ballet 2014-15 season announcement January 2014 A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream, shown here with artists of Hamburg Ballet and choreographed by John Neumeier Photo by © Holger Badekow
Houston Ballet 2014-15 season announcement January 2014 Svadebka (AmyFote&ArtistsofHB)
Svadebka, shown here with Amy Forte and artists of the Houston Ballet, choreographed by Jiri Kylian Photo by © Amitava Sarkar
Houston Ballet 2014-15 season announcement January 2014 Paquita IMG_6515 Precourt & Artists of HB
Paquita, with Katharine Precourt and artists of the Houston Ballet, choreographed by Stanton Welch Photo by © Amitava Sarkar

Romeo, Romeo, Romeo. I suppose you can't blame an artist for wanting a turn at playing this archetypal Shakespearean character. Not even Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch is immune from falling prey to his storied spell.

Welch admits that his fondness for Romeo may seem cliche, but his preference is not because of the tender balcony scene. Not because of the chance to lock lips with the youthful Juliet.

No, sir, not at all.

Welch, who has danced many of the leading roles in the ballet versions of the Bard of Avalon's timeless shows, is lured by something more deliciously tragic.

"I want to be in the death scene," Welch quips to CultureMap in an exclusive video interview (watch above). "As a dancer/actor that's what you want. You want to die. And you want to die slowly and in the story."

Look forward to that scene in the world premiere of Welch's Romeo and Juliet (Feb. 26 to March 8, 2015). With set and scenery by the glamorous Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno, balletomanes can expect the lushness of 16th century Verona to be refreshed alongside the colorful score of Sergei Prokofiev.

Shakespeare frames Houston Ballet's just announced new 2014-15 season. With a dance company that concentrates on narrative ballets, it's fitting that Welch is paying homage to the 450th anniversary of the playwright's birth with works by choreographers from three continents, together with a cornucopia of world premieres, new commissions and meaning pieces form the troupe's past.

  John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew inspired a young 16-year-old Welch to fall in love with dance in the first place.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Sept. 4 to 14) opens the season. Music by Mendelssohn and Ligeti accompany the steps of American choreographer and Hamburg Ballet artistic director John Neumeier plus designs by Jurgen Rose. The 1977 production is the company's first by this dance maker whose style has been described as a "climatic experience."

Mischievousness an wit abound in the late John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew (June 11 to 21, 2015). The South African-born choreographer, best known for his tenure with the Stuttgart Ballet, crafted a setting of heightened emotional drama and comedy that's suitable for contemporary audiences. It's this 1969 work that inspired a young 16-year-old Welch to fall in love with dance in the first place.

For the Fall Mixed Repertory Program (Sept. 18 to 28), Welch has chosen significant ballets that were created on the company. Think of Jorma Elo's ONE/end/ONE as Mozart with tutus, a blend of Austrian classicism suggested by the Violin Concerto No. 4 matched by a virtuosic tour de force sur la pointe. Edwaard Liang's Murmuration, premiered last year, is a spiritual visual feast inspired by the flight patterns of birds. The third movement Marius Petipa's Paquita was reimagined by Welch for the 2013 Jubilee of Dance gala.

The Spring Mixed Repertory Program (March 12 to 22, 2015) is a melange that explores the wide range of aesthetics that exist within ballet. Harald Lander's Etudes, with music by Knudage Riisager, is a microcosm of the ballet world, a day-in-the-life of a dancer of sorts. Jardi Tancat by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato finds grounding in a poignant harvest tale in which the fate of the characters is in the hands of a higher being. Ballo Della Regina, one of George Balanchine's lesser known ouvres, is a gem originally created for the New York City Ballet.

Audiences are in for a treat in the Summer Mixed Repertory Program (May 28 to June 7, 2015). Houston Ballet has commissioned the legendary Mark Morris to craft a piece especially for the company. Using the signs of the zodiac, Welch also premieres a work supported by a newly commissioned score from noted Australian composer Ross Edwards. One of Stravinsky's lesser known ballets, Les noces (The wedding), is the basis for Jiří Kylián's Svadebka. The ballet cantata (dance with choral forces) gleans its thrust from nuptial traditions of rural Russia.

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Subscriptions to Houston Ballet's 2014-15 will be available for sale beginning on Feb. 6 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-227-2787.

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