Dance Art

Young ballerinas united by a famous sculpture: This art crosses generations and genres

Young ballerinas united by a famous sculpture: Art crosses generations

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Madison Young, left, and Graycen Jones pose with Edgar Degas' Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Photo by Joel Luks
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Little Dancer Aged Fourteen is on loan as part of The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, which opens on Dec. 22 at the MFAH. Photo by Joel Luks
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Madison Young and Graycen Jones are students at Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy. Photo by Joel Luks
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Graycen, from California, moved to Houston to enroll in the yearlong Houston Ballet program. Photo by Joel Luks
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The sculpture is cast in bronze with gauze tutu and silk ribbon, perched on a wooden base. Photo by Joel Luks
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Young moved away from her home in Utah to pursue her dream of becoming a leading lady of ballet. Photo by Joel Luks
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Jones studying the sculpture. Photo by Joel Luks
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The two girls will appear in Houston Ballet's production of The Nutcraker. Photo by Joel Luks
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Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, modeled 1879-81, cast 1919-21. Photo by Joel Luks
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8 MFAH Dega Houston Ballet November 2013
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When Edgar Degas first exhibited his sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, it wasn't received with praise. In fact, the wax figure was met with controversy as critics described it as anything but coddling the hallmarks of ballet.

But two young ladies studying at Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy see it differently.

Madison Young and Graycen Jones, both 15 years old, were offered a special preview of the bronze cast of the original sculpture, which accompanies The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston that opens on Dec. 22. Houston is one of two cities in which Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, on loan from the Clark in Williamstown, Mass., will be on view as part of a traveling collection.

"I think her poise and elegance captures accurately the essence of the timeless beauty of ballet," Jones says. "There's something about her gaze that says to me that she's thinking about dance and not what may be happening elsewhere. She's in the moment."

 "The sculpture represents all of the years that ballerinas need to practice to achieve effortless elegance."

Graycen, from California, moved to Houston to enroll in the yearlong Houston Ballet program. In the academy's dormitory, she shares a common room with Young, a first-year student of the preparatory school. Similar to Jones, Young moved away from her home in Utah to pursue her dream of becoming a leading lady of ballet.

"The sculpture represents all of the years that ballerinas need to practice to achieve effortless elegance," Young explains. "She has an air of confidence as she waits her turn to dance."

Degas had no formal training in sculpture when he began forging the work in 1897. As Degas' model was a Belgian pupil at the Paris Opera's ballet school, there's a poetic je ne sais quois when Jones and Young, in full regalia, posed for photos with a mademoiselle of similar ambitions who lived more than a century earlier.

Particularly as the two girls are preparing for their respective roles in Houston Ballet's production of The Nutcraker, which runs from Nov. 29 through Dec. 29.

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The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is on view at the MFAH from Dec. 22 through March 23, 2014. Ticket sales for the exhibition open on Wednesday. Adult admission starts at $20.

Houston Ballet's The Nutcracker runs from Nov. 29 thorough Dec. 29. Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-227-2787.