It's expected that cavaliers and ballerinas in Houston Ballet's company have a fluid port de bras, execute a flawless jeté entrelacé and twirl endlessly through tours chaînés déboulés — they wouldn't be a part of the corps if they had any technical imperfections. After all, we are talking about the Houston Ballet.
But can they act?
The active young professionals of Ballet Barre were offered a behind-the-scenes preview of what it takes to transcend from a technician to an artist as part of the yearly "Ballet and Bubbles" at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance. While marking the steps in the finale of Marie — in preparation for three performances at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Canada — artistic director Stanton Welch talked through the tragic sequence, one that ends in the death of many of the characters.
The fateful tale of Marie Antoinette's marriage to Louis XVI emotionally challenges Ballet veterans Melody Mennite, Connor Walsh, Ian Casady (who twisted his ankle a few minutes prior to rehearsal), Simon Ball and Emily Bowen. This is the cast for whom the roles were initially choreographed five years ago.
As Welch explained, "what you are feeling isn't always what you are expressing."
Accessing a personal connection that adds realism to the dancers' onstage experience is critical as Welch's oeuvre weaves complex details of the interdependent relationships of the protagonists. And as he explains, "What you are feeling isn't always what you are expressing." Understanding and refining dramatics is how the corps rouses a visceral reaction from balletomanes.
It's how a narrative ballet comes to life.
This intense show-and-tell was relieved with flutes brimming with bubbly from Roederer Estate and delicious nibbles from Chris Shepherd's Underbelly. Ballet Barre chair Christine Transier announced that Shepherd will be participating alongside Randy Evans of Haven and other cuisine doyens in the "Raising the Barre" tasting dinner on April 7, the group's most elaborate fundraiser of the year.
Shepherd's spread tickled the imagination with radishes dipped in liquid nitrogen and butter, a beet salad with dehydrated goat cheese and, as meat is his métier, an ambitious charcuterie plate.
Mingling with managing director Jim Nelson and dancers Amy Fote, Melissa Hough, Jessica Collado, Nao Kusuzaki and Jaquel Andrews were Ballet Barre founders Lindsey Brown and Kristy Bradshaw with her hubby Chris, who was gearing up for his birthday beer pong bash, Laura Medard, Lydia Hance, Loubel Galik, Beth and Nick Zdeblick, Rachel Solar, Mary Nichols and Suzie and Brent Williams.