Magazine article Dance Magazine

Stanton Welch's Marie: Houston Ballet's New Take on Royalty

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Stanton Welch's Marie: Houston Ballet's New Take on Royalty

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

With outstretched arms and a forlorn expression, Houston Ballet's Melody Herrera as Marie Antoinette cantilevers in a suspended arabesque. Wrenched from her Austrian home and sent off to France to marry a complete stranger, Marie was pawn, puppet, and scapegoat during her tumultuous reign. It's a story so rich with mystery, hype, and intrigue, Stanton Welch couldn't resist it for the subject of his first completely-from-scratch, evening-length ballet to premiere this month.

Welch found the experience of creating a ballet from a blank slate more liberating than daunting. "It's limitless," he says. "Every single choice is up to me." Welch drew from myth, legend, rumor, and historical evidence to craft his homage to the iconic Marie. He was inspired by a PBS documentary about Marie, around the time of Sofia Coppola's movie. "Almost everything we know about her comes from the tabloid press," says Welch. He has done his homework on the more than 50 historically accurate roles, yet says the ballet's overall feel remains abstract.

Marie is set to Shostakovich's lush music. "There's all this grandeur and pomp," he says. "Yet there's also a dark undercurrent in the music; it foretells the weight of all that is to come." Sets and costumes by Kandis Cook offer period flavor while maintaining a more abstract feel. A gigantic gilded Baroque flame serves as a transitional device while ominous crystal chandeliers hover over a behemoth bed. A closer look shows the frame made of entangled bodies. The chandeliers give off a clinical under-a-microscope look, and the bed is both a stage and a prison. Cook captures period feel without sacrificing danceablity. The entire ballet takes place within a gray box, resembling a stage within a stage, much the way Marie lived out her life. …

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