A Houston Ballet Tradition

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beloved score Swan Lake has been interpreted by choreographers throughout the world for over 100 years. The version of the score we are familiar with today was arranged by Marius Petipa, Ballet Master at the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, and had its premiere in 1895, after Tchaikovsky’s death. Tchaikovsky never heard Petipa’s arrangement of his score.

Houston Ballet has performed many versions of Swan Lake and has its own long history with this consummate classical ballet.

Ben Stevenson, OBE
Houston Ballet Artistic Director, 1976-2003

The Houston Ballet was founded as a ballet school in 1955 with the first performances of a fledgling professional company in 1969. It wasn’t until 1977, after the arrival of Ben Stevenson OBE, that Houston Ballet would perform Swan Lake in its entirety.

The company premiered Ben Stevenson’s Swan Lake on September 29, 1977, at Jones Hall. His premiere, with designs by William Pitkin, was the first, new full-length staging of Swan Lake by a major American company in over a decade.

Andrea Vodenhal danced the leading role of Odette/Odile. Vodenhal was one of the few principals selected by Stevenson to remain in the professional company when he became Artistic Director. Here, we see her pictured as the Swan Queen.

In 1984, Stevenson commissioned David Walker to redesign his Swan Lake.

This version premiered on September 21, 1984, and has been performed by ballet companies all around the world.

Touring activities steadily expanded throughout the Stevenson era, growing from regional Texas, Midwestern and Southeastern tours to national tours that took the company from Los Angeles to several major Canadian cities, New York and Washington, DC, by the mid-1980s.

In October 1985, Houston Ballet performed Swan Lake at The Kennedy Center with Barbara Bush in attendance.

Houston Ballet performed Swan Lake for the first time at the Wortham Theater Center in September 1988. Janie Parker and Li Cunxin danced the lead roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried.

In 2001, Lauren Anderson and Carlos Acosta became the first black dancers to perform the lead roles of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried in a full-length version of Swan Lake.

Stanton Welch AM
Houston Ballet Artistic Director, 2003-Present

Stanton Welch AM became Artistic Director of Houston Ballet in 2003. In 2006, he premiered his version of Swan Lake with designs by Kristian Fredrikson at the Wortham Theater Center. Welch’s production stands out amongst others as he introduces Odette as both a maiden and a swan. Welch also develops more technically-challenging ensemble dances and divertissements for the male dancers.

Mireille Hassenboehler and Andrew Murphy danced Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried in the world premiere of Welch's Swan Lake.

Presenting Odette as a maiden throughout the ballet adds another layer to the story and to the dancing, but she isn’t the only one we see in maiden form.

We also see Odile as a maiden, as well as the other women trapped by Rothbart’s swan spell.

Another mark of Welch’s Swan Lake is that we see the technique and talent of the men showcased throughout the ballet, but especially in the hunt scene. Traditionally, story ballets have had a dearth of male roles, but when Welch recreates a classic, he creates challenging choreography for all of his dancers.

The Design Process


Kristian Fredrikson was one of Australia’s most prominent designers. His work has been highly praised in New York, London, Milan and various cities in Europe. Among his many awards, he was given Australia’s prestigious Award for Services to Dance in 1999. Fredrikson had a long-standing partnership with Stanton Welch AM having designed both his Cinderella and Of Blessed Memory. Fredrikson's last collaboration with Welch was his Swan Lake designs for Houston Ballet.

Fredrikson died in November 2005 during the design process of Swan Lake. He never saw this work make it to the stage.

As the original Swan Lake premiered in imperial Russia, we are accustomed to seeing designs reflecting the aesthetic of 19th century St. Petersburg. However, Welch departs from this setting for his Swan Lake and uses the Pre-Raphaelites as his inspiration. In fact, Welch uses John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallot as his muse for Odette in her maiden form.

Fredrikson takes that Pre-Raphaelite inspiration and echoes those aesthetics and moods throughout his designs.

To develop the world of Rothbart beyond the standard lake we are accustomed to seeing, Fredrikson adds a dragon motif which further extends the magic and mysticism of the story.

Fredrikson continues the dragon theme in his costume designs for Rothbart.

In The Wings
Upcoming Performances of Swan Lake

Minneapolis, MN

Northrop - Carlson Family Stage
April 7-8, 2018

TICKETS - http://www.northrop.umn.edu/events/houston-ballet-0

Houston, TX

Jones Hall
June 23 – July 1, 2018

TICKETS - https://www.houstonballet.org/seasontickets/Calendar/

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai Opera
October 24-26, 2018

TICKETS - http://www.dubaiopera.com/showlist/swan-lake/

Credits: Story

Stanton Welch AM
Artists of Houston Ballet

Nicole Bacon
Isabelle Dom
David Rivera
Jennifer Sommers

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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