Neoclassical ballet

Houston Ballet’s Next Performance, George Balanchine’s ‘Jewels,’ Inspired $1.4 Million Gala

Blink and you’d miss the ruby-shaped dance floor at the Wortham Theater Center on Saturday night. Look up and a cluster of diamond fabric chandeliers towered overhead. Loose gemstones were thrown onto the walls of the grand foyer next to paintings — not portraits — of Houston Ballet dancers dressed in jewel tones.

On February 24, “Jewels” by legendary choreographer George Balanchine opens Houston Ballet’s first performance of 2022. The three-act ballet inspired by Claude Arpels’ jewels examines the three golden ages of dance.

“Balanchine’s ‘Jewels’ is a multi-faceted look at romantic, classical and neo-classical ballet. The “Emeralds” section is soft and moody with flowing movements in the romantic style,” art director Stanton Welch said via a statement. “’Rubies’ is sexy, cheeky and elegant in the neo-classical style, a style that Balanchine personifies. And ‘Diamonds’ focuses on precision and cleanliness in the classic style.

It’s a full company production with all Houston Ballet dancers on stage, added executive director Jim Nelson. “’Jewels is one of George Balanchine’s masterpieces. It’s glamorous, challenging and breathtaking. It is not a narrative piece, but balances classical ballet dance as well as possible.

Unlike Ballet Ball’s past, dancers were not present at this year’s festivities. The decision was made amid the continuing effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

When: February 24 to March 6
Or: Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave.,
Details: Tickets start at $25,

“They are about to enter four weeks of very intense performances,” explained Nelson. “Their priority has to be getting through that performance.” The show will run until March 6 at the Wortham Theater Center.

Lauren Anderson, a former Houston Ballet principal dancer and one of the first black ballerinas in the United States to dance for a major company, instead held court on Saturday. The date doubled as his birthday.

Ballet Ball Co-Chair Stephanie Tsuru is also a former classically trained dancer.

“I love all forms of art, but because of my history with dance, it’s something close to my heart, especially exposing neighborhood kids who wouldn’t normally have access to the arts. That’s what excites me the most,” said Stephanie Tsuru.

She and her co-chairs Frank Tsuru along with Kelli and John Weinzierl raised nearly $1.4 million over the weekend. These unrestricted funds benefit key programming including the presentation of new work on stage, community impact that reaches 75,000 local youth each year, and Ballet Academy scholarships.

Stephanie Tsuru serves on the Houston Ballet Academy Committee, which provides an opportunity to connect with dancers at the student level. Members observe classes and attend rehearsals. In the days leading up to COVID, she says they would visit end-of-year performances at local schools whose dance programs were made possible by fundraising from the Houston Ballet.

“At the time, the children’s families filled entire gymnasiums. It’s joyful,” she said. “The Ballet has been through a lot, they were inundated during (Hurricane) Harvey. All of the arts were hit so hard, it was such a struggle – but we kept it afloat, kept the dancers in good health. This ball is a celebration of surviving the pandemic and coming together on the other side. There were people raising money through it all to keep the doors of the ballet open. People were giving even when it there were no shows.

The Tsurus and the Weinzierls told Richard Flowers of the Events Company that they didn’t want anything super traditional. These are new times, and the couples felt the gala should reflect that.

One wall featured actual, hand-painted pointy shoes. The band, Gen 8 presented by Elan Artists, flew in from New York and performed a medley of Rihanna’s “(Shine Bright like a) Diamond” and hits from the movie “Moulin Rouge.” For dessert, Jackson and Company served up blondies dressed as edible gemstones – a taste of what’s to come when ‘Jewels’ hits the Wortham stage on February 24.

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