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The Houston Ballet, operated by the Houston Ballet Foundation, is the fourth-largest professional ballet company in the United States, based in Houston, Texas.[1] The foundation also maintains an acclaimed ballet academy, the Ben Stevenson Academy, which trains some 40 percent of the company's dancers. As of 2004, the Houston Ballet's endowment stood at more than $45 million, making it one of the largest endowments held for a dance company in the US.[1] The company produces about 75 performances each year at its home, the Wortham Theater Center.

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History

The Houston Ballet has its origins in the Houston Ballet Academy, which was established in 1955 under the leadership of Tatiana Semenova, a former dancer with the Ballets Russes. In 1969, the foundation formed a professional ballet company under the direction of Nina Popova, also a former dancer with the Ballet Russes and the American Ballet Theatre.

From 1976-2003, Englishman Ben Stevenson, O.B.E., a former dancer with Britain's Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, served as artistic director of Houston Ballet. His leadership, training, and choreography transformed the company from a regional company into the internationally recognized company it is today. He is best known for his full-length story ballets including Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Dracula, and Cleopatra.

During his tenure, Stevenson established a core of permanent choreographers whose works have greatly enriched the company’s repertory. In 1989, Sir Kenneth MacMillan joined the company as artistic associate and Christopher Bruce was named resident choreographer. Sir Kenneth worked with the company from 1989 until his death in 1992, setting five of his pieces on Houston Ballet dancers. Mr. Bruce, who currently holds the title of associate choreographer, has set nine works on the company, including four pieces created especially for Houston Ballet. In March 1995, Trey McIntyre, one of the most talented young dance makers in the country, assumed the position of choreographic associate. Mr. McIntyre has created seven world premieres for the company, including his first full-length production of Peter Pan.

Today

Today, the Houston Ballet, which the New York Times has called "one of the nation’s best ballet companies,"[1] consists of 54 dancers, including several who have won gold and silver medals at major international ballet competitions. Principal dancers for the 2008-09 season are Simon Ball, Barbara Bears, Ian Casady, Amy Fote, Mireille Hassenboehler, Randy Herrera, Melody Herrera, Andrew Murphy, Connor Walsh, and Sara Webb. Former principal Lauren Anderson retired in 2006, performing an encore of a scene from her favorite ballet, Cleopatra, as her final appearance. The Nutcracker was also among her final performances.

Houston Ballet's current artistic director is Stanton Welch, the acclaimed Australian choreographer. In addition to his two-act ballet, Madame Butterfly, Welch has added several full-length ballets to the company's repertoire including Tales of Texas (2004) and new stagings of Swan Lake (2005) and Cinderella (2008).

Houston Ballet's operating expenses as of 2005 are about $14 million annually, a third of which are raised through private donations. Major donors include Continental Airlines, The Methodist Hospital, EDS, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil.

Currently, all company evolutions are conducted at either the Wortham Center downtown, or at the Houston Ballet’s rehearsal and Ben Stevenson Academy studio building located about three miles away in the "neartown" section between the city’s River Oaks and Montrose neighborhoods. Consolidation of administration, support, operations, training, and production evolutions of the Company, all into one facility was therefore considered desirable, and consequently the Foundation planned the Center for Dance, a new 6 story, 115,000 square-foot headquarters facility. It was designed by architect Marshall Strabala [2] ,and located at Smith and Preston Streets downtown, kitty-corner from the Wortham Theater Center [3]. The facility will increase the number of dance studios from six to nine, and include a "black box dance laboratory" for presentations as well as rehearsals. The new facility will more than double the space that Houston Ballet has at its current location. The Center for Dance will be the largest dance facility of its kind in the United States, and is a $53 million investment in the Houston arts community. Houston Ballet broke ground on 15 July 2009, and completion of the Center for Dance is expected by spring of 2011. [4] [5] .

The Houston Ballet has choreographed several productions with other major ballet companies, including the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the American Ballet Theatre, the Boston Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. It also has toured extensively in Europe, Canada and around the U.S. In July 1995, the Houston Ballet became the first full American ballet company invited by the Chinese government to tour the country. An estimated 500 million people witnessed Houston Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet when the company’s opening night performance was telecast live on Chinese television. In 2002, the company became the first major American ballet company to perform in the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia. Over the last five years, the company has emerged as one the most effective international ambassadors for the City of Houston, performing in London, Hong Kong, Toronto, Montreal, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and New York's City Center Theatre.

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