Artists of Houston Ballet in Disha Zhang’s “Elapse,” one of the works excerpted for the company’s virtual Jubilee of Dance.
Photo: Amitava Sarkar / Houston Ballet
Houston Ballet’s at-home “onstage dinner” and virtual Jubilee of Dance was as festive this year as patrons wanted it to be.
All pre-recorded and streamed on Vimeo, the event didn’t even require waist-up Zoom attire for the viewers. (Host Ian Casady hinted with his opening segment that maybe the company’s dancers and staff were doing the same — he wore loose pajama pants under his suit coat and tie.)
More importantly, the program raised $75,000, less than previous years but impressive considering that most of the 90 dinner guests also have donated substantially through other facets of the company’s ongoing pandemic relief campaign. Jackson and Company delivered dinner, wine and holiday gifts to their doorsteps in time for watching the show at supper-time Dec. 4.
They had to plate it themselves, but the three-course repast included refreshing baby red oak and field green salad, a decadant entree of bacon-wrapped chicken filled with gruyere, mushrooms and herbs; and a “Sugar Plum Fairy” dessert of plum mousse, toasted meringue, raspberries and fairy floss.
Viewers actually had 48 hours to watch the program, which began with 30 minutes of scripted banter and heartfelt tributes to honorees Gary and Marian Beauchamp (for more than 20 years of underwriting support across all levels of the organization) and Margaret Alkek Williams, who funded the endowment that makes each year’s Jubilee possible. First soloist Oliver Halkowich and soloist Harper Watters shared a holiday version of Watters’ Instagram-famous “The Pre-Show,” former principal ballerina Lauren Anderson led a trivia quizz about artistic director Stanton Welch’s “The Nutcracker” and soloist Jacquelyn Long and demi-soloist Natalie Varnum talked about their favorite holiday traditions.
I fast-forwarded across the 30-minute intermission to get to the good stuff: About two hours of excerpts from signature works created for Houston Ballet by Welch and other choreographers. Instead of excerpts of ballets run swiftly across a stage with minimal sets, viewers glimpsed moments of fully-staged productions. Best of all, they could rewind and watch favorite moments again.
The delights included excerpts from Welch’s big story ballets “Sylvia,” “Marie,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “Swan Lake,” “Giselle” and “La Bayadere” as well as stellar moments of commissioned contemporary ballets including Disha Zhang’s “Elapse,” Justin Peck’s “Reflections,” Aszure Barton’s Angular Momentum” and Mark Morris’ “The Letter V.”
The real clincher, though, was a new video documenting the company’s return to its studios this fall, as they continue to prepare for whatever is next.
Among those tuning in with the Beauchamps and Alkek Williams: Board president Leigh Smith and husband Reggie Smith, Melza and Ted Barr, Lenni and Bill Burke, Anne and Albert Chao, Jo and Jim Furr, Mignon and Steve Gill, Kelley and Stephen Lubanko, Kris and Richard McGee, Martha and Marvin McMurrey, Beth Muecke, Cabrina and Steven Owsley, Isla and Tommy Reckling, Laura and Brannon Robertson, Akemi and Yasuhiko Saitoh (who watched from Tokyo), Liliana Soltero and Michael Hawkins, S. Shawn Stephens and James M. Jordan, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Stephanie and Frank Tsuru, Christine and David M. Underwood, and Hallie Vanderhider.