Interview with Stanton Welch, Artistic Director of Houston Ballet

Michigan Opera Theatre audiences last saw the work of Australian choreographer Stanton Welch when the Joffrey Ballet performed his Son of Chamber Symphony (2012), to the music of John Adams, in its appearance on our stage in March of 2014. For that unconventional piece, Welch had said he sought to “show the seams” of movement that ballet tends to hide. Houston Ballet, of which Welch has been Artistic Director since 2003, will now stitch those seams back together in their Giselle, which flows as smoothly as the woodland lake that glints and glimmers in the second act. But under that ballet’s crystalline surface, there churn dark emotions, and around it glide sinister spirits. Such is the glory of the world of narrative dance—to quote Whitman, it “contains multitudes.” And so does Houston Ballet, as Welch proudly tells us.

Q. Your parents, Garth Welch and Marilyn Jones, were both famed dancers. They even performed the lead roles in Giselle together at The Australian Ballet?

Oh sure, many times.

Q. When you embarked on a career in dance, what advice do you remember receiving from them?

They taught me, so it was a constant stream of good advice. Both my brother and I went to their ballet school. My choreography, everything, initiated with them.

Q. What is unique about Houston Ballet?

We’re so adaptable to many different styles. That’s one of the things we take great pride in. We have the ability to transform into each type of ballet that we’re doing. The company also has a very strong acting tradition. The dancers are very good at telling a story, so Giselle is perfect for them.

Q. And what is the appeal of that particular story?

It’s just a very beautiful love story. Everyone can relate to being betrayed and everyone can relate to forgiving, and those are the two key elements of the story. And it’s very simply and clearly told, so its power comes across.

Q. What message can the audience take away from it?

The importance of forgiving. Giselle doesn’t need to forgive, but she does.

Q. What advice do you have for someone experiencing Giselle for the first time?

Just let it wash over you. There’s no correct or incorrect interpretation—you just have to allow it to affect you the way it does. That’s the glory of live performance: just come in and let it be.

Q. So would you advise someone to read the synopsis beforehand?

It’s very personal. I never do—I read it after. I like to take in the show and figure out what I saw, and then determine how right or wrong I was. That way, as you watch the ballet, you can react as you naturally would.

Q. Any other thoughts on Giselle to relay to our audiences?

Just come and see it! We’re all really looking forward to getting there. I’ve been trying to bring us to Detroit for ten years since I’ve been Director.

By Michael Yashinsky