An Era Ends, an Era Begins
Ben Stevenson and Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet
On January 15, Houston Ballet hired 33-year-old Stanton Welch as the company’s new artistic director, concluding a nine-month international search. Welch, a former dancer and resident choreographer with the Australian Ballet, begins his full-time responsibilities in July, joined by his new artistic associate, ballerina Maina Gielgud. Welch’s arrival ushers in a new era for Houston Ballet. Amid a barrage of theater openings and press conferences, Ben Stevenson’s successor maintains an eager enthusiasm for the new job.
ArtsHouston: Why do you think you were chosen as the new artistic director?
Stanton Welch: I don’t know the answer to that! What I can say is that I met with the dozen people [on the search committee] on several occasions, and it was intense. They showed an incredible commitment to Houston Ballet; I don’t think they’ve left any stone unturned.
AH: What kind of changes should audiences expect?
SW: I think that the change will be gradual, seasonal, not something you see right away.
AH: Such as hiring new dancers?
SW: I’m not sure about that. We need to see what the interest is from other companies. We also need to see who in Houston wants to stay. Some may want to leave, which is the natural evolution of a company: normally you lose about 10-15 people a year anyway. We do have auditions lined up around America, and this is a really good contract for dancers, it’s a great place to work.
AH: What are you telling the dancers who’ll stay here?
SW: That there’s no one who could come in and mimic what has been done before. Change is inevitable, and healthy. I think they’ll be reassured when they see the repertoire for next year, which covers everything from Forsythe to Sleeping Beauty to Christopher Bruce, and see the new list of guest teachers.
AH: Ben’s been a mentor to you for a while now. What is it like to know you’ll be filling his shoes?
SW: It’s amazing. Ben’s been instrumental in my own career. It feels strange to me – strange and special to have had that connection with him prior to this. There’s a pressure to it and a positiveness as well.
AH: Do you also plan on being here for 27 years?
SW: I’d like to be! That’s quite a length of time, but for me this is not a stepping stone, this is the end of the road. I’m surprised that it’s occurring now, but it was always my goal.
AH: What’s your directorial wish list?
SW: I would like to see Christopher Bruce continue to have a much heavier involvement. I’m a great admirer of his work. He’s on my ‘top five’ list, as is Jiri Kylian. Julia Adam from San Francisco is an exciting, comedic choreographer. What I want is people who have a unique vision behind what they’re saying, who have their own way of approaching things.
After 27 years as artistic director of Houston Ballet, Ben Stevenson assumes the role of artistic director emeritus, and launches a new phase of his career as artistic director of Fort Worth Dallas Ballet. His challenge in Fort Worth is to build the company into one that is as artistically and financially sound as the company he built in Houston. Stevenson is eager to re-ignite his imagination along the way, but leaves behind plenty of memories. ArtsHouston caught the cool, collected director in between a hectic schedule of photo shoots, trips up the I-10 and rehearsals for Cinderella, opening this month.
ArtsHouston: How are things are going in Fort Worth?
Ben Stevenson: At the moment, very positively. I quite like the challenge – because it is a big challenge – of trying to get Dallas and Fort Worth to come together to make a single company.
AH: You must be traveling quite a lot at the moment. Will that continue?
BS: I have a little house down at the bay, which I will keep for a while. But I will move to Fort Worth, and I’m looking at the moment for a small townhouse or apartment.
AH: What will you miss most about Houston Ballet?
BS: The company. I’ll miss them probably more than they’ll miss me! Many of them I’ve worked with over a long period.
AH: Twenty-seven years is certainly an impressive and unusual length of time to spend with one dance company. What do you attribute to your lengthy career?
BS: I don’t know – either I must have done something right, or something terribly wrong! I did put emphasis on growing the company and the academy. When I came here I said to the board: “You have too many guest artists. You can’t grow your dancers if you’ve got people flying in all the time. And you have to make more importance of the school.” Much to my surprise they agreed.
AH: Since the announcement last year of your decision, many people have been wondering about the timing. Why change now?
BS: A lot of reasons, really, but mostly I feel that I wanted to get back in the studio and work. When a company gets this size, the fundraising and administration all rear up. I think my best times are when I’ve nurtured something from the beginning, so I thought while I’m still walking around I would have a go at building a new company. It also gets my imagination going again. That’s really about the only thing I have to offer in the studio.
AH: Any words of advice for Stanton?BS: To stay close to the board. The hard role of an administrator and artistic director is that you have to have some administrative skills and keep the dancers happy, too. I certainly wish Stanton and Maina great luck with the company. It has come a long way, and it deserves to keep going. I hope that everything will go smoothly in their capable hands.