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Release: Sept. 26, 2001

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Houston Ballet PR office can be reached at 713-535-3224.)

Houston Ballet's dazzling new production of Kudelka's 'Firebird' plays at Hancher Oct. 12-13

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Houston Ballet's spectacular new Mayan-flavored production of Stravinsky's "The Firebird," with choreography by National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director James Kudelka and design by Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto, will come to the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium for two performances -- at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12 and 13.

Both performances will open with "Indigo," choreographed by Australia's Stanton Welch to cello concertos by Vivaldi.

A free panel discussion will address the historical impact of "The Firebird" at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11 in the Iowa Room of the Iowa Memorial Union. Participants will be Ben Stevenson, artistic director of the Houston Ballet; Myra Rucker, the production's stage manager; and UI dance department faculty member Basil Thompson, former artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet and former soloist with England's Royal Ballet.

Hancher Auditorium commissioned Kudelka's first work for an American ballet company -- "The Heart of the Matter" for the Joffrey Ballet -- to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Iowa Center for the Arts in 1985-86. In the years since, he has created more than 40 ballets for some of the world's premier companies, including San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. He was named artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada in June 1996, and he recently brought that company to Hancher.

The critic of the New York Times, which has described Kudelka as "the most imaginative voice to come out of ballet in the last decade," responded to the Feb. 2001 premiere of his new "Firebird": "All that glitters looks like gold in the dazzling new version of 'The Firebird' that James Kudelka has just choreographed."

"The Firebird," which was premiered by Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in 1910 with choreography by Michael Fokine, is one of landmarks of the early 20th century in both dance and music. Over the years, the score has inspired new choreography by many of ballet's leading choreographers, including George Balanchine, Maurice Bejart, John Cranko and Glen Tetley.

The colorful, sweeping orchestral suite Stravinsky developed from the ballet score has become one of the most popular works of 20th century composition -- an oft-performed showpiece immediately recognizable to both classical and popular audiences.

"The Firebird," based on Russian folk tales, depicts fairy-tale adventures of Prince Ivan and the firebird, a creature of spectacular plumage and magical powers that rises up to rescue him in times of danger. Loquasto chose not to reflect the story's Russian origin, looking instead to Mayan art and the culture of Central America for inspiration. His vision of "The Firebird" is a phantasmagoria of color and pageantry, with magical jungle creatures, fantastic masks and headpieces.

Loquasto has won Tony Awards for his productions of "The Cherry Orchard" (1973) and "Cafe Crown" (1988), as well as designing "Grand Hotel" and "Lost in Yonkers" on Broadway. He has received Academy Award nominations for his work on Woody Allen's "Zelig" (for his costume designs), and production designs for Allen's "Radio Days" and "Bullets over Broadway."

Under artistic director Ben Stevenson, Houston Ballet has developed into one of the leading ballet companies in the world, including artists who have won gold, silver and bronze medals at major international ballet competitions. The company of 47 dancers has toured extensively to critical praise in Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada and throughout the United States, including previous visits to Hancher.

During the company's 2001 visit to the UI, the Houston Ballet's ballet mistress and several dancers will also hold class for ballet students in the UI Dance Department.

Local sponsors of the Houston Ballet performances are Gary A. and LaDonna K. Wicklund through the University of Iowa Foundation. Other sponsors include the Heartland Arts Fund and the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts, with lead funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Philip Morris Companies Inc, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the British Council.

Tickets for "The Firebird" are $50, $47 and $45. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20 percent discount, with Zone 2 and 3 tickets available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's site on the World Wide Web: <>.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <>.

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