Romeo, Juliet and an 18-Hour Flight: Breaking Down Houston Ballet's Tour to Australia

Final stage rehearsals before opening night.

Photographed for Pointe by Taylor-Ferné Morris

What does it take to bring a major production on tour? In July, Houston Ballet mounted a 12-show run of artistic director Stanton Welch's Romeo and Juliet in Melbourne, Australia. The tour was the company's Australian debut, and a homecoming for Welch, who is from there. The ballet premiered in Houston the previous year, and while it was well received, it was untested by time and tradition. “We had only performed it 9 or 10 times before," says Welch.

Touring a full-length production halfway around the world is a bit of a “beast," says Welch, involving serious logistical planning. Flights were booked the previous September, while set pieces, costumes and theater cases were shipped—by boat—two months before the opening. (The elaborate sets, designed by Roberta Guidi di Bagno, include 10 onstage towers.) Ballet master Steven Woodgate traveled to Melbourne several weeks in advance to rehearse the cast of children from The Australian Ballet School. In addition to 64 dancers, Houston Ballet brought all of its own staff and crew—a total of 91 people!


Once in Melbourne, the company had to adjust to a 15-hour time difference. Principal Melody Mennite tried not to fight her jet lag. “If I was up at 3 am, I would read for an hour before I went back to sleep," she says. “It's when I would get frustrated about it that it didn't work out so well."

Despite the jet lag, the company pulled off a successful, sold-out run. When asked if he'd do it again, Welch responds, “in a heartbeat."

Connor Walsh and Karina González perform the balcony pas de deux.

"The biggest challenge was doing so many shows in such a short period of time. You have to stay engaged and focused." —Connor Walsh

Arts Centre Melbourne State Theatre

Houston Ballet dancers in class.

"I was really amazed at how strong everyone looked from the first day. That last Saturday night, people had bags under their eyes, but it didn't show in the performances." —Stanton Welch

Jared Matthews as Mercutio.

TOUR FACTS & FIGURES

• Distance between Houston and Melbourne: 9,373 miles

• Total flight time: 18 hours, 3 minutes

• Because they crossed the International Date Line, the dancers actually gained a day.

• It was a chilly trip. Australia is in the southern hemisphere, so Melbourne's winter is Houston's summer.

• In addition to dancers, HB artistic staff, a conductor, a physical therapist and 17 crew members made the journey.

Melody Mennite and Ian Casady rehearse the bedroom scene. "If I'm feeling a little tired, I try to be more involved with my co-workers to create more energy and camaraderie onstage." —Melody Mennite

Costumes await the opening night cast.

First soloist Jessica Collado getting her wig secured.

Corps member Brian Waldrep.

"It's so nice to travel with the company. We're all so close, which makes all the flying and time in the airport much more enjoyable." —Connor Walsh

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