Hough in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Manon." Joerg Wiesner, Courtesy Norwegian National Ballet.

How Norwegian National Ballet's Melissa Hough Balances Ballet, Motherhood and Her Rising Choreography Career

Melissa Hough's career is as dynamic as her dancing. After stints with Boston Ballet and Houston Ballet, Hough (our April/May 2011 cover star) joined the Norwegian National Ballet as a principal in 2013, and her dance card has been full ever since. She's turning heads as a choreographer, too. Her work Epic Short, commissioned for Norwegian National Ballet's 2017 Sleepless Beauty program, won Dance Europe magazine's Critic's Choice for Best Premiere that year and recently debuted at the 2018 Diaghilev P.S. Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Hough is also juggling her dance and choreography career with motherhood, and has had an incredibly eventful year since returning to the stage last fall after the birth of her daughter. On April 6, she premieres a new ballet called Bout of the Imperfect Pearl for Norwegian National Ballet's Baroque Motion quadruple bill. Hough took a rehearsal break to talk to me about her busy season.


You've been steadily working as a choreographer since you left Houston Ballet. Talk about the urge to make your own dances.

After I moved to Norway, I had quite a few life revelations that took me by surprise. I began to ask myself a lot of hard questions and forced myself to find the answers. One of these questions was, "Do you want to be a choreographer and if so, why?" I have been a professional ballet dancer for 17 years, and more recently, I have realized the depth and perspective of the knowledge I have concerning stagecraft, dance, art and entertainment. I want to give something to the dancers and the audience of today, and at the same time, continue to learn and grow as a person and artist myself.

What can we expect from your new ballet, Bout of the Imperfect Pearl? Is it along the same lines as your last piece Epic Short, or something completely different?

Each piece I make is individual unto itself based on the music and the subject matter. With Epic Short, my concept was inspired by the vision scene of The Sleeping Beauty, but I wanted to focus more on the inner psychology of the main characters, and how that led to them to their destiny or fate. This piece is centered around the act of intimate betrayal and what one goes through in order to move on from it. It is a little bit heavier subject matter than Epic Short, and therefore will reflect that in the style and feeling the audience gets from it.

Klara Mårtensson in rehearsal for Hough's Bout of the Imperfect Pearl. Erik Berg, Courtesy Norwegian National Ballet.

You are mixing a new score by Bjarte Eike and Jon Balke with music by Antonio Vivaldi. How did you select these two composers, and how do they work with the Vivaldi?

With Bout of the Imperfect Pearl, I am working with four different pieces of music by Antonio Vivaldi and have decided to create electronic music to link the classical bits together. Bjarte is the leader and solo violinist of Barokksolistene, which is the orchestra for this evening. They specialize in baroque music and use authentic baroque instruments. Jon Balke is a composer, but in this case has been more integral in facilitating my idea, together with Bjarte. It is quite an undertaking to mix the baroque and electronic music worlds together and I have been very fortunate to have these two to bring what was in my head to life.

What has it been like working with your colleagues at Norwegian National Ballet?

It has been amazing to work with these dancers this time around! My cast has been enthusiastic, compassionate and very patient. It seems that they trust what we are creating together and I cannot wait for them to be able to take the material and really go for it.

Hough with Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Manon." Joerg Wiesner, Courtesy Norwegian National Ballet.

What have been your big dancing moments this season?

I danced Manon with my former colleague from Houston Ballet, Connor Walsh, which was really amazing. I will never forget those performances. I did Swan Lake, always a big challenge, yet fun. Most recently, I danced in Liam Scarlett's Firebird, which suits me quite well. I enjoy dancing to Stravinsky's score and love becoming this strange, sexy bird creature from hell.

But, I haven't danced anything new this season, which I am thankful for because of how full my plate has been. At this point, my process is quite strict and works very well for me, so I doubt I will have any "game changing" roles in the future. I find each role I dance challenging and I just try to figure out how I can give something authentic to the work and to the audience. Now, it is more about being open and in tune enough to have game changing experiences. The next big, new role I am scheduled to do is Marit Moum Aune and Cina Espjord's Ghosts, which is a one-act contemporary ballet based on Ibsen's famous play, scheduled for next season.

Norwegian National Ballet dancers in Bout of the Imperfect Pearl. Erik Berg, Courtesy Norwegian National Ballet.

How do you balance your dance and choreography careers with being a mom?

It is not easy at times, but I would say that my relationship to time has changed drastically in the last three years. I used to wait until the last minute to do things, but not anymore. I prepare things very slowly, so I have less to do on a daily basis. My life is now about efficiency and "less is more." When I went back to work, I decided to start working to become a "minimalist," and although this is still a work in progress, it has helped me immensely with wasting less time.

You are obviously thriving in Europe! Is there anything you miss about the States?

It is really difficult to be so far away from my family, especially now that I have a daughter. We are constantly trying to find ways to deal with the distance!

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Getty Images

Thinking About College Ballet Programs? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to the Application Process

Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Ballet West Academy's New Director on Dream Building During COVID-19

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks