Ballet Stars

The Standouts of 2018: Houston Ballet's Nozomi Iijima in Stanton Welch's "Just"

Iijima with Cuhan Wai Chan in Stanton Welch's Just. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Houston Ballet first soloist Nozomi Iijima transformed into a Zen goddess in the pas de deux for Stanton Welch's Just, commissioned specially for Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in August. Partnered by Chun Wai Chan, Iijima moved as if in a dream state, casting a deliciously hypnotic spell. It was as if she was literally pouring her weight from one movement to another. Welch's sculptural choreography brings out her most mesmerizing abilities. Even though the ballet is completely fluid, tension slowly builds to a crescendo until finally we feel the pain of loss that memory holds. Her stoic but powerful performance held the audience captive—it was the kind of dancing that you don't want to exhale during.


Ijima and Chan in "Just." Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

At Houston Ballet since 2008 (minus two seasons when she danced in Japan and Zurich), Iijima has always been an important muse for Welch. He created the lead on her for his Rite of Spring in 2013, and she made her Houston Ballet debut as Odette/Odile in Welch's Swan Lake in 2014. She's definitely one to watch this season.

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Ma Cong in the studio with Tulsa Ballet. Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Without him we wouldn't have The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. But how much do you know about Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the man behind classical ballet's most recognizable music? Did you know that the Russian composer hid his homosexuality for much of his life? He also struggled with depression; there's been speculation that his death in 1893 was in fact a suicide.

Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong dramatically recounts his life in a new full-length ballet titled Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music, premiering March 29-31. If you think a story ballet about the most renowned composer of story ballets set to, yes, a Tchaikovsky score, is a bit meta, you wouldn't be wrong. But considering the renewed importance of LGBTQ rights in society, it's a ballet perfectly timed to our era. In Russia, censorship still asserts that Tchaikovsky was not gay. The subject also calls to mind backlash surrounding an LGBTQ-themed work at Louisville Ballet just last month.

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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