Ben Stevenson: Texas Ballet’s Big Gun

image Ben Stevenson, Artistic Director of the Texas Ballet since 2003, celebrates during their 2009-2010 season his 40th year as one of the most influential figures of American ballet.  A native of Portsmouth, England, he received his dance training in London, joined the Royal Ballet, and later became principal dancer with the London Festival Ballet.  In 1967 at the English National Ballet he directed and choreographed his first full production, The Sleeping Beauty, starring Margot Fonteyn.

Following his highly successful staging of Sleeping Beatuy, he was invited to New York to direct the newly formed Harkness Ballet. Subsequently, he served as Co-Artistic Director at the National Ballet, before finally settling in Texas with the Houston Ballet in 1976. During his 27-year tenure as Artistic Director, he transformed the small, regional Houston  Ballet into one of the world’s most acclaimed companies. Appointed by the U.S. government as a cultural ambassador to China in 1978, be became instrumental in introducing Western dance forms including jazz and modern dance at the Beijing Dance Academy. The Houston Ballet became the first American ballet company invited to tour the People’s Republic of China. While visiting China, Stevenson  discovered an amazing Chinese dancer, Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer), who became one of the first two Chinese dancers to visit America during the Mao regime. While visiting Houston, Li Cunxin dramatically defected to freedom, aided by then Vice-Pres. George Bush Senior. Cunxin joined the Houston Ballet for the next 16 years,  where with Ben Stevenson’s support and training Cunxin became one of the most prominent dancers in the world. (see my blog on Mao’s Last Dancer, along with children’s books and a newly released film)

As a choreographer, Ben Stevenson has created breathtaking ballets including Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Don Quixote,  Peer Gynt, Cleopatra, Dracula, and The Snow Maiden. He has staged his productions throughout the world, including The English National Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Paris Opera Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, La Scala, Munich State Opera Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, London City Ballet, Ballet de Santiago, and many more.

As a teacher, he has taught and inspired  thousands of dancers,  many of whom have achieved international careers. And he continues to train young dancers through the educational programs of the Texas Ballet.

The 2009-2010 Texas Ballet season includes Stevenson’s magnificent productions of The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, and The Sleeping Beauty.  I can vouch for the The Nutcracker, which I saw this week at the new Winspear Opera House in Dallas. It can also be seen at Bass Performance Hall in Ft. Worth. Except for the controversy of no live orchestra, this production is utterly magical.  Read The Dallas Morning News’ excellent review by dance critic Margaret Putnam.

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