George Balanchine's Serenade, one of the pieces to be performed by Houston Ballet.
George Balanchine's Serenade, one of the pieces to be performed by Houston Ballet.

Steppin' Wolf

Many choreographers would balk at the task of moving a cast of hundreds, but not Natalie Weir. Last summer in Adelaide, Australia, Weir choreographed an au courant version of Carmina Burana for the Australian Ballet and the State Opera of South Australia, a colossal undertaking that combined opera and dance.

In her latest work, Steppenwolf, there are no singers on stage, just a dozen Houston Ballet dancers -- handpicked by the 35-year-old Brisbane native -- and a score by Max Bruch. Count on a cast capable of digging into Weir's layered interpretation of Hermann Hesse's book, but don't expect a literal recounting of the novel. Weir was drawn specifically to the themes that resonated with America's youth in the '60s and '70s. Back then, fans of Der Steppenwolf denounced war, commercialism and indifference to the arts, as did the book's main character. In 1969, the rock band called the Sparrow changed its name to Steppenwolf and released "Born to Be Wild."

Weir is among a handful of choreographers, such as Houston Ballet's Dominic Walsh and New York City Ballet's Christopher Wheeldon, who shy away from storytelling and acrobatic tricks in favor of crafting motion through a more collaborative process. Her method has allowed her to explore more fluid movements and to try out new shapes.


Houston Ballet's Spring Repertory program

Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas Avenue

7:30 p.m. on May 23, 25, 31 and June 1, and at 2 p.m. on May 26 and June 2. $11.50 to $104.50. 713-227-2787,

Weir created In a Whisper for Houston Ballet in 2001 and has since choreographed new works for Hong Kong Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Australian Ballet. One challenge Weir has not yet mastered is being away from her eight-year-old son while she travels. "I love it," she says. "It's a great passion, choreography. But with my son, it gets to be a bit heart-tearing."


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