At Houston Methodist's physical and occupational therapy center in Sugar Land, the walls are lined with large photos of the hometown pro teams — the Astros and the Texans — that go to Methodist for health care advice and treatment. Uniform shirts of the top professional players are proudly displayed behind glass in another area.
Amid all that athletic inspiration and those bonafides attesting to Methodist's prowess at rehab, in a room filled with exercise machines, trainers and patients, hangs a photo of another type: two ballet dancers, Houston Ballet Principals Connor Walsh and Karina González.
They're shown in a scene from the full length ballet Sylvia in a striking pose that shows off their beauty and grace but also their muscles, agility and strength. Individual talent and teamwork combine to achieve an image as memorable as a homerun or spectacular catch.
Today, Monday July 26, single tickets go on sale starting at 11 a.m. for Houston Ballet's return to the live performance stage with a mixed rep September program that will involve all the company members and a return of The Nutcracker in late November.
And Artistic Director Stanton Welch wants everyone to know that audiences can look forward to see both their dancers and productions at full strength after the pandemic-inspired shutdown. The Houston Ballet orchestra will be there as well.
"We are back at full. The dancers have really maintained their technique and their stamina as have all of us," Welch said. "The purpose of why we worked so hard through COVID was that when we do come back to the stage, we are in full glory."
The ballet did produce a number of video presentations during the last year and a half, but has not been able to perform for live audiences. If everything goes as planned, that is about to change.
First up at the Wortham Center is the Margaret Alkek Williams Jubilee of Dance in which excerpts of works will be presented and junior members of the company will have a chance to shine along with the stars.
"The Jubilee is a great come-back-to-the-theater experience because it's a chance to see all of your favorite dancers and many of your favorite works," Welch said. "Divergence will be a part of that program. It's the first time for in more than a year and a half that we'll dance in a group. We'll have 24 people on stage at the same time; it's going to be brand new for us.. We will have some classical full pas de deux as well as story telling ballets."
Then, after a year's hiatus, The Nutcracker as choreographed by Welch will be presented for the fifth time. This is the ballet that especially draws in families and with 28 performances scheduled between November 26 and December 24, would-be ticket holders are urged to reserve their spots early. Welch said, however, that if demand is high enough, some performances may be added.
"Nutcracker tends to be families and tends to be younger children," Welch said. "Because of a gap in seeing it I'm hoping for a surge."
Still, COVID-19 hasn't exited stage left and still influences their planning and what we'll be seeing on stage.
"At the moment we're at a pretty high level of vaccination [above 80 percent] and those dancers don't need to wear masks but we may have an exemption due to beliefs and that is what we're still working out now," Welch said. "So there may be a masked person; there may be some masked characters."
Asked about how he is feeling about the coming season, Welch said "I'm excited. Over the last year and a half I found that planning things was always changing. Have we really come through the period of time where we can set these goals and get to them? It's exciting if we can, but I still have PTSD from the last year and a half."
Houston Ballet fared better than some other performing companies unable to generate ticket sales at live shows, thanks to its many supporters.
"I don’t know what we’d have done without such fantastic support from our stakeholders," Welch said. "Houston is a city that's always so remarkable at making sure the culture of the city remains intact. We know that we've had a lot disasters here that we've all had to deal with as a city with Harvey and hurricanes before that. But that’s the great thing. The community immediately supports the community and that makes a true city.
"That makes me very proud and I think that I don't know what we could have done without them. They stuck by us and kept us dancing and we kept creating and here we are about to all come together again. I think that first party will be amazing."
"Please come back and see us. We want to see you."
Five performances for the Margaret Alkek Williams Jubilee of Dance are scheduled for September 30 thorough October 3 at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas Avenue. $25 and up.
Twenty-eight performances of The Nutcracker are scheduled for November 26 through December 24 at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas Avenue. $27 and up.
For more information, visit houstonballet.org.