Stanton Welch's World Premiere of Zodiac Calls for Abbreviated Costume Design

About a year ago, Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch met with New York City-based stage designer Eduardo Sicango to begin describing his vision for Zodiac, a new ballet based upon the 12 astrological signs which will world premiere as part of Houston Ballet's Morris, Welch & Kylian mixed repertory program.

Sicango, who has done theater sets and costumes on and off Broadway and across the country, as well as working in opera for companies including New York City Opera and Houston Grand Opera, told Welch he had no preconceived notions and was ready for Welch's ideas.

Welch asked Sicango if he'd seen the movie 300 (he had) and the work of graphic artist, Frank Miller, that the movie was based upon. “I thought at well gee, if you really look at Frank Miller's work there's pretty much no clothes on. Really they're kind of naked. Lots of loin cloths. That was kind of a challenge. But it told me this was very sensual in a way and celebrating the beautiful physique of dancers,” says Sicango.

That wasn't the only thing the well-respected designer who has an MFA in Stage Design from the Tisch School of the Arts had to go on. He researched the background of all the astrological signs. He asked for and received a CD of the commissioned score by Australian composer Ross Edwards that would be used.

“I went straight to the Met Museum to their Greco-Roman Gallery and really looked at those statues and their faces. To soak in the color palate, the hairsyles, the draping and again the lack of clothes.” At one point he asked Welch if the dancers were mortals and was told “No, they're gods and demi-gods.”

He asked Welch if he wanted a classical approach and says he was told: “No, I want it rather edgy. He mentioned Mad Max.” Sicango went online and typed in “female armor.” Laughing, he says, “You'll be surprised at what you get. Some of that has crept into the designs a lot of leathers, a lot of metals, a lot of leafing.” When interviewed Sicango said they were still revising costumes if they found say a headdress was too heavy for a dancer.

The other world premiere in the program entitled The Letter V is by American choreographer Mark Morris and will be his first work commissioned for Houston Ballet, although some other of his choreographed pieces are already part of this ballet's repertoire. It's set to Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 88. Morris has choerographed more than 150 dances since the 1980s.

The third piece is a revival of JirÍ Kyli án's Svadebka which uses Igor Stravinsky's music about a peasant wedding. Eight couples dance the piece, with the lead role of the bride going to first soloist Jessica Collado. Four soloists from  supported by members of the Houston Chamber Choir will perform during the dance, marking the first time the ballet and choir have done this.

Performances are scheduled for May 28 through June 7 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at  Wortham Theater, 501 Texas. For information visit or call 713-227-2787. $20-$140. 

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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