The Merry Widow Dances Her Way to an Old Love in the Search for a New Husband

Principal Jessica Collado in The Merry Widow.
Principal Jessica Collado in The Merry Widow. Photo by Claire McAdams/ Courtesy of Houston Ballet

In The Merry Widow, Hanna gets to act out the dream that many people have when they go to high school reunions. Namely, she has bettered herself beyond all imagining.

Formerly a peasant girl, she married a wealthy man and now that her husband has died, is a wealthy widow. The leaders of Pontevedro have set their sights on her; if she marries one of the aristocracy there perhaps the town can be saved from its severe financial distress.

Among the possible suitors is Count Danilo who as it turns out, was a former love interest who dumped her when she was a peasant because of her lowly status. As the plot develops, he declares his undying love for her, but she has to consider: is this just a way to her purse strings? Add in another couple with their own special thwarted love story (she's married to another man) and the ensuing convolutions would make Shakespeare proud.

Principal Jessica Collado will dance the lead role of Hanna in the Houston Ballet production opening this week. This is the third time she's been in the ballet by Ronald Hynd but the first as Hanna and says the acting possibilities it offers as well as the humor, the dancing and the music make this a delightful role to perform.

She has several costume changes, mostly beautiful gowns but also a dream sequence as a peasant right after she and Danilo (Principal Chun Wai Chan) meet again and realize they were teenage lovers.

"She has to quick change," Collado says. "There''s not much time really to sit and change your mind set. It's fun that we also get to portray her as a young girl."

The costumes by Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno are stunning, Collado says. "[Hanna] has these amazing gowns. They have a train and they're decked out in jewels. She wears a black one in Act 1 and a white on in Act 3.She had earrings a a crown." And her partner Chan lifts her while she's wearing all this. "He hoists me up on his shoulder full gown but he does it with ease and nothing has fallen off yet. The costumes are made to dance in even though they have this appearance of being a ball gown from the audience. They are quite comfortable and easy to dance in.

"Because the skirt is quite long it's the biggest challenge. It's knowing not to step on it and you need to give a little more force when you do a turn because you have this tail behind you kind of weighing you down but that's all part of the rehearsal process and how we have to adapt."

"I think this ballet is like a modern day romantic comedy," she says. "Ronald Hynd did such a great job of really sucking you into this time period and this location in Paris. You get mesmerized by these beautiful characters and you go along this up and down ride that they go on through the ballet. The music is absolutely wonderful and it's difficult dancing but it all comes across with ease.."

"At first when they see each other and he says 'I love you,' she just thinks he wants to be with her because he has money. So he's trying to convince her 'No, my love is real.' And it's something that she finally accepts." The turning point, Collado says, is when Hanna plays a trick (involving the other romantic couple) and Danilo gets really mad.

Collado says she really wanted to dance this role, one that's been done by many famous ballet dancers. "The role of Hanna is such a special role. You have to kind of be ready for it. I think you have to be in the right stage of your life to perform the role. It's fun to know when the time is right and getting to revel in that. She gets to really go through all of the things, that's my favorite part: getting to carry her story."

Collado wants people to know that "The ballet is a great date night. It’s perfect for couples to go together. It would appeal to them greatly.

"Within all the story telling and drama is the humor which makes the ballet so light-hearted and feel good," Collado says. "So you get a little bit of everything. You get the high drama and it's a comedy in the end."

Performances are scheduled for May 31 thrugh June 9 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 500 Texas. For information call 713-227-2787 or visit $25-$200.
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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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