Houston Ballet's world premiere of Sylvia retains the classical garb and the beautiful music Le Delibes composed in 1876 for the full-length ballet. But after that, it's Stanton Welch's singular vision that gives rise to three, not one, main female characters.
This isn't the first time Artistic Director Welch has elevated a female role. His choreography of The Nutcracker gave Clara much more to dance instead of reducing her to the sidelines for much of the ballet. In Sylvia, he made ready use of the strong female dancers at Houston Ballet to play the roles of Sylvia (the huntress), Artemis (the goddess) and Psyche (the mortal)
Principal Melody Mennite dances the Psyche role. "She’s the human element. We walking among this world of Greek gods and demigods. She's the human story. She’s very flawed and makes a lot of clumsy mistakes along her path but I think that's both her strength and her weakness
"She also provides a lot of comic relief for the ballet which is fun for me to play."
Eros falls falls in love with Psyche while on a mission to kill her, Mennite says. "His mother is Aphrodite and Psyche comes into competition with Aphrodite saying she's the most beautiful woman in the world. She gets word that a lot of mortal men are turning their attention to this young princess named Psyche. Eros ends up falling in love with her and secretly whisking her away with the caveat that she is not to know his identity."
Mennite says it's both exciting and daunting to be in a world premiere. She says the ballet won't be truly finished until after the audience component is added and expects that will effect further evolutions of the work.
"It’s the original classical score. Stanton likes to stay very true to keeping as much of that musical as possible," Mennite said, adding that Welch picked up on three threads when he listened to the music.
Mennite said she still feels emotional about being back in the Wortham after being gone from it more than a year during the time it was being restored from the damage down by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters.
One thing she's also excited about are the costumes in this production, done by French designer Jerome Kaplan. "My costumes are rich buttery silks. I just feel like a real princess.
"I wear like seven looks. I get like an Oscar moment where I get to wear all these incredibly beautiful dresses."
Performances are scheduled for February 21 through March 3 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $25 - $200.