Tornado from Oz: Aussie artistic director Stanton Welch will make Houston Ballet the go-to place for hot new choreographers

Joseph Carman

It’s unsettling to think that among all the high-profile ballet companies in major U.S. cities such as New York, Boston, and San Francisco, only one–Houston Ballet–has an openly gay artistic director. But it’s true. “Homophobia is alive and well in the ballet world,” says 34-year-old Stanton Welch, who took over the Houston troupe last year. “Because we’re wearing tights, people consider ballet to be a very gay friendly enterprise. It really isn’t at times.”

But apart from his home country of Australia–which even 10 years ago promoted what he calls a “blokey image” in ballet companies–Texas has been the most accepting place for a gay director. What with sodomy laws still on the books, Welch admits he was dubious when he first went to Houston six yearn ago to choreograph. “I remember thinking, Oh, my God, I really have to be careful,” says Welch. instead, he was welcomed.

His first move has been to advocate for female choreographers. The opening program of the Houston Ballet’s current season, September’s Women@Art, showeased a rare all-female roster of choreographers: Julia Adam, Lila York, and Natalie Weir. “It was about time. How many times do you watch a program choreographed only by men and don’t even think about it?” asks Welch, who has choreographed works for American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet.

Despite his successes, not everything in Welch’s life has had ballet’s fairy-tale charm. Several years ago his partner, Gene Walsh, a former New York City fireman, suffered a stroke that left him severely paralyzed. Welch has been his caretaker. “Gene is such a strong-willed guy,” says Welch. “Being a fireman breeds a certain level of determination and willpower.”

Welch knows that gay audiences have sometimes tuned out ballet because of its overwhelming messages of heterosexuality. But he believes that change comes with new choreographers, even ha George Bush’s backyard. “I want to make Houston Ballet a utopia for choreography,” says Welch. “Don’t let the fact that we’re ha Texas fool you. We have some serious art down here!”

Carman also writes on dance for The New York Times.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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