Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler took her final waltz across the Wortham stage on September 28. She was the last ballerina to be named a principal by former artistic director Ben Stevenson. “I’m the bridge ballerina,” quips Hassenboehler, who served as a dancer representative on the committee that hired Stanton Welch. “I was promoted by Ben and nurtured by Stanton. I’ve had the benefit of dancing through two Houston Ballet dynasties.”
Left: Hassenboehler in her Merry Widow farewell. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.
Hassenboehler was known for her supple, long limbs, perfectly square arabesque, and sultry mystique in more dramatic roles, like Hanna in The Merry Widow, which she danced at her farewell performance. She is retiring after 21 years with the company, 13 as a principal. During her time with Welch, he created many ballets on her, including Swan Lake and Indigo. “She’s a perfect mix of Balanchine body with English style, which she got from her time with Ben,” Welch says. With her clean lines and crisp attack, she had a natural affinity for Welch’s bold contours. “Stanton set Indigo on me before he was artistic director, and it’s still a favorite ballet,” she says.
She also triumphed in Swan Lake. Welch felt the Odette/Odile role was a perfect match for her elongated physique and talent. “It’s those arms; her port de bras was perfect,” says Welch. “She was able to portray this fragile creature as White Swan, yet she was so strong and fiery as Black Swan.”
Hassenboehler trained with Harvey Hysell and at San Francisco Ballet School before coming to Houston Ballet as a student at 18. She joined the corps in 1992; Stevenson promoted her to principal in 2000. Within the company, she often shared tips with younger dancers, along with her famous praline recipe. “She radiates warmth and generosity,” adds Welch. “There’s such an honesty to her, and that comes out onstage.”
Linnar Lorris partnered her in many ballets, including her final performance. “She loves the details in every role,” he says. “Partnering dialogues, emotions, and steps have to make sense and mean something to both of us. All that turns a ballet into a complete work of art.”
Houston Ballet pays tribute to her during the annual Jubilee of Dance on December 6 in a special video presentation. Hassenboehler plans to focus on raising her 2-year-old son, Teddy, and may return to the ballet field after a well-deserved break. “I get to leave with a glass of champagne and a waltz in an upbeat ballet,” she says. “It feels right.”