Former Principal Mireille Hassenboehler as Hanna and First Soloist Linnar Looris as Danilo in Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow.

As the Houston Ballet winds down its season, the company brings back a sparkling romantic comedy: Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow. And with it comes a dancer making her debut in the starring role.

“It’s really exciting,” says Jessica Collado, a principal dancer with the company about dancing the role of Hanna, the widow of the title. “Last time, I understudied the role, so it’s great for me to really get to become her.”

Based on the operetta of the same name by Franz Lehar, the ballet tells the story of Hanna, a former peasant who is now wealthy widow in a town on the verge of bankruptcy. Seeing an opportunity to save their struggling home, the aristocrats of Pontevedro present Hanna with a series of suitors—one of whom is her former love interest, who jilted her for her lack of status.

“I love bringing her to life,” Collado says of her character. “I think about how she would speak, what her life is. I have a dialogue in my head [as I dance] that I use that helps me make the expressions I do in acting the part.”

Collado loves the ballet’s challenging choreography, as well as the romance and drama of the story. There is a moment in Act One, she explains, that shows a meeting between Hanna and Count Danilo, the man she loves, at a society ball, where they have what she calls “a big, dramatic standoff.” She also likes the flashback in the ballet that shows the pair as teenagers.

“It’s such a complex role. I love her beauty and her confidence,” she says. “And [the ballet] is so lavish. The music is just gorgeous. I think audiences will feel instantly taken away, and they’ll just fall in love with these characters.”

May 31–June 9. From $25. Wortham Center, 501 Texas Ave. 713-227-2787. More info and tickets at houstonballet.org.

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