As the 41st edition of Prix de Lausanne kicks off, Prix finalist & contemporary prize winner Harper Watters recalls his experiences taking part in the competition in this new series of guest blogs:
Although it was December 31, 2012 when I wrote this entry, I will start off by wishing everyone HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope all of you had wonderful holidays and that so far 2013 is treating you well. As I write, I am currently on board a flight to New York with my dog Roxy but with no dance clothes in my suitcase. Yes, my friends, I have completed 37 shows of The Nutcracker, and it is officially Winter Break. Don’t worry, I return to Houston a week before work starts, so physical activity will be accomplished at some point during the break. If you just went back and re-read the number 37, that is not a typo. Houston Ballet performed 37 shows of The Nutcracker this season. I’m certain that hearing The Nutcracker score for the first time means different things to different people. While for some it might mean the start of the holidays, for the dancers it might bring back some “bittersweet” emotions. For me, however, hearing that music in mid-November only reminds me of one thing: Prix de Lausanne. The minute I found out I was accepted to the 2011 competition – which was around the same time we had started rehearsing for The Nutcracker - my dance career changed drastically.
The Prix de Lausanne is widely known as one of the leading dance competitions for young dancers. It provides a rare opportunity for its participants, giving them the privilege of dancing in front of representatives from the top ballet companies around the world. If you were to read the bios of many of the leading dancers of this generation, the majority would say competitor or prize winner at the Prix de Lausanne. Within one week of taking class with world-class teachers and peers, being observed and scouted by major companies, and meeting face to face with representatives from those companies, your life as a dancer is forever transformed. From scholarships and apprentice contracts, everyone benefits from this amazing experience.
My rehearsals for the competition began the day after being accepted. Upon entering the competition, you receive a video containing the options for both classical and contemporary variations. The process of deciding what to perform at Prix was a collaborative effort with my coaches Andrew Murphy and Claudio Munoz. In choosing my classical variation, I had to first acknowledge what my strengths and weaknesses were as a dancer, because the ultimate goal of the variation was to showcase myself in the best possible way. Each contains staple steps of a male variation: typically lots of jumps, turning sequences, double tours, and footwork, so it was important for me to choose a variation that had unique qualities. Unlike the others, Le Corsaire had many more grounded and earthy movements which created and almost animalistic quality. I knew this style meshed well with my strengths as a dancer and would allow me to personalize the character in a way the other variations couldn’t.
My classical variation proved easier to pick than the contemporary. There was a wide range to choose from, neoclassical to modern. At first I wanted to show versatility and chose a contemporary solo that varied in energy and style from Le Corsaire. However, my coaches advised me that throughout the entire week of competition my versatility would be seen. On stage was where I was supposed to be the most comfortable and confident. So I went with my gut choice, which was Cathy Marston’s Libera Me. It was the true definition of contemporary movement, and was the option that was as far from classical vocabulary as possible: a fast moving solo that incorporated jumps, direction changes, fast floor work, and extreme physicality. I am very grateful that the process of choosing my variations was a collaborative effort (Fun fact: In the past 3 years of competition, the contemporary award has gone to a dancer who performed Libera Me!).
The first few rehearsals were spent learning the choreography and locating the technical moments within the variations that required line, turnout, and upper body. Once the technical aspects of the variations were addressed, my coaches and I focused on the artistry. This entailed creating an atmosphere on stage and finding the appropriate emotions to elevate the dancing, while still observing the technical aspects we had just focused on. Last was stamina. I can remember running the variation 6 to 7 times in a row before my teachers would even utter a correction. Getting it into your body so you develop muscle memory was key to my success in the competition. The whole time we were rehearsing for Lausanne, there was this looming sense of nerves and pressure that grew with every day the competition got closer. Students from Houston Ballet II had placed and won the competition in the past, so there was added pressure in trying to maintain the success. More importantly, it was my last year in the second company and we had not heard about contracts for the main company. I knew that winning would obviously be a huge accomplishment, but the true prize would be the potential contract. The Prix de Lausanne is 50% competition and 50% audition.
To be continued…
Harper Watters was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in Dover, New Hampshire where he began his dance training at the Portsmouth School of Ballet. To further his education, he auditioned and was accepted on scholarship to attend the Walnut Hill School for the Arts. He has attended both Washington Ballet and Houston Ballet Summer Intensives on full scholarship. Harper joined Houston Ballet II in 2009 and was awarded the contemporary dance prize at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. He is now in the corps de ballet of Houston Ballet.
Follow Harper on Twitter: @Harper_Watters