Hey readers! I am so excited to be back and writing, because I have so much to share. No it isn’t my Halloween costume or what roles I got this year in The Nutcracker, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations and shows of Houston Ballet’s recent tour to New York!
Early October – Tour Preparations:
During late October, Houston Ballet will perform seven shows at the Joyce Theater in New York City. Our tour program will feature Mark Morris’s Pacific, Ben Stevenson’s lyrical pas de deux Twilight, Solo choreographed by Hans Van Manen, and Stanton Welch’s Play set to the music of Moby.
This is not the first time Houston Ballet will have performed at this venue, but this will definitely be our most ambitious and versatile program. Why ambitious? It is ambitious because we set out to achieve the high quality of dancing that Houston Ballet is known for, and we’re juggling all the tour prep with numerous rehearsals for performances, both before the tour and afterwards.
Right now we are rehearsing for our first two shows of the season, Four Premieres and The Merry Widow. We are also beginning rehearsals for our annual gala, featuring excerpts from our Artistic Director’s ballets, as well as a world premiere, Paquita. All this while also preparing our tour to Paris with concert pianist Lang Lang, who will be playing works by Chopin!
Some might think we bit off more than we could chew, but our Artistic Director Stanton Welch recently said, “If you look back at the great empires of the world – the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Chinese – their greatness is reflected in their art. It captures the essence of that area. It’s like leaving a footprint. That’s what we’re all here for. To leave an impression.” Houston Ballet is more than ready to leave its impression in New York and Paris.
Counting Down the Days:
As I write this, it’s the final week before Houston Ballet heads to New York to perform at the Joyce Theater. The ballets have been set, the costumes are packed, and the dancers are anxious and excited to finally head out and perform. In the final days, we will usually run through each of the ballets in our black-box theater. It is an incredible luxury to have the Margaret Alkek Dance Lab located in Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance. We are able to set the dimensions of whichever stage we are about to perform on, giving us an almost identical performance experience. You no longer have the mirror in front of you to rely on for cues, spacing, and correcting body positions. Instead, you see what your audience would see, and begin to focus on aspects of the ballet other than just the technical.
On tour I will be performing in Stanton Welch’s Play. The vocabulary of this particular piece is based on everyday scenarios and behavior, rather than the steps you try to perfect every day at the barre. Play explores everyday life in New York City, taking the simple task of getting ready for and traveling to work and transforming it into a ballet. It is heavily based on improv and you might even see me whip out moves from ‘Single Ladies’ and try to pick a wedgie.
This ballet requires the dancers to take daily tasks and pair them with two or four counts of music, which is what we are primarily focused on this week. Stanton challenged us to be more creative. He wanted us to avoid the obvious brushing your teeth and drinking a cup of coffee, and to find more personal tasks that could still be conveyed clearly (yes, Beyoncé can be a daily task!). I have no doubt that this will be one of the most fun performances for me, because the character I get to be is an animated version of myself.
Another ballet I am involved in that is going on tour is Hans Van Manen’s Solo. This piece is an incredibly virtuosic and rigorous timekeeping ballet for three male dancers. There are tons of turns and jumps, jazz, classical and oriental styles, all danced with a sense of ease and confidence. In the final rehearsals the dancers worked to balance the frenzied footwork with the still moments of their solos. The music is definitely the driving force with this ballet, and it is so easy to either get behind or let it push you into overdrive and become flustered. I was really inspired watching these rehearsals, because although the dancers looked so calm and collected, I understood the difficulty of what they were doing.
The other two ballets on the program are Ben Stevenson’s Twilight pas de deux and Mark Morris’s Pacific. Twilight is a stunningly lyrical pas that really showcases the partnering skills of Houston Ballet, while Pacific with its bare set and flowing costumes highlights the impeccable movement quality of our dancers.
Our first show is Tuesday 22 October, so look out for pictures and posts from opening night!
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 member of the corps de ballet of Houston Ballet.
Follow Harper on Twitter: @Harper_Watters