The New York Experience

The 42nd Prix de Lausanne is about to kick off (26 January to 1 February). Last year, Prix finalist & contemporary prize winner Harper Watters ran a series of guest posts recalling his experiences taking part in the competition. Harper is now a dancer with Houston Ballet, and has been busy touring the globe with the company. One of his most recent tours was to New York, which he documents in this latest guest blog:

The minute you drive into the city, you can’t help but feel immersed by its culture. The pace is definitely much faster than what we’re used to in Texas, so it amplified our excitement to get out on stage and perform. In true New York fashion, we were thrown right into our busy schedule. The first day we had class, then a dress rehearsal, then our first show later that night.

Harper in NYC – Photo: © Jordan Matter

This was the first time I had ever been to the Joyce Theater, but I am certain that it won’t be the last. It may not be the grandest of theaters in scale, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in artistic reputation. Just like the city itself, when you enter the Joyce you immediately feel the presence of those who have graced its stage in the past. Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey and Mark Morris have all brought their greatest works there, inspiring Houston Ballet to bring their most thought-provoking and contemporary choreography. It’s an incredibly intimate venue, where you can easily hear the murmur of the crowd when they are wowed by a lift or moved by a gesture. When you perform at the Joyce, you’re aware that you’re part of something special.

Houston Ballet Dancers in Rehearsal

Houston Ballet Dancers in Rehearsal – Photo: © Harper Watters

Opening night was a huge success. I was in the audience, which made the evening that much more gratifying. As the theater slowly emptied out into the lobby after the show, there was a constant hum of conversation, with people saying again and again how much they enjoyed the evening and the works presented: one woman said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the beauty of Pacific, and one couple could not stop discussing the different dance genres showcased in the finale of Play. On a personal level, I was really touched by Stevenson’s Twilight and so pleased to see it receive such an excited response. I had either been in or had covered the three other ballets on the program, so when Twilight was performed in New York, it was the first time I had seen the central pas.

Dancers after a performance of Mark Morris's Pacific

Dancers after a performance of Mark Morris’s Pacific – Photo: © Harper Watters

It is a real testament to the choreographer Ben Stevenson that something created over ten years ago can still have such an emotional impact on audiences today. There was no denying the strength, grace and technique the pas de deux required, and it felt great to know that New York truly appreciated both the Houston Ballet of the past, represented by Ben Stevenson, and the Houston Ballet of today, which features the world’s leading choreographers and our Artistic Director Stanton Welch. The night appropriately ended with a champagne toast, and kind words from the representatives of the Joyce Theater. The evening was poignantly summed up by the head of the Joyce when he said, “This time of year is fall, and it is the most beautiful time in New York. However, tonight, New York falls for Houston Ballet.”

Dancers Among Us

Harper Watters, Soo Choo and Nao Kusuzaki in NYC – Photo: © Jordan Matter

A personal highlight of the tour was having the privilege of working with guerrilla dance photographer Jordan Matter. He is best known for sending dancers out into everyday scenarios and having them strike athletic positions. This is exactly what the dancers of Houston Ballet did. My shoot was in Greenwich Village with demi-soloist Soo Cho and soloist Nao Kusuzaki. After we had watched Soo scale the steps and railing of a beautiful brownstone house, our second location was a busy intersection with the brand new Freedom Tower as the backdrop. As the girls and I hit our pose pretending to hail a cab in arabesque and Jordan lay in the middle of the street to capture the scene, I was suddenly hit with a rush of adrenaline. It was such a thrill to be in the middle of New York City dancing and being photographed. As cabs whizzed by and onlookers began taking pictures, it was impossible not to get caught up in the moment. Other dancers involved in shoots were photographed down in the subway, in the middle of Times Square, and even in the fountain of Washington Square Park. The whole experience provided memories I will never forget.

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 a member of the corps de ballet of Houston Ballet.

Follow Harper on Twitter: @Harper_Watters

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