Hurricane Harvey Tries and Fails to Stop the Dancing in Houston
It's been 12 years nearly to the day that I last reported on a hurricane for Dance Magazine during Katrina, which devastated much of New Orleans. Now, as you are well aware, Harvey is approaching that level of catastrophe, with 18 deaths, a record rainfall of 51 inches, more than 10,000 Houstonians in shelters, and with our bayous at capacity. You've seen the photos. It's awful, heartbreaking and still dire for many stranded in their homes or in danger of continued flooding.
For local artistic directors, choreographers and studio directors, the first task was to find out how their dancers and teachers were managing, and the state of their homes and family.
"I've been concerned about the safety of the dancers," says Annie Arnoult, director of Hunter Dance Center and Open Dance Project. "The dancers live all over the city and surrounding areas. Most have been trapped in their homes...a few without power. We've stayed in constant touch through regular 'roll calls,' and everyone's fine so far; but I will feel much better when we can be back together face-to-face doing what we do best."
Thanks to Facebook, information has been fast and furious, with dance folks reporting everything from flooding in their neighborhoods, to where to volunteer and what items to donate, to what grocery stores are open. We are a small, but tight-knit community. I am thankful for both the speed and accuracy of the information put forward by our dance community. We are a diligent bunch.
The stage door at Houston's Wortham Center. Photo via Facebook.
We are also lucky to live in a city with one of the most visible dance service organizations in the nation, Dance Source Houston, which has been keeping us updated on resources available to artists and other emergency information. Executive director Mollie Haven Miller has started a spreadsheet to collect damage data in the community and DSH will be instrumental in getting the word out on performances. We need to keep in mind that it took days to even be able to get to many studios and rehearsal spaces, so information is still coming in.
Houston Ballet Cancels Its Season Opener
One look at the waters circling the downtown theaters had us all concerned that Houston Ballet wouldn't be able to open on time for Poetry in Motion, slated for September 8–17, which included Balanchine's storm of a ballet, Symphony in C, Christopher Wheeldon's Carousel (A Dance) and Stanton Welch's Powder. Yesterday, Welch and executive director Jim Nelson issued a statement canceling the season opener. Their hope is that Sir Kenneth MacMillan's epic drama Mayerling, slated for September 21–October 1, will go on as scheduled. "This plan, of course, depends on the availability of the Wortham Theater Center, which has incurred some storm-related damage, as previously reported," wrote Nelson and Welch. There is also talk of rescheduling Poetry in Motion for later in the season.
Houston Ballet's season opener Poetry in Motion which featured George Balanchine's Symphony in C has now been postponed until Oct. 26-27. Pictured: Ian Casady, Melody Mennite and artists of Houston Ballet in Symphony in C. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.
After costumes were destroyed in Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, the company relocated valuable costumes, including those gorgeous new Nutcracker costumes, to a safe location, where they sustained no damage.
We all have our fingers crossed that Mayerling will go on as planned. The company is the first North American troupe to perform the work. Welch described Mayerling as "a Thanksgiving feast for emotions." We are eager to see it.
Wortham Center's flooded basement and the loss of the underground parking are no small matters, but I am happy to report that the damage to the Wortham Center's Brown Theater stage was minimal. It was just over a week ago that principal Connor Walsh, as Rudolf, amazed me and his peers in one of the first run throughs of the killer-difficult first act of Mayerling, where he dances several pas de deux. Walsh has been keeping us informed on Facebook, sharing news and, get this, rescuing kittens. Yes dancers are superheros!
Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh is still on track to dance the role of a lifetime as Rudolf in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling, which was rescheduled for for Sept. 22-24, at the Hobby Center. Photo by Claire McAdams.
Update: As of Sept. 6, both fall shows have been moved to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The Houston Ballet season opener Poetry in Motion, has been postponed to Oct. 26 and 27 at the Hobby Center and Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling has been rescheduled for Sept. 22–24, also at the Hobby Center.
The Show Goes On (We Hope)
Many groups remain in a state of limbo, not knowing whether their scheduled shows can go on as planned. Noblemotion Dance had to cancel their big show of the year, Catapult: Dance Meets Design, in advance of Harvey. It has been rescheduled for later this month in Hobby Center for the Performing Arts' Zilkha Hall, which sustained some flooding. It's uncertain at this point if the rescheduled performance will work with the timeline for theater repairs. NobleMotion co-artistic director Andy Noble finds himself at a difficult juncture.
"This is the most challenging situation I have encountered in my professional career," says Noble. "In a matter of 48 hours, we canceled and rescheduled our biggest show to date that we have worked on for a year after we had already moved into the theater. Several of our dancers are impacted severely by the storm. We have over 30 artists in this show as well as a large group of kids doing a pre-show performance. A couple of them are unavailable for the reschedule. Each one of us stand to lose much financially. My feet are trying to find the ground."
Jared Doster's flooded home. He is a founding member of NobleMotion Dance, and the Industrial Designer for the company's canceled show, Catapult.
Like many artists, Noble's priorities remain focused on the people impacted by Harvey, yet he is also a big believer in the healing power of art. "We are very concerned about the well-being of Houston and are committed to performing Catapult and bringing the community together," he says. "This show has a lot of heart and I believe it will resonate deeply in this challenging time."
Open Dance Project was looking forward to their debut collaboration with Musiqa, Bodies in Motion on September 23, also at Hobby. Arnoult is committed to having her work with her company see the light of day. "If it we have to do a showing at Hunter Dance Center, we will; we have worked too hard to let this go," she says.
So far, it seems that the small and mid-size companies came through the storm with minor damage. The MATCH, the city's go-to space, with a theater built especially for dance, is unharmed, which is great news for the fall season. Adam Castaneda, executive/artistic director of FrenetiCore, is pleased to announce that the Houston Fringe Festival will go on as planned, September 4–10 at the MATCH. According to Castaneda, shows by the city's leading independent artists, jhon r stronks and Lori Yuill, are ready to go. It's not an easy decision, and, frankly, it is difficult to make big decisions while watching the drama that surrounds us now, but Castaneda feels moving forward is the best choice. "I'm looking at ways the festival could possibly contribute to hurricane relief," he adds.
"I've got so many conflicting thoughts and feelings right now it is hard to sort them out," says Yuill, who will premiere Remember the Missing at the festival on September 5 and 10. "I want to support the Fringe and offer an outlet for anyone who is ready for one. But I also feel like it might be too soon for anyone to want an outlet and I wonder if we could serve better by spending our time volunteering at a shelter."
Lori Yuill, Miranda Tadlock and Danielle Antelo in the first iteration of Yuill's The Remembering Happens, 2016. Photo by Tati Vice. Yuill will present the world premiere of the piece as part of the Houston Fringe Festival which will go on as scheduled, on Sept. 5 & 10 at the MATCH.
Two in-town dance studios, Hunter Dance Center and METdance company and studio, are in good shape. Arnoult opened Hunter Dance Center for children's classes today. "Kids need some semblance of normalcy," she says.
Although METdance's studios escaped major damage, there were disappointments. After their success performing on Jacob's Pillow's storied Inside/Out stage, the company was jazzed to present at the ArtsMidwest Conference, which was impossible due to airport and road closures. When they open for classes they plan to take into consideration what their students have gone through.
"METdance always wants to help the dance community and other studios in the suburban areas that had significant damage from Hurricane Harvey. Our executive director Michelle Smith and I talked about giving studio students a place to rehearse and class discounts if their home studio has had flooding," says Marlana Doyle, artistic director of METdance.
How to Help
Many arts organizations have been busy doing all that they can. Kelly Ann Vitacca, of Vitacca Vocational School For Dance is in the midst of organizing a food, toiletries and baby needs drive for this Friday from 11am to 4pm at Vitacca Dance School. They will store and deliver any donated items to the Houston Food Bank and the Texas Diaper Bank. Expect many more studios to being organizing similar efforts.
The national dance community has been reaching out on Facebook and other social media networks to check on their friends, family and favorite companies and studios, and we appreciate that. Just asking how you can help is a help. Miami City Ballet's moving message of love and support to Houston Ballet exemplified the strength of the national dance community. We all could feel the love.
It's still too soon to know the lasting impact on the Houston dance community as the city will be in rebuilding mode for a good long while. You can donate at Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
Showing choreography at a major venue in New York City is a goal and milestone for many dance artists. Yet when such an opportunity comes their way, choreographers frequently find themselves scrambling for time and technical resources to give their work that professional shine. What they end up performing may not have the polish they intended. "Far too often artists are arriving at their presenting house and the piece isn't ready," says Adrienne Willis, the executive and artistic director of Lumberyard Contemporary Performing Arts, an organization that helps dance artists develop new work.
Back when Lumberyard was known as the American Dance Institute and operated out of a strip mall in Rockville, Maryland, it pioneered its Incubator program to whip new pieces into shape, kind of like the "out-of-town" tryout model for theater. Several of the artists it supported ultimately brought their shows to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, one of New York City's most prestigious venues, which quickly recognized the positive influence of the Incubator on performances.
Since Thanksgiving is finally here, it's officially time to talk Nutcracker. With countless productions taking place between now and Christmas (and even some through the new year), we've been keeping tabs on Instagram to check in on rehearsals. Whether you're obsessed with all things Sugar Plum Fairy or the snow scene is more your speed, we've got your first look at the holiday classic.
We have a feeling even the Boston Ballet dancing bear couldn't keep up with second soloist Lawrence Rines' tricks in Russian.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.