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Houston Ballet Strong: How the Company Persevered to Present Its 2017–18 Season After Hurricane Harvey
When Hurricane Harvey unleashed its rainy path of destruction on the downtown Theater District in Houston in August, Houston Ballet staff, dancers and fans knew it would not be business as usual this season. Over 40 inches of rain drenched Houston, damaging nearly one hundred thousand homes. In all, it caused an estimated $200 billion of damage in Texas. Some of that damage hit Houston Ballet's Center for Dance when the waters jumped the building's four-foot floodgates, leaving two to three inches of water in the lobby and first-floor studios.
Some of Houston Ballet's studios flooded during the hurricane. Photo courtesy Houston Ballet
That minor flooding was taken care of within weeks, and the company was back in its home soon after. The opening of Sir Kenneth MacMillan's epic drama Mayerling was swiftly moved from Wortham Center, the company's theatrical home that also sustained flooding, to the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The company gave four (instead of six) triumphant performances one month after the storm.
Reality set in when news broke that the damage to the Wortham Center turned out to be much worse than first anticipated. The artistic and administrative team found out that the floodwaters had gone all the way up to the basement ceiling. Costumes from some 50 ballets, which accounts for 60 percent of the repertoire, were destroyed. The theater would remain closed until September 2018, and the company would need to find other venues for the remaining season.
But as artistic director Stanton Welch made clear to the audience at the company's annual Jubilee of Dance on November 15, hurricanes shouldn't mess with ballet dancers. The company would get through this, and be stronger for it.
Figuring out where to have the rest of the season wasn't easy, as many arts organizations were scrambling for theater spaces. Welch had to think way out of the Wortham box. The Nutcracker took place in two locations: in the nearby suburb of Sugar Land, giving the marketing team some fun opportunities to film the company's Sugar Plum (portrayed by first soloist Allison Miller) returning to her hometown; and at the Hobby Center for one post-Christmas week.
The remaining previously announced programs have shifted to Jones Hall and George R. Brown Convention Center's Resilience Theater (the makeshift theater built by Houston Grand Opera), as well as the Hobby Center. In June, the company will present Play, a triple bill of ballets by Welch completely reimagined for the unique space of George R. Brown's Assembly Hall.
A reduced performance schedule that affected the entire season (Nutcracker alone went from 35 performances to 28) and a drop in sales from new and returning single-ticket buyers resulted in significant losses in ticket-sales–related revenue, which will likely exceed $3 million for the year. Overall, Harvey has caused the largest financial challenge the company has ever faced, now estimated at $12.1 million over the next three years, due to expenses like lost revenue, studio repairs and costume losses.
Welch and his team have kept a chin-up attitude. He's immensely proud that none of the dancers have lost work due to Harvey. Upcoming tours to Jacob's Pillow in August and Dubai in October have lifted spirits. "When we get to the Pillow we will be on the other side of the tunnel," says Welch, "and when we return from Dubai in October we will be ready to move back into our treasured home. We will have our entire 2018–19 season back on our beautiful Wortham stage."
The Hometown Tour rolls on as the company returns to the Hobby Center for Don Quixote, April 13–15, moves to Assembly Hall for Play, June 8–10, and heads back to its original home, Jones Hall, for Swan Lake, June 23–July 1. Houston Ballet finishes the season Aug. 15–18 at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, making its first visit since 1979.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.
The ballet world will converge on San Francisco this month for San Francisco Ballet's Unbound: A Festival of New Works, a 17-day event featuring 12 world premieres, a symposium, original dance films and pop-up events.
"Ballet is going through changes," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson. "I thought, What would it be like to bring all these choreographers together in one place? Would I discover some trends in movement, or in how they are thinking?"