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.
Imagine this scenario: You get a text from a friend just as you're heading into ballet class, and have to answer as quickly as possible. Now, if you were heading into a juggling class, or water polo match, or fencing practice, you'd be able to send a quick emoji in response. But alas, you're forced to type out a full sentence. Because, to the ballet world's collective frustration, There. Is. No. Ballet. Emoji. Until now...
According to Emojipedia, the site for all things emoji-related, a ballet shoe emoji is slated to come out later this year (the exact date hasn't been announced yet) as part of Emoji Version 12.0. The proposal came from Australia-based tech company manager and ballet fan Rüdiger Landmann. Landmann proposed three separate ballet emojis: a ballerina, a male ballet dancer and a pair of pointe shoes. Only the pointe shoe emoji was approved, and we'll be honest, it doesn't look like any pointe shoe we've ever seen. It's more like a pink loafer with ribbons attached. But we're trying not to complain, as this is definitely a (wobbly, given the shape of that shoe) step in the right direction.
You might still be thinking wistfully of the figure skating choreography at the 2018 Winter Olympics or already looking forward to the gymnastics competition at next summer's games, but we're officially marking our calendars for Paris 2024. Why? There's an excellent chance that break dancing will make its Olympic debut.
The jukebox musical is a bonafide Broadway staple. Everyone from ABBA to Elvis and Billy Joel to The Beach Boys has been given the Great White Way treatment, and shows with Alanis Morissette's and Michael Jackson's hits are on their way. The big question on our minds is, What current artists' songs might we hear on Broadway in the future?
The fourth wall has come down, and it has opened up a whole new kind of gig for dancers. Since Sleep No More became a hit in 2011, immersive theater experiences have been shattering expectations by inviting audiences to move through the world of the performance as they please. What kind of skill set does this burgeoning art form demand?
For choreographer Raja Feather Kelly, music is simple: "There's good music and there's bad music and I love good music and I love to hate bad music."
But, true to form, Kelly—whose past few months have included choreographing the Skittles Super Bowl musical and earning one of our first-ever Harkness Promise Awards—had some surprises up his sleeve when he made us a playlist he describes as "for moody Geminis who work over 12 hours a day and need a playlist that can shuffle and never disappoint."
Though the playlist has some whiplash-inducing twists and turns—from Coheed and Cambria to Carly Rae Jepsen to Missy Elliott to Schubert—there is a through-line: "Music that makes you feel like you're in your own movie. I love walking through the street feeling like I'm on a runway, living my best life."
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Two years ago, the American Ballet Theatre soloist got a personal training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Now he trains fellow ABT members and teaches the ABT Studio Company a strength and conditioning class alongside fellow ABT soloist Roman Zhurbin.
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When Rennie Harris first heard that Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had tapped him to create a new hour-long work, and to become the company's first artist in residence, he laughed.
"I'm a street dance choreographer. I do street dance on street dancers," he says. "I've never set an hour-long piece on any other company outside my own, and definitely not on a modern dance company."
Lately I've been having recurring dreams: I'm in an audition and I can't remember the combination. Or, I'm rehearsing for an upcoming show, onstage, and I don't know what comes next. Each time I wake up relieved that it was only a dream.
However, this is the reality of how I often felt throughout my dance career. Once I knew the steps, there was no undoing it. It was the process of getting there that haunts me to this day.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
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It's no longer just Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and the few pointe-clad male character parts, like in Cinderella or Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream. Some male dancers are starting to experiment with pointe shoes to strengthen their feet or expand their artistic possibilities. Michelle Dorrance even challenged the men in her cast at American Ballet Theatre to perform on pointe last season (although only Tyler Maloney ended up actually doing it onstage).
The one problem? Pointe shoes have traditionally only been designed for women. Until now.
Camille Sturdivant, a former member of the Blue Valley Northwest High School dance team is suing the school district, alleging that she was barred from performing in a dance because her skin was "too dark."
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What started as an innocent attempt to eat healthier has turned into a time-consuming ritual with little room for error, and an underlying fear surrounding your food choices.