From October 22 – 27, 2013, Houston Ballet returned to The Joyce Theater in New York City. Corps de ballet member Harper Watters shares the highlights of the trip for him, including guerilla photo shoots in Greenwich Village with acclaimed dance photographer Jordan Matter.
1. What was one of your favorite moments about the tour?
Houston Ballet had the privilege of working with guerrilla dance photographer Jordan Matter. He is most well 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.
Photo by Jordan Matter; Dancers: Harper Watters, Nao Kusuzaki, Soo Youn Cho
After watching Soo scale the steps and railing of a beautiful brown stone home, our second location was a busy intersection with the brand new Freedom Tower as the back drop. As the girls and I hit our pose pretending to hale a cab in arabesque and Jordan lay in the middle of the street to capture the moment, I was suddenly hit with a rush of adrenaline. It was such a thrilling moment to be in the middle of New York City dancing and being photographed. As cabs wizzed by and onlookers began taking pictures you couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment.
Other dancers who were photographed took pictures 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.
2. Was this your first tour with Houston Ballet? Tell us about your experience.
This was my first tour with Houston Ballet, and it was definitely an incredible way to start my touring experience by heading to the center of the arts world, New York City.
The minute you drive into the city you can’t help but feel immersed by the culture of the city. 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.
The response was overwhelming and it was made even more special by the attendance of familiar Houston Ballet faces and past Houston dancers and ballet stagers. Over all this tour was a success and we firmly left our footprint in New York.
3. What was it like to perform in the Joyce Theater?
This was my first time ever attending the Joyce Theater, but I am certain that it will definitely not be my last. It might not be the grandest of theaters in scale, but what it lacks in size in makes up for in its artistic reputation.
Photo Courtesy of Houston Ballet
Just like when you enter the city, when you enter the Joyce, you immediately feel the presence of the past companies who have graced the stage. Companies such as Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, and Mark Morris have brought their greatest works to the stage, 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. You can’t help but feel like a part of something special when you perform at the Joyce.
4. Did you have time in between to visit any attractions in NYC? If so, which ones?
Unfortunately due to the number of rehearsals and performances that we had, it was really difficult to make it to any New York attractions. Aside from a pizza shop or seeing Orlando Bloom walk out of the stage door of Romeo and Juliet, there wasn’t much site seeing. However, a few of the dancers did stumble upon what some would call a New York attraction, and that was the graffiti art of Banksy.
All month long the British Artist began going borough to borough painting random images in the least expecting of places. Normally his work sells for thousands of dollars, but with NYC as his canvas, he painted on the wall of a laundromat an image of a young girl bashing a pre-existing fire hydrant and on a street corner an image of a man spray painting “I love NY”. Once he would paint his image at night, an instagram photo would appear on his website giving little armies of people clues on how to go see it. It was a treat to be able to witness a few in real life and only added to the artistic experience Houston Ballet was a part of at the Joyce.
Photo Courtesy of Harper Watters
5. How was opening night? Where you on stage or in the audience?
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 murmur of conversations going on and on about how much they enjoyed the evening. One woman said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the beauty of Pacific and one couple could not stop discussing the different dance genres that were showcased in the finale of Play. On a personal level, I was really touched by Twilight and was so pleased to see that it received such an excited response.
The 3 other ballets on the program I was with in or covered, so when Twilight was performed in NY, it was the first time I had seen the pas. It is really a testament to the choreographer, Ben Stevenson, that something created over 10 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 past Houston Ballet, Ben Stevenson, and the Houston Ballet of today featuring 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.”
6. What was the funniest things that happened to you or someone on the tour?
One of the funniest things I experienced on tour was during the photo shoot with Jordan Matter. My photo session had just ended and another group of dancers had met us at Washington Square Park to begin their photo session. All the dancers had looked up his body of work and had sort of developed a slight idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
As the three girls walked up to meet us, one of them mentioned how beautiful the fountain was. Little did they know that Jordan had planned for them to be photographed inside of that fountain. In the end they were great sports about the whole thing and were more than willing to jump, turn, and kick in the water.
At one point though, the jets of the fountain were hitting one of the girls square in the face. Jordan loved how the girls were positioned, so to not ruin the shot, she tried to work with the water hitting her face and execute her pose. It did not go over well, and thankfully a new formation was made, but for that brief moment I got a pretty great laugh. When the shoot was over and the girls stepped out of the fountain, he asked “Do you girls have a towel”? The looks on their faces were priceless.
Photo by Jordan Matter; Dancer: Harper Watters