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Checking in with Natalie Payne

July 21, 2014

 By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

 Time is just flying by and preparations for the final summer showcase are well underway here at the Center for Dance. This week, we’ll be highlighting one student’s path to the performance. Although her days are already brimming with learning, including jazz, gyrotonics, social, and Pilates classes in addition to ballet, Level 7 student Natalie Payne is working diligently to improve her technique for the show.

“I’m always working and focusing on my technique, but now I’m doing it in a way where I can be relaxed on top, and still really enjoy what I’m doing,” she said. “I think that you actually tend to dance better in class that way.”

Click below to hear her discuss the other ways she is preparing for the showcase, as well as her favorite non-dance aspects of the program!

The Level 7 students have been steadily working on Stanton Welch’s Paquita in variations class, but they also have dabbled with Aurora, the variation from Act I of Sleeping Beauty. Natalie mentioned that her class was “fortunate enough to have two lessons with former Houston Ballet principal dancer, Dawn Scannell. It was amazing to learn the variation from her, and hear what the story is behind it!”

We also laughed about the excited atmosphere in the building as the World Cup soccer tournament was often playing in the 5th floor lunch area. “A lot of the guys will go and watch the matches during their breaks,” she said.“We were in class with Claudio [Muñoz] and we had the studio door open. We suddenly heard this giant yell coming from the fifth floor kitchen! It was all the guys screaming because Argentina had scored. It’s been a really fun thing this summer, with everyone going for their teams. It’s been crazy!”

Clark and Lilian will be back next week to give their “multi-level” perspective on the so-called craziness of this summer!

 

Until then!

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It Takes Two

July 8, 2014

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

 By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Lilian and Clark Eselgroth are a dynamic sibling duo hailing from North Carolina! I had lots of fun filming with these two – they really love each other and it shows! Lilian, level six, is poised and professional and Clark, level five, is an absolute hoot. Click on the video below to check them out!

Clark recently attended the YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) in Atlanta and Lilian was able to assist him back stage.  She helped him tweak his performances and even did his makeup. What a good sister!  Clark mentioned that her guidance was so helpful because she participated in the event last year.

Lilian was able to watch two of Clark’s pieces from backstage, but for the very last one she watched him from the audience. She made sure he knew when he heard her clapping in the audience, he would remember to smile!

“That’s the only correction I really give him” she says, “is just to smile.”

Clark couldn’t pick just one favorite ballet, so he listed a top three: Swan Lake, Le Corsaire, and La Bayadère. Listed in no particular order, of course! He likes them because the variations have lots of jumps and, as he is working to perfect his jumps this summer, he would appreciate the opportunity to do them on stage. Also, he adds with a sly smile, “They’re kind of manly.”

Lilian is working to improve her technique this summer. She is avidly perfecting her turnout, as well as her strength when executing a move. Her favorite ballet to dance is La fille mal gardée because she really enjoys its comedic elements, and her favorite ballet to watch is Romeo and Julieta far cry from comedy!

“We’re doing that one here next spring!” I mention.

Both of their faces immediately lit up.

“We have to see that one!” Lilian says. “I haven’t seen it in person yet, only on video. So that would be amazing.”

That’s all from the Eselgroths – but don’t worry! They will return in week five to update us on the final performance. But in the meantime, you can check back next week for more news from Natalie Payne!

Until then!

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She’s Baaaack!

July 1, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Miss Natalie Payne, everyone’s favorite Aussie, has returned to once again provide an inside look into the life of a Summer Intensive Program dancer. “The training is so good here,” she says, forming a beaming smile. “I love working with all my teachers, as well as the new ones who come just for the summer.” Now a year-round student, Natalie feels “at home” here at the Center for Dance and hopes she can help other students to feel the same.

Click below to hear Natalie discuss her growth since we last saw her, tips for new students in the program, as well as how she fights fatigue during those long-haul flights from Australia!

Her favorite modern ballet is SechsTanze (Six Dances) choreographed by Jiří Kylián. The piece is quick-paced and witty – just like Natalie. After watching it myself, it was easy to see why she loves it! As for the classical, she could not stop raving about our very own Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake. “I saw it multiple times” she gushed. “It was beautiful.”

While Natalie had lots to share about the artistic elements of ballet, we also talked about some pretty quirky habits in her day-to-day life at the Center.

“What’s a must-have item in your ballet bag?” I ask as our time together winds down.

“Lip balm,” she laughs, “I’ve tried to go without it but I simply can’t! I’m obsessed! ”

She also always carries a small Pac-Man notebook with her to write down corrections during class. Did you spot it in the video?

Natalie sends love to her mom, dad and sister and will be back during week four to update us on her final performance, but I return next week to introduce you to our next two vloggers.

 

See you soon!

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Education and Outreach “Goes Global”

June 27, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

Friday, June 27, 2014

Houston Ballet partners with the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center (ERJCC) to put on “Jump, Jive, Move and Groove!” now in its second year.  This year, the program is hosted by Ripley House, a local service site of Neighborhood Centers, one of the largest charitable organizations in Texas, located at 4410 Navigation Boulevard.

Houston Ballet Education and Outreach staff partner with teachers from the ERJCC to design a summer camp curriculum which is modeled after the pedagogy created by Jacques d’Amboise at the National Dance Institute.  This year, over 50 children are taking two classes daily creating both dances and crafts. Following the theme “Wonders of the World” the young dancers are hard at work learning choreography for multiple pieces and creating costumes and props inspired by cultures from around the globe!

Education Outreach Photo

Sommers leading the group during warm ups

I was invited to join Outreach Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist, Jennifer Sommers, to observe a Tuesday morning class. We were joined by Michele Kitchen and Sarah Oakley, Education and Outreach staff acting as assistant teachers and the lead teacher for ERJCC, Valerie Handy. Live music was provided by Pedro Huertas and Pelaya Parlade.

On the day I visited, the kids were learning a new dance, an Indian-inspired number to the tune of Jai Ho. I later discovered, along with the students, that it roughly translates to “let there be victory” from Hindi. A fitting mantra for a successful class!

Before the students arrived, Sommers rehearsed the steps she planned to teach and ran through the educational song she created to close the class. It was set to a fun, easy-to-remember rhyme scheme and as she sang about India, we followed her hand motions to learn about its capital, native animals and geographical location.
The students were working to prepare a short showcase of dances to present to friends and family this morning, Friday, June 27th.  Both classes already had a Greek-inspired dance in their repertoire, and while the younger students later immersed themselves in India, the older students took on China.

 

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Students strike a pose during the Greek-inspired number

The Greek dance was electric! It had goddess-inspired poses, an Olympic opening and a triumphant cry of “Opa!” ended the piece.  The energy was hard to resist! Even the slumped shoulders of the older kids weren’t enough to convince me that they weren’t enjoying themselves. The smiles twitching on the edge of their lips gave them away.

As a classics major, it was only right that the students quiz me on their Greek dance.

“Did you recognize the goddess in our dance? What about the god?” They were so proud of themselves– I had to make sure to get it right!

There was an embarrassing pause as I racked my brain for possibilities. I had been so enthralled in the overall feel of the dance that I hadn’t picked up on it. After a quick hint from Sommers, I guessed that their outstretched right arms were arrows, and as their left hand rested on their hip, the curve of their arm represented the bow. They were Artemis and her brother Apollo – the hunting twins!

Between the two classes, I had a chance to visit with the students. They grilled me about the trip to Greece I took through my study abroad program, and I was able to share my love of ancient history with a kindred audience. I mentioned that in college, you can choose to study classics exclusively. I could see the wheels begin to turn in their heads. “You mean…if I go to college, I can talk about this stuff all the time?”

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Discussing history and dance

Moments like this are what make these programs essential. They not only provide a safe space for the kids to spend their summer mornings, all the while learning about cooperation, confidence and coordination, but they also serve to introduce the dancers to the endless possibilities for their futures.

While some of the students discovered a love for Greek culture and history through this dance, others’ preexisting passion was simply nourished through the program. Maybe a few of the students don’t love Greek history – but that of India or China may fascinate them.

Students with a knack for the artistic can hone their skills in arts and craft class and even the simplest notion that this program allows these kids to just dance is significant.

“Jump, Jive, Move and Groove” allows students, many of whom don’t normally have access to dance classes and live music, to discover their passions.

At the end of each class, Sommers leads the students in thanking the live musicians, the assistant teachers, as well as themselves for a job well done.   We said it in Hindi that day: pronounced “Dhan’yavāda” the sentiment flowed off everyone’s tongue as they celebrated a successful class.

 

For more information about Education and Outreach programming please click here.

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The 2014 Summer Intensive Program is Here!

June 20, 2014

By Emily Kammerlohr, Academy Intern

June 20, 2014

It’s that time of year again! On June 14th over 600 dancers from across the USA and around the world arrived in Houston for a jam-packed six week dance adventure.  The first week of the summer intensive program is drawing to a close, but the excitement here at Houston Ballet Center for Dance continues to build! The hallways are filled with student’s enthusiastic chatter, dance bags and energy.

Houston Ballet Summer Intensive 2013

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive – Photo by Cameron Durham

Want an inside look at all this excitement? You’re in luck! Each week a student will take us into their world right here on En Pointe. They’ll show us what it’s really like to dance in Houston’s summer intensive, all while having fun. This year we’ll be featuring a seasoned veteran with lots of advice to impart, as well as a fresh-faced brother-sister duo who can’t wait to share their excitement with you!

These videos will be uploaded to the Houston Ballet YouTube and Facebook pages as well – so keep an eye out!

Ciao for now!

Emily

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HOUSTON BALLET ACADEMY 2014 SUMMER INTENSIVE PROGRAM SETS NEW RECORD

June 19, 2014

The studios and corridors of the Houston Ballet Center for Dance are buzzing with hundreds of young bodies and an influx of electric energy as Houston Ballet Academy’s 2014 Summer Intensive Program kicks into high gear.

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer IntensiveHouston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

From June 16 – July 25, the Academy Summer Intensive welcomes 679 dance students from 45 states and 10 countries, including China, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Paraguay, Japan, Argentina, Israel, Brazil, and Mexico.  2014 marks the largest summer intensive program in the Academy’s 49-year history.

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive

 Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

The young dancers — the majority of them teenagers — train intensively six days a week at Houston Ballet Center for Dance while also squeezing in time for some fun and field trips to Houston landmarks such as NASA.It is an exciting period of learning, growth, creativity and forging new friendships.

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive

Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

Claudio Munoz teaching students at the Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive

In January and February 2014, Academy teachers and coaches fanned out across the country to identify the most talented students at auditions held in 15 cities across America, from San Francisco to New York City. They also recruited from such ballet competitions as the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland and Youth America Grand Prix in New York City.

 Houston Ballet Summer Intensive

Houston Ballet Academy Summer Intensive: Photo by Cameron Durham

The Summer Intensive culminates in a fully-staged performance.  On July 11 at 7:00 pm, the Academy joins forces with the young composers of American Festival for the Arts to debut new works by teenage choreographers set to specially created scores by AFA students at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance, 601 Preston Street.  The performance is free and open to the public. Join us, and share the excitement of the 2014 Summer Intensive Program!

 

 

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Swan Lake in the Costume Shop: Memories of Kristian Fredrikson

June 6, 2014

Guest Writer:  Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager

 

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Sara Webb and Connor Walsh in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

It’s opening day of Swan Lake. This production brings with it so many bittersweet memories. Kristian Fredrikson, the internationally acclaimed production designer who created the scenery and costumes for this Swan Lake, died in November 2005 during the build of the show before it opened in February 2006. So many decisions were made without him. But we did our best to honor his design choices and I think we succeeded.

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Kristian Fredrikson. Courtesy of The Australian Ballet

Kristian was an incredible designer and human being! Swan Lake was the second design build with him here at Houston Ballet. Our first build with Kristian was for the Pecos section of Stanton’s Tales of Texas in 2004. It was during that build process that I fell in love with Kristian as a designer and friend.

Watching the dress rehearsals of Swan Lake over the past two days has brought back so many fond memories of him, his witty sense of humor and the particular way he spoke to the crew to explain his designs and what he expected of us.

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Artists of Houston Ballet in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Whenever I watch any of our productions that are built here in Houston Ballet’s Costume Shop, I see the talented artists that work with us to create these productions. I watch Swan Lake and I remember who built particular costumes and the process we went through to get the show built.

Swan Lake is a staple in any ballet company, and our dancers certainly have created a beautiful work for us all to enjoy. But beyond the dance, I see the people who created the physical aspects of the show on stage right alongside the dancers as they bring the story to life.

Enjoy the show, feel the magic and be transformed if only for a few hours.

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Houston Ballet will perform Swan Lake June 5 – 15 at Wortham Theater Center. Swan Lake tells the classic tale of Odette – a beautiful maiden transformed into a swan by an evil knight – and the prince who swears his enduring love for her. Tickets may be purchased at www.houstonballet.org

For more information on this program, visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Swan_Lake/

To watch a video preview of Swan Lake

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