Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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A VOYAGE TO ROME FOR ROMEO AND JULIET

August 21, 2014

By Laura Lynch, Houston Ballet Wardrobe Manager

Oh my, what an incredible adventure to travel to our production designer Roberta Guidi Di Bagno’s home in Italy to shop fabrics for Stanton Welch’s new production of Romeo and Juliet, debuting in February 2015. Yes, I’m talking Rome, Italy.

Roberta designed Romeo and Juliet with a wide variety of fabric/trim needs.  Roberta and I swatched locally for fabrics right here in our own backyard in Houston. However, there’s only so much to find locally. From basic burlaps to the most exquisite velvets and lurex yardages…. or as measured in Rome, meterages.

The Ball 2

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

I landed in Rome on Easter Sunday with no problem and taxied into the city to meet Roberta at her apartment. I was fortunate enough to be hosted right next door to Roberta in her rental apartment that just happened to be vacant at the time of my visit.

We spent the next seven days poring over the costume designs, discussing fabric choices, details of line and shape, changes to decisions already made, and simply solidifying our design books. The design book is our ‘bible’ of information. We made sure that we both had the same information in our respective books so that as we discuss things long distance, we are looking at the same information.

Juliet in gold

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

We spent one long day at D’ Alesso Leathers where we searched through hundreds of hides to choose for the various characters’ tunics and bodices. I have never seen such leathers. The hides are garment weight and many are manipulated with dye/paint and have designs, but also metallic fabric embossed to the back to give two tone effects. Some leathers look fresh and new, some very ancient and worn.

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Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

You’ll just have to see the show to really get a look at the incredible selection we were able to acquire.

The next day Roberta and I spent at the Brothers Bassetti, a fabric store filled floor to ceiling with fabrics from tulles to velvets, brocades to chiffons, anything you can imagine. At Brothers Bassetti a clerk serves you with all your needs. It’s wonderful to have that one person there gathering and assisting to pull whatever fabrics you’re interested in. Roberta and I had already done much of our homework before arriving. Prior to visiting Rome, when Roberta was here in Houston, she and I had gone through our Bassetti swatches and made many preliminary decisions as to fabric assignment.

Blue door

Sketch by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno

Let me say that as wonderful as our local fabric shopping is in Houston, we simply do not have the variety that can be found in the large European cities. It was like a treasure hunt in the most beautiful setting. Everywhere you look is history. Walking to Brothers Bassetti, we walked past the Pantheon, and we left the fabric shop just as the Pope decided to visit one of the area churches. So we found ourselves in a taxi going round in circles.

The people of Rome were welcoming and Roberta was the perfect hostess. The fabrics we acquired are amazing and the Costume Shop here is certainly looking forward to the arrival of our goodies from Rome.

We are one step closer to beginning construction on this most amazing project.

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Houston Ballet will present the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s new staging of Romeo and Juliet, featuring opulent scenery and costumes by Roberta Guidi Di Bagno, February 26 – March 8, 2015. For more information, visit:  http://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Romeo_and_Juliet/

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BUILDING STRENGTH WITH AKIHIRO KAWASAKI

August 19, 2014

By Kalyn Oden, Houston Ballet PR Intern

Let’s talk about Houston Ballet Academy’s 2014 Summer Intensive’s strength and conditioning program that the dancers participated in this season. This blog will not only give a perspective on the strength and conditioning training the dancers undertake but also about the coach himself.

First, a little about the trainer and his qualifications.

Akihiro Kawasaki is originally from Ibaraki, Japan. Kawasaki began his training in health and fitness while living in Japan and actively playing sports. “I became interested in the strength and conditioning field when I was 19. I have some certifications and a lot of experience before starting work as a strength and conditioning coach,” states Kawasaki. He then wanted to further his education in health and fitness in the United States. While continuing his studies at University of Alabama at Birmingham, graduating with a B.S. in Exercise Science, in the mechanics of the human body and more of the medical side of personal training, he met his wife who had been a professional dancer.

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While attending his wife’s performances, he was drawn to the world of ballet. The ballet career path draws individuals who are strong, flexible, demanding, disciplined and hard working professionals. Kawasaki states, “I became especially interested in the mechanics of ballet movements and the partnering skill of male dancers. The way ballet dancers move is more complex and complicated than other sports.” Being introduced to the world of ballet gave him the incentive to study more about the human body and the body’s capability. His knowledge of how the human body works combined with his understanding of the importance of nutrition enable him to provide better care to help keep clients’ bodies healthy and to prevent injuries, along with being able to offer better guidance.

Now I am sure you are wondering, “So, how does this apply to the dancers?”

Kawasaki has created exercises specifically for dancers that will help strengthen the muscles efficiently to prepare them for the strenuous movements on stage. This style of muscle strengthening takes a specific understanding of how dancers’ movements are complex, yet graceful, and demanding. His strength and conditioning classes at Houston Ballet are creative and fun for the dancers to participate in while utilizing resources such as: their own body weight, balance balls, and various sizes of dumbbells, among other resources.

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Kawasaki not only instructs the dancers on proper form but also reiterates the importance of nutrition, diet and hydration. Kawasaki begins each session by asking the dancers, “What did you have for breakfast/lunch/dinner? And how much sleep have you received today?” By asking these questions, he helps the dancers better understand the importance of taking care of themselves by what they eat, the crucial role of rest for the entire body and the best way to take in the necessary nutrients. He also helps keep them motivated to reach their goals and achieve their full potential. One of Kawasaki’s philosophies is, “it is essential for student dancers to understand human anatomy, biomechanics and exercise physiology in order to be able to practice self care, to rehabilitate, and to choose training exercises for their practice and performance in ballet.”

Kawasaki has taught both male and female dancers about the importance of the human body and how to take care of it. This year at Houston Ballet, Kawasaki mainly taught male dancers, or danseurs (as they are known in French). Danseurs have to be able to be powerful and graceful with every move yet “make his female partner look beautiful at the same time.” Kawasaki has designed different exercises for male dancers to improve personal ballet technique and strengthen partnering skills. Kawasaki works with Houston Ballet’s instructors to help the dancers with any weaknesses and to improve dance technique through strength and conditioning.

After the dancers strenuous yet productive session with Kawasaki, he teaches the importance of conditioning, resting the muscles and how to help prevent injuries after exercising. One way of helping the muscles relax is the practice of Yamuna Body Rolling or YBR. YBR is a component of bone stimulation which posits that if the bones are in correct alignment, then the muscle then will function correctly. Having the muscle properly function assists in relieving pain, preventing injuries and reducing unnecessary stress. YBR uses various balls to target specific areas of the body; the balls then become the hands of the therapist. By using the various balls for specific areas of the body, the person’s weight creates the traction, movement and release on the ball. This then results in Yamuna Body Rolling. YBR also compliments the goals of Yoga.

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As with any professional sport, these dancers work hard on a daily basis to better themselves in their performances. During the ‘off-season’, the dancers continue to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. They rely on the help of health professionals/trainers such as Kawasaki to reach personal goals, minimize injuries and keep the body healthy. Kawasaki asserts that understanding human physiology will “produce more great, strong and reliable dancers in order to bring the level of Houston Ballet or other ballet companies higher and better.”

Kawasaki always reminds his students, “Where there is a will, there is THE way. This is because it is only your own way — not the same as others. You are the one who opens a door for your path in your future.”

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DANCING BALANCHINE AND KYLIAN: AN INTERVIEW WITH SOLOIST LAUREN STRONGIN

May 23, 2014

-by Stephanie Brown, Public Relations Intern

Houston Ballet is exploring the diverse artistic genius of George Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Jiří Kylián in its program Modern Masters, currently running now through June 1st. The imaginative and powerful choreography of these three masters can be described as immensely challenging, yet a pure joy and honor to perform.

Artists of Houston Ballet - The Four Temperaments

Photograph from The Four Temperaments, Choreography by George Balanchine, © The George Balanchine Trust. Dancers: Artists of Houston Ballet (Lauren Strongin [right]). Photo by Amitava Sarkar

The dreams of Soloist Lauren Strongin are finally coming true; she will be dancing in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments and Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. We spoke with Lauren to find out what she loves about these two choreographers, as well as the challenges and triumphs she has faced in her journey of preparing for Modern Masters.

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Soloist Lauren Strongin; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet:  Explain to us the art of dancing a George Balanchine piece. How does Balanchine stand out from other choreographers?

Lauren Strongin:  Balanchine was a revolutionary. His style permeates many contemporary choreographers work. Even within the Modern Masters program, his influence on Kylián and Forsythe is noticeable. His musicality and requirement for extreme precision always pushes me. There is always a sense of accomplishment after performing one of his works.

Houston Ballet:  Tell us about your solo in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. What are some challenges you have faced in dancing this piece?

Lauren StronginThe Four Temperaments is a ballet I remember seeing while in school in Stuttgart, Germany. I was in awe of the use of modern movements incorporated into a seamless non-narrative. I loved the way the body was used as a means of expression rather than relying on facial emotion or pantomime techniques to get his vision across. It’s a classic Balanchine that I am honored to perform not one, but two roles in. It’s a ballet I’ve always hoped to dance.

The Four Temp Artists of Houston

Photograph from The Four Temperaments, Choreography by George Balanchine, © The George Balanchine Trust. Dancers: Artists of Houston Ballet. Photo by Amitava Sarkar

It’s sexy in an understated way. There is a confidence that is built into the choreography. The challenge in dancing a Balanchine ballet is to let the movement and musicality drive the emotional intent. His works are physically very revealing and require pure use of technique and precision. His ballets always make me feel like I am improving on myself. This experience working with Judith Fugate, who has staged The Four Temperaments for Houston Ballet, has also been such a treasure, that I feel confident and excited to be a part of this ballet.

Petite Mort Gonzalez and Chan

Ballet: Petite Mort; Artists of Houston Ballet; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Houston Ballet:  Jiří Kylián is another great choreographer honored in Modern Masters. Explain to us what you have learned from Kylián’s choreography and how his style differs from other ballets.

Lauren Strongin: Kylián to me is genius. His use of movement is so fluid and natural. I find his work to be very thoughtful and genuine. He is confident in what he is trying to say and therefore does not over decorate or add unnecessary movements to fill in his work. He is a true original, and I am always honored to dance in his ballets. It seems that his works have a living quality to them, as if they have a soul.

Houston Ballet:  You are performing a pas de deux in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. I understand this is a very sensual piece; how does it make you feel and what do you do to prepare for this role?

Lauren Strongin:  Petite Mort is a ballet I had always hoped to dance at some point in my career. I’m thrilled to have the chance, now, to be a part of it. It’s also an honor to be coached once more by Ros Anderson. She’s such an expert on Kylián’s work and always makes me feel very confident and secure in the movement.

It is a very sensual ballet and to me really explores individual personal relationships between couples. Each couple is expressing a different part of a partnership. It’s a ballet that makes the audience and dancers want to focus on every detail, so as not to miss a moment. It’s a true masterpiece.

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Houston Ballet continues its performances of Modern Masters through Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm at Wortham Theater Center.  For tickets and more information, visit:  https://www.houstonballet.org/Ticketing_Schedule/Season_Calendar/Modern_Masters/

 

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Dancing the Black Swan

May 9, 2014

-by Jennifer Sommers, Houston Ballet Outreach Coordinator and Curriculum Specialist

Houston Ballet's Swan Lake

Mireille Hassenboehler and Andrew Murphy, artists of Houston Ballet; Swan Lake; Amitava Sarkar

 

Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film Black Swan traces the psychological breakdown of a ballerina preparing to dance the leading role in Swan Lake in a fictional New York ballet company. When it premiered on the big screen, it received fantastic reviews such as these:

“To induce a state of dread and mesmerize with beauty is a rare, paradoxical achievement.”  –USA Today

“Wild and wooly, the movie is a breathtaking head trip that hails from a long tradition of backstage melodramas…” –Philadelphia Inquirer

 And reviews that panned it like these:

 “For all its dazzling allure, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, a feverishly psycho thriller set in the hermetic world of classical ballet, proves a meaningless exercise in Grand Guignol exhibitionism.” –NPR

 “Not just any kind of trash, it’s high-art trash, a kind of “When Tutu Goes Psycho” that so prizes hysteria over sanity that it’s worth your life to tell when its characters are hallucinating and when they’re not. –The Los Angeles Times

But what do dancers who have prepared for and danced Odette/Odile in Swan Lake think of the movie? That’s what we will find out when Houston Ballet concludes its 2013-14 Dance Talks series on May 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm with a special screening of Black Swan at Sundance Cinemas, followed by a panel of current and former Houston Ballet principal dancers. The dancers will share their thoughts about the film’s portrayal of the lead dancer, life in world-class ballet company, and what it’s like to prepare for and dance the lead role Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.

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

Former principal dancer Dawn Scannell, who danced her first Swan Lake for Houston Ballet on opening night in 1996 with Carlos Acosta, will moderate the panel. She will be joined by a group of favorite Houston dancers including: former principal dancer Lauren Anderson, who first danced Odette/Odile in 1996 with Sean Kelly; Barbara Bears, who first danced the lead in Swan Lake with Li Cunxin in 1991 while she was still a corps de ballet member; Mireille Hassenboehler, who danced the Stevenson version of Swan Lake with Carlos Acosta and performed with Andrew Murphy on opening night for the premiere of Stanton Welch’s Swan Lake; Sara Webb, who has danced both the Stevenson and Welch version and is preparing to perform Odette/Odile again in June; and Karina Gonzalez, who Houston will see in Swan Lake for the very first time in June.

Join us on Tuesday, May 27th, at 7:00 PM, at Sundance Cinemas, 510 Texas Avenue, for a fun and insightful night of ballet and film!

 For more information about our Dance Talks visit: http://www.houstonballet.org/Education_Outreach/Dance_Talks/

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Barbara Bears and Connor Walsh in Swan Lake; Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Seating for the free screening of Black Swan is first-come, first-served, and tickets may not be obtained in advance.  Please note that Black Swan is a psychological horror film, and is not suitable for younger or more sensitive audiences.

Image from Black Swan Film

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Holly Hynes Creates Tuxedos “Worthy of the Red Carpet” in The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

March 5, 2014

From March 6 – 16, Houston Ballet will unveil the world premiere of Stanton Welch’s new version of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, set to the beloved score by Benjamin Britten and featuring costumes designed by Holly Hynes. 

Costume sketch by Holly Hynes

Costume sketch for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Holly Hynes

Ms. Hynes has enjoyed a long, distinguished career as a costume designer, with commissions from the Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet, among many others.  She has collaborated with Stanton Welch on eleven productions, including The Core, his homage to New York City in the 1940s, and Brigade, his delightful classical showpiece created in 2006.

Holly Hynes - Headshot

Holly Hynes; Photo by Paul Kolnik

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Houston Ballet:Your costumes for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra seem inspired by tuxedos and have an air of 1930s Hollywood glamour. Can you talk about your concept for the costume design of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra? 

Holly Hynes: Stanton and I had been working on this idea for months. Batting around several different looks, we finally settled on an “orchestra uniform” for all, men and women, I wanted to come up with a glamorous streamline look for the main body of the ballet. Adjustments had to be made to the tailcoats so the dancers could move. But for the real meat of the choreography, I wanted something worthy of the red carpet: something tailored but showing their amazing bodies.

Houston Ballet: You’ve worked with Stanton Welch on several projects. Can you describe your collaborative process, and how it worked for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra?

Holly Hynes: This is my eleventh ballet with Stanton. He’s created some wonderful ballets for me to design all over the United States but the experience has been the best in his own backyard at the Houston Ballet. The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is very special to me because I worked with Jerome Robbins and have supervised the recreation of Irene Sharaff’s designs for his Fanfare for the New York City Ballet and Miami City Ballet which is set to the same music. To hear this piece played by the masterful Houston Ballet orchestra is a treat. But to watch the Houston Ballet dancers interpret Stanton’s vision in my clothes is a blessing.

Because I am based on the East Coast, our first meeting was in Central Park in New York City over coffee on a beautiful sunny day. I love that our collaborations are based on hard work but we always manage to get laughter and fun in there too. My first drawings were on little scraps of hotel note paper. Stanton is so trusting and we have worked well together for so long that even those little scratches could turn into full costume renderings. Of course living in two different cities, the internet has made our process much easier.

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Costume sketch for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Holly Hynes

Houston Ballet: Can you talk about your collaboration with Houston Ballet’s costume shop in constructing the costumes for The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra? When did you first provide them with costume sketches? How did you interact with them? 

Holly Hynes: Houston Ballet has a wonderful brand new costume shop in the Center for Dance. The workroom is filled with old and new friends. Wardrobe Manager Laura Lynch, who runs the department, is the first person after Stanton to receive the sketches. This is my twelfth build with Laura and we often finish each other’s’ sentences.

Our first conversation centered around budgets. We decided it would be more cost efficient to try and purchase the tailcoats but to make the pants and shirts and cummerbunds. That said, this started us on a long journey of trying to find black material and off the rack coats that would appear to be the same color on stage. The fabric needed to stretch as well, and extra jacket material had to be bought so we could add gussets under everyone’s arms.

Laura found some interesting fabrics and samples were made. But when I came in for my first trip, I didn’t love any of them. Next we went back to High Fashion Fabrics where I found a wonderful stretch fabric for all the pants. We held our breath while the store tried to find the right amount of yardage for us.

Costume sketch 3

A month passed and I flew in from New York a second time, and we fit the first cast which is over 30 dancers. Costume Shop Supervisor Sara Seavey, who is in charge of the work room, was amazing at keeping the fittings on time and everything tagged and organized. Not one dancer missed a fitting, something I wish other companies could boast about. Not sure how the tailors and drapers keep all parts together since from a distance it is a sea of black and white sameness. Follow up fittings and second casts were seen without me, but by then everyone owned the ballet.

I flew in last Thursday for the technical rehearsal and now we are waiting to begin the dress rehearsals leading up to the opening.

Houston Ballet: What was the first project on which you collaborated with Stanton Welch as costume designer? Did you realize at the time that it would lead to such a long and fruitful collaboration?

Holly Hynes: When I was Director of Costumes for the New York City Ballet I also had an active career designing both for the company and for outside ballet companies. One group, called the Chamber Dance Project, had invited a young choreographer from Australia to create a new piece for them. I was already working with them on another piece so they asked me to design for Stanton as well.

It is always scary to be suggested for a collaboration when you don’t know the other partner. Stanton couldn’t have been nicer and we immediately spoke the same language. He had grown up behind the scenes at The Australian Ballet with his performing parents and spent many an hour running around the costume shop. He has a great eye, and we have a very similar love of color.

Over the years he has really helped me find my voice as an artist. I owe him a lot as a friend and as a collaborator. The name of that first ballet was Kisses…I think that says it all.

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Houston Ballet will perform The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra March 6 – 16 at Wortham Theater Center.  Also featured on the program are Stanton Welch’s ballets Maninyas and the company premiere of Of Blessed Memory.  Tickets start at $19, and may be purchased at www.houstonballet.org

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

To watch a video preview of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra:

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In Memoriam: Administrator Henry Holth

August 30, 2013

Houston Ballet mourns the passing of longtime ballet administrator Henry Holth, former general director of the Houston Ballet Foundation from 1972-1977, who died August 15, 2013 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was president and general director of the Ballet Pro Musica Festival. He was 86 years old, and the cause of death was a heart attack. Arrangements for a memorial service are pending.

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In this blog entry, longtime Houston journalist Carl R. Cunningham, who covered the Houston dance scene for over three decades from the 1960s to the 1990s as the dance critic for The Houston Post, recounts Holth’s key role in building a strong financial base for Houston Ballet in the first decade of the company’s development.

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Henry Holth was born June 6, 1927. He performed as a dancer early in his career with Ruth Page’s Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet, the Bavarian National Opera Ballet, and the Grand Ballet International du Marquis de Cuevas.

Holth came to Houston in 1972 from Boston, where he had served as general manager of the Boston Ballet. His administration bridged the Houston Ballet artistic directorships of Nina Popove, acting artistic director James Clouser and the beginning of Ben Stevenson’s 27-year career. During his time, Houston Ballet mounted its first full-length performances of The Nutcracker, using the Boston Ballet production choreographed by Frederic Franklin. It was accompanied by the company’s first use of a live orchestra. Guest stars began to appear with the company, including Cynthia Gregory, Edward Villella, Natalia Makarova, Ivan Nagy, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Desmond Kelly  and Allegra Kent.

The company grew from its original 15 dancers to as many as 32 members during Holth’s term and greater fiscal control was attained. A balanced budget was achieved by the time he left in 1977 to become director of program development for the Society for the Performing Arts. During his administration, Houston Ballet also moved into its first company-owned studios at 2615 Colquitt.

From 1978 to 1983, Holth was president and general manager of the Dallas Ballet Association, and in 1984 he became president and general manager of the City Center Ballet of San Jose, California. In that position he oversaw the merger of the San Jose and Cleveland, Ohio, ballet companies.

Other institutions that Holth served as chief administrator include Ballet El Paso, San Francisco’s Dances in Time, Las Vegas Ballet, Boise Ballet, and Annapolis Ballet. He was the founder of the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Ballet, now the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet, and of the Ballet Pro Musica Festival.

-By Carl R. Cunningham

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Day in the Life of a Level 6: Jenna Turner!

July 9, 2013

Guest Writer: Kate Owen, Academy Intern

Tuesday July 9, 2013

Jenna is a 14 year old level 6 student from Columbia, Maryland. She has competed in YAGP Connecticut and gone all the way through to New York! Wow! This is her first summer away from home, but she has gone to many local summer intensives. I am certain that we can make her feel right at home!

Please click play below to meet Jenna Turner and hear about her life as a Level 6!

Jenna wants to be a Summer Intensive video blogger because she has always felt comfortable in front of the camera and “would love to be a part of documenting the Houston Ballet experience!” I think we can all say that we are thankful for this, because we benefit from her smiling face and charming personality!

This engaging young dancer has spent a lot of time taking pictures for Instagram and has been a part of many of her brother’s films. The Turner family sure has the genes for exceptional talent! In addition to helping her brother out, she has been in promotional videos for her local dance studio.

Jenna is attending the Summer Intensive because she is interested in joining Houston Ballet when she is older! She also wants to improve her technique and strives to reach beyond her potential as a performer! I look forward to seeing young Jenna blossom into the amazing dancer that she aspires to become. Houston Ballet Summer Intensive is just one more building block on the way to her success!

Stay tuned for more videos and get ready to hear an update from Natalie!

Kate

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