Posts Tagged ‘Brian Walker’

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Making Magic Happen Behind The Scenes In New York At The Joyce Theater

November 4, 2013

Houston Ballet has been extremely busy during the month of October, preparing for two major tours: to New York’s Joyce Theater from October 22-27; and to the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris, France October 31 – November 4.

Joyce Banner 2013 HB

Image Courtesy of Houston Ballet

Over the last decade Houston Ballet’s Director of Production Brian Walker has managed the production aspects of Houston Ballet’s tours to Moscow, Spain, Montreal, New York City, and to many cities small and large across the U.S. In this blog entry, Brian discusses the challenges and rewards that Houston Ballet’s production staff faces when the company takes to the road.

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 Brian Walker; Photo by Kaye Marvins Photography, Inc.

1.)  If Houston Ballet opened at the Joyce on Tuesday night, when did the Houston Ballet crew arrive in NYC to get ready for the show?

We arrived Sunday evening and started working Monday morning at 9am.

2.)  How much time did production have to tech the show in Manhattan, compared to what you would have in Houston?

We loaded in for 8 hours on Monday and had 4 hours Tuesday morning. Our typical load in before the first tech rehearsal consists of about 36 hours total.

3.)  Does having 7 shows a week (-vs- our usual 4 shows a week in Houston) present any special challenges for the wardrobe department in terms of laundering the costumes?

Mary Clare (our wardrobe person) did have to stay late after each show to do laundry, but that’s a normal part of our process. On Saturday, when we had two shows, it was definitely more of an ordeal trying to get things cleaned and dried between shows. Mary Clare didn’t have a crew to assist, so she spent a lot of time during the matinee working to get things started so she had enough time to get it all done. 

4.)  What are the challenges of working in a much smaller theater (Joyce with 500 seats) versus working in your home theater, Wortham Theater Center (2300 seats, and our home venue)?

Because the Joyce doesn’t have the ability to fly any of their legs or other goods out, they have to come up with creative ways to get rid of things. 

 Play (Ian Casady and Artists of Houston Ballet)

For Stanton Welch’s ballet Play, for example, Stanton wanted to reveal the back wall.  When we did the ballet at the Wortham, all of the legs, borders and up stage goods were flown out to reveal the backstage. At the Joyce, the legs cannot fly out and are hard flats, so they don’t go away. The upstage goods had to be “west coasted” which means bundling and tying them to the pipe that they’re hanging on. 

Lisa J. Pinkham - Joyce Lighting

Lighting Designer, Lisa J. Pinkham; Photo by Brian Walker

Play also used several moving lights in the original version. Our lighting designer Lisa Pinkham had to adapt those looks to conventional lights for the Joyce because we didn’t have moving lights, nor the time to program them.

5.)  What has it been like to work with the Joyce tech staff?

The Joyce Tech Staff are fantastic. They’re really good at what they do and have a keen eye on how to approach their venue and are very helpful in getting our show up and running.

6.) What’s been the most challenging aspect of the tour for production?

The most challenging aspect for this tour would have been putting Play back together. It’s been several years since we’ve done the ballet, and it was only done by Houston Ballet on the Wortham stage. 

Touring often requires an adapted version of shows we do at home, but having to adapt Play on the road to a unique venue, not having done it recently presented some challenges. It definitely gave us a place to start the next time we present the ballet outside the Wortham and we have a better idea of how Stanton would like to approach the ballet.

7.) What’s been the most rewarding aspect of the tour for production?

The most rewarding aspect for Stage Manager Michelle Elliott was getting to perform in New York. We all dream at one point or another of getting to do a show in New York City. This was Michelle’s first time stage managing a show in New York and she really enjoyed the experience. 

Stage Manager Michelle Elliott - Joyce HB

Stage Manager, Michelle Elliott; Photo by Brian Walker

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HBII Touring Update from Guatemala and the U.S. Midwest

November 5, 2010

Guest writer: Jim Nelson, general manager

We are in the home stretch of Houston Ballet II’s fall touring schedule.

Earlier this month, Houston Ballet II gave two performances in Guatemala City at the Universidad Francisco Marroquin. The program featured Stanton Welch’s Long and Winding Road and Blue, Ma Cong’s Calling (created on HBII last season), and Claudio Muñoz’s staging of Act III of Raymonda. The dancers performed beautifully for the two packed performances and were received warmly by the audience. After the first performance, a dinner was held in the company’s honor given by our presenter—Geraldina Baca Spross and her board of directors. Following the second performance, the dancers were congratulated by Stephen McFarland, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, on their tremendous performance, and he thanked Houston Ballet for the outreach activities conducted during HBII’s time in Guatemala.

Claudio Munoz in Guatemala

Ballet master Claudio Munoz teaching a master class in Guatemala

Luckily, we had the very good fortune to be able to fit in an excursion to the ancient former capital of Guatemala, Antigua. The dancers spent the morning learning about Antigua and visiting ruins and restored structures before heading back to Guatemala City for their second performance.

We’re now nearly finished with the 7-performance, 5-city tour of the Midwest, and this hasn’t been a leisurely tour for anyone. With the exception of Kansas City, each location required some significant travel. We left Houston on October 25 and flew to Kansas City. Production manager Brian Walker and I each drove a 15 passenger van filled with dancers and costumes to our first stop in Springfield, Missouri. After a full day of travel, the dancers had an evening class to get their bodies ready for the next day, which involved a 10:00 am student performance followed by a short rehearsal and an evening performance. We performed at a terrific venue called the Juanita K. Hammons Hall on the campus of the Missouri State University to an extremely responsive audience. It was a great performance and a great way to kick off the Midwest tour.

On October 27, we traveled to Emporia, Kansas for Stop #2. In retrospect, I question the wisdom of relying on Google Maps for navigation. We drove for four hours without seeing much of anything other than cows and farmland. It was two lane roads with no gas stations, no fast food, and not a rest stop in sight. The dancers cheered when we pulled up to a Subway about an hour outside of Emporia.

Midwest corn fields

Our view for most of the tour.

The Emporia performance was on the campus of Emporia State University at Albert Taylor Hall, and the dancers were very warmly received. I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with the dedication of the presenting organizations who have booked Houston Ballet II. For a city like Emporia with a population of 26,000 people, I’m encouraged to see arts presenters bringing dance to their communities. The dancers performed a student show on Friday morning before making the two hour drive to Kansas City.

Kansas City was well positioned in the middle of the tour and on Halloween weekend. The dancers enjoyed being in a bit larger city with more food options and with a fraction more free time than the previous two cities. They also raved about their sleep number beds! The afternoon that we arrived, Claudio led a master class at Kansas City Ballet. All of the HBII dancers attended, along with the top level students of Kansas City Ballet.

Kansas City Ballet

Ballet master Claudio Munoz teaching a master class at Kansas City Ballet. Photo courtesy of William Jewell.

For the Kansas City engagement, Houston Ballet principal dancers Mireille Hassenboehler and Jun Shuang Huang joined HBII to perform The Sleeping Beauty pas de deux and the lead roles of Raymonda and Jean de Brienne in Raymonda, Act III. I could tell how excited the young dancers were to be performing with our principals, and it was a spectacular performance. Academy director Shelly Power also joined us for Kansas City. Thanks Shelly for the making the trip to support HBII!

On Sunday, we flew from Kansas City to Chicago and Chicago to Duluth, Minnesota. Then we drove an hour and a half from Duluth to Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids is the smallest town on the tour with a population of 8,000. It was a great surprise a few weeks ago to learn that one of our former HBII dancers, Daniel Blake, is now heading the dance program at the Reif Center in Grand Rapids. Daniel and his wife Julia hosted a post-performance party at their home for the HBII dancers.

Today we’re traveling to Winona, Minnesota for the last city in our Midwest tour. It’s a long trek to Winona, and I know the dancers will be glad to get a good night’s sleep before their final show at the Page Theater on the campus of St. Mary’s University.

This year marks the most ambitious touring schedule ever for Houston Ballet II, and having seen every performance so far, I’m thrilled to report that the effort has paid off. Dancers need performances to grow as artists, and these opportunities are golden in developing young dancers. The level of responsibility we’re giving these 16-19 year old dancers is huge, and they have truly risen to the occasion. The next time you see one of the HBII dancers, please give them a word of congratulations for representing Houston Ballet so well.

-Jim

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Blogging from the Road: The Kennedy Center Tour

June 16, 2010

Guest writer: Jim Nelson, general manager

Monday, June 14
One hour after the curtain fell on Sunday afternoon’s matinee of La Fille mal gardée, sixteen dancers (including the Sunday performance leads Connor Walsh and Melody Herrera), artistic director Stanton Welch, ballet mistress Louise Lester, and Maestro Ermanno Florio headed to IAH to catch the last flight to D.C. to participate in The Kennedy Center’s Ballet Across America II festival which opens tomorrow. 

Houston Ballet will kick off the festival with Stanton Welch’s gorgeous ballet Falling.  Also on the program is The Suzanne Farrell Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre.

Houston Ballet was included in the inaugural festival in 2008, and we’re thrilled to be asked back for round two.  The Kennedy Center describes the festival as “an exploration of the breadth and depth of the art form, showcasing companies from across the nation.”  Other ballet companies participating in the festival include Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Arizona, Ballet Memphis, Tulsa Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, and The Joffrey Ballet.

Today the dancers are loosening up with a class with Louise Lester, and they will have the remainder of the day to explore D.C. and to rest.  Maestro is rehearsing The Kennedy Center Orchestra and production manager Brian Walker and lighting designer Lisa Pinkham are focusing lights and preparing cues.  Tomorrow is jam-packed with class, dress rehearsal and the opening performance.

The festival is a shining example of the terrific programming The Kennedy Center presents.  The lineup allows dance-goers to see nine great companies over three nights with diverse rep from nine different choreographers such as Balanchine, Duato, Elo, Millipied, Welch and others.  It’s also a great opportunity for the dancers participating in the festival to interact with each other. Houston Ballet dancers will have the opportunity to take class with the dancers from the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and North Carolina Dance Theatre companies during the three days we’re here.

Tuesday, June 15
The dancers have their one rehearsal on The Kennedy Center stage from 2:30-3:30, and it’s their first time to dance Falling with The Kennedy Center Orchestra.  They have just enough time to run the ballet once, go back and correct a few tempos and spacing and re-run problem sections.  Stanton and Louise give the dancers a few notes and then release them for the afternoon.  Houston Ballet is first on the program, and the theater is absolutely packed.  Tonight’s awesome cast is Ian Casady and Melody Herrera, Peter Franc and Amy Fote, Nao Kusuzaki and Chris Coomer, Elise Judson and Joe Walsh, and Connor Walsh and Kelly Myernick.

I’m always struck by the D.C. audience.  They are well informed dance-goers, and they are so responsive.  In some parts of the world, the audience is extremely quiet throughout the ballet—they do not respond to solos or pas de deux sections, and it’s not until the ballet is concluded that you can judge the audience’s reaction.  D.C., like Houston, is on the other end of the spectrum, and they enjoy responding immediately and generously.  Tonight is no exception, and the audience cheers the Houston dancers on throughout the ballet and resoundingly at the end of the ballet.  The bravos and multiple curtain calls are reflected in the dancers’ beaming faces.

-Jim

Photos from dress rehearsal:

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 1

Dancers Connor Walsh and Kelly Myernick

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 2

Dancer Melody Herrera

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 3

Ballet mistress Louise Lester, Maestro Ermanno Florio, and The Kennedy Center Orchestra

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 4

Dancers Connor Walsh (left) and Joe Walsh (right)

Kennedy Center Dress Rehearsal 5

Left to right: lighting designer Lisa Pinkham, artistic director Stanton Welch, and ballet mistress Louise Lester

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Update from Pamplona and Murcia

April 27, 2009

Guest writer: Brian Walker, production manager

April 25:  We’ve survived the first week.  It’s Saturday night, and we just finished our show in Pamplona.  This was show #4 this week.  We arrived in Pamplona this morning at 11am (having left Santander this morning at 8am after performing a show there last night). Our advance team started working yesterday to get the show set up. It was a pretty major push to get the things that are moving with us in the air and to finish up the focus of the lights and check the light cues.  The dancers had a short rehearsal on stage due to the travel time in the morning.  All in all the show went well.  We had a couple of technical glitches, but considering the pretty monumental task presented to us, it all went really well.  So far this week we’ve been in Vigo, A Coruña, Santander and Pamplona.  By the end of the day Saturday, the production staff will have worked over 60 hours.  The crew has worked really hard, and I can’t say enough about how great the guys have been.  Everyone has jumped in to help get the show up and to make sure we do the best we can.  Tomorrow morning we drive to Murcia.  It’s about a 9 hour drive, but fortunately for the crew, we don’t have to go to the theater until Monday.  Basically, we’re looking at the travel day as a free day even though we’ll be on a bus for such a long time.  We’ve gotten through the hardest part of the tour, so hopefully next week will be a little easier…though we have a really tough travel day between Murcia and Oviedo.  
 
April 27:  It’s a new week and a new theater.  After a 9+ hour bus ride yesterday from Pamplona to Murcia, the crew is relatively rested and ready to start again.  This week is organized differently than last week in that we only do 2 shows and we have some time in between each.  We are loading in today (Monday) and performing the show tomorrow night.  We travel and load in to Oviedo on Wednesday and do a show Thursday night.  The main problem this week is going to be that Murcia and Oviedo are on opposite sides of the country, so we will be getting up at about 4am on Wednesday to catch an early flight to get to Oviedo in time to do the load-in that morning.  Needless to say, we’ll be a little tired after loading out of Murcia until midnight and then turning around a few hours later to get on a plane.

But enough about what’s to come…we had a great trip across the country to get here.  Even though it was gray and rainy for a lot of the ride, the hours that we were awake (we definitely caught up on our sleep), we saw some amazing scenery.  We got to Murcia around 7pm, so we were able to enjoy the rest of the evening and have a nice meal. 

I can’t say enough how proud I am of the Houston Ballet crew.  This has been a really rough tour so far and everyone has really worked hard.  Everyone has really gone above and beyond to make these shows work.

More to come later. Pictures of the bus trip here.

-Brian

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