Guest writer: Shelly Power, associate director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy
Today we watched 70 students, coached one by one on the raked stage. Today was a showing of contemporary variations after scoring contemporary classes yesterday. A group session was done first for about 10 minutes and then each competitor ran through the variation with music. The coach and/or choreographer watched, made notes and then gave suggestions, corrections, etc. to each student in 5 minutes’ time. Once done, students waited backstage to listen to all the other competitors’ comments hoping for a little more information. This took 10 hours total in the theater.
As a judge, watching each candidate may seem laborious but:
1. We are seeing and hearing the coaching for at least six different contemporary variations, therefore it makes it interesting.
2. Each student brings a little something different to the variation, and we look to see to see if they have found a way to make this unique in some way.
3. We are committed to giving ourselves to this process, and we do our best to keep our standard consistent. That standard is to give the same effort to each candidate. That is why there are 9 jury members; in the event one of us missed something, it is inevitable that someone else caught it.
Observation day is also a time to see the competitor on stage and how they present on stage. Good coaching shows when a competitor can make the transformation that is asked for when corrections and suggestions are made. If a competitor can’t grasp the correction at that time, we hope to see that they walk away, think about it, and return tomorrow having made changes. The Prix provides translators (with dance backgrounds) on the sides of the stage so coaches can give corrections in the competitor’s native language.
For those of you who know HBII’s program “Around the World in 7 Dances”, imagine all the continents speaking at the beginning and Mother Earth yelling, “Hello, hello!” When all the candidates are coached at the same time and corrections are made, it sounds exactly like that!
While each group is coached on stage, the others are in the studio being coach for their classical variation. Since the jury is familiar with the classical variations it is not necessary to see the competitors coached. The contemporary variations are changed out every two years. Since we are not familiar with the variations, it is important for us to hear the corrections. This year competitors are asked to choose one contemporary variation from either Christopher Wheeldon or Kathy Marsden, who both created or reproduced recent choreography for the Prix.
Claudio Munoz, Sabrina Lenzi, Andrew Murphy, and Priscilla Nathan-Murphy have coached our students for about four months on and off, depending on what other performances in Houston they may have been rehearsing. During the competition, however, personal coaching is not allowed. The only coaching allowed is that of the Prix de Lausanne. Imagine Claudio sitting in the theater in the balcony watching the coaching occur and not being able to say a word? Can’t be…but it is.
Claudio sits through each candidate’s rehearsal not only to watch our students but to think about who might be a fit for Houston. I do the same as I sit and score each day. Once the semifinal decisions have been made, those candidates who did not get to the finals will go through a debriefing where the jury will speak to each one and give them feedback. Those candidates will then enter into a networking area where all the schools and companies that have been observing them will perhaps make requests to see them. Claudio will visit with students and tell them at that point (Sunday morning) who we are interested in for summer, year-round and perhaps HBII placement.
Wish us luck tomorrow, as the semi-final decision will be announced at 8 pm Lausanne time (1 pm Houston time).
On a side note: Aaron sure is thrilled that it is snowing like crazy here! I am sure he and Claudio are making snow angels! Emanuel turned 18 on Thursday, and the contemporary teacher asked the class to sing Happy Birthday to him without making any sound (of course she would ask that). Liao seems to have connected with some of her friends from China, and I am sure she is having fun conversing in Chinese and feeling a little closer to home.
This is truly an experience of a lifetime for our students, one that may not be realized until many years to come. Ask Phillip Broomhead, ballet master for Houston Ballet. He won the Prix a few years back, and it changed his life.
Hello to all of the artistic staff at Houston Ballet! I think I have met dancers and directors from every country in the world, who all seem to know at least one of you if not all!