Q&A with Academy Summer Intensive Student Shaye Firer

Guest writer: Sarah Lam, public relations intern

Once again, Houston Ballet Academy is holding a Summer Intensive Program that attracts students from all over the world. They enroll for various reasons, but one draw remains the choreographic workshop that allows young dancers to create and showcase their work. I caught up with summer intensive student Shaye Firer to discuss her experience with the program and to learn about the piece she has choreographed.

How old are you and where are you from?
I’m 18 and I was born in South Africa. I spent about 6 years there before moving to Vancouver, which I consider my hometown, but I currently live in Winnipeg.

How long have you been dancing?
Since I was 3.

Where do you go to school?
I just graduated from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.

What drew you to the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program?
I looked on the internet because I had been at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School for so long that I wanted something different. I found the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program online and started watching videos of the company and of HBII and was really impressed. Then I researched the teachers and it seemed like I would receive some good training here. Plus, I had just finished reading Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin so that provided some extra inspiration!

How is this summer program different from others you’ve attended and what do you like about it?
It’s VERY intense! I’m used to intense summer programs but this one is special. However, I really like the challenge it presents. I also like how it’s not all about the technique, although there is a lot of that, but there’s a great emphasis on artistry here. I feel like the artistry in dance isn’t getting as much attention now so it’s nice to have that emphasized here.

I understand that you’re taking the choreography workshop offered here. When did you first become interested in choreography?
The first time was when I was 11 years old.  My teacher didn’t have the time to create a solo for me for a competition so I did it myself! Then, at Royal Winnipeg Ballet, we’re required to take 2 years of movement composition. Taking that class rekindled my interest.

What process do you go through when you choreograph a piece?
It’s different for every piece. With the last two pieces I did in Winnipeg I already had the music and the dancers in mind so I already knew what I wanted. Plus, I had 3 months of time. In Houston I didn’t know the dancers or the music so I had to create the steps in my head before I got here and see how the dancers would do with it. And they’ve been excellent!

What do you find challenging about the choreographing process?
I like the challenge of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen.

What have you learned about choreography from Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program?
I learned to not rely on music so much. Choreography can stand on its own, just like music can. Also, I learned to trust the dancers. They know what they’re doing.

Tell me about the music you’re using.
It’s an original composition by Sasha Behrend. He’s a student with the American Festival for the Arts.  I see the music as having two sections. The first section is very slow, lyrical and smooth. It has a clarinet, violin, violas, and a piano. Then, there’s no big transition but the music suddenly shifts into the second part by being very fast, disjointed and abrupt with lots of percussion. Then, it goes back to the slow section for the ending.

What is the piece about?
It’s choreographed for 6 dancers, 3 boys and 3 girls.  It’s about the merging of identity. How a person can have three identities or more, and yet still be the same person. In life we have to learn how to combine different parts of ourselves into one.

How long have you had to rehearse it?
About a week. Our first performance was Monday, July 19 for the Academy students.  Today it will be performed at Pershing Middle School for the general public, as part of the American Festival for the Arts workshop.

Are you nervous about the performance?
Yes! During performances, if I’m not performing, I like to be in the audience. I tend to tense up a little bit when I know the dancers are getting to a difficult section. If I’m sitting next to a friend I’ll be clutching their arm! I also get nervous about the audience. Everyone should have their own reaction to the piece but I don’t want them to get the wrong idea.

What are your future goals with dance?
I want to get into a classical or classical-contemporary ballet company. Whether or not I will remains to be seen. 

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