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.
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.
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.
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.