My First Experience at Miller Outdoor Theatre

Guest writer: Lauren Ciobanu, demi soloist

When I joined Houston Ballet last year and was informed that the company performs annually at an outdoor theater, I was intrigued. Coming from Florida we had nothing of the sort. I had never performed outdoors, so images of ancient Greek amphitheaters came to mind. Comedy, tragedy, catharsis…fantastic! Theater in the open air, classic. Way to step it up, Houston!

Miller Outdoor Theatre. Photo by Ron McKinney.
Miller Outdoor Theatre. Photo by Ron McKinney.

I was also excited because I was given a chance to perform one of the pas de deux from Stanton Welch’s Falling, which is a beautiful ballet, and a big opportunity for me as an artist.  So, curious as to what I should expect, I asked around, and the other dancers quickly informed me that although spectacular, the Miller Outdoor Theatre was not the classic dramatic venue I envisioned. I was told that you can sit on the lawn and have a picnic, bring the dogs, kids, bikes, anything you like, and oh yeah, it’s free to the public year-round.   Turns out it’s better than a grand amphitheater with Greek columns and elegant seating. It’s a laid back venue where you can have a good time with your friends and family while watching a great show (plus you can leave the formalwear at home!).  Hmm…lawn seating for a ballet. This could be something!

As the time grew closer to performing, I felt those little butterflies tingling. When the day finally came, it was thrilling. We got to the Miller Theatre and promptly set up camp for the next three days. Having dress rehearsal onstage for the first time was exciting and strange. It was still light outside so the stage lighting felt differently than it does in a dark theater. It was odd to look out and see everything in daylight, but fortunately the performances take place around dusk so the lights act a little closer to normal by that time of night. The backstage area is very cozy so all the dancers crowd around the wings waiting to get out there. There are lots of “Merdes!” and “Toi Toi Tois!” (ballet terms for good luck) whispered from the wings, and then you go on stage, and then lots of “Great Jobs!” and pats on the backs as you finish. It’s a real family experience on and off stage. But the best part of the night is being able to perform in a relaxed atmosphere knowing that most of the people watching were lounging on the lawn, kiddies in their laps, ready to be entertained, which set a different mood than our normal set up at the Wortham. Not that it made us perform any less than our best, but with the breeze blowing and birds chirping it not only relaxes the patrons, but the dancers too.

Lauren Ciobanu with Ian Casady in Stanton Welch's Tu Tu. Photo by Ron McKinney.
Lauren Ciobanu with Ian Casady in Stanton Welch's Tu Tu. Photo by Ron McKinney.

The performance went well, and after I performed Falling I snuck out to the lawn to meet some friends and watch the rest of the show. Looking around and seeing kids dancing on the grass, dogs relaxing next to their owners, people smiling and genuinely happy watching the company was such a reward. Knowing that you are reaching a wider audience and that someone out there just might think differently, or take something away after seeing a ballet performance, is really rewarding.  Looks like a bit of catharsis after all…

So now that I’ve got a year under my belt and am wise to the workings of the Miller Outdoor Theatre, I’m even more excited about performing this year. I am privileged again to be featured in a principal role in Stanton Welch’s Tu Tu (you can watch a clip of me dancing this role on HB’s YouTube page). It’s visually stunning. Set to Ravel’s music it’s as beautiful to watch as it is to listen to—a  masterpiece. It’s a role I dearly love and can’t wait to perform again. Also on the bill is Christopher Bruce’s Hush. A Houston Ballet staple, it’s based around a family of clowns and set to music by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin. And last but not least, Stanton Welch’s The Core is set to music by Gershwin. It includes the entire company and really showcases the heart of Houston Ballet. It’s fun and exciting and great for the whole family (especially mom!).

So my advice is to head out to the Miller this Mother’s Day weekend and stake your claim on the lawn (covered seating available if you don’t like to get dirty). Bring some snacks, kids, dogs, friends, or family and sit back, soak in the outdoors, and enjoy the world class program that Houston Ballet has to offer. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.


Houston Ballet performs May 6-8 at 8 PM all three days at Miller Outdoor Theatre (6000 Hermann Park Drive in Hermann Park).  Additional information can be found on the Houston Ballet website, or call 281.373.3386.


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