Summer Diary Series – Joel Woellner, Houston Ballet II Dancer

Ever wondered what our Houston Ballet II company dancers do over the summer? Well, we asked HB II dancer Joel Woellner what he did over the summer. Check out this week’s entry from Joel Woellner! Enjoy!

I have been reflecting on the wonderful time that I had, dancing at Jacob’s Pillow Dance in June this year.

Jacob’s Pillow is rich in dance history.

In 1930, modern dance pioneer, Ted Shawn, bought an old farm high in the Boston/Albany mountains as a retreat. At that time, Shawn and his wife, Ruth St. Denis were America’s leading couple in dance. Their Denishawn Company had popularized a revolutionary dance form rooted in theatrical and ethnic traditions rather than those of European ballet. Their trailblazing work and cross-country tours paved the way for the next generation of legendary modern dance pioneers such as Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, and Doris Humphrey.

Shawn’s was not only an inspiring dancer, but an inspiring director. He collaborated one of the first all male dance companies in the world! His aim was to educate and present the strength, technique and raw power of the male dancer. His aim was to take men from being “fork lifts” into soloist that would perform male roles along side women. He paved the way for modern day men and contemporary style.

With this heritage in mind it was going to be a great two weeks of dance.

Jacob’s Pillow – Week 1

I arrived at the Jacob’s Pillow on the 11th of June 2012. It is always difficult meeting new people and fitting in quickly. However when I arrived I was greeting with smiles and a lot of introductions!!! I instantly felt welcomed it was as if I were living back at Houston ballet! Before long we were a closely-knit group of friends sharing our passion for dance.

The grounds of Jacob’s Pillow are magnificent. Set in the high country of the Berkshire’s, New England. The facilities include two theatres, one dinning area, 3 studio spaces and about 7 housing accommodation and so much more, all made out of timber from local trees around the area. When Ted Shawn founded his company he and his male dancers built most of the main buildings, which still stand today. The studios having been made out of nothing but timber give morning classes a real edge. I felt so connected to nature, my body and ballet. Its like nothing else in the world. Each class in the mornings was absolutely fantastic. I learnt about how to be a better dancer, classmate, friend and artist.

Breakfast, lunch and dinners were all provided and cooked by the chiefs of Jacob’s Pillow. Each meal was nutritional, looked great and tasted even better. Jacob’s Pillow redefines the meaning of school camp!

In our first week we were all working hard for a performance at the 80th anniversary gala opening night. We were given 4 days to learn and clean an 8 minute ballet. This year Michael Corder choreographed a new piece. It was an orchestral piece that has a great sense of joy and happiness.

Each day would be a grueling 6 hours of rehearsals. We would finish at 9 in the night for the first week working on Michael Corder’s dance. But the walk back to our accommodation in the evening through the forests made the hard work worthwhile. Through both student and choreographers hard work we finished the piece in three days. Well before we were scheduled to finish it.

It was two days before the opening gala for Jacob’s Pillow and I was very confident that the dance would go well. We then had spacing on The Ted Shawn theatre stage. It was so different performing this dance in such a different setting and sized stage but after a few runs and spacing the dance became better and better.

The day of the performance I was so excited. I knew that both myself and my class mates had worked their hardest and that the piece was ready. It was such a great experience to perform at the opening of the gala. It was incredible that a group of teenagers got to perform amongst stars of today’s ballet word. David Hallberg principal of ABT, Circa an Australian company that specialized in acrobatics and Mimulus, a Brazilian contemporary company. Each performance was exquisite and a true inspiration to watch. This performance was the highlight of my Pillow experience.

The performance went so well, all our hard work and effort had paid off. It was great to be on stage and entertaining audiences. It’s the thing I love most about ballet.

Jacob’s Pillow – Week 2

We embarked on a new adventure. The second week proved to be hugely beneficial. It mainly focused on the development of the individual dancer in the context of a group performance. We were so fortunate to have such a wonderful teaching faculty during this week. Cynthia Harvey, taught us three classical ballet repertoires. We performed Le Corsaire pas de deux, Pas and coda of la bayadere and present pa from Giselle on the “inside out theatre”. This is a unique stage as it sits out doors in and around the forest.

As well as learning these pieces we were fortunate to take classes with Jose Manuel Carreno, Anna-Marie Holmes, Larissa Ponomarenko and Alonzo King, Director of Lines Ballet Company. It was such a fantastic week of dance, artistry and friendship.

I could go on and on…

For me this was a once in a lifetime experience. I loved the history. I have come away from Jacob’s Pillow inspired to dance. I have made new friends from around the world and seen and experienced a rich diversity of the dance community. For this I am very grateful to Houston Ballet for giving me such a wonderful opportunity.

-Joel Woellner, Houston Ballet II dancer

Houston Ballet II is Houston Ballet’s second company and part of Houston Ballet Academy. To learn more about Houston Ballet II  visit our webpage here.

Fun Fact: Jacob’s Pillow runs June 16-August 26, they are closing the 80th Anniversary season with a world premiere called Son of Chamber Symphony by Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director Stanton Welch and The Joffrey Ballet.

For more information on Jacob’s Pillow visit:


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