–by Shelly Power, Houston Ballet Academy Director
From February 15 – 23, 2014, a group representing Houston Ballet Academy enjoyed a full week in Dresden, Germany, participating in workshops, classes, performances and a two-day symposium on the creative process. Being one of three international schools and the only school from America, we were privileged and honored to be a part of the Biennale.
Houston Ballet Academy Dancers, Jack Thomas and Charlotte Larzelere
As I reflect back on our trip to Germany it reminds me of the importance of Houston Ballet’s international relationships with the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition in Switzerland, with Canada’s National Ballet School, and with ballet schools in Japan. They not only help us continue the evolution of dance in the broad perspective; they also impact us personally.
Jason Beechey, Director of the Palucca Schule in Dresden, hosted the week, which inspired our students, challenged our thinking and allowed us to experience performances in the beautiful Semperoper Opera House as well as the Hellerau European Center for the Arts.
Our contingent included Houston Ballet II Ballet Master Claudio Munoz, Houston Ballet II dancers James Potter and Jack Thomas, and level 8 students Charlotte Larzelere and Madison Young. Claudio arrived with our students on Saturday, February 15, and classes began early Sunday morning. The teaching staff was fantastic and featured free-lance teachers Christine Anthony, Artistic Director Frederic Flamand, Choreographer and Ballet Director Marguerite Donlon, and Semperoper Ballet’s Principal Ballet Mater Gamal Goud — to name a few. Check out the entire roster at http://www.biennale-tanzausbildung.de/en/participants/teachers/.
The Student Workshops
Students rotated throughout the week, allowing for a different daily class experience. The workshop met daily, and students worked with the same group and leader all week, giving them time to get comfortable with the process. The end results of the workshop were informally demonstrated at the Hellerau European Center for the Arts, which is a creative space plunked right down in the middle of a residential area. It has an important history for the Dresden community as well as for the creativity the space itself is designed to bring about.
Houston Ballet Academy Dancer, Charlotte Larzelere
I witnessed each group as they maneuvered themselves through the process each leader created for them. Charlotte seemed to expand her long arms and legs and move more freely. James absorbed a sense of confidence. Although already intense in his thought process, he seemed to deepen his conviction to the movement. Jack was inspired by the process in that he had never experienced improvisation in this way and gave of himself fully. Madison was a trouper as she observed the process because her injured toe prevented her from participating. However, through her observation, I believe she witnessed much of what I observed: individual personal growth in each student.
Houston Ballet Academy Dancer, James Potter
In an interview later, James expressed how he was able to feel more assured overall because the process helped him to develop his own movement and emotion, which he plans to incorporate in his investment in future roles as a dancer. It is most difficult to put yourself out there in this manner — rather than copying what you believe a role should be. You give of yourself to the role, and you become the role as one.
Mr. Beechey invited us to bring two pieces of student choreography to Dresden. James Potter had just finished a new piece for his evaluations in the fall, and we invited him to bring a second piece he had done last summer for the choreographic workshop. Both pieces were performed in the Semperoper House on Tuesday night, February 23. Other schools joined him with an array of works that represented work from each school.
Before both pieces, we showed a video in which James and his dancers shared their journey in creating the work which had been filmed and edited by David Rivera of Houston Ballet. The audience loved both pieces as well as the film on the creative process.
During the week, we were fortunate to see The Forsythe Company perform Sider. Watching this improvisational piece develop on the spot was incredible. I found out later that the dancers heard commands through ear pieces that directed them when to stop and start and move to another section as well as hearing Shakespearean dialogue which crafted much of the story. I heard from audience members who had attended again the second night that the piece looked totally different from the first night. Now German audiences have experienced this type of performance many times before. However many of us saw this process for the first time.
The week ended for me with a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Semperoper House danced by the Dresden Ballet company. The choreography and contemporary concept by Stijn Celis were unique. I am not sure balletomanes would enjoy it. But I was most impressed with the ballet dancer’s ability to tell the story in a language so different from classical ballet. Celis was brave in his choices, such as having Juliet (Julia Weiss) in tennis shoes, a white button down shirt and shorts. She danced beautifully. Elena Vostrotina as Lady Capulet is over 6 feet tall in her stilettos heels, and carried much of the show simply with her powerful walks across stage. Jiří Bubeníček was incredible as Romeo.
Over two days, we discussed the creative process in several different scenarios during the symposium. We focused on how creativity affects the artist, an institution, the funding, an audience, the profession and education as a whole.
Houston Ballet Center for Dance; Photo by Nic Lehoux
I participated as a panelist in a forum in which we discussed how creative our own institutions were. Given that we offer several different venues at Houston Ballet that actually push the creative engine, I felt proud of our investment of time and energies. The Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab (the 175-seat black box theater at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance) came to mind. This space gives us the opportunity to create new works, present performances, and educate through Dance Talks and Studio Series. Also, through collaborations such as Pink at the Brown, we give artists the opportunity to give of their talents to raise awareness and resources, all in the name of breast cancer awareness and using the arts to heal.
Other topics such as the conflict between education and the profession were discussed, which highlighted the growth the US has made in college dance programs across the country, juxtaposed with German schools which offer B.A. and M.A.’s by the hundreds. We considered the usefulness of such degrees, and how Europe and America differ in hiring with such degrees.
The key note speech on Creativity and Promoting Creativity was presented by Professor Dr. Rainer Holm-Hadulla who is a specialist in psychiatry and has written a book on this topic. He walked us through the analysis of creative processes, revealing the implications for the promotion of ordinary and extraordinary creativity. That said, it is more about an individual’s interest in an art form than it is on DNA. Those who pursue what they love often end up succeeding in some manner. Those who are extraordinary might be individuals who take something out of chaos and form structure from it. Often those in our culture who have been extraordinarily creative have built an inner structure within themselves that may have been missing, thus producing an external art form such as painting, music or dance. I won’t go any further as I am afraid Dr. Hadulla might be horrified by my interpretation. But I found his thought process intriguing.
Houston Ballet II dancers James Potter and Jack Thomas, and level 8 students Charlotte Larzelere and Madison Young
The symposium wrapped up the week with the articulate and bright spirited Deborah Bull, Mistress of Ceremonies, capturing the inspiration and discovery that both students and directors experienced. Meeting with my colleagues from across the globe was also important as we were able to network and brain storm on how we might bring a new creative energy back home.
Watch this video in which Academy student and choreographer James Potter discusses his creative process for creating a new work for Houston Ballet Academy.