Archive for the ‘Academy’ Category


Houston Ballet Academy Students Take Voyage Of Discovery And Inspiration In Germany At The Fourth Dance Education Biennale 2014 Dresden

March 21, 2014

–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 Students in Germany 1

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

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.

Charolette Houston Ballet Academy

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 - James Potter

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.

Performance Time!

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.

The Symposium

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

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 Academy Dancers in Germany

Houston Ballet II dancers James Potter and Jack Thomas, and level 8 students Charlotte Larzelere and Madison Young

Wrap Up

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.


Academy Students Leap On To World Stage At Prix De Lausanne Competition In Switzerland

January 30, 2014

Houston Ballet Academy students Tyler Donatelli, who is 17 and from Huntington Beach, California, and Michael Ryan, who is 17 and a native of Plano, Texas, have been accepted into the  prestigious international ballet competition Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland January 26 – February 1.

Tyler Donatelli & Michael Ryan - Amitava Sarkar Houston Ballet

Dancers: Michael Ryan and Tyler Donatelli; Photo by Cameron Durham

They are in Switzerland this week for an once-in-a-lifetime experience: taking classes, being coached by international experts, and networking with other gifted young students from across the world.  The public can follow their daily progress and watch the final round of the competition on Saturday morning, February 1, via live streaming at the Prix de Lausanne’s web site,

Since 2009, five HoustonBalletAcademy students have won awards at the Prix de Lausanne, with one student, Emanuel Amuchastegui, taking the top prize, and the “Audience Favorite” Award in 2010.  Other Houston Ballet dancers who have won awards at Prix de Lausanne include Joel Woellner, Harper Watters, and Aaron Sharatt.

Joel Woellner_Photo by Gregory Batardon_Prix 2013_Contemporary 2

Joel Woellner at Prix 2013; courtesy of Prix de Lausanne

Behind each of these five winners and Tyler and Michael are a superb group of Houston Ballet Academy instructors who spend months preparing, coaching, teaching and nurturing the young dancers to ready them for the rigors of competition – and in the upper levels of the Academy’s professional training program.

Claudio Munoz is ballet master of Houston Ballet II, and has played a major role in producing the stellar crop of gifted young male dancers in the Academy over the last decade.  He enjoyed a distinguished career as a principal dancer who performed in Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, and New York.  He then went on to serve as an instructor for the Ballet Nacional de Chile, Ballet de Santiago, and Ballet Nacional de Peru.  He joined the staff of Houston Ballet Academy in 1999.  With his charismatic manner, his exacting standards, and his humorous banter in the studio, he has won the affection and dedication of his male students.

Houston Ballet Academy - Claudio Munoz

Claudio Munoz teaching Houston Ballet Academy students; Photo by Cameron Durham

“Claudio understands competitions and balances the pace of the students coaching. He knows when to push and when to step back and allow the student room to find his way,” comments Academy Director Shelly Power.  “Claudio has a wealth of experience that makes his intuitive approach to coaching unique and nurturing.”

Priscilla Nathan Murphy is principal of Houston Ballet’s Lower School, and typically focuses her attention on the Academy’s youngest students.  But recently she has taken a significant role in helping to prepare Tyler and Michael for this year’s Prix de Lausanne.  Priscilla has served on the Academy faculty since 1985, having taught creative movement, ballet and modern dance in the pre-professional and professional divisions of the Academy. As a dancer, she has performed in Singapore and the United States with several companies.  She has also choreographed extensively in the United States.

Level 2_Priscilla Nathan-Murphy_Photo Bruce Bennett

Priscilla Nathan Murphy

“Priscilla is an organic mover,” observed Ms. Power. “Although she might not have worked with the contemporary choreographers whose works the students are required to perform at the Prix, she understands the genesis of the movement. She prepares our students who are competing from a technical level, making them open and responsive to the coaching that they will receive at the Prix. We depend on this foundation because the students cannot go to Prix worried about how to do a contraction. Our students need to focus on how the flow of the movement makes them unique, and they need to be sensitive to the feedback from coaches at the Prix that they are expected to embrace.”

SabrinaLenzi Houston Ballet Academy

Sabrina Lenzi and students of Houston Ballet Academy

A native of Rome, Sabrina Lenzi brings a wealth of international experience to her role as ballet mistress of Houston Ballet II from having danced as a principal at two very prestigious European companies, the Stuttgart Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet in the United Kingdom. “Sabrina’s a great coach; she’s very intuitive. She understands the great classical roles because she’s performed them,” observes Ms. Power, “Because Sabrina has been trained in Pilates, she comprehends the body from many different perspectives — from injury prevention to strengthening. Sabrina understands the many different phases of developing a career in dance: from training to become a professional dancer. And she’s very good at helping her students make that transition.  She’s also a mom who has a daughter in the Academy, and being a mother gives her a special understanding of the process.”

A native of Sidney Australia, instructor Andrew Murphy enjoyed a distinguished career as a leading soloist with The Australian Ballet and as a principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet and Houston Ballet. “Andrew is an excellent male role model. He’s very good at helping the male students (some of whom may have been in a school with a majority of girls) to develop an athletic approach with strong attack when they come to Houston Ballet Academy,” commented Ms. Power. “Being very well travelled as a dancer, he brings many experiences from a lifetime of dance in Australia, the United Kingdom, and in America. He started studying ballet very early, and joined a professional company at age 16, which is quite young. Having danced all of the principal roles with companies across the world, he brings a wealth of experience to his coaching.  Andrew is an excellent turner, and he has a superb understanding of the nuances of male dancers executing turns.”

Houston Ballet Academy - Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy and students of Houston Ballet Academy; Photo by Nerio Photography


Join us for an exclusive book reading of “The Making of Markova” by Tina Sutton!

October 25, 2013

On Thursday, November 7, 2013 from noon until 1pm at Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance, Houston Ballet and the Jewish Book and Arts Fair join forces to present a free reading by author Tina Sutton of her acclaimed book, The Making of Markova, about the great 20th century English ballerina Dame Alicia Markova. For more information, contact

"The Making of Markova" by Tina Sutton. Book Cover.

“The Making of Markova” by Tina Sutton. Book Cover.

British Lilian Alicia Marks became the most acclaimed classical ballerina of her generation. She overcame oppressive anti-Semitism, poverty, envy, sexism, and more. This is a spellbinding story of a smart, self-reliant, adventurous woman, proudly Jewish and ahead of her times. Given unprecedented access to Dame Markova’s journals and correspondence, Tina Sutton paints a full picture of the dancer’s astonishing life and times of one of the 20th century’s great artists. A writer, researcher, and journalist for over 35 years, Tina Sutton is a feature writer for The Boston Globe. “… Wonderment lights up every page” —Booklist, starred review.

To learn more about The Making of Markova please visit,


Summer Intensive: Wait…it’s already Week 6?!

July 26, 2013

Guest Writer: Kate Owen, Academy Intern

Friday July 26, 2013

I can not believe that 6 weeks have already come and gone! This year’s Summer Intensive Program flew by and was a great success, if I do say so myself. I can feel the excitement spreading throughout the entire building as the students prepare for the final performance. In the video below, I was able to get a few students to weigh in on their favorite parts of the summer program and even got a few to show me their unique talents!

Click play below to see what they have to share!

Thanks for keeping up with us this summer. Hope to see you next year!



Preparation for the Final Performance: Natalie Payne

July 12, 2013

Friday July 12 2013

Wow, it is already week 4 of the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive! Natalie is back and full of stories to share. She continues to enjoy each and every one of her classes and can’t wait for the final performance. Natalie has been perfecting her technique, while also throwing everything “ballet” out the window to learn an African-Caribbean style routine! The past few weeks have broadened Natalie’s dance repertoire and opened her eyes to numerous new styles and methods.

Please click play below to hear an update from Natalie!

Getting up on stage to perform dances that she has worked so hard on will most definitely be an exhilarating experience for Natalie. She misses her family back in Australia and wishes they could come see her perform; however, Natalie is ecstatic to share her love for dance with those in the audience. I can not wait to see her perform along with all of the other Summer Intensive students at the final show!

Stay tuned for more videos and get ready to meet our last video blogger!


- Kate


Meet Our First Summer Blogger: Natalie Payne!

June 27, 2013

Guest Writer: Kate Owen, Academy Intern

Natalie is a 16 year old level 6 student from Sydney, Australia. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an Aussie on our hands! This is her first Summer Intensive ever and she is just thrilled to be at Houston Ballet Academy. She auditioned for the program back in January while on vacation with her family. Talk about commitment! She has a deep passion for ballet and considers herself very dedicated. I think we all can agree with that! Natalie aims to become a professional ballet dancer (hopefully with Houston Ballet)!

Please click play below to meet Natalie Payne!

Natalie wanted to become a Summer Intensive Video Blogger because she knew that it would be a fun and wonderful opportunity. Natalie stated, “I love expressing myself and sharing stories with people. I would love that my family, teachers and friends back in Australia could keep updated with what” she is doing here at Houston Ballet Academy this summer. All of you Natalie-loving-Aussies and ballet fanatics out there get ready to be a part of Natalie’s summer experience!

If you aren’t already head over heels for this amazing ballerina, just wait! She has acting experience! When she was 10 years old she was part of an acting agency and even starred in a few commercials. Her sister is into film-making, so of course Natalie is quite use to being in front of the camera! Thanks Natalie’s sister, because now we get to enjoy her camera-ready vivacity throughout the summer!

Natalie wanted to attend the Summer Intensive Program to grow as a dancer and an artist. She loves working hard and always pushes herself to be better. She was truly inspired by the Houston Ballet II dancer, Harley Campbell. Harley came from the same ballet school in Sydney and absolutely loved it here in Houston. Natalie hopes to “gain an immense amount of knowledge from the amazing staff” and also hopes to be “noticed for her drive, dedication and artistry.” Natalie wants to stay in the year-round program and I sure hope she does!

Stay tuned for more videos from Natalie and come back next Friday to meet another video blogger!



Summer Video Bloggers are coming your way!

June 20, 2013

Mayra Gomez (122 of 157)

Houston Ballet; Photo: Mayra Gomez

Guest Writer: Kate Owen, Academy Intern

The 2013 Summer Intensive Program is finally here! Dancers from every corner of the United States and all around the world came pouring into Houston Ballet Academy bright and early on this beautiful Monday morning. The energy around the Academy is electric! Staff and students alike can not wait to get started! Dancing, learning, and choreographing?! The SIP 2013 students are in for a tough but fantastic 6 weeks. In weeks 2 through 5, videos will be uploaded starring two gregarious students full of life and ready to share! Visit soon to find out who the two lucky students will be! They will share the highlights of their weeks, their favorite dance memories, and much more. These videos will be uploaded to Houston Ballet YouTube and Facebook pages as well.

Stay tuned!



Blog Entry – Jacob’s Pillow 2013

June 17, 2013

From June 10 – 23, two Houston Ballet II dancers have been invited to participate in the prestigious ballet program at the legendary Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Western Massachusetts.

April 2013_MG_4540-order - Aoi Fujiwara and Eric White

Ballet: Brigade; Dancers: Aoi Fujiwara and Eric White; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Aoi Fujiwara, an 18 year-old originally from Osaka, Japan who has trained at Houston Ballet’s Academy for two years, was awarded a full scholarship. Mallory Mehaffey, an 18 year-old from Sugar Land, Texas who has studied at the Academy for two years, was selected by the Jacob’s Pillow panel to participate.

The Sleeping Beauty_Mallory Mehaffey and Joel Woellner

Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty; Dancers: Mallory Mehaffey and Joel Woellner; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Jacob’s Pillow Dance is lauded worldwide as a “hub and mecca of dancing” (TIME Magazine), and “the dance center of the nation” (The New York Times). “The Pillow” is a treasured 220-acre National Historic Landmark, a recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, and home to America’s longest-running international dance festival. Each year thousands of people from across the U.S. and around the globe visit the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts to experience the Festival with more than 50 dance companies

At the Pillow, both Ms. Mehaffey and Ms. Aoi will have the invaluable opportunity to train with stellar teachers such as New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Wendy Whelan and Anna Marie Holmes, director of the program. They will also perform in a world premiere created by the acclaimed dance maker Helen Pickett in the opening gala of the 2013 Festival on June 15.  And on June 22, they will take the stage again as part of the Pillow’s free outdoor performance series.


Houston Ballet II Steps Center Stage in Toronto

May 1, 2013

From April 28 – May 4, the dancers of Houston Ballet II will tour to Toronto to appear in the prestigious international ballet festival Assemblée Internationale 2013 (AI13) in the Betty Oliphant Theatre at 404 Jarvis Street. Houston Ballet II dancers will appear along side other young dancers from some of the world’s most elite training institutions, including Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet of London, the Royal Danish Ballet, the National Ballet of Cuba, and The Australian Ballet.

Fingerprints_Artists of Houston Ballet II_Amitava Sarkar9891_sm

Ballet: Fingerprints; Dancers: Artists of Houston Ballet II; Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Hosted by Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), the AI13 will bring together students and artistic staff from eighteen international professional ballet schools for an intensive seven days of classes, performances, forums and professional development. Former Houston Ballet dancer Garrett Smith is choreographing a new work that will premiere at the festival. Houston Ballet II will also perform the first movement of Stanton Welch’s work Fingerprints, inspired by the music of the famous Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa.

Tickets to four public performances can be purchased by calling the box office at 416-964-5148 or by email at For more information, visit Assemblée Internationale’s website


We are so proud that Houston Ballet II has been invited to Toronto to participate in the prestigious Assemblee Internationale 2013, the international ballet festival April 28 – May 4. Learn more about this innovative program that brings together the best young dancers from all over the world for an incredible week of classes, professional development and performances.


Summer Intensive: Our Favorite Things

July 27, 2012

Guest Writer: Ellie Weeks, Academy Intern

Welcome back to our 2012 Summer Intensive video blog! The last week of Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program is coming to a close, and the students are busy performing in the Summer Showcase. In this video, students weigh in on what their favorite parts of the summer were. Teachers, friends, dancing, and more!

Thanks for keeping up with us this summer. We’ll see you next year!


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