Posts Tagged ‘Ben Stevenson Academy’


Prix de Lausanne Follow-Up

February 9, 2011

Congratulations are in order for our three Prix de Lausanne competitors.  Liana Carpio and Harper Watters advanced to the top 20 finals performance last Sunday, February 6.  Mr. Watters came in sixth overall and won the Contemporary Dance Prize.  You can watch (or re-watch) the 2011 finals at the Prix de Lausanne website.

Read CultureMap’s article about Harper Watters here.

Congratulations to all three of our fine students!


Dancer Spotlight: Summer Intensive Student Heidi Yu

July 30, 2010

Guest writer: Katie Arnold, PR intern

Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy has welcomed over 100 dancers ages 9-20 from 32 states and 13 countries for its 2010 Summer Intensive Program. Today these students will give their final performance before heading back to their hometowns.

Summer intensive student Heidi Yu is from Hong Kong, China and will be joining Houston Ballet II this fall. At sixteen, Heidi is excited to be training with the teachers at Houston Ballet. “My favorite part of the summer intensive is the teachers, and all the different dancing like pas de deux and jazz,” she explained. “I have not danced jazz and pas de deux this much, so this is new and fun to me.”

Heidi Yu, photo by Katie Arnold

Heidi Yu rehearsing The Sleeping Beauty, photo by Katie Arnold.

Also new for Heidi are the types of roles she is used to performing. While dancing the role of Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, ballet master Claudio Muñoz is coaching her to be more soft and princess-like. Sometimes the technical aspects are not the only difficult tasks in roles, but the acting aspects are also a challenge. She says, “I have never been a princess before, so I have to learn how to be a princess. Claudio tells me to be sweet, and he is helping me with my acting.”

The culmination of the 2010 Summer Intensive will be held tonight, July 30 at 8:00 p.m., in the Proscenium Theater at San Jacinto Community College-South (13735 Beamer Road, Houston, Texas). The performance is open to the public, and tickets, which will be sold at the door, are $10 for adults and $5 for students. For more information, call (713) 535-3210.


Q&A with Academy Summer Intensive Student Shaye Firer

July 23, 2010

Guest writer: Sarah Lam, public relations intern

Once again, Houston Ballet Academy is holding a Summer Intensive Program that attracts students from all over the world. They enroll for various reasons, but one draw remains the choreographic workshop that allows young dancers to create and showcase their work. I caught up with summer intensive student Shaye Firer to discuss her experience with the program and to learn about the piece she has choreographed.

How old are you and where are you from?
I’m 18 and I was born in South Africa. I spent about 6 years there before moving to Vancouver, which I consider my hometown, but I currently live in Winnipeg.

How long have you been dancing?
Since I was 3.

Where do you go to school?
I just graduated from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.

What drew you to the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program?
I looked on the internet because I had been at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School for so long that I wanted something different. I found the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive Program online and started watching videos of the company and of HBII and was really impressed. Then I researched the teachers and it seemed like I would receive some good training here. Plus, I had just finished reading Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin so that provided some extra inspiration!

How is this summer program different from others you’ve attended and what do you like about it?
It’s VERY intense! I’m used to intense summer programs but this one is special. However, I really like the challenge it presents. I also like how it’s not all about the technique, although there is a lot of that, but there’s a great emphasis on artistry here. I feel like the artistry in dance isn’t getting as much attention now so it’s nice to have that emphasized here.

I understand that you’re taking the choreography workshop offered here. When did you first become interested in choreography?
The first time was when I was 11 years old.  My teacher didn’t have the time to create a solo for me for a competition so I did it myself! Then, at Royal Winnipeg Ballet, we’re required to take 2 years of movement composition. Taking that class rekindled my interest.

What process do you go through when you choreograph a piece?
It’s different for every piece. With the last two pieces I did in Winnipeg I already had the music and the dancers in mind so I already knew what I wanted. Plus, I had 3 months of time. In Houston I didn’t know the dancers or the music so I had to create the steps in my head before I got here and see how the dancers would do with it. And they’ve been excellent!

What do you find challenging about the choreographing process?
I like the challenge of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen.

What have you learned about choreography from Houston Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program?
I learned to not rely on music so much. Choreography can stand on its own, just like music can. Also, I learned to trust the dancers. They know what they’re doing.

Tell me about the music you’re using.
It’s an original composition by Sasha Behrend. He’s a student with the American Festival for the Arts.  I see the music as having two sections. The first section is very slow, lyrical and smooth. It has a clarinet, violin, violas, and a piano. Then, there’s no big transition but the music suddenly shifts into the second part by being very fast, disjointed and abrupt with lots of percussion. Then, it goes back to the slow section for the ending.

What is the piece about?
It’s choreographed for 6 dancers, 3 boys and 3 girls.  It’s about the merging of identity. How a person can have three identities or more, and yet still be the same person. In life we have to learn how to combine different parts of ourselves into one.

How long have you had to rehearse it?
About a week. Our first performance was Monday, July 19 for the Academy students.  Today it will be performed at Pershing Middle School for the general public, as part of the American Festival for the Arts workshop.

Are you nervous about the performance?
Yes! During performances, if I’m not performing, I like to be in the audience. I tend to tense up a little bit when I know the dancers are getting to a difficult section. If I’m sitting next to a friend I’ll be clutching their arm! I also get nervous about the audience. Everyone should have their own reaction to the piece but I don’t want them to get the wrong idea.

What are your future goals with dance?
I want to get into a classical or classical-contemporary ballet company. Whether or not I will remains to be seen. 


Germany Tour Update

April 19, 2010

It is with great disappointment that we announce the cancellation of HBII’s tour to Schweinfurt and Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany, previously scheduled for April 21-27.  As most of you know, the ash cloud in Iceland has cancelled most flights to and from Europe, and they won’t be able to reschedule our staff and dancers soon enough to make their scheduled performances.

Send us good karma and great vibes that we can reschedule a bigger and better overseas tour for next year!


Blogging from the Road: HBII’s Tour to Germany

April 16, 2010

Guest writer:  Jim Nelson, general manager

It is so gratifying to look back over the past few years and see the growth of our second company, Houston Ballet II (HBII).

While so many dance companies say they have a second company, when you look closely they are generally a group of upper level students who sometimes dance with the first company in larger productions like The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty.  Rarely are these junior companies giving their own fully-produced performances in professional venues. 

That is what sets Houston Ballet’s second company apart from the majority of dance companies around the globe.  In 2006, we took a leap of faith that our second company was ready to give public performances that had less of a graduation concert feel or educational/outreach focus.  Our first season on the road included a terrific trip to Monterrey, Mexico as part of the Extremadura Gran Festival Internacional de Danza Contemporanea.  Since 2006, HBII has performed internationally in Hungary and China as well as nationally in Louisiana, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma.  Additionally, HBII performs regularly in Houston at Wortham Theater Center, Discovery Green, Miller Outdoor Theatre, and the Moores School of Music at The University of Houston.

HBII dancers in The Long and Winding Road.  Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

From April 18-28, I’ll be accompanying HBII to Germany for a five-performance, two-city tour.  We’re traveling with 12 dancers, ballet master Claudio Muñoz, and production manager Brian Walker.  We will give four performances in Schweinfurt and one performance in Villingen-Schwenningen.  We fly from Houston to Frankfurt and then bus to Schweinfurt.  The repertoire for this tour is Stanton Welch’s Long and Winding Road and Blue, Garrett Smith’s Den III, and Claudio Muñoz’s staging of excerpts from Raymonda (Act III).  And while the dancers are all quite young (16-18), there is nothing junior or watered down when these dancers take the stage.

This tour is a real milestone for HBII, and I’m terribly proud of all they have achieved.  The touring component is only one part of the HBII program, but it serves us in providing additional performance opportunities, expanding our national and international presence, and attracting the best dancers we can find to Houston Ballet and the Houston Ballet Academy.  The success of the program is the result of the great work of the Houston Ballet Academy, which is led by Stanton Welch, Shelly Power and ballet masters Claudio Muñoz and Sabrina Lenzi.  I don’t know of another second company that has the level of dancers we do:  three Prix de Lausanne finalists (including a winner) in a group of twelve dancers!

I’ll be sending photo updates and blogs from overseas.  Follow us while we embark on this great adventure!



Working with Choreographer Ma Cong: A Q & A with Madison Morris

April 13, 2010

Guest writer: Sarah Lam, public relations intern

Ma Cong, Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer and principal dancer, has swiftly risen to become one of America’s most exciting choreographers. He has created many works for Tulsa Ballet and received various awards including 1st prize and Audience Favorite in the 21st Century Choreographic Competition in 2008. Recently, he choreographed an original piece for Houston Ballet II. We chatted with Houston Ballet II dancer Madison Morris to find out about what it was like working with Cong and get the scoop on his new work they will unveil at their Academy Spring Showcase, April 16-17.

How long have you been dancing with Houston Ballet’s Academy?
Five years.

I understand that a choreographer traveled to Houston to create a new piece for Houston Ballet II. Can you tell me about that
Sure. Ma Cong came to Houston in the fall, before The Nutcracker, to work on setting a piece for us. Then he came back for 3 days at the end of March to clean it up, fine-tune, and finish it.

What’s the piece called?
It’s called Calling.

When is it going to be performed?
In our Spring Showcase this Friday and Saturday. Also, when we tour Germany April 21-27 for five shows.

Had you seen any of Cong’s work before he arrived in Houston
We were all curious and looked on YouTube, but it was still difficult to know what to expect because some of his work was on flat, some on pointe. One thing that I noticed that was so unique about his pieces was the music he used.

What music is Calling set to?
It’s set to music by Goran Bregovic and Kroke. He told us he heard it on Chinese iTunes and was struck by inspiration!

What is Calling about?
Good question! It goes through a lot of different emotions. The first movement is very dramatic and sets the mood. The second act is more fun and playful. He told us it’s more of a flamenco feel. Then the third movement is back to serious and dramatic but at the end it shifts into a very fast pace.

So it’s a modern piece?
Yes. We’re not in pointe shoes. We wear ballet flats.

How many dancers is it choreographed for?
Three girls and three boys. The first movement is mainly about the boys then the girls come on later.

What would you say is unique about Calling?
It’s a really unique style and really fun to learn. Actually, it reminded me of a piece we danced last year called Journey. It’s fun to dance something in a style that’s different from classical ballet–more modern with different movement.

What makes Calling challenging to dance?
The hardest part is having the stamina. Two of the couples are on stage the whole piece, so about 10-12 minutes. It’s pretty exhausting. You have to rehearse the piece daily to keep it in the body. What I’m really looking forward to is seeing it with our costumes. We have these long, flowy skirts to wear that we make shapes with.

Was this the first time you had ever worked with the original choreographer of a piece, and how is it a different experience?
Yes. For me this was the first time working with a choreographer that was creating something specifically for Houston Ballet II. Most of the time we’re learning second-hand from a video. When you learn from a video, each dancer may have a different spin on the piece. When you work with the original choreographer, it’s a clean slate from the beginning. With Cong we were able to really see exactly how he wanted it done.

Did having Cong in the studio with you make the process more challenging?
It’s exciting, and it’s also better because you can ask questions. Overall it was fun because it was my first time working with a guest choreographer, and it was great to be a part of the process and help create the ballet. 

You can see Ms. Morris dance in Ma Cong’s Calling and other works in the upcoming Academy Spring Showcase, April 16-17.

Madison Morris, photo by Mitch Walker

Madison Morris stretching before rehearsal. Photo by Mitch Walker.


Final blog from the Prix de Lausanne

February 3, 2010

Guest writer: Shelly Power, associate director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy

By now the news of Houston Ballet’s success at the Prix is old news, but I thought I would sum up the last day for those of you who chose to follow my blog all week.  I wanted to send my thoughts directly after the experience but exhaustion and press calls kept me busy until the wee hours of the morning (not a complaint).

Sunday morning began at 8 am for the jury with interviews with the semi finalists who did not make the last round. I met with 6 students to answer questions, give feedback and hopefully ease some disappointment. The café in the theater is a darkly lit, low-to-the-floor semi-circled seating area sectioned off by columns. I sat with an interpreter and spoke to Japanese students. Each candidate sat across from me looking directly at me as the interpreter repeated my words (have you ever noticed that one word in English seems to be 10 in Japanese?). I reminded them that although disappointed, they should hold their head high and remember what accomplishments they had made thus far. Tears usually filled their eyes at that point, and I made sure they were happy tears, and I was assured they were. Each asked about what they needed to improve upon and seemed satisfied having had a moment to converse with a jury member.

Candidates who were eliminated took class throughout the morning, and partner schools watched and observed. The point of this is to allow directors to see them in class, evaluate them for offers to attend schools across the world, possible scholarships and second company offers. Claudio observed all semi finalists and made a list of students he wanted to meet speak with later in the day during the networking sessions. I sent him my list, and he worked from there.

The jury room sits outside the balcony area of the theater. The artistic director of the Prix, Wim Broeckx, has escorted us throughout the week with his assistant Phillipe, who manages our time, our meals, our coffee breaks and even bathroom breaks. We are asked not to speak to anyone and gladly abide by this request. We don’t want to make any suggestion that could lead someone to think we are prejudice in our judging.

The networking session began at 1 pm. Claudio met with students of interest and gave them packets of information about Houston Ballet. Some students might visit 5 to 10 different schools from around the world while others might see 3 or 4 during this networking time.

The jury met in a secured room, and we were given last-minute rules and regulations about the final selections. Audience members began gathering two hours before the start of the finals, which was a sold out performance.

3 pm came quickly, but as with any monumental experience in life–an opening of a new ballet, or a wedding or a birth of a child–I anxiously waited for the start, but I began to mourn the moment as I felt it passing so quickly.

We entered the theater in single file, but instead of sitting in the orchestra seats as we did the past few days, we sat in the balcony where we judged the final round of the 2010 Prix de Lausanne.  The balcony gave us another vantage point that showed how well each competitor projected over the 2000 seat theater. Twenty candidates performed one classical and one contemporary variation each for the final round.

I knew Claudio was sitting somewhere in orchestra seats, and I am certain I could feel his heart beating throughout the entire afternoon, even from the balcony. We have sat together through many Prix competitions before, therefore I knew the anxiety he must be feeling.  In the audience sat many “stars” of the dance world such as Nina Ananiashvili along with directors from many companies such as Ted Branson (Dutch National), Marianne Kruuse (Hamburg Ballet), and National Ballet of Canada to name only a few.

All three Houston Ballet students danced towards the end of the competition, which I was happy with so I could mark the other students and relax and enjoy our students. Those of you who watched the live feed on the Internet saw Liao take the stage with a calmness of a seasoned dancer. She looked beautiful and danced the same. Aaron looked tall and handsome as the Prince in Sleeping Beauty and executed his variation with strength and great composure. Emanuel’s smile delighted the audience as he awed them with his precise beats and balonne. I was pleased with each performance and kept my eyes glued to my score sheets, as not to impose on another judges’ marking which was very difficult I will admit.  After a 15 minute break, we went on to the contemporary variations.

This year was different than the past regarding the style of modern choices. Competitors chose either one of Kathy Marsden’s organic contemporary pieces or one of Chris Wheeldon’s neo-classical (more balletic) variations. In the past, the contemporary variations were more similar in that most were done in bare feet. Chris Wheeldon’s variation choices for women were in point shoes. Regardless, students were judged on performance in class as well as on stage, therefore we were well-versed in their range of movement for both classical and contemporary work. Both were well-received.

Again our students took their place on stage with the kind of confidence you enjoy when you watch a dancer who is consistent and dependable. I was pleased and proud to see the level of professionalism.

With the scoring completed, we (the jury) stood and made our way back behind locked doors to do a final check and hand over our sheets to the tabulators. Imagine the sigh of relief, as we knew our job was finished. We could relax…well not really, as the wait for the results was intense.

Out came the results, and we were asked to vote to confirm what we was presented. Everyone seemed to be pleased with the results other than a few little surprises, but we were confident we had done our job successfully, and the winner fit the criteria asked of us all. At that moment, I could hardly contain myself.  The only angst I had was of the results for Liao.  She was so close to placing that I realized that one alteration in scoring on any of our parts would have changed that results for better or worse. I was “over the moon” that not only did I know that Aaron had placed 5th but the Emanuel would place 1st as the first Houston Ballet Prix winner. Only 37 other dancers in the world had earned that place, and his father was about to hear those results.

We touched up our make-up, combed our hair, and made our way back stage to wait for our introduction for the final announcement. I did not make eye contact with any of the contestants, and we waited while the Shanghai School performed and then Leanne Faye Benjamin (1981 Prix winner) and Edward Watson from The Royal Ballet performed a Manon pas de deux.

From the corner of my eye, I could see all the contestants lining up for the final moment. As a jury member, we stood cramped in the wings waiting to be introduced. We walked on stage in assigned order and took our places. The proceedings began, and I might add…all in French. I followed as best as I could.

The first announcement was the Suisse award, with the audience favorite to follow, which was Emanuel. The secretariat, Patricia Leroy, continued with the contemporary award and then to the six scholarships. Aaron ran forward as his name was announced with youthful excitement. The tension rose as the second candidate took his prize, and finally the first prize was awarded to Emanuel.

The audience clapped continuously, and it gave me great pride to see Emanuel offer up the applause to his fellow dancers as he invited them to join him several times bowing. I thought wow….he is so generous and he showed a great deal of class and professionalism.

The curtain closed and a sort of magnetic energy seemed to force all the candidates into a happy embrace. The cameras flooded in, and reporters speaking in several different languages began to force their way to the candidates. I exited the stage knowing that my job was done and that Claudio and Emanuel’s dad must be found. I tried furiously to call Aaron’s parents, but in the excitement, Aaron could not remember their new numbers–therefore that would have to wait.

I found Gustavo (Emanuel’s father) backstage in tears. There was no sign of Claudio. I took Gustavo to the stage and witnessed perhaps one of the most gratifying moments in my director life…he and Emanuel embraced, and Gustavo took his son’s face in his hands and for a moment the world stopped as he gave his son a look of such pride and approval. I had tears in my eyes myself and quickly went to find Claudio, as he could not miss this moment.

I located his black and white checkered shirt, yelled across the crowd, and summoned him to the stage. There was one of those “slow motion moments” as Aaron, Liao and Emanuel ran to Claudio and attacked him with hugs and kisses. Life does not get better than this.

I started to phone Stanton to give him the results, but there was no answer. I texted him next and he responded. I had forgotten he was in a company audition, but he graciously left for a quick call. “Congratulations to each of them,” he said, and “to you and Claudio–good job, the school is on the map!”

I hung up pretty darn proud, I will admit, and then the phone rang again. It was Sabrina Lenzi, who had coached Liao for the Prix since last fall. Her excitement, pride and congratulations for the school were evident in her voice, and then she made me laugh by acknowledging my great shoes! I had forgotten we were on live feed on the Internet. 

I walked backstage to a party of parents, teachers, directors, press and the like. The moment quickly passed as reality set in. I was on the internet planning the kids’ train times for the next morning and saying my goodbyes to them all as we, the jury, headed back to the hotel for another dinner celebration.

The next morning at 6 am, Claudio escorted the kids back home. I arose to yet another meeting for partner schools and then returned to the hotel. I was so exhausted I could not find the strength to even shop (those of you who know me well know I must have been near death’s door!). I enjoyed room service that night and calls from C.C. Conner, Jim Nelson and friends and family.

I got up at 5 am on Tuesday morning to make my journey home–a taxi, a train, a plane, a tram, another train and then my final taxi to my home.

It does take a village to raise a dancer, and that is what Houston Ballet is all about. I am proud and grateful to each and every person who helped to make this moment just about as perfect as it could be. 

One more note: to Liao, Aaron, and Emanuel’s parents, as well as all parents out there who support their child’s dreams, thank you.  And finally to Houston Ballet board members, donors, and sponsors, thank you just does not seem enough. We hope you will come and enjoy watching our HBIIs dance in a future performance to remind you how much you do make a difference in all of our student’s lives.



Videos from the Prix de Lausanne

February 2, 2010

As promised, the Prix de Lausanne has posted the 2010 finals in their entirety on their website.  You can watch them here.

If you’d like to watch Houston Ballet’s students specifically, here are the time codes to find them:

Liao Xiang:
Classical—0:50, Part 4
Contemporary—2:15, Part 8

Aaron Sharratt:
Classical—4:56, Part 4
Contemporary—5:47, Part 8

Emanuel Amuchastegui:
Classical—0:12, Part 5
Contemporary—1:15, Part 9



Houston Ballet Ben Stevenson Academy Student Emanuel Amuchastegui Wins the Prix de Lausanne 2010

February 1, 2010

Photo: Jean-Bernard Sieber

For the first time in its history, Houston Ballet has a Prix de Lausanne winner.

Emanuel Amuchastegui, 18, a native of Argentina and a student at Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, won the coveted prize Sunday in Switzerland, capping a four-day competition among 70 elite pre-professional dancers ages 15-18 from across the world. Amuchastegui was also chosen “audience favorite” in the final round.

Read the entire Houston Chronicle story here.

View photostream from Prix finals here.

Videos of Emanuel’s performance to come…

Congratulations are also in order for Aaron Sharatt, who placed 5th, and Liao Xiang, who made the final top 20.


On the road to the Prix de Lausanne, part VI

January 30, 2010

Guest writer: Shelly Power, associate director of Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy

The good news, the good news, and the good news!

All three Houston Ballet competitors have made it to the final round!

With my not having a vote on any of our candidates I can safely say now…they were wonderful!  It has been difficult keeping my opinion quiet so this is a great release to write.

Seventy candidates reduced to 20, and 3 of them are Houston Ballet students. We could not be more proud. In scoring competitors you never know what the results will be, as scoring is subjective and sitting on this side of the table you can only hope the winners you are choosing show up on your final list.

Right now, Claudio, Emanuel’s father and our three students are sitting in the café or backstage with hoards of people as they await the results. There is barely room to stand or sit. We as judges have left by the front entrance as not to disrupt the Prix’s time to organize and present the results.

The waiting is painful. On one hand, you want the results, and on the other you know that once the numbers go up on the big screen the results are out there. If your number is up not up there, the emotion is overwhelming.  To those who don’t make it through: there are many dancers who have made bright professional careers without placing in the finals.  To those who make it: I say go home, eat well, and get some sleep. Tomorrow is a brand new day and you must be on top of your nerves, your excitement from today, and your exhaustion. Trust yourself, put forth your best, and remember…you have accomplished a great feat today, one you will remember and take with you forever.

For me, sitting at the jury table was only nerve racking when our students were on stage. I was rather calm as each candidate came out, and I felt ready to give my best. Liao walked out with such elegance as she took center stage. Her contemporary showed style and a great understanding of what was asked of her coach.  Aaron took his place for his classical variation with confidence as well. He looked elegant as he managed the stage. He performed his contemporary with charm and strong technical ability. Emanuel’s Sylphide was crisp and clean.  Having Bournonville teachers sitting next to me made it strikingly hard, as I know they knew this work thoroughly.  His contemporary was touching and inspiring.  He managed to take his coaching and transformed his performance.

Special thanks to Stanton for having faith in our school and giving the go-ahead to proceed with sending three students (very unusual to have three students ready for a competition). Thank you also to C.C. Conner and all the administrative staff that support the school unconditionally, and of course financially.


P.S. Laura and Angela–way to go on the costumes!


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