Posts Tagged ‘Sabrina Lenzi’


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


The Road to the Prix de Lausanne

January 24, 2011

This year three Houston Ballet II dancers have been selected to compete at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne, an international dance competition for dancers ages 15-18 who are not yet professionals.  Ms. Liana Carpio, Mr. Harper Watters, and Mr. Masahiro Haneji will represent the Houston Ballet Academy.  This is what Ms. Carpio had to say about her preparation for the competition thus far:

These past few months have been such an exciting time for me at Houston Ballet!  After I found out I was accepted for Lausanne, rehearsals started immediately.  I have been preparing with many of my ballet instructors on a daily basis to perfect my performance.  Having different instructors critique my movements is truly beneficial to the final outcome.  Sabrina Lenzi, Andrew Murphy, and Claudio Munoz have generously dedicated their time to help me become a better dancer.

They have taught me how to perfect moves while enhancing the artistic expression of the dance itself.  It has been a wonderful journey to see my performance grow and improve each and every day.  Thanks to Sabrina’s, Andrew’s, and Claudio’s corrections, I feel confident in my moves and know that I have put my all into this performance.  I love my dance, and from these rehearsals I have truly learned to connect to each move in the piece.  Being accepted to compete at Lausanne has been such an honor, and I know that I want to put forth my best effort in order to truly take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

The 2011 Prix de Lausanne will be held February 1-6 in Lausanne, Switzerland.  You can read more about the Prix on their website.  We will continue to post blogs updating our fans about the dancers’ progress throughout the competition.

Liana Carpio

Liana Carpio. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.


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!



On the road to the Prix de Lausanne, part V

January 29, 2010

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

Today we watched 70 students, coached one by one on the raked stage. Today was a showing of contemporary variations after scoring contemporary classes yesterday. A group session was done first for about 10 minutes and then each competitor ran through the variation with music. The coach and/or choreographer watched, made notes and then gave suggestions, corrections, etc. to each student in 5 minutes’ time. Once done, students waited backstage to listen to all the other competitors’ comments hoping for a little more information.  This took 10 hours total in the theater.

As a judge, watching each candidate may seem laborious but:

1. We are seeing and hearing the coaching for at least six different contemporary variations, therefore it makes it interesting.

2. Each student brings a little something different to the variation, and we look to see to see if they have found a way to make this unique in some way.

3. We are committed to giving ourselves to this process, and we do our best to keep our standard consistent. That standard is to give the same effort to each candidate. That is why there are 9 jury members; in the event one of us missed something, it is inevitable that someone else caught it. 

Observation day is also a time to see the competitor on stage and how they present on stage.  Good coaching shows when a competitor can make the transformation that is asked for when corrections and suggestions are made. If a competitor can’t grasp the correction at that time, we hope to see that they walk away, think about it, and return tomorrow having made changes. The Prix provides translators (with dance backgrounds) on the sides of the stage so coaches can give corrections in the competitor’s native language.

For those of you who know HBII’s program “Around the World in 7 Dances”, imagine all the continents speaking at the beginning and Mother Earth yelling, “Hello, hello!” When all the candidates are coached at the same time and corrections are made, it sounds exactly like that!

While each group is coached on stage, the others are in the studio being coach for their classical variation. Since the jury is familiar with the classical variations it is not necessary to see the competitors coached.  The contemporary variations are changed out every two years.  Since we are not familiar with the variations, it is important for us to hear the corrections. This year competitors are asked to choose one contemporary variation from either Christopher Wheeldon or Kathy Marsden, who both created or reproduced recent choreography for the Prix.

Claudio Munoz, Sabrina Lenzi, Andrew Murphy, and Priscilla Nathan-Murphy have coached our students for about four months on and off, depending on what other performances in Houston they may have been rehearsing. During the competition, however, personal coaching is not allowed. The only coaching allowed is that of the Prix de Lausanne. Imagine Claudio sitting in the theater in the balcony watching the coaching occur and not being able to say a word? Can’t be…but it is.

Claudio sits through each candidate’s rehearsal not only to watch our students but to think about who might be a fit for Houston. I do the same as I sit and score each day. Once the semifinal decisions have been made, those candidates who did not get to the finals will go through a debriefing where the jury will speak to each one and give them feedback. Those candidates will then enter into a networking area where all the schools and companies that have been observing them will perhaps make requests to see them. Claudio will visit with students and tell them at that point (Sunday morning) who we are interested in for summer, year-round and perhaps HBII placement.

Wish us luck tomorrow, as the semi-final decision will be announced at 8 pm Lausanne time (1 pm Houston time).

On a side note: Aaron sure is thrilled that it is snowing like crazy here! I am sure he and Claudio are making snow angels! Emanuel turned 18 on Thursday, and the contemporary teacher asked the class to sing Happy Birthday to him without making any sound (of course she would ask that).  Liao seems to have connected with some of her friends from China, and I am sure she is having fun conversing in Chinese and feeling a little closer to home.

This is truly an experience of a lifetime for our students, one that may not be realized until many years to come. Ask Phillip Broomhead, ballet master for Houston Ballet.  He won the Prix a few years back, and it changed his life.

Hello to all of the artistic staff at Houston Ballet! I think I have met dancers and directors from every country in the world, who all seem to know at least one of you if not all!



On the road to the Prix de Lausanne, part II

January 26, 2010

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

We entered Switzerland and immediately I remembered that I wish I spoke at least one other language. I am traveling with two of three students who speak two languages, and Emanuel speaks four! Now that my ego is totally destroyed I will attempt to have them get me on the right train to Lausanne!

We arrived in Lausanne and Liao said “Oh this is so much fun! It looks like Beijing!” Not sure what reminded her, but her exuberance is delightful. Aaron has never been on a train and is anxious for a snow storm (something about making snow angels).  Emanuel is in his element; he loves to travel and seems to ease into a new climate.

We taxied to our next destination, which is the home of a Houstonian and former Houston Ballet level 8 student Kathleen McClure, who is here studying at the Bejart School. Her family has generously offered a few beds for the week. The Bejart School, by the way, offers a full-on arts program that not only teaches many disciplines of art, but also offers the philosophy of each art form and how it cultivates a dancer’s identity and movement. Kathleen expressed her expanded view of movement and how she is learning to dance from the inside out rather than just the opposite. She is speaking pretty good French now and managed to get us through the grocery store and a 45-minute post office fiasco. She’s definitely given us a better sense of the Suisse way of life! She has been a gracious hostess, and we are so grateful to her family for their generosity.

After you have been in Lausanne even for one hour, it is not hard to hear your conversations reeking of ART! Every nook and cranny has a larger-than-life Prix de Lausanne poster reminding everyone of this fantastic week of dance. If you saw last week’s Houston Chronicle travel section, you may have seen the article on Switzerland. I only wish they had acknowledged this great event!

We stopped by the Theater to get acclimated to what will be our new home for the next few days. The Prix committee is exceptionally organized, and it was evident as soon as we arrived. Packets were assembled; big screen projectors set up for up-and-coming final selection announcements (picture your number up on the board as one of the contestants passing to the next round. It’s very dramatic as the crowd waits with baited breath for results on Saturday); and seminar-like chair groupings for informational sessions on Tuesday, the first day of the Prix.

We toured the theater and studios, then it was time to do some stretching and testing of the new raked studio flooring. The stage being a 5% raked slope may be normal to many European dancers, but for Americans it is quite a change.  Imagine dancing and jumping uphill!  This year the Prix decided to address our concerns about dancing on such a stage with a little rehearsal time; they managed to turn one of the studios into a raked practice floor. Aaron, Liao and Emanuel all were smiling as they jumped and turned, trying to feel a new sense of balance and muscle connection. Each one seemed to adapt quickly with almost a sense of confidence right away. This too is a wonderful trait of young people; they seem to just roll with the punches and enjoy each new experience and challenge as it comes their way, without overthinking any of it.

By 6:00 pm we were all ready for some shuteye, but I advised them all to stay up a little longer. Aaron decided to sleep for the next 15 hours and forego any worries of a 3 am wake-up (he assures me that he can sleep for days).  Emanuel is not going to sleep until his dad arrives, as he is excited that his dad is coming to Lausanne to see him dance.  He has not seen his father in over a year! Liao makes me a quick Chinese noodle delight and confesses that her time awake is over as well.

I, on the other hand, will now await the arrival of our HBII Ballet Master Claudio Munoz, who will take over the duties of overseeing our students so I can concentrate on judging. He and HBII Ballet Mistress Sabrina Lenzi have worked long and hard to prepare these three HBIIs for this competition, and I know they are eager to see the week progress.

At the hotel I meet with my fellow jury members for dinner and prepare for tomorrow’s first day, which begins at 9:00 am and ends around 7:00 pm. Should be a fine first day!



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