On May 27th-- tomorrow-- Houston Ballet will open Pecos, a triple-bill involving Mark Morris' Sandpaper Ballet, Stanton Welch's Pecos Bill, and George Balanchine's Ballo della Regina (which was staged by Merrill Ashley). I popped over to Houston Ballet's studios and had a chat with Emily Bowen, a lovely dancer who will perform in all three ballets.
Notes From Upstage Left: Emily, I see that you're from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-- near my own hometown. Where did you train?
EB: Cumberland Dance Company It's a pretty small school, but we had a teacher from Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet who came in and taught for us.
NFUL: What role are you dancing in Ballo della Regina?
EB: I do one of the five solos, and I'm in the corps as well.
NFUL: Wonderful. Are you dancing any of Suzanne Farrell's old roles, by chance?
EB: I'm not sure. Merrill Ashley set the ballet on us; she didn't really specify whose roles we were doing. All we know is that the ballet was created for her.
NFUL: Just curious. Have you ever danced any of Mark Morris' choreography before?
EB: No. He set Sandpaper Ballet on the company two years ago, when I was in the school. I didn't performed it, but was lucky enough to be involved in some of the rehearsals with Mr. Morris...which was quite an experience.
NFUL: What was it like working with his choreography for the first time?
EB: Not what you'd expect. Sandpaper is not what you would expect as a "classical" ballet. It is so witty and clever!! Mr. Morris has such an amazing ear for musicality. As a dancer it is so refreshing to dance such a musical ballet.
NFUL: I see you also trained with Houston Ballet Academy. I know HBA trains mostly in the Cecchetti and RAD methods, and George Balanchine's "American" method is quite different. What was it like adapting to that style of movement?
EB:Adapting to the "American" method was particularly difficult for me. I felt as though my body always wanted to do what felt natural, but, to execute to the lightning fast steps, you have to use a completely different set of muscles. When we take class from Balanchine teachers, they put emphasis on the hands and position of the arms. Which is something I've been able to work into my own personal style of dancing.
NFUL: Are you performing all of the shows?
EB: I am! I'm on Ballo every night-- I do the solo opening night and the second night, and I'm in the corps for the rest of the shows.
NFUL: Wonderful. Can you tell me a bit about Pecos Bill?
EB: In Pecos, there aren't any overly difficult steps technically. What makes this ballet difficult is all of the acting. Each individual character has such personality that it's almost like being involved in a musical. It is a very "all consuming" ballet. Every part of you have to be committed and involved. It's a short ballet' very festive and light-hearted compared to the other two pieces.
NFUL: Now, I might be wrong here....but isn't Pecos the first ballet that Mr. Welch when he came to Houston Ballet and became Artistic Director? Is that correct?
EB: It was his first full ballet when he came here. He had created other dances in the past.
NFUL: How do you feel about a choreographer from a different country comes in and makes a whole ballet about the state that you live in?
EB: It's really interesting. Stanton's from Australia, and this is a Texas ballet and a Texas story, and he did such a great job of bringing us into the story and bringing us to our characters. He could tell each person specifically who their character is, how they would be during that time period, how they would interact with other people. NFUL: So a non-Texan guy creates the perfect Texas story for the stage.
EB: Yes! It's a really fun program.
NFUL: It sounds it. I'm looking forward to seeing it in action.