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Houston arts shocker: Dominic Walsh is stepping away, leaving future of groundbreaking dance troupe in doubt

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Critics have described the works of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater as dynamic, impressive, blissful and groundbreaking. Courtesy of Gabriella Nissen Photography
Dominic Walsh choreographer dancer head shot.
Dominic Walsh is taking a sabbatical for the 2014-15 season. Dominic Walsh Dance Theater/Facebook
Nancy_Dance-a-cations, June 2012, Domenico Luciano and Hana Sakai in Dominic Walsh's Camille Claudel at Aspen Fringe Festival
Domenico Luciano and Hana Sakai in Dominic Walsh's Camille Claudel at Aspen Fringe Festival. Photo by Gabriella Nissen
News_Nancy Wozny_Romeo_Juliet_Dominic Walsh_Paola Georgudis
Collaborations with acclaimed talent resulted in the birth of modern settings of well known stories such as Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Jim Caldwell
News_Nancy_wit_Dominic Walsh
Dominic Walsh choreographer dancer head shot.
Nancy_Dance-a-cations, June 2012, Domenico Luciano and Hana Sakai in Dominic Walsh's Camille Claudel at Aspen Fringe Festival
News_Nancy Wozny_Romeo_Juliet_Dominic Walsh_Paola Georgudis

Critics have described the works of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater as dynamic, impressive, blissful and groundbreaking, but the Houston-based dance maker who lends his name to the contemporary troupe needs to break some ground of his own.

Dominic Walsh is taking a sabbatical for the 2014-15 season.

The company will not present any productions or events in Houston, the three-member staff will disband for the time being, and the organization will vacate its space located on Dunlavy Street in Neartown. The decision marks the first time since the company's inception in 2002 that Houstonians won't enjoy Walsh's labor of love — which had turned more laborious than lovable for its leader.

"Running this company has taken a lot out of me," Walsh tells CultureMap. "The administrative work has been challenging. I think every artistic director, whether the company is large or small, needs to take time to recharge and be inspired."

As for the future of the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, Walsh hasn't determined whether the company will restart in the 2015-16 season or not.

 "I feel that many of the company's artistic goals are met. We've excelled in our mission to present and create thought-provoking works and to nurture exciting collaborations with national and international talent."

He initially founded the nonprofit to extend an initiative in the 1990s of then Houston Ballet artistic director Ben Stevenson, who was passionate about introducing audiences to new pieces. Walsh, who joined the Houston Ballet in 1989 and rose to principal dancer in 1996, became enchanted with the movement vocabulary of such as artists as Christopher Bruce, who created three original works on the company during Walsh's tenure — Guatama Buddha (1989), Journey (1990) and Nature Dances (1992).

But the rough economic conditions of the late 1990s compelled the Houston Ballet to return to the classics, Walsh says. And he saw Houston audiences ready to develop a palate for a powerful aesthetic style that fused dance and theater, performed by classically trained dancers. Walsh seized the opportunity to continue Stevenson's legacy while becoming the presenter of a new cultural field in the city.

"I feel that many of the company's artistic goals are met," Walsh says. "We've excelled in our mission to present and create thought-provoking works and to nurture exciting collaborations with national and international talent."

Such collaborations resulted in the birth of modern settings of Romeo and Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, Firebird and Titus Andronicus, in addition to full-length narratives that include The Miller's Daughter, Victor Frankenstein, Camille Claudel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Among the company's repertoire of more than 60 ballets are works by Walsh and acclaimed choreographers Jiří Kylián, Mats Ek, Matthew Bourne and Mauro Bigonzetti.

"Dance is a particular kind of performing art in which you have to retrain your body all the time," Walsh says. "I compare it to taking a course in trigonometry: You aren't going to be proficient in just one day.

"To invent new movement vocabulary and to create a new dance language with which to express stories, it takes a lot of studying and training — and then there's running a company."

The Future

 "Domenico has supported me all these years. It's my turn to be supportive of his career."

Walsh says that he's not "burnt out." Instead, he's taking the year to pursue other artistic endeavors. In the past, he hasn't been able to accept invitations from other presenters or festivals because of his home-based responsibilities.

Walsh might, however, accept touring opportunities on behalf of the company as they come, but nothing is on the books at the moment. And it's unsure when — or if — the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater will return.

"I am very grateful to everyone who has supported us," Walsh says. "We have been lucky to have had terrific people supporting our efforts. I want to try to ensure that our patrons and loyal subscribers aren't disappointed by this decision."

Family life also weighed in his plans for the upcoming season, which include spending more time in Denver.

Walsh's partner of nine years, Domenico Luciano, who's a cavalier with the Colorado Ballet, was recently promoted to principal dancer. The two met while Walsh was staging Stevenson's Cinderella for the Tulsa Ballet in Oklahoma.

"Domenico has supported me all these years," Walsh says. "It's my turn to be supportive of his career."

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