"Let me make something perfectly unclear," Jane Weiner jokes to her Hope Stone dancers during a rehearsal for Lemonade Stand, running tonight through Saturday at the Houston Ballet Center for Dance/Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab.
Weiner is a bit like the Busby Berkeley of post-modern dance in Houston; she likes large crowds on stage, and complicated set-ups like a wall of 1,000 shoe boxes or stacks of televisions. Lemonade Stand will feature her newest work Wreck-We-Umm, which she calls a deconstruction of Mozart's Requiem.
I love rehearsals. They reveal the very guts of dance. It's not just a place where the dancers learn and polish steps, it's where the very culture of a company is formed. Rehearsals allow me inside the very engine of the creative process. As a nuts-and bolts-movement wonk, often the makings of a dance interest me more than the final product. I just love to see how a dance is put together. Whenever I feel a little distant from my home art form, I find a dance rehearsal to watch.
I love rehearsals. They reveal the very guts of dance. It's not just a place where the dancers learn and polish steps, it's where the very culture of a company is formed.
I watched Hope Stone's rehearsal because I will be out of town for the show. With Weiner's stature as a major Houston dance force, I need to see what she's up to keep up my game. Two weeks from show time is a particularly rich time to watch. Things are more or less all created, now comes the task of putting them together. A large imagination is necessary to stay calm.
"Now Houston Ballet dancers come on stage right," Weiner explains to me, filling in the missing details. "There's a baby pool here right here, but I haven't decided whether or not to have water in it."
Weiner goes on to tell me about The Houston Met and a team of actors entering the stage. "Now the puppet comes in," she adds, with a grin.
Normally, I would be surprised, but for Weiner, and the gigantic scope of this piece, a puppet, designed by Kevin Taylor no less, sounds about right. Any minute, I expect her to tell me the marching band followed by a cameo performance from Jeremy Lin. The girl likes to think big.
The missing elements actually make the rehearsal more fun.
The Hope Stone dancers are troupers. The put on their shiny new yellow flip flops for the first time, and go about their moves without a hitch. They know a lot will change before they open this weekend. Part of their job is to stay ready to all the last minute polishings.
Rehearsals are also a great way to find out how a creative mind ticks. I've been known to call up Dominic Walsh an hour before he starts his rehearsal asking if I can take a peek in. All the years I have dropped in on Walsh's rehearsals have helped me understand his working process. He's an intense one. I have as much fun watching him as the dancers. It's almost as if the exact same neurons are firing in his body. So much of his choreography comes from the way he moves. I get to witness the transfer process.
Rehearsals are also a great way to find out how a creative mind ticks. I've been known to call up Dominic Walsh an hour before he starts his rehearsal asking if I can take a peek in.
There are many reasons to drop into rehearsals at Houston Ballet, often it's to watch a dancer that I'm writing about in Dance Magazine or Pointe Magazine. Watching a new work is the most fun. I crashed several of Nicolo Fonte's rehearsals while See(k) was being made. Fonte used all the nuances the dancers added in making the piece. That's the stuff you never know about unless you are in the room with the choreographer.
It's been a great year of rehearsal watching for me. Highlights include popping in to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to see Rennie Harris' Home, a work I was able to see on the big stage at Jones Hall through Society for the Performing Arts; an afternoon watching Sydney Skybetter's new batch of work; and an open rehearsal with favorite Longhorn Septime Weber, artistic director of The Washington Ballet.
I clocked in four hours watching Aszure Barton make a new work for Houston Ballet as part of Women@Art last week. She's right at the beginning of the process, so all is fluid and changing rapidly. It's like watching an artist create while the paint is still wet. The dancers are being baptized into her language. Barton's nuanced gestures and seemingly impossible musicality fully galvanize their attention. I can feel the thinking in the room. Barton allows them time to digest her complicated phrasing, smiling often as a form of approval.
"Does your brain hurt?" asked principal Connor Walsh as I was leaving. "Yes" I replied. "As it should."
Check out a rehearsal for Jane Weiner's Lemonade Stand performed by Hope Stone Dance Company