Sometimes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
These are the words of Garrett Smith, former Houston Ballet dancer who moved to Oslo last year to dance with Norwegian National Ballet. He was speaking of Oslo, however. This is where — to coin yet another idiom — certainly he’s got the world at his feet. Well, at least the world of European contemporary ballet.
The digs aren’t bad, either. “I have a new apartment that overlooks the opera house, which is right on the water,” Smith explained in a telephone interview. “To walk to work every day and see that Oslo Opera House in the distance, you really can’t ever be in a bad mood."
Happily ensconced in a great job and a great city, Smith hasn’t forgotten the six years he spent at Houston Ballet.
The young dancer and aspiring choreographer described his past year with Norwegian National Ballet as “amazing,” and cited two highlights in particular. Smith had a successful audition for a leading role and solo parts in a recent ballet by celebrated Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato titled Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness. It’s yet another feather in his dance cap. And as if that were not enough, the second highlight was really a dream come true: working closely with master choreographer Jiří Kylián on a full program devoted to Kylián’s work.
In the meantime, he’s even studying Norwegian. Smith is aiming for fluency in three years. “I didn’t realize it would be so difficult,” he said with a chuckle. “We work in English at the Opera House, so I can get by in my own language. But it’s really up to me if I want to speak Norwegian, and I want to.”
Now happily ensconced in a great job and a great city, he hasn’t forgotten the six years he spent at Houston Ballet. For him, the company is not just a former employer, it’s his second family. In our conversation, he continued to express gratitude towards his colleagues and, in particular, artistic director, Stanton Welch. Even more importantly, Smith will always remember Houston Ballet as the place where he began his already notable career as a choreographer.
Audiences will have a chance to see Smith’s latest efforts starting Thursday, when his new work Return is presented along with ballets by Melissa Hough, James Kudelka and Christopher Bruce. The Houston Ballet season-opener program is simply titled Four Premieres, but it’s hardly simple.
“I’ve never felt so much love and support before,” he added,” it’s really incredible.”
Kudelka and Bruce are well-established choreographers whose work has been presented by many major ballet companies. They are “seasoned,” which is a nice way of saying that they are both older. Hough and Smith represent the new young generation of deeply trained classical dancers who also make dances. The comparisons, both with the older men and each other, are inevitable.
Smith has set his new ballet to music by John Adams, one of the most danceable American composers. “This music has layers like a cake,” he said, “and something exciting happens in each layer.”
The theme centers on a cave. “I don’t know why the idea came, it just did,” he said. “I have gone exploring with my father and my family many times. I grew up in Utah and we’ve been spelunking a lot, since there are many caves there. The music just sounds like an adventure. It sounds like a marvelous place that people are returning to, and the cave idea presented so many possibilities for costuming.”
Already, Smith has a choreographic presence on YouTube. Check out his “New Creation” for Norwegian Ballet or his Radiance, made earlier this year for the Assemblée Internationale. Some readers will recall his well-crafted dances for Houston Ballet II, or some of the numerous solos he choreographed for competitions. None of those, however, will look quite like the premiere of Return.
“Nobody has really seen what I could do until now, because I’ve never had a budget over $1,000, a lighting designer, a wardrobe and a costume designer, all these different departments coming together to make something happen,” Smith explained.
In addition to the artistic infrastructure at Houston Ballet, Smith has never had this much rehearsal time devoted to his choreography. “In most choreographic workshops, the energy builds and dies, and then builds and dies. Here, the time devoted to the development of the piece has been consistent. I’ve never felt so much love and support before,” he added,” it’s really incredible.”
Maybe, just maybe, right now and here in Houston, the grass might be just a little bit greener.