I was thrilled to run into Erin Reck at the JCC's Dance Month Party. Reck, a Houston native, had been in and out of town — mostly out, for a decade or so. She's one of those body-smart dancers who moves with such ease and grace you just don't want her to stop dancing.
"You're back?" I asked the lithe blonde dancer. "I am so done with New York," she replied.
I love New York. It's the center for the arts universe, home of the best and brightest. It's also really hard to survive there, considering the staggering cost of living, the competition and that nasty weather.
Many heartbreaking decisions go into leaving the arts mecca. Some defect. Let's meet a few.
New York, New York!! .. Hardly
Reck, the newest of Houston's New York art transplants, remembers the exact moment she knew she had to leave. "I fell asleep during a rehearsal," she says, "I remember thinking I am too old for this' it's time to leave."
Trained at Sarah Lawrence College under Dance Magazine award winner Sara Rudner, Reck can boast a string of A-list dance credits. After 12 years, Reck is reconfiguring her life in Houston, and the dance community is welcoming her back.
She's back and she's booked.
Choreographer and University of Houston assistent professor Teresa Chapman is creating Shift, a new trio for her, Lindsey McGill (who just left for New York) and Brit Wallis for a Core Performance Company show at Miller Outdoor Theatre . In turn, Reck is creating a new work on Chapman as well. In April, she heads to Hope Center where she is now a featured teacher, for a creative residency with Hope Werks. In June, Reck shows off what she has been up to for all those years with her Body Maps piece during The Big Range Dance Festival.
Dancing away from debt
Watching Lauren Perrone charge through space with her long wild hair following close behind her in Jose Limon's masterpiece A Time to Dance, I suspected she had some New York in her background too. Perrone spent two years studying, auditioning, waitressing and going into debt.
"There were times I didn't have subway fare to get into the city," Perrone recalls.
But it wasn't the hard times that brought her back to Houston. She returned when her beloved uncle was dying with AIDS. "After he died, I realized I needed to be closer to my family," she says.
Things are looking up for the talented modern dancer. She's working with Sandra Organ Dance Company, teaching at HSPVA, and getting married in the spring.
Blue Hairs Icon
Ross Chitwood had the blue hairs eating out of his hand during his extended run of The Andrews Brothers also at Stages Repertory Theatre all last summer. The dreamy Juilliard-trained opera singer also kicked some serious vocal power in Main Street Theater's productions of The Light in the Piazza and more recently Master Class.
"Opera singers have to be in New York," admits Chitwood, who came close to not leaving New York after graduating from Juilliard. After spending a year being the hottest tenor in town, Chitwood is now focused on getting his new CD out. With his velvety tone, he's poised to be the next Frank Sinatra/Michael Buble fustion.
And he wants to do this in Houston. "I just love being outdoors," he says. "I can do that here."
Maybe you noticed that the entire cast of Brave Dog Player's production of John Cariani's Almost, Maine seemed to understand every syllable of the whimsical play. Brave Dog actors Kim Tobin, Rick and Georgi Silverman were all members of the Barrow Street Theatre in New York and workshopped the play closely with Cariani.
The Silvermans moved back home when their daughter was seven months old. "We are proud of the work we did with the Barrow group, but we weren't going to make a living doing it," Georgi says. "Neither of us had a burning desire to be famous, we just loved acting and thought if we settled in Houston we could make our own work here. We had an artistic home at with Barrow and want to create another one with Brave Dog.
If I am not doing it for the money, I might was well love what I am doing. I am done with angst."
Director Philip Lehl, a familiar face on Houston's stages, defected from the Big Apple via Los Angeles. Lehl has a resume to kill for — a Juilliard degree and stints on Broadway. Once he landed in Houston via Los Angeles he was working steadily, including numerous shows at the Alley Theatre. (If you missed Lehl's performance of Khachaturian in Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman at the Alley or Dough Wright's I am my Own Wife at Stages, well too bad for you.)
The Brave Dog defectors are a busy bunch. Right now, as in tonight, Rick Silverman and Lehl rock the house in the Horse Head Theatre Co.'s production of Stephen Belber's riveting Fault Lines at Brewery Tap. Tobin appears in Stephan Karam's Speech & Debate at Stages.
"It's fun because I play a teacher and I am a teacher," Tobin says.
Tobin doesn't have any regrets about her time in New York either. None of these artists do. It's a badge of honor for anyone to say they studied, auditioned, worked in a restaurant, or graced a small or large stage in New York.
Reck sums it up succinctly, "The arts are unparalleled in New York, there's so much to feed your soul, but if you stay too long, it eats your soul."
So Houston, get out there and support our talented defectors before they they decide to go back.