The Houston Ballet is undertaking an overhaul, starting with a new Director of Production. Andrew Nielsen, a transplant from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, joined the Houston Ballet this week to help headline their larger, more ambitious shows.
Last year, as part of a five-year plan, the ballet decided to aim for a brand new production each year, built from the ground up—a bold move, Nielsen says, and one that required management with fresh ideas and a lot of experience.
“We’re trying to figure out what we can do as an organization and with the team to better support [Houston Ballet artistic director] Stanton Welch’s artistic vision and be able to take it to the next level,” Nielsen says.
That’s where he comes in. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Nielsen is a trained opera singer with experience managing both opera and ballet. He was the program manager at the Fox Theater in Atlanta for over a decade, with an additional three years overseeing a bit of everything—ice shows, ballet, symphony, opera and more—in San Francisco. Now he’s bringing this vast base of knowledge to Houston. “We’re not just doing it the way ballet companies have always done it for years,” Nielsen says.
Nielsen replaces Brian Walker, who left the Houston Ballet several months ago but is still helping with sets for their upcoming show Giselle. But with Walker gone and the upcoming, enormous Nutcracker production planned for this Christmas, Nielsen has had his work catch up with him in his first days.
Nielsen has worked with Welch in the past, during Welch’s time as stage manager at the Atlanta Ballet. He brought his production of Madame Butterfly to Atlanta, as well as his own production Garden Mirth, a one-act, triple-bill ballet. “I love dance, but I really love when there is so much more theatricality to it,” says Nielsen. “That’s what Stanton brings; he’s always trying to tell a story.”
He’s excited still to bring his wife, herself a former ballet dancer, and son to Houston, where our more family-oriented atmosphere and lower cost of living—especially in comparison to San Francisco—was incredibly appealing. There’s a “warmth” to Houston, he says. “What is clear right now…is the amount of support the community has for this company and the passionate subscribers and subscriber base the Houston Ballet has,” Nielsen adds. “I’m very excited to be in a company that has that relationship with the community.”
Nielsen also loves how the audience in Houston is hungrier for the arts in many different ways. “I loved seeing people dress up, and that was something we didn’t have in San Francisco,” says Nielsen. “People here are going out to the arts, they’re dressed up, and they’re respectful of the arts.”