At the Houston Ballet, Giving Dancers the Floor, and Much More

Plus, the performances we're psyched to see this season.

By Morgan Kinney August 26, 2019 Published in the September 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Dowell working on props for Giselle.

Every Houston ballet performance starts from the ground up, when Property Master Dustin Dowell and his team methodically roll out the dance floor to ensure there are no wrinkles or bubbles. “The dancers employ all of us,” he explains, “so that’s my number one priority, that they have a good clean surface to dance on.”

Of course, the work doesn’t stop there. Each season has a few “lights and tights” productions that showcase the dancers without much in the way of set design or props, but then there are shows like The Nutcracker. Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s revamped version of the classic requires eight semi-trailers full of props to execute, with all of those oversized presents and toys under Dowell’s purview. He’s currently working on a specialized snow tumbler, which works more or less “like a bingo cage” to efficiently churn out that production’s “ungodly amount of snow.”

Dowell had never seen a ballet before taking this job. The Odessa transplant started working backstage at weekend rock ‘n’ roll shows in 1999 before coming to work for HB as an assistant carpenter in 2008. Today, after four years as property master, Dowell rolls up to work on his motorcycle, thrilled to enable the company’s artistry. “The applause at the end of the show during bows is not just for the dancers,” Dowell says. “It gives me goosebumps even going in front of the theater—it’s very fulfilling.”

Season Standouts

GiselleHouston Ballet | Sept. 6-15

When Stanton Welch updated the 1841 romantic ballet three years ago, he beefed up its themes of love and betrayal to make it more enticing to contemporary audiences. Many of the dancers return to their original roles, along with Roberta Guidi di Bagno’s stunning sets and costumes.

Martha Graham Dance CompanySociety for the Performing Arts | Oct. 18

Described by the Washington Post as “one of the seven wonders of the artistic universe,” the oldest American dance company returns to Houston for the first time in 15 years to prove it still has new tricks up its sleeve. The program will include “Chronicle” from the company’s EVE Project, which celebrates female empowerment through movement. 

UNBOUNDMETdance | Nov. 15-16

Featuring a mixture of world premieres from familiar names like Sean Carmon and Andrea Dawn Shelley, this program finds comfort in the liminal spaces that exist outside everyday boundaries and limitations.

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