As Ian Casady sat regally on the throne during a Sunday matinee of Sleeping Beauty, Houston Ballet prima ballerina Lauren Anderson by his side, an endless stream of memories flooded his mind. “I remember sitting there, watching everybody do these roles that I had done over the years,” he says. “I’d been a court man, an Ivan, part of the pas de quatre in the third act. Then the Prince, and finally, now, the King. It was a little bit of a trip down memory lane.”
Though it wasn’t publicly known at the time, Casady, 40, was preparing to hang up his slippers after his run as Romeo in the Ballet’s production of Romeo & Juliet, its final show of the 2019-2020 season. He had no way of knowing that Sunday afternoon performance on March 8 would be his final as the company’s principal dancer.
It wasn’t exactly the way he expected to end his performing career—one that began with ballet lessons in his hometown of Fairfax, California, before taking him to the Houston Ballet Academy. Casady joined the professional company in 1998 as a member of the Corps de Ballet and quickly rose through the ranks, become a soloist in 2002 and a principal dancer in 2007. There were no roses at his feet when the curtain closed on his dance career, nor an extended standing ovation from an adoring audience and company (though his fellow dancers did say goodbye in a heartfelt video).
Still, Casady says, as he looks back on it all these months later, it was a satisfying close to 22 years of dancing with Houston’s ballet. Ben Stevenson’s Sleeping Beauty was one of the first shows he performed during his first year with the company, and Anderson, his queen in this season’s production, the first dancer he met upon arriving in the Bayou City. “Any show that we do as a dancer could be our last because of an injury or lots of different things that can stop your career,” he adds. “This wasn’t what I had planned, but it was still a meaningful performance.”
While the now-retired dancer has taken his final bow from the Wortham Theater Center stage, that doesn’t mean his time with the Bayou City company is over. He’s already glided into a new role: the company’s fourth Ballet Master, where he will help the company maintain its high level of performance by coaching dancers; teachings choreography and classes; and even staging pieces.
The move was always part of Casady’s grand plan, though going from performer to performer’s teacher has been a bit of a transition. Being a dancer is all about absorbing the instruction as well as critical feedback and translating that instruction into beautiful movement, he tells us. Now that he’s running the rehearsals, the dancers are looking to him for that guidance. “It’s a different mindset when you’re the one driving the rehearsal. It’s a different kind of mental energy that’s required, to always be a step ahead and have in mind what’s next.”
Among his first tasks in this new role was hosting a live preview ahead of the Ballet’s first offering of the fall season, A Night at Jacob’s Pillow, which begins Friday, October 9. The live preview took viewers inside Just, the three-movement ballet featured in the digital program. Choreographed by the Ballet’s Artistic Director Stanton Welch, this dance marked the Houston company’s return to the famed Jacob’s Pillow summer festival when the show had its world premiere in 2018. Putting together the Just preview required a different skillset of Casady as he led some half-dozen dancers in a discussion about their experiences related to the performance.
The new Ballet Master is enjoying the chance to expand his abilities, though he isn’t thinking about tackling choreography chores quite yet.
And, of course, there’s always a chance he’ll return to the stage for one last encore. Says Casady, “I wouldn’t rule it out.”
A Night at Jacob’s Pillow. Thru Oct 18. $20. Online. More info at houstonballet.org.