It’s been more than a year since Houston audiences have seen a live performance from the Houston Ballet. That all finally changes this weekend when the company makes a triumphant return to the stage with Reignited, a two-day run at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
“At Miller, I feel like I'm going to blink, and it's going to be over because we've been waiting for this for so long,” principal dancer and audience favorite Connor Walsh tells Houstonia.
A mix of live performance and film, it’s a short program (less than 1.5 hours long) with a limited number of dancers onstage and musicians in the pit. But it’s the Ballet, so you best expect greatness. While seats under the covered pavilion ran out within about 10 minutes of going online and these shows won’t be streamed online, there’ll still be space on the hill (get there early, MOT recommends, as seats are first come, first served).
We spoke with Walsh about returning to the stage, the effects of the pandemic on the company, and his role in Reignited.
What’s the last year been like for you, especially being offstage for so long?
For the first six months of the pandemic, the effect of the separation was really severe. The biggest change and challenge for us immediately was the separation from peers and coworkers, who are like family members. The people who I work with, I've gone to school with and have known now for almost 20 years. We usually spend all day together every day. The Ballet has a wonderful supportive community of people who are committed to it, and we usually get to see each other every month or so at events and performances. I've missed that terribly.
How have you spent the shutdown?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I told myself to approach this time as a long injury and use the time to improve my body and improve my health as much as possible. I've seen some of my peers improve during this pandemic because we've had time to focus on ourselves, to focus on our personal approaches and technique.
I had the pleasure of teaching a little bit through Zoom. I got to create some pieces; I filmed some pieces. When we realized that we were going to be in lockdown for much longer than we anticipated we committed to creating much longer stay-at-home pieces. And that's been fun. But as interesting as all that work has been, I really want to be in the room dancing. I can't wait until that's our normal again.
Have your thoughts on live performance changed at all throughout the pandemic?
When I was younger, being onstage almost felt like a blink, then later, I'd be in bed and be thinking, what happened? Now, especially on the Wortham stage, I feel much more present, much more aware, and I can really savor the moments. I think now more than ever we’ll savor the moments because we’ve realized how fleeting those moments are.
A live performance is filled with spontaneity. You have the sense that you have to be there and be there in that moment. To live and breathe that moment, not only onstage with my peers but with the audience, it's something that you can't replace.
What will you be performing for Reignited?
I'll be doing the Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux with Karina González. We were the original cast. In a way, it was very daunting to approach that piece because there are a lot of lifts, which are standard for Artistic Director Stanton Welch. But Karina and I have worked together so much that it’s really like riding a bike. It took us a few minutes to get our trust back, but very quickly we were feeling like our old selves—just minus a little stamina, which is well on its way.
We're just getting our feet back in the water, but hopefully the whole company will be able to dive in soon.
8 p.m. May 7–8. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Dr. More info at houstonballet.com.