Houston Ballet’s newest digital project, ADROIT: Clever or Skillful in Using the Hands or Mind got its start during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey when, like the rest of the city, Houston’s art community pooled resources to overcome the disaster.
At the time, Artistic Director Stanton Welch and Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, began a conversation about possible joint projects. That was several weather disasters, a worldwide pandemic, and a new MFAH building ago. Well, the collab’s finally happened.
“I joke with the dancers that we’re actually in a video game,” Welch tells us, laughing. “We must be at the top level because we’ve managed to survive so many levels of weather catastrophes.”
In May, the ballet spent several days filming in the museum’s expansive Kinder Building. The result is ADROIT, a lyrical and lighthearted 7-minute film available to viewers via the company’s social media channels. Dressed in 18th-century period costumes, dancers joyfully move to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s A Little Night Music as the camera shifts among the contemporary works and modern architecture.
Houstonia spoke with Welch about the project and the future of dancing on film.
Dancing for film is very different from dancing for the stage, isn’t it?
It is. Film is a unique experience. It’s also extraordinarily disjointed. Usually, you run something for an hour, half an hour. This you run something for 12 seconds, 35 seconds. And then you shut down the entire shoot, you move, and relight. And you add Covid problems to all of that.
What was it like working inside the Kinder Building?
I didn’t choreograph until I was there. I knew it was going to be as much about the space and the artwork as it was about dancing. They gave us extraordinary access to this incredible building. We were surrounded by this incredible art. We were alone in there with the music playing. It was wonderful. And it was weird. The filmmakers have the dancers repeat each piece four or five times and then they pick the one they like best. That feels very odd. It’s not like a live performance where you do your best and it happens and everyone just has it in their memory. Here, the dancers don’t get to see it until it’s complete.
Digital performances are here to stay, aren’t they?
Yes. Now what form that will be, I’m not sure yet. Dance and film have been connected for a while but now we’ve been forced to learn how to use it. Still, I’m not sure what that will look like going forward.