Houston's arts community was stunned on Friday when CultureMap announced choreographer Dominic Walsh was suspending the 2014-2015 season for his company, the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. Walsh later released a statement confirming that he would be taking a sabbatical, saying, ""This sabbatical will give me the chance to explore other opportunities and interests that I simply have not been free to spend time on with the many obligations I've been committed to for these 12 years.I look forward to accepting opportunities to create and stage my works, teaching classes as a guest and coaching ballets."
Walsh also has personal reasons for the change. Denver's Colorado Ballet recently promoted Walsh's longtime partner, Domenico Luciano, to Principal Dancer with the company. "I'm very much looking forward to having a bit of personal time, and to having the availability to stay in Denver cheering on Domenico as he starts his second season with Colorado Ballet," Walsh continues.
"I have enjoyed occasionally guest teaching with the company, and this year should be particularly exciting as it is Domenico's first season there as Principal Dancer."
We asked Walsh about his time in Houston, as he moved from being a teenager dancing with the Houston Ballet to being an award-winning choreographer with his own company and his time working on his latest project, Malta Kano, TX, a dance film co-created with Frederique de Montblanc.
Walsh joined the Houston Ballet in 1987; the company was then under the direction of Ben Stevenson. "That 16 year old kid swinging the incense in the premiere of Houston Ballet's Romeo and Juliet had no idea what he was in for," Walsh tells us. "I just wanted to be a great ballet dancer, I had no idea my interests would be so vast and so fulfilling." He became a Principle Dancer with the Houston Ballet in 1996, dancing the company's entire contemporary repertoire over his 17 year tenure. Stevenson created several roles for Walsh including Marc Antony in Cleopatra. Along with Stevenson, choreographers such as Jiří Kylián, George Balanchine and Natalie Weir greatly influenced Walsh.
In 1998, Stevenson invited Walsh to choreograph a work for the Houston Ballet. Walsh created Flames of Eros, which went on to win the prestigious Choo-San Goh Award for Choreography. He created three more works for the Houston Ballet and Houston Ballet Academy before leaving the company in 2004 to pursue the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater full-time. (Walsh founded the company in 2002; it had its premiere in 2003.)
"I feel blessed to have shared space with great dancers, directors, choreographers, teachers and overall amazing artists," Walsh tells us. Two of the dancers he has most closely worked with over the years have been Domenico Luciano, originally from Italy, and Hana Sakai, from Japan. The two (either alone or as a pair) have been at the center of many of Walsh's most provocative creations including Uzume (2012), Clair de Lune (2011), The Firebird (2009), Camille Claudel (2012), and most recently Malta Kano, TX.
"Those two artists especially have contributed so much of themselves ... to the entire process.," Walsh tells us. Their professionalism, etiquette and integrity around their work and their life values have made so much of my work go into realms unplanned and better for it. During the film they were extraordinary, oftentimes their days were 14 hours long, sometimes finishing at 4 a.m. after doing the duet on the grass over 10 times as the temp dropped down to 50 degrees. They never once companied and brought absolute top performance to every shot. I can't imagine two dance artists with such exceptional skill and willingness to adjust to a challenging situation. I'm so grateful."
With a career filled with highlights, Walsh tells us some moment stand out for him. "I would have to say Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, Firebird, Camille Claudel and Victor Frankenstein. Then doing Kylian's 27'52" duet, Bourne's Swan Lake and Ek's Pas de Dans. All very special moments."
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Walsh has spent the last 27 years on Houston stages, as a dancer, as a choreographer and most recently as a filmmaker. How is the Houston he leaves in 2014 different from the one he saw in 1987? "This is a very complex question and would take a great deal of time to really go deep into it. I think funding has been less and audiences are a little inconsistent, so the [administrative] element is complicated. I'm thrilled that our tried and true fans have developed an appetite for this kind of aesthetic, movement vocabulary and form of story telling.
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"I'm very happy about the work we have created, I truly feel our artistic goals have been met. I hope people will think of their experiences with us fondly... We are so grateful to the support we have received, many have made great efforts to see this company realized."
Walsh's sabbatical leaves the future of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater uncertain. He may return to Houston to rejuvenate DWDT in the 2015-2016 season or continue DWDT somewhere else or in some different configuration. He can't give fans a definite plan for the company's future but he does have this to say to audience members and supporters: "Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the performances in emails and cards, this has been the most nourishing part in the deeper sense of it all."