There's one difference between the dancers choreographer Garrett Smith works with in Norway and those he works with in Houston: "European dancers are a little more adventurous. If I ask someone to scream and jump into the orchestra pit, in Norway the dancers would say, 'Alright, here I go!' Somebody at Houston Ballet would say, 'Wait, really?'"
Smith, a former member of the Houston Ballet and now a member of the Norwegian National Ballet, has come back to the city where he launched his professional career as a dancer. This time he's here as a choreographer. His new work, part of the Four Premieres concert by Houston Ballet, is an appropriately named work, Return. "Did everybody get that?" Smith laughs.
Set to music by John Adams, Return features six male and six female dancers as a group of teens who find a secret place. "It's abstract with a narrative stream through it," Smith tells us. "While they're there they have a fun time with one another. Other than that, I've keep it abstract ... so that people can bring their own interpretation to it."
An up-and-coming choreographer, Smith previously created five works for Houston Ballet II during his tenure here. Return is the first commissioned piece he's creating for the Houston Ballet. He says he's been well-received as a choreographer by his former dance associates. "It's been a dream literally, every day has just been like cake. I've never felt so much love and support."
The process, however positive, hasn't been completely without a few odd moments. "Going from a co-worker to choreographer, that's a really tricky question because I'm still figuring it out as I go along with every day.
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"I'm literally choreographing on my best friends, but no matter what I still direct in the studio as if they weren't my friends. I'm very professional in the studio. Creating here, I knew who I wanted to right away. Of course, I wanted to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and try to have an unbiased opinion but I [was] here for six years, I think I know who's going to serve the piece the best.
"Outside the studio, we've all hung out and done dinners. But it's such a fine line, the way you have to act and present yourself. I've gone to dinners with Stanton [Welch] and a few other people now and its so interesting to be in that position. I'm not perceived as a little student anymore. I feel respected."
Smith says the contemporary Return is representative of only some of his interests and skills as a choreographer. "I've always had two sides to me. I was brought up in the competition circuit with jazz, the So You Think You Can Dance type of dancing, but then I started training professionally in ballet and came to Houston. There are days when I like to choreograph more classically, and then there are days I really want to run around and roll on the floor. I love Vivaldi, but I also love Philip Glass. I love to choreograph in bare feet ... and I love pointe shoes. This piece, this time around, is going to be more contemporary but I just want people to know, in the future, there will be tutus."
See Four Premieres at 7:30 p.m. September 5, 7, 13, 14 and 2 p.m. September 8 and 15. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Ave. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit the Houston Ballet website. $19 to $190.