First Soloist Oliver Halkowich Explores What Houston Ballet Has Meant to Him in A World Premiere

Houston Ballet First Soloist and choreographer and Ballet Master Amy Fote with Artists of Houston Ballet rehearsing Following.
Houston Ballet First Soloist and choreographer and Ballet Master Amy Fote with Artists of Houston Ballet rehearsing Following. Photo by Amitava Sarkar/ Courtesy of Houston Ballet

During its first mixed repertoire program this season, the Houston Ballet will show off the much-admired Mummuration by Edwaard Liang and Passion by James Kudelka — along with two world premieres one of which is by Houston Ballet First Soloist Oliver Halkowich.

In addition to the world premiere of Elapse by Chinese choreographer Disha Zhang, Halkowich will be debuting his first solo choreography effort for Houston Ballet entitled Following. It is an intensely personal piece, he says, exploring the ups and downs of life as a dancer.

"I'm making a dance about my influences and my experience in life and ballet and in Houston," he says. "It is all specific to me told through the lens of these wonderful artists in the Houston Ballet."

"I come from a varied dance background but I wanted to make something as close to a ballet as I think I had in me. This is my version of a ballet. This is my version, a sort of play on little divertisements of dance with each one having a different temperament to it and I'm also kind of very interested in music and dance, how I hear music. There will be seven different tracks and each one has a different feeling and a different time signature to it. And that kind of spoke to me as how each one has its own theme, its own little story to it."

Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch asked Halkowich if he'd like to create a piece as part of the new 2019-20 season.

"When Stanton approached me about making this work for the 50th anniversary season he spoke about it being a celebratory year and I just thought about being how I wanted to celebrate ballet. I kind of saw back to myself as a 16-year-old in ballet school and how I felt  when I would go see the ballet. I would go to see everything.

"I wanted to celebrate ballet and what it has done for me and made a piece for the kind of 16-year-old in me. It's meant to be fun and it's meant to be celebrating dance.  (The 11 dancers will be in some '80s David Bowie-inspired disco costumes designed by Monica Guerra.) There's tough things going on in life, in my life, but through that ballet and Houston Ballet specifically has given me structure and made me who I am. So that's what I'm putting on stage."

Halkowich says he choreographed his first piece in 2012 in a workshop. Then last year he worked with Houston Ballet Principals Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh in creating a post Hurricane Harvey work.

Halkowich says he has been going back and forth between choreography and dancing. "I'll be a dancer in one rehearsal and then I'll have to switch hats quickly to become the choreographer in the next rehearsal." At 36, he recognizes that he had to take better care of his body and while he still dances, he thinks balancing both efforts is good for him to do right now.

As a child growing up in the Florida Keys, Halkowich was involved in karate and gymnastics in addition to dance. His first classes were in tap and jazz. At age 7, he was told by his teacher to take a class in ballet to better his jazz and tap, he did so, and fell in love with ballet. "I just immediately took a liking to ballet and I've been trying to figure out why all these years. Ballet surpassed the jazz and tap and all the other things."

He set the piece to music by Moondog, an iconic character who both invented musical instruments and wrote music based on the street sounds around him in New York City.

"He’s was a little bit of a counter culture icon. He played his music on the street. He was blind. He dressed as a Viking and made his own instruments. I somehow found his music on iTunes and I really liked what a range it had to it. He obviously had been inspired by classical music but I think he was inspired by jazz music and more avant-garde stuff so it spoke to me because I have a lot of influences and I didn't want to put just one thing on the page. I wanted to capture a little bit more of what it means to be me."

“I am honored and thrilled to be a part of Houston Ballet’s 50th season, and that joy is what I want the audience to feel in my new work,” says Halkowich.

Performances are scheduled for September 19-29 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Firday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-227-6737 or visit $25-$200.
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