Saturday, November 19, 2005

INTERVIEW: Dominic Walsh

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Dominic Walsh
Photo by Jaime Lagdameo

Since Dominic Walsh’s inaugural concert in 2003 his career has moved at a racy pace. Last October he scored three premieres in the course of one weekend. The very next year he was named “one of 25 in the world to watch” by Dance Magazine. He shows no signs of slowing down and his season is ripe with large scale projects. Critics have taken notice; in 2004 he was named “best contemporary dance company” by The Houston Press. Former Houston dance writer Christie Taylor writes, “Walsh combines an immense respect for classical ballet with a voice so singular his work speaks at a primal level. Combine his talent with a group of dancers that respect his collaborative approach and you have the answer to the question: ‘Where is ballet headed?’" In between jaunts to Mexico and Japan, Walsh brought me up to date with all things Dominic Walsh Dance Theatre (DWDT).

You are also getting ready for your fourth Illumination Project. Why did you and Jane Weiner of Hope Stone start this project?

DW: Jane and I felt that AIDS awareness was fading from the public’s consciousness. We have lost so many talented individuals to AIDS. The Illumination Project honors these fine artists. This year includes DWDT with Mercury Baroque, Hope Stone, Stages Repertory Theatre, TUTS, to name a few. Funds raised support Bering Omega Community Services and Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative.

What will DWDT be presenting for this evening?

DW: Duo is a light, abstract piece set to Ross Edward's Ecstatic Dances. Inspired by company dancer Lindsey McGill, Duo highlights her unique talent and conveys the feel of an inside joke between the dancers. Rosa, choreographed by company member, Paola Georgudis, will be performed to Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, played live by Mercury Baroque. I’ll be dancing in both pieces.

Bring us up-to-date. What did DWDT do this summer?

DW: In June, the company was in San Francisco to perform in Dances of Enlightment, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter. Later, I judged the final examination of the official ballet school of Teatro San Carlo in Napoli, Italy and managed a visit with Mauro Bigonzetti, Director and Choreographer of Aterballetto Dance Company, about a possible ballet for DWDT.

In August we traveled to Vail, Colorado as guests of the Vail International Dance Festival where our performance of Katharis drew a standing ovation - quite a morale booster for the company. We were literally the poster child for the festival as our images were on the banners all over the city.

DWDT describes itself as a contemporary ballet company. “Contemporary” runs the gamut between Balanchine and William Forsythe. Where does your work fit in on this spectrum?

DW: My work is all over the spectrum and will continue to be. Flames of Eros was very classical in its composition and movement vocabulary while Mularra is probably one of the darkest and most experimental works I have done.

Why is live music a high priority for you?

DW: I’ve worked with Mercury Baroque, Musiqa, Two-Star Symphony, and the Terrence Karn Consortium. Live music adds another element to the live experience. Plus, I like the idea of collaboration. I’m humbled by the musician’s talents and contributions.

What are some of the challenges of working with live music?

DW: Traveling is complicated and rehearsal costs get expensive. There is always the risk of inconsistency, but once again, that is what makes the live element so exciting. You have to listen and sing along in your body.

Recently DWDT performed in a Jewish temple during the High Holy Days. How did that come about? How did this unusual venue work out for you?

DW: DWDT supporter, Rabbi Roy Walter of Congregation Emanu El suggested I create a work for the temple. The dance centered on musical themes such as the Kol Nidrei. I used an orchestrated version by Max Bruch. For me it was a journey through traditional culture and music of the Jewish faith. The venue was definitely different and I had to do some serious research to make it work. We had a sprung wood dance floor built and rented lighting equipment. In the end, the space looked true to what was, a sacred space, yet functional.

What’s happening this moment?

DW: I am creating a work for the Asami Make Ballet Tokyo to honor Prince Takamado slated for March 2006. Princess Takamado is very involved with all the details and synopsis. This and the music are being created as we speak. I first worked with the company last October with La Fille Mal Gardee.

Let’s talk about touring versus performing in Houston.

DW: Touring keeps us afloat as the presenters foot the bill. In Houston we self-produce, and it costs us roughly $100,000 to $200,000 to produce a two-night show at the Wortham or Hobby Center. We are touring Monterrey, Mexico in October, then to Italy for a Gala performance. Later this spring we head to San Antonio. I hope we can create a balance between performances at home and out of town.

In the past you have used a core group of dancers with guests gathered from all over the world. What is your hope for a stable company?

DW: Besides myself, I have three core dancers, Paola Georgudis, Domenico Luciano, and Lindsey McGill. They know my style inside and out. Eventually I would like to have 6 to 12 full-time dancers.

How do your dancers contribute to your choreography?

DW: I have tremendous confidence in my dancers. Their opinion is highly valued and they understand my approach. I may teach them a phrase and just watch how they work with it; I am not always interested in them “getting it.” I want to see what they do with the movement. This is the benefit of having your own pool of artists. I see it as the only way to really challenge and develop myself. I am always trying to find something new for them; they inspire and push me forward.

Tell us about some big projects on the horizon.

DW: In March 2007 I will create Orfeo and Eurydice for the New National Theatre Ballet, Toyko. I first worked with them in 2003, dancing in Manon with Alessandra Ferri. I am directing my first opera, Mercury Baroque’s Acis and Galatea, to premiere February 18, 2006 at the Hobby Center. Romeo & Juliet will premiere on May 19th and 20th at the Wortham.

I’m impressed by your fearless spirit in tackling an opera. Even more exciting, what makes your version of Romeo & Juliet different?

DW: I’m familiar with both the text and ballet versions of Romeo & Juliet. While at Houston Ballet, I danced the roles of Romeo and Mercutio; I wanted to experience both perspectives of the story. Traditional ballet versions stray from the original story to make it more ballet friendly; but I am staying close to the text, exploring little-known historic jewels that are rarely focused on, and delving into character relationships even deeper. The Vivaldi score will be arranged and played live by Mercury Baroque and Rob Bundy, Stages Repertory Theatre, is co-directing.

I know you have been working out of Uptown Dance Centre. Do you have a permanent home?

DW: Uptown has been wonderful for us, but it’s time to have permanent home. We have moved into our new offices at 2311 Dunlavy Street and anticipate the completion of our studios by January 2006. I am looking forward to having a central location for the company.

What keeps you coming back to the studio day after day?
DW: Potential— that word has always driven me— as a dancer, choreographer, and now, director.

DWDT and Hope Stone present The Illumination Project on December 1, 2005 at the Zilkha Hall in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby, Call 713-315-2525 or visit

This interview originally appeared in Artshouston.