Two to Watch
Meet Joe Modlin and Brit Wallis of Hope Stone
by Marene Gustin
Photos by Simon Gentry
Hope Stone, Inc. is one of those arts organizations that is as much about art as it is about community. Founded in 1997 by Jane Weiner, an extremely talented choreographer and former dancer with the renowned Doug Elkins Dance Company, Hope Stone opened its own 3,500-square-foot facility, Hope Center, in 2004 and today presents a professional season by the Hope Stone Dance Company, provides community dance classes, and runs an empowering youth program called Kid’s Play and a budding artist program called Hopewerks.
And while all of the dancers at Hope Stone are pretty awesome, there are two we wanted to spotlight this season.
“I have a dance crush on Brit,” says Weiner of dancer Brit Wallis. “There is such an ease and fluidity in the way she moves that is, well, just splendid. I love watching her dance. She is so alive when she dances, eating up the movement, attacking the stage. She is like a little bird when she dances—light, fun, sexy, silly, and breathtaking.”
The 30-year-old Wallis, a native Houstonian, joined the company three years ago. “It’s very community-based,” Wallis says of the group. “And very supportive. Jane is such an awesome person; she allows us to be expressive. And everyone there is very caring and giving.”
Wallis says she’s always had a lot of energy. Her mother put her in dance classes at an early age “to get me out of her hair.” It turned out to be a very fortuitous move, as Wallis has been a professional dancer since finishing high school.
“I don’t know how it’s worked out,” she says, “but I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Wallis has had no problems being an out lesbian, and says the company is very supportive. But oddly enough, she’s only been partnered with gay men. The lithe dancer is single and lives with her cocker spaniel, Zander, in Montrose. (Yes, she’s a Buffy fan.) She paints in her spare time, but mostly she just dances and hopes to keep doing it as long as she can. That, and building relationships with nonprofits.
“I always want to keep working with arts organizations,” she says. “Who knows—maybe I’ll wind up being Jane’s office assistant someday when I can’t dance anymore.”
But right now she’s just looking forward to the new season with Hope Stone and seeing where “Jane’s brain” will take the dancers. “Her choreography is human, quirky,” Wallis says. “The dances are always fun and the choreography is adapted to each dancer’s body.”
Joe Modlin, a fellow dancer, has a lot of admiration for Wallis. “I danced with Brit in Lemonade Stand last summer,” he says. She’s got legs that won’t quit. I swear sometimes they’re longer than mine.” High praise, but doubtful since Modlin is 6’6”.
“He seems to have this wonderful sense of my movement, and I love to watch him take what I give him and find the nuances and subtleties, as well as the excitement of watching how he moves all 6 feet 6 inches of his frame across the stage. It is a joy,” Weiner says of Modlin.
Weiner and Modlin have a long history. He started dancing with Hope Stone in 1999 and today still dances, works in the office part-time, and is director of the Hopewerks program that mentors young choreographers and performance artists with three-month residencies.
“This is the first year we’re having
an actual season for the Hopewerks artists,” Modlin says. “All three artists will have a performance at the end of their residencies.”
The 2011–2012 residents include Miranda Leonard from September to November, Alex Soares from January to March, and Laura Gutierrez from April to June. They will have use of the space for creating and rehearsing, and will learn how to run a business and produce a show, from marketing the show and selling tickets to setting up seats. Tickets for each performance are only $5.
Modlin had his own mentor when he began dancing. The 40-year-old was a music major at Ball State University in Indiana when he took a ballet class with Lou Ann Young. After only a few classes, Young asked him to join the Ball State Dance Theatre and then her Anderson Young Ballet Theatre.
“I laughed in her face!” Modlin says. “But I said Okay, you’ll see.” But Young knew talent when she saw it, and Modlin is still dancing professionally today.
When he isn’t moving on stage or in class, he’s teaching Gyrotonics or working in the Hope Stone office. Otherwise, he’s usually just chilling out with his boyfriend of nine years watching Criminal Minds or Project Runway. His tastes are a bit eclectic.
“I sew a little bit,” he says. “And I love country music. People think that’s odd, but I grew up in a small town in Indiana. That’s what we listened to.” And that’s where he learned to do home projects.
“My house is in a constant state of renovation,” Modlin says. “I learned from my dad: start a project, wait six months, then start another.”
The first thing he did when he bought his Eastwood home was remodel the bathroom to add an extra-long tub to accommodate his size. He says it was the first time he could lie down in a bathtub.
As for the new Hope Stone season, Modlin is just looking forward to some new works by Weiner.
“Being involved in the creative process is exciting,” he says. “Jane just gives us the movement and then lets us make it our own. I love this company. It’s changed so much over the years I’ve been here, but it’s still just a small, loving family.”
Check out Modlin and Wallis and the rest of the Hope Stone Dance Company in la vie à pleines dents (to bite life with all of one’s teeth), a performance with Mercury Baroque and the Houston Boychoir, January 12–15. For tickets, call 713/526-1907 or buy online at hopestoneinc.org.
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.