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A Brit at Home in Houston: Phillip Broomhead

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Phillip Broomhead

Houston Ballet’s Phillip Broomhead

by Marene Gustin • Photo by Pam Francis

I thought I’d made a huge mistake,” says the handsome 48-year-old Phillip Broomhead of his move from the Royal Ballet to Houston Ballet almost 20 years ago. “But once I got over the humidity, I loved it. I was surprised at how liberal it was—I never thought I had to be closeted here. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Born and raised in London, this classically trained dancer was a principal at the Royal before jumping the pond to come to Texas in 1991, following in the footsteps of fellow Brit Ben Stevenson, then the Houston Ballet’s artistic director. Broomhead’s first purchase here was a pair of cowboy boots he still owns. He also quickly developed a taste for Tex-Mex (with Ninfa’s being his haunt of choice), and he enjoyed two-stepping and line dancing, competing with the Lone Star Lariats at the International Association of Gay/Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs competition.

Just a few short months after he came to Houston, Broomhead made a very unexpected appearance with the Royal Ballet in a performance that won him international acclaim and became the stuff of ballet legends. He was vacationing in Washington DC and caught the Royal’s performance of Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center. But during the first act, the lead male dancer tore a ligament and was carried off stage. With no rehearsal, not even a warm-up, Broomhead found himself dancing the role of Prince Siegfried.

“I’m just really flattered that people still remember that,” laughs Broomhead with his subtle British accent. “That was a long time ago.”

In the years since, Broomhead has gone on to other roles and more acclaim. He created roles in the world premieres of Glen Tetley’s Lux in Tenebris, Stevenson’s Eclipse, and Trey McIntyre’s Peter Pan. In 2004 he retired from the stage to become Houston’s ballet master, a job he enjoys. “I like imparting the little pearls of wisdom I’ve collected to the next generation of dancers,” he says. “I really don’t miss taking class. I think I deserve to calm it down a little bit.”

Broomhead and Sara Webb in Houston Ballet’s production of La fille mal gardée.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t see him onstage any more. He still performs character roles in most of the ballet’s big ensemble productions, and you can catch him this month as the comic, clog-dancing Widow Simone in Sir Frederick Ashton’s La fille mal gardée [The Wayward Daughter].

“I like her,” Broomhead says of the Widow. “I played her for my retirement show, so it’s like visiting an old friend.” The comic role is less drag—something Broomhead appreciates—and more
British pantomime. “You’re not trying to be a woman, you’re just wearing a dress.” And it’s a pretty outrageous dress, big bustle and all. More Minnie Pearl, less Dame Edna.

After decades of strenuous dance training, Broomhead now prefers to keep in shape with some weights and cardio a couple of times a week at Crew Health & Fitness, and maybe a little social dancing at Guava Lamp or Meteor. He’s not exactly an outdoorsman, so you won’t find him jogging or playing tennis. Relaxing on the beach is more his style. Not that he’s gone to pot. Far from it—at just under six feet, and with a touch of elegant graying at the temples, Broomhead is still trim and handsome. But not available.

Last year he met former gymnast and Broadway dancer Trey Gillen, in town with the touring company of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Hobby Center. Soon after that, Gillen moved here and joined the staff at Urban Retreat as a now-popular hair stylist, and kept his hand in the theater. He was in Miss Saigon last fall.

“Trey is a wonderful influence on me,” Broomhead says. “He’s very involved in the community and charity events. We go to a lot of social events, theater, and dinners with friends.

“I like to think I’m outgoing,” says Broomhead. “And I am if I have a little alcohol. But really, I’m still a little reserved. That’s the British in me.” By the way, he likes wine, but he’s not an oenophile—his drink of choice is Bourbon and Diet Coke.

The couple also spends time fixing up their home in east Houston. Broomhead is the handyman—he just finished gutting a garage apartment—and Gillen, the cook. And they have “a bit of a menagerie” that they look after: a cat, six kittens, and two dogs (Pee Wee the Pomeranian and Zouche the Chihuahua).

The couple dines out often at eateries ranging from Gravitas to Niko Niko’s and Shiva’s. Broomhead is fond of Indian food, recalling that in London there is an Indian restaurant on every corner. They would also like to travel more when their schedules permit. Otherwise, Broomhead sees life continuing on pretty much like it is for a while.

“I would love to be an artistic director someday,” he muses. “But I think that’s down the road. Being a ballet master is good preparation for that. And someday
I’d like to just freelance and have lots of time off.”

Houston Ballet’s La fille mal gardée
When: 7:30 p.m. on June 10, 12, 18, 19, and 2 p.m. on June 13, 19, 20.
Where: Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue.
Wherewithal: Tickets, which start at $18, are available at 713/227-ARTS, houstonballet.org, and the Houston Ballet box office at Wortham Theater Center.

Marene Gustin profiled chefs Cat Cora and Monica Pope in the April issue of OutSmart.

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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