You won’t often get the chance to see a ballerina dancing while seven months pregnant, but that’s part of choreographer Oliver Halkowich’s new work this weekend at Rice University.
Halkowich’s piece is part of the Moody Center for the Arts’ Dimensions Variable series, a set of programs pairing artists from various disciplines. Halkowich, an out choreographer, will be responding to Laure Prouvost’s visual art exhibit Above Front Tears Nest in South.
“I’m using Jessica Collado [in my dance piece],” says Halkowich. “There’s something magical about a beautiful seven-month-pregnant woman moving through that space.”
Halkowich explains that this will be an “ambulatory” performance that invites the audience to follow the dancers through the gallery as they interact with Prouvost’s art, accompanied by the music of composer James Templeton. The work also features Zoe Lucich and Saul Newport, both Houston Ballet members whom Halkowich has worked with before.
Halkowich has a theme, rather than a specific storyline, for Above Front Tears Nest in South. It combines video, sculpture, and textiles, and features glass-blown birds nesting, hybrid creatures flying, and other whimsical creatures. Before visiting the Moody Center gallery and talking with the show’s curator Frauke V. Josenhans, Halkowich had some difficulty envisioning Prouvost’s surrealist exhibit.
“I couldn’t wrap my brain around it before I saw it because it has so many elements,” he admits. “It sounded like everything I love, but I couldn’t imagine it until I got into the space. Then it just clicked.
“There’s the idea of leaving a nest and returning to the nest that I wanted to zero in on. The exhibit is amazing and it’s like I’m getting this whole incredible set to play with. It’s pretty wild. It’s dark, but there’s also humor in it. I try to do all that on a good day. It’s a journey that I’m getting to go on, and I get to take the audience along with me.”
The idea of nesting especially resonated with Halkowich, who moved to New Orleans just a few months ago and is currently living in a shotgun house with no furniture.
“It’s been a long process of leaving Houston. I’m coming back to Houston but I’m also leaving in a more permanent way, and all that came together in [this dance project],” Halkowich says.
A member of the Houston Ballet for some 20 years, Halkowich recently left the company to become the resident choreographer for the New Orleans Ballet Theatre.
“I saw the end of my career coming, and I didn’t know quite how it was going to happen. I had been going to New Orleans for the last couple of years, and one day the New Orleans director asked me if I wanted to make a new Romeo & Juliet for them. It was an incredible opportunity. That whole process was profound. At the same time, I was telling a story about love. I was finding a new love story for myself—loving ballet in a new way as a choreographer. That whole process was really profound for me, and it helped me find my footing again. It was a gift.”
Halkowich recognizes that his experiences at Houston Ballet, both as a dancer and as a choreographer, greatly impacted his new work with New Orleans Ballet Theatre. He worked with both artistic directors Ben Stevenson and Stanton Welch, who have both influenced his style.
“I never made a two-hour ballet before Romeo & Juliet. With something that long, you have to pull from everyone and everywhere. When I saw the final version, I saw how much I had pulled from Stanton. I’ve always tried to be as original as I can be, but he’s in there.
“Ben Stevenson, who hired me, is also in there. When I’m working, I hear Ben in my ear. He knows how to connect with an audience and how to connect with dancers. And he’s hysterical! Rehearsals with Ben were always so fun because he’s just hysterical and profound at the same time. I’m so grateful for having been able to work with him.”
Asked about the qualities he would borrow from those mentors, Halkowich was quick with his answers. “With Stanton, he sees the bigger picture and can push away all of the other stuff that doesn’t need to be there. I find that hard to do. And I think I borrow Ben’s storytelling craft. I grew up as a theater kid, and I would want Ben’s charm in storytelling.”
Halkowich’s next creation for New Orleans Ballet Theatre is Dracula, which will premiere next year in May.