Dame Malvina Major Foundation Christchurch Arts Excellence Award recipient dancer Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson is now dancing professionally with the Houston Ballet in Texas. He shares his experiences nine months in.
The year started off with a bang and never really let up. In my first day with the company we jumped straight into rehearsals. They were working on pieces that most of the dancers already knew, and so the new dancers were immediately under the microscope. How quickly could we learn the choreography, and how could we handle the pressure of being switched into a part we had only hours to learn? It was a complete change of pace to being in school where we would have months to master the same amount of choreography.
About a month in to the work year Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and suddenly the entire season was changed. It devastated many areas and people in Houston, and the Ballet was also affected in major ways. Flooding ruined our home theatre, which included decades worth of costumes and sets, and essentially years of the company history. We were unsure where we would perform for the rest of the season, if we would even perform. They ended up securing enough locations, and most of the planned performances went ahead, although a few did have to be changed to fit some of the pop-up makeshift theatres. It was inspiring to see the community, within and surrounding the ballet and all the arts in Houston, band together to ensure that the arts would still exist in the Houston community this year. Even though I was a still a stranger to this community, it made me feel like this was a place that I could really proudly invest in over the next couple of years, or however long I stay.
Some performance highlights of the year have been: getting chosen to be one of six Houston Ballet dancers to perform in the world famous Menil Collection’s Merce Cunningham/John Cage/Jasper John’s museum event, making it through 30 performances of The Nutcracker with nine different roles, performing in Australian choreographer Tim Harbour’s “Filigree and Shadow”, and finally getting to learn my favourite dance piece Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti.”
I’ve also ended up coaching and choreographing contemporary work of a few of the other dancers in the company. Many of them are solely ballet trained and they feel less confident with this work, although I think they are great already and that they need my help less than they think. It has been fun to continue getting practice teaching and choreographing instead of just dancing all the time. We also do a bit of a trade—they help me a lot with getting my ballet work up to par, which has been crucial for me because a lot of our performances are classical ballet. I think the most important part of this year for me has been improving my technique, and although it is a never-ending journey for any dancer, I am really happy with the improvements I’ve been able to make over the last nine months.
I was renewed and promoted to the corps de ballet for next season and so I am excited to be here for another year. I have been casted to perform in a collaboration with the Houston Musical Theatre Company in Oklahoma! which seems like it will be a really different experience to what I am used to and a good opportunity to grow. I am also looking forward to a production of a ballet version of The Jungle Book in Blenheim, and hopefully getting a bit of teaching in at some of the schools in Christchurch when I can grab some time to make the trip home.
I cannot stress how grateful I am to everyone at the Dame Malvina Major Foundation; I certainly would not have been at the standard needed to work here at Houston Ballet if not for my time at Juilliard. Many of the opportunities I have been offered within the company have been a direct result of the versatile training I received there. Thank you for all of the support, and I will continue to work hard to keep advancing further along in this tough but rewarding career in the arts.