Coming back to Houston feels like I never left

support my work at Patreon…though coming back to most places feels like I never left. Living so much of life in an airplane makes everywhere feel possible all the time. Turn the corner and you are in Brooklyn. Get out of the car and you are in Melbourne. On the flight last night I had a bizarrely long panic because I could not remember where I was headed. That lack of info had the distinct feeling of being presently nowhere. Like my lack of presence would spread me into a million little pieces. Remembering was so comforting. I feel comfortable sliding in and out of environments and new situations. When you are 6’6” it is perhaps your only chance for a period of anonymity. Traveling doesn’t feel that much like change. It’s more like turning the lights up or down in the same room.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This morning was the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Parade. I set my alarm to get me there from the beginning. Texas is so unashamedly Texas. Fringe and America and horses. Crowd control officials spent most of their day fetching cowboy hats that were lost in the wind and returning them to riders. Horses are so beautiful and sad.

Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Chun Wai Chan.
Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Chun Wai Chan.

I finished my work for BalletX before I came here. This was a gentler process for me than most…save for the first few days when I don’t know anything about anything. This time was filled with faith and with play. And the dance I set out to make is the dance I made.

I’ve been blessed with two week-long breaks in the rehearsal process. This is one of them. When I return to Philadelphia after opening In Dreams here in Houston, I’ll have had some time to be away from it and return to it as more of a stranger. It will suddenly have costumes and lights and a finished set too. I’ll get one day to see it as an audience member.

I’m sitting in a downtown Houston coffee shop and Steven Woodgate, who is Ballet Master for In Dreams, and Barbara Bears, who was a Principal Dancer when I was dancing with Houston Ballet, just walked in. Barbara and I were also in Houston Ballet Academy together and worked together quite a bit in the early parts of our careers. It’s a nice thing to check in with her over the years. There are so many moments in her turn of phrase that remind me of our director in Houston, Ben Stevenson. Your mentors stay with you for life. We are older now and don’t communicate from the same insecurities of youth that are doubly so of young dancers. What strikes me about this conversation is that the things that have changed are just interesting…novelties. We are different people at different points in lives. The city is different. We haven’t seen each other in years. But I love this person as much as if I had seen her yesterday. She is a part of my life and she always will be.

Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Chun Wai Chan.

The Wortham Theater that the ballet usually performs in is still closed due to massive flooding. Houston Ballet is doing makeshift performances in the Convention Center so not even the theater I have associated with the company since 1990 will be a part of these performances. Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Chun Wai Chan.Building a theater inside a convention center is so American and so Texan. It is an amazing feat to build all of the things that make a theater, quickly and from scratch. The house looks like an impressive European black-box and the backstage is a winding maze of pipe and drape and random tour boxes creating dark hallways. I’m lost and dazzled by it when I enter during the rehearsal of one of the other pieces on the program. There is no grid shape that holds it together and my way is only lit with dimmed, glowing strip lights. The new tech staff doesn’t know who I am and deal with me like a homeless person that has wandered in off the street.

The rehearsal went beautifully. The dancers are committed and thoughtful and dancing with full integrity, curiosity, exploration. All of the things that make art. So strange that the first time we interact they are already onstage and not in the studio. That adds some extra pressure and expectation for them, but they are making this really fun by doing so well.

As I walk back to the hotel, I walk past the Bayou that cuts through downtown. It used to be overgrown at its banks and was a place to hide the no-good. A place to do drugs or graffiti or something really bad. Now it’s a pristine park that integrates the blocks and bridges. I find an unmarked, red button atop one of the bridges and when I press it, the bayou belches and bubbles up like there’s a monster underneath. Everything changes and shifts and finds more realized versions of itself. There is something different around every corner. And that’s alright by me.

Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Chun Wai Chan.


    1. Belchy Bayou Button. Oh yes.
      On the Preston Bridge behind the Wortham Theater.
      I’m told there’s another random one somewhere on the Bayou.

Leave a Reply