Since his arrival as director of Houston Ballet Academy in 2003, Stanton Welch has had a profound influence on the students of the academy, specifically with his increased standard of excellence, his involvement with each level of the academy, his working relationship with teachers and his vision of what the academy means to Houston Ballet itself.
This high standard of training has been recognized internationally. In 2010, Emanuel Amuchastegui, 18, a native of Argentina and a student at Houston Ballet Academy, won the coveted Prix de Lausanne ballet competition, a four-day competition in Switzerland among 70 elite pre-professional dancers ages 15-18 from across the world. Academy student Aaron Sharratt, 17, placed fifth in the 2010 competition, winning a scholarship to cover a year's worth of study at an international ballet school. And Liao Xiang, a student from Houston Ballet Academy who was born in China, advanced to the final round of the competition. In 2009, Sebastian Vinet, an academy student originally hailing from Chile, won a sixth prize at the Prix de Lausanne, and finally, in 2013, Joel Woellner won sixth overall, and the prize for best contemporary dancer.
Since its founding in 1955, Houston Ballet Academy has provided the highest quality ballet training for those enrolled. Over 500 students, between the ages of 4 and 60, are currently enrolled in the academy's classes, and more than half of the professional company's dancers have come from the ranks of the academy. The academy's outstanding faculty includes teachers who have performed with Houston Ballet and other prestigious companies throughout the world. In July 2003, Houston Ballet Academy was re-named Houston Ballet's Ben Stevenson Academy in recognition of the key role Ben Stevenson, former artistic director of the professional company and director of the academy, played for 27 years in shaping and developing the school.
The academy offers a program designed to take students from their first introduction to the art through a full course of ballet study. Students take classes in technique, pointe work, pas de deux, men's technique, character dance and music. The academy begins accepting students from ages 4 through 7 for creative dance and pre-ballet, two courses that lay the foundation for further study of classical ballet. Beginning at age 7, students audition for the pre-professional program. At this level, they follow a structured sequence of training stages designed to increase their technical skills, stamina and discipline in accordance with their age and physical development. The youngest children take class one to two days a week. From the fourth level on, students attend classes a minimum of three days per week. School is in session from August through May and parents receive evaluations of their child's progress once a year.
The academy also operates a summer intensive program that welcomes students from around the United States and abroad. Each year, faculty members hold auditions in 13 cities around the country and select intermediate and advanced level students to attend this intensive six-week program. In 2004, more than 900 children auditioned and more than 300 of them were accepted into the program. The academy also offers scholarships to select students based on both merit and financial need. For the seventh consecutive year, the academy collaborated with the American Festival for the Arts (AFA) Summer Music Conservatory where students from the academy summer workshop choreograph movement to music composed by students attending the AFA program. The AFA was established in 1993 to provide music education and performance opportunities for youth from seventh through twelfth grade. Students from this Houston-based program contribute new music, which is used by the academy students to create an evening of world premiere ballets.
Budding young artists from Japan, Russia, Canada, Germany and Chile travel to Houston to train at the academy and the most gifted students from the summer intensive program are invited to remain at the academy on a year-round basis. The students have the advantage of classes with the professional company's ballet masters and leading dancers, and the opportunity to gain professional experience through appearances in performances such as Manon, Madame Butterfly, The Nutcracker, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Bolero,as well as other productions. In April of each year, all students in levels 1 through Houston Ballet II, the second company, are showcased in a two-day graduation concert held at Wortham Theater Center. Graduates of the academy have joined leading dance companies throughout the world, including Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Australian Ballet, Vienna State Opera Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, San Francisco Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, BalletMet, Memphis Ballet, State Street Ballet, Ballet Florida, Pacific Northwest Ballet and National Ballet of Canada.
Those students whose paths lead to non-dance careers gain immeasurably from having studied at Houston Ballet Academy. They develop self-motivation, self-discipline, poise, grace, physical adroitness and an appreciation for the arts, which they will carry with them throughout their lives.
This School is authorized under Federal law to enroll nonimmigrant alien students.
Image: Erin Patak and Peter Franc Photo by: Drew Donovan