A few weeks ago at the annual Blaffer Art Museum gala, a short film titled Flora Obscura was presented as a special surprise to attendees. The film, named for the gala’s theme, was a concept of creative studio Matter and created as a digital extension of the evening’s experience. The presentation, with production from Proud Pony International and choreography by Houston Ballet soloist Oliver Halkowich, most definitely set the floral scene. After the gala, we caught up with Halkowich and discussed the film, choreography, and ballet stereotypes.
HOW DID YOU END UP WITH THE HOUSTON BALLET? WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
I came to Houston twice looking for a job. The second time was the charm. I fell in love with the humidity and the Mexican food, and here I am 13 years later.
HOW DID THIS COLLABORATION WITH MATTER AND THE BLAFFER COME ABOUT?
I have been friends with Matt Johns for a couple of years. The gala was chaired by Jo and Jim Furr [along with Marc Melcher], who are loyal supporters of the ballet and people whom I love, and he suggested we create something for them. He first asked me to choreograph a pièce d’occasion, but due to my performance schedule. we opted to make the film Flora Obscura. I’m happy fate got involved.
HAVE YOU DONE ANY PROJECTS LIKE THIS BEFORE?
Sort of. Earlier this year, I worked on the choreography for a new Robert Ellis music video. With Flora Obscura, I was more involved from the ground up.
ARE YOU A SUPPORTER OF THE BLAFFER?
I knew about Blaffer because of Matt, but I had never been. I’d like to say I frequent the great museums of Houston on my days off, but usually I have my feet up and the TV on.
WHAT IS THE FILM TRYING TO CONVEY? IS THERE A SPECIFIC STORY BEING TOLD?
The film is about stagnation overcome by new growth and openness. I did have a story in my head to help me create the movement, but I prefer if people come to their own realizations.
I READ IN YOUR BIO THAT YOU CREDIT TCHAIKOVSKY AS ONE OF THE CATALYSTS FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DANCE. HOW DOES HIS MUSIC STILL INFLUENCE YOU TODAY IN YOUR CHOREOGRAPHY EFFORTS?
There is nothing missing with Tchaikovsky. You don’t have to be the best choreographer to use his music. He helps you out. But I dream of making ballets that exemplify what Tchaikovsky does with notes.
AS A DANCER, IS CHOREOGRAPHY SOMETHING YOU FEEL IS A NATURAL TRANSITION OR EVOLUTION? OR IS BEING A CHOREOGRAPHER A DISTINCT PASSION?
In order to be good at choreography, like anything I guess, you have to have the passion for it. It is not as demanding on the body as being a ballet dancer but is equally demanding of one’s time, energy and creativity. Choreography was very much off my radar until I tried it. I have devoted the majority of my life to ballet because it is everything I love. This is the first time something else has pulled my curiosity.
WHAT IS YOUR PRE-PERFORMANCE RITUAL?
Crafting the perfect meal is key for me. I need enough food to sustain me through a two-and-a-half-hour show without feeling like I’m gonna split my tunic and tights. I like to elevate my feet for 15 minutes and just breathe as well.
AFTER WATCHING FLORA OBSCURA, I’D LIKE TO KNOW HOW YOU’D CLASSIFY YOUR STYLE OF CHOREOGRAPHY. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CROSSOVER OR CONTEMPORARY BALLET?
My childhood was filled with ballet, jazz, tap, karate, diving, swimming and gymnastics lessons. I think I pull from a little bit of everything to hopefully create something unique. I think a lot of “contemporary” ballet can be trite, but it can also be thrilling. The right equation of choreographer, dancer, music and moves can make magic.
WHAT DO PEOPLE NOT KNOW ABOUT THE BALLET WORLD?
That male ballet dancers often would rather gossip about soccer than ballet, and that the ballerinas enjoy their fair share of burgers. Stereotypes shattered!