From exploring the rudimentary elements of ballet to preparing to embark on a distinguished career on the world's most prestigious stages, students who enroll in the Houston Ballet Academy enjoy learning from experienced performers, choreographers and artistic directors.
Established in 1955, the 61-year old institution recently announced the appointment of Madeleine Onne, currently the artistic director of the Hong Kong Ballet, as academy director beginning summer 2017.
Onne is one of only five women to have received Dancer of the Swedish Royal Court title from HRH King Carl XVI Gustaf. As a principal dancer of the Royal Swedish Ballet from 1984 to 2002, Onne was spotlighted in almost all female principal roles in the classical repertoire.
While Onne prepares to relocate to the Bayou City and contemplates the responsibility of training so many young dancers, we chat with the future Houstonian about dance education in the 21st century.
Q: Having held many prestigious positions in the ballet world, most recently as the artistic director of Hong Kong Ballet, what is it about Houston that appealed to you?
Madeleine Onne: I think Houston Ballet is one of the most interesting companies in North America right now. As I share Stanton Welch’s view of ballet and how to continue to develop this wonderful art form, I thought it would be a great challenge and experience to have the privilege to help him produce the kind of dancers he needs for his beautiful company.
Q: What will you miss most about Hong Kong?
Madeleine Onne: The food! And of course my staff and the wonderful dancers.
Q: Do you have a connection to Houston? When where you here last?
Madeleine Onne: My connection is Stanton Welch, whom I have met all around the world throughout the years since I started as an artistic director in 2002. The ballet world is, after all, quite small. While attending opening nights and ballets competitions around the globe, you get to know all the important people in the field.
Q: What do you think has been the legacy of the Houston Ballet Academy, and what are your hopes for it under your tenure?
Madeleine Onne: It's a wonderful school and has been so from the beginning. The Academy has produced a lot of great dancers since it started — some of them big stars.
Previous Academy directors have done a fantastic job, and I will do my utmost to continue to develop the Academy. In order to succeed, we all have to agree on where we are heading next. One thing is for sure, it’s a big honor to be part of Stanton’s team, the Academy and the Company.
Q: Other than training emerging dancers, what benefits do you see in the development of performing artists that falls outside the art itself?
Madeleine Onne: It's a big responsibility to educate and train young people! I have two sons myself, neither of whom are involved with ballet. But of course, I have been very focused on helping them succeed in their studies.
I also feel that you have to develop students as whole persons in order for them to judge how to use their knowledge. I hope that together with the teachers of the Academy, we will not only produce mature dancers who have good technique, but also are hungry to learn more outside the ballet world. For different reasons, they might not end up as ballet dancers. No matter if their profession will be on stage or not, I think it’s our responsibility to prepare students for life.
In order to do that, we also have to look beyond the ballet studio.
Q: What's an important lesson you'd like to impart to the students of the Houston Ballet Academy?
Madeleine Onne: Mutual respect and trust is something I believe is extremely important in order for students to flourish. I think that I can really contribute to preparing young artists for their professional careers. I have seen a lot talented dancers earn gold medals from competitions, but they have no knowledge of how to function in a professional ballet company.
Today many young people, not only those within ballet, want instant success. But it very seldom works like that in reality. Unless you are prepared to work hard, you won't make it. On the other hand, if you have talent and put in a lot of effort, you will most likely have a very good career.
Q: What's your impression of Houston in general as an arts community?
Madeleine Onne: I have to admit that during my few days in Houston, I did not have time to see much. But everyone I talk to both within and outside Houston tells me that the art scene is fantastic. I am really looking forward to be able to explore all of that together with my family when we finally move to Houston.
Q: Can we say welcome home?
Madeleine Onne: Yes! It surely feels like it's going to be.