100 Creatives 2013: Joseph Walsh, Principal Dancer at Houston Ballet
For Joseph Walsh, there was never any question of what he would be when he grew up. His older sister was a dancer, and by the time Joseph was three years old he was accompanying her to Nutcracker performances. "I remember being backstage and the snow ended," he says. "I started rolling around in endless piles of snow, and it was the most fun I ever had. From then on, I asked my parents if I could start taking classes."
Lessons in tap, jazz and Modern followed before he started to zero in on his ballet training.
The moment that solidified his path to a professional dance career came at age 14 when he performed at the Lincoln Center in New York City. "It was the first time I performed for more than 200 people at a time." The feeling of being on a stage of such magnitude was one close to euphoria, one he's been chasing ever since.
Since joining the professional company in 2007, Joseph's had the opportunity to dance a wide range of roles. One of his favorites includes his part in Sir Kenneth MacMillian's Manon. "It was the first three-act ballet I had to carry with a female lead. I was one of those things like the Lincoln Center performance where I had to get over this mental stage fright and realize I got this. When the performance was over, it was so satisfying."
He's also recently had acclaimed performances in Stanton Welch's The Rite of Spring and La Bayadere, but it was his leading role in last June's Rome and Juliet that captured our hearts. As Romeo, he displayed the refined elegance and gentle power that has come to characterize his dance.
Lately, Joseph has been exploring choreography as a second creative outlet. "I take any opportunity I get to choreograph. It's a big learning experience being at the front of the room." Making dances is nothing new for him. He remembers how as a kid he'd make his parents watch the full-length ballets he created in the family room. "It mustn't have been too fun for them, but it looks like things are starting to pay off."
What he does:
As a principal dancer for a major ballet company, Joseph performs central roles in all major productions. The physical demands of such a position are intense. "I'm working six-hour days. There's class in the morning, which everyone takes from 10 to 11:30. There you work on technicality, then you go into three hours of work of changing studios, changing ballets, changing mindsets. You have to ask yourself, what do I need to do in this hour to make the next hour possible? It's a time management-based schedule, and you have to be careful not to expend your energy."
Why he likes it:
For Joseph, dance ignites a psychological state of comfort. "I don't have to be seeking," he says. "Sometimes you don't have to think when you're dancing. Once you've learned the part, you can live in that role. I would love to live the rest of my life in that moment." Dance also allows for a sense of introspection, of returning to a character and bringing something new to the table. "It's like looking at a great work of art. You find something different in it every time."
If not this, then what:
"I think I would be a psychologist even though I have no experience in the field. I just think psychology is very interesting." Other possibilities are not so heady. "I could be a billionaire boy, and just hang around in luxury, but that's obviously never going to happen," he laughs.
If not here, then where:
"When I get to travel, or go on tours, or take my breaks, I usually wind up in Europe. I think I would like to go and try to dance there because it's such a different work atmosphere. Ballet is a part of their culture. Europe is an older part of the world, and they have grown up with it. Here ballet is not a government-funded art form. Working in Europe might be more interesting - it would definitely be different, and more contemporary."
Houston Ballet closes its 2012-2013 season with Journey with the Masters and Peter Pan. The former, a mixed-rep program, will include Balanchine's Ballet Imperial. "Like last year's Theme and Variations, it has a different, more Russian vibe." And in regards to the latter, Joseph is preparing to play the beloved titular character. This particular story ballet has bought a whole new set of challenges to face.
"There's a ton of flying, and I won't get to do it until right before the show starts. I've been struggling with the flying, and conquering my fear of heights." Aside from the physical demands, Peter Pan is a much different character than the roles we've seen Joseph dance over the past year.
"He's energetic and a kid at heart. He's a fun character, and different from the more refined prince roles I've done lately." The challenge of bringing Pan to life is one we're eager to see met.
Houston Ballet presents Journey with the Masters from May 30 to June 9, and Peter Pan from June 13 to June 23. For more information, visit www.houstonballet.org.
More Creatives for 2013
(In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Justin Garcia, artistBuck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera CenterPatrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician
Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse
Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company
Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography
Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions
Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover
Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist
Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer
Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker
Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer
David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer
Danielle Burns, art curator
Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder
Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator
Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker
Amanda Stevens, scary book author
Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger
Ana María Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach
Billy D. Washington, comedian
Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer
Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer
Kelly Sears, animator and film maker
Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director
jhon r. stronks,dance-maker
Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer
Jordan "Monster Mac" McMahon, artist, designer