By Donna Hill
For the Fort Bend Star
The Houston Repertoire Ballet (HRB), Houston’s premier pre-professional ballet company, presents the spring performance Celebration of Dance, which features Act II of the ballet classic “Swan Lake,” along with the premiere of “Racketty-Packetty House,” Saturday, April 29, at 2 p.m. and Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. at Tomball High School Theatre.
The story, based on the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is a tale of two dollhouses, one of which is owned by the Racketty family.
Local ballerina, Kyla Patton, who plays Patsy in the upcoming performance of “Racketty-Packetty House” on Saturday night, is one of the dancers who train with HRB. HRB dancers are committed to sharing the arts with the community. Those events include costumed appearances at nursing homes and group events.
The company is under the leadership of nationally acclaimed teachers and choreographers. Their mission is to provide the finest classical ballet instruction, education and performance experience to local gifted students and get them ready for a professional career in the competitive world of dance. They serve the suburban Houston region with productions, providing dance training to some of the area’s young ballet stars.
Many of HRB’s dancers advance to professional ballet companies around the country, such as the New York City Ballet, and the Houston Ballet among others.
No stranger to the world of ballet, Patton, a William B. Travis High School senior and National Honor Society member, started her ballet training on the East Coast. Patton has wanted to become a professional dancer since she was 12. Prior to moving to Houston with her family, she danced at the prestigious Northeast Atlanta Ballet. One of her teachers in Atlanta, choreographer Kristy Nilsson, is currently at HRB. Nilsson was one of Patton’s first instructors, so to Patton there was no other placed she wanted to dance in Houston except with Nilsson. Despite a 55-mile roundtrip commute each day from Richmond to Cypress, where she practices at the Ballet Center of Houston, she remains committed to the demands of ballet dancing.
What many may not now about this aspiring ballerina is that she was a competitive clogger for five years.
Her first dance recital was in competitive clogging. She was 8 at the time, winning championships in traditional and contemporary team categories. By age 10 she won the ladies 9-12 National Traditional Clogging title from the Clogging Champions of America.
So what are the basic differences between clogging and ballet, besides the shoes?
“Oh, very different. Clogging is like tap, but ballet forces you to use all the muscles in your body,” Patton said. “It forces you to work muscles you didn’t even know you had. There’s a lot more sacrifice involved physically.
You can’t take a week off, because it takes an entire week to build up where you left off. It’s definitely a lot about making sure you just keep at it everyday.”
So how did she make the switch from clogging to ballet?
“My first ballet performance though was the Nutcracker, where I danced as a Dream Fairy in elementary school. That’s when I knew I wanted to do dancing full time,” she said. “That, and my mom said I needed a ballet foundation if I was to continue in dance. So I went to a ballet class and loved it. I started taking two classes a week, then three, and by the end of the year I was at the studio all week. I enjoyed the classes so much.”
A typical practice week for Patton involves pointe technique, where a dancer supports his or her body weight on the tips of fully extended feet while wearing pointe shoes. She’s been working in pointe shoes for five years.
Her classes consist of an hour and a half of technique, followed by an hour and a half of rehearsals every Monday through Thursday night, in addition to three hours on Wednesday.
Not only does she study ballet during the school year, she’s participated in dance company summer programs at the Boston Ballet and Washington Ballet, among others.
She will be attending the University of Texas College of Fine Arts in the fall. Her second major (besides dance) will be psychology.
Patton has been contemplating a double major for a while, working toward a possible career as a counselor, as a backup plan to a career as a dancer.
“I would like to be involved with counseling dancers,” she said. “Performers need to dance a certain way, need to lose a certain amount of weight even. It can all get in their heads, and I know what that’s like. I wouldn’t mind being a counselor – someone they could talk to, work through all the issues, which come with dancing professionally. Being a dancer and being in a company puts a lot of pressure and stress on you everyday. Being held to a specific standard and being told you need to do one thing and not another, especially when your body doesn’t let you do that one thing. Sometimes you break down, but you need to pick yourself back up again. I would like to be that person in a psychological sense, who can help future dancers.”
She is also aware that advertising and public relations are also a big part of ballet companies.
“I’d like working in the adverting area of a ballet company or even public relations,” she said.
Whether the performance is big or small, Patton has learned to keep stage fright at bay.
“I do think that everybody gets stage fright. There’s always that one moment before you go on stage and it hits you – you’re on stage!” she said. “I had more stage fright when I was younger, but over the years you get into the mindset of, this is what you do and you do it everyday. It’s no different than being in a rehearsal. When you go out on stage the lights are so bright, you don’t even see the audience. It’s like I know there’s a job to do, so that eases the stage fright.”
“Being on stage and actually ‘feeling’ the audience around you makes you do more than what you normally would do in rehearsal. And that sorta takes over any stage fright I might have.”
Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for children and seniors. For ticket information, call 381-940-HRB1 (4721). For more about HRB, visit www.hrbdance.org.