“My sister danced and my mother was a dancer. I would hang out in the studio. It was around me all the time.” From his father, a pilot and athlete, he also got an easy physicality, along with a love of travel. “Even as a baby, my mother said, I had good balance and was in control of my limbs.” Dominic Walsh is choreographing a piece on Whim W’Him dancers, his first for the company. (It will premiere on January 22-23 & 29-30, 2016, along with new works by Mark Haim and Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers. Tickets at: Whim W’Him presents IN-spired – Brown Paper Tickets.)
In Elgin, IL, where Dominic was born and raised, he was lucky enough to be trained by former prima ballerina Lisa Boehm, at whose ballet school he had his first dance training. Ms Boehm started a class for three 6-year old boys, of whom Dominic was one.
“I thought it was a play,” he said, always being fascinated by the character development aspect of dance—telling a story through the body. In the obituary of Ms Boehm, who died at 92 in 2008, The New York Times quotes Dominic as saying, “She really gave me a tremendous foundation for the love of the art form. You knew what she wanted.
She was able to explain it and demonstrate it and give the essence of how the steps were to be done… She always would talk about fire—you have to have fire.”
And fire has been apparent in all Dominic’s endeavors. After a stint in Chicago, where he encountered “great contemporary and ballet” with Larry Long at the Ruth Page Dance Center, as well as Warren Conover of Hubbard Street, at 16 he moved to Texas to attend the Houston Ballet School. Then at 18, joined Houston Ballet. He’d had several other good offers, but Houston’s mixed repertoire in the late 1980s suited him perfectly. He was made soloist in 1993 and principal in 1996. Artistic director Ben Stevenson, was “a real master of narrative ballet,” says Dominic.
As a dancer, he won praise by such critical luminaries as Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times who called him “impressively virtuosic” and the New York Post‘s Clive Barnes who described him as “excellent and exuberant.” Like virtually no other American dance company, Houston also was bringing in “the wonderful repertory” of the great European choreographers of that time. Dominic danced in many works and had numerous roles created on him. At the age of 21, for example, he was cast as Lorca, in Christopher Bruce‘s Cruel Garden with its avant garde sections that intrigued him greatly. Dominic soaked it all up, learning as he says, “about contemporary dance and theater and philosophies of movement. It was a great place to learn.”
In his early twenties, Dominic did a bit of choreography, but soon decided that he needed more experience and training and maturity. It was another few years before he made his first real piece, at the age of 27. His sister at that time was dating a film composer who did interesting work. So Dominic did a piece to a new score for the Contemporary Series at Houston Ballet on the main stage. That piece, Flames of Eros, won a Choo-San Goh Award for Choreography. After that he created 4 or 5 ballets a year, for Houston and elsewhere, in addition to dancing full time at Houston and guesting elsewhere, often with companies who later asked him back as choreographer—
and earning other awards and accolades. But Dominic was perturbed when in 2000 economic difficulties led Houston to cancel its Contemporary Series and, as he says, to return to more traditional programming—”three weeks of Swan Lake,” as he wryly notes. Dominic loves the old classics, as he says, but wanted more than that.
So he began thinking and inquiring into the possibility of opening a company of his own. In May 2002, Dominic launched his contemporary ballet company, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. After the company’s debut in February of 2003, Dance Magazine declared, “At last Houston has a contemporary dance company on par with its symphony, opera and ballet companies.” In June 2004, after 17 years with Houston Ballet, Dominic left to direct and dance with DWDT full-time.
The new venture continued to garner lavish praise from critics and audiences alike, both for works brought in (such as excerpts from Matthew Bourne‘s Swan Lake, the only company allowed to do so outside Bourne’s) and his own creations, full of drama, subtle characterization, a wide range of movement, and theatrical surprise.
After the premiere of Orfeo ed Euridice at the New National Theatre in Tokyo, one critic wrote
But a dozen years in multiple jobs—as company director, dancer, teacher, chief choreographer and guest dance-maker/teacher around the world—began to take their toll. As Dominic says, “Administering a company is very demanding. It pulled me from the studio, and maybe also felt I’d done as much as could be done in Houston. I didn’t know if there was fertile soil to continue growing there.” In addition, things were changing in his personal life, and his “long dream” of being a father was coming true with the birth of his daughter Viviana.
He needed, he says, “to free myself,” and the Dominic Walsh Dance Company closed down last year. It was a momentous decision, but, says Dominic, “I feel really good about all we have accomplished with relatively limited resources. I can close this chapter knowing that we have surpassed our artistic goals and I’m very proud of what we accomplished and contributed to Houston and the overall dance world,” says Dominic. “To wrap up the journey,” as his website reports, “company photographer Gabriella Nissen has been working on a photo book documenting the company.” She has been with DWDT since 2006 and with Dominic will launch the 200 page coffee table photo book this winter. “It’s amazing,” he writes, “how the book is finishing up now and how things come together at the right time. Having this beautiful representation of all we have done is both cathartic and gratifying.”
So now it’s on to fresh endeavors for Dominic—other dancers and stories and places to explore and learn from. And in January 2016, Seattle audiences will get to observe the captivating fruits of a new collaboration, now unfolding in the studio with Whim W’Him.
Next week: Whim W’Him dancers, Dominic Walsh and a brand new piece in creation.
*Note that the web-site dwdt.com seems to have been hacked. When you try that address it takes you to some dubious Dubai operation or an ad for light, so use the link: dominicwalshdancetheater.com to get to the correct website.