Cupcakes & Conversation with Mireille Hassenboehler, Principal, Houston Ballet

August 8, 2012

Cupcakes & Conversation

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Cupcakes & Conversation with Mireille Hassenboehler, Principal, Houston Ballet 

ballet dancer smiles to camera

Mireille Hassenboehler Photograph : Amitava

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?

My son rises at 6:30!!! Seeing his sweet smiling face gets me going. When he is up and ready to go so must I.

Why ballet?

Can’t imagine life without it.  Placing my hand on the ballet barre and starting the day is what I do – through the good times and the bad.

What are you looking forward to dancing during 2012 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you?

I am looking forward to dancing Stanton Welch’s Madame Butterfly.  This will be my first full-length ballet since the birth of my son. I am not a young pup anymore, so physically I will be stretching what I can do. And simply balancing life not only a dancer but as wife and mother will be challenging.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?

Give me a tall, dark, handsome man and I will be happy. I am on the taller side of the dance spectrum so finding a partner to match my line has always been a challenge. I love to look up into my partner’s eyes and feel delicate.

ballet dancers in purple dresses on pointe

Mireille Hassenboehler Simon Ball and Artists of Houston Ballet
Photograph : Amitava Sarkar

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre)…where would you dance?

I am still pretty impressed with the Bolshoi stage and its sheer magnitude.  Although dancing on a rake is challenging, the stage is lit comfortably and feels intimate.  I enjoyed seeing faces and not complete darkness from the audience. This to me makes great conversation.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes?

First, I rip the shank out to remove the nails and shave the shank to make it more pliable so I can use my toes better.  And of course I sew ribbons and elastic.

What is your daily routine at the moment?

My daily routine is a lot of back and forth between ballet and my baby.  Fortunately I live 7 minutes from work.  I get to ballet with just about 5 minutes to warm up for class (huge departure from pre-baby), then class and rehearsal. For lunch, I dash home eating as I drive so I can spend 20 minutes with Teddy (sometimes he is asleep), get back in time for afternoon rehearsals to finish the work day at 6:45pm.  Home by 7, put Teddy to bed, eat dinner, clean up, and in bed by 11 (hopefully). Then start all over again!!!!

What do you eat during the course of a typical working day?

Breakfast is a must – usually Greek yogurt with berries and nuts.  I snack on nuts and fruit during the day.  I get a sandwich or soup for lunch. And dinner is my big meal with some protein and a salad.  I love popcorn for a treat!!

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite? Thomas Jefferson, Rosa Parks, Frank Gehry, Yuri Kylian, Aaron Copeland, and Ellen DeGeneres! Wonder what that dinner party conversation would sound like?

ballet dancers on stage

In the Middle somewhat elevated Mireille Hassenboehler and Phillip Broomhead
Photograph : Geoff Winningham

What would surprise people about you?

I eat more than my husband and he is 6’1”.

Who inspired you to dance?

My older sister initially inspired me because I wanted to do everything she did.  My dance teacher inspired me to pursue dance as a career by giving me the foundation and a respect and love for the artform.  Now, my son inspires me to continue. He was born with Down Syndrome so that extra chromosome makes every little thing a big challenge for him. I see in him what I want to become – a person who takes pleasure in the simplest of concepts. Especially in today’s arena, things have become so complex and fast!!!

What is your best piece of advice?

To a young dancer – Learn every part you can!!!  You never know when someone will get injured. It may be an opportunity for you.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show?

Before I leave the theatre to get a bite to eat, I make sure my shoes, make-up and hair accessories, and costumes (if possible) are ready to go. I like to have a light meal with no spice. When I get back to the theater I try to think about what I want to do with my performance for that particular show as I apply make-up and do my hair then warm-up with a little barre work.

How do you deal with the stress of performing?

I try to put stress in perspective as it relates to what I am dancing. Of course the more demanding the role the more stressed I feel. Sometimes I have to think to myself “I am Here,” “Have a good time”.

Which role has tested you the most & how?

There have been many….  But the one that pops to mind the quickest is Theme and Variations. There is no warming up to the role like a full-length ballet.  From the beginning, you are on the mark!!  And it requires quick moving. It tested my nerves more than anything.

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?

Don’t have much talent in this area, but I do appreciate great design and well-made clothing that works for the movement being danced.

What do you look for in a dance partner?

I look for someone with similar musicality to my own. So much of partnering is timing. Also, because I am 5’ 7” I need a taller guy.

What is your favourite quote?

“Work like it is all up to you and pray like it is all up to God!!”

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you?

Any move that lets me shimmy or shake my hips.  I know – not very balletic!!!

dancer on pointe on stage

Mireille Hassenboehler in Swan Lake   Photograph : Jim Caldwell

A phrase I use far too often is…?

“Go with the flow.”  I use it when things are out of my control.

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far?

Opening night of In the middle, Somewhat Elevated, I came forward to solo bow and was blown away by the audience’s response. I was so hyper focused with the stage experience of the piece that I forgot until that moment what performing was all about.  That was a great high.

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about?

I growl like a cougar! Our family car, that took me to so many ballet classes in my youth, was a cougar!! I always remember changing in the back seat to my ballet clothes under my school uniform.

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now?

I want to feel that motherhood has been a good thing for my dancing career and that by dancing I would become a better mother.

What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it?

I’ve always said to myself I would dance until my body told me otherwise – but how do you really know when that is??  I hope I go out on a good note with a ballet I truly like dancing. When I do retire, I plan to finish my college education.  That has always been a goal of mine. I never will understand the missing link between a college degree and a professional ballet career. Any other performing art can receive a degree while practicing for a professional career. Even athletes can receive a degree before going pro. When they retire there is no need to go back to school to get a degree.

ballet dancer on pointe on stage

Theme & Variations Mireille Hassenboehler and Artists of Houston Ballet
Photograph : Amitava Sarkar

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