Houston Ballet’s Harper Watters and Tyler Donatelli on How to Find a Great Summer Intensive

Sponsored by Houston Ballet Academy
December 1, 2021

“Visibility is currency,” says Harper Watters, soloist with the Houston Ballet. It’s a lesson he learned early in his career: Find a place where you feel seen—as both an athlete and an artist—and where teachers get to know you and you get to know them.

As a teenager, Watters found just that at the Houston Ballet Academy summer program, which will return to its original in-person format in 2022. Last month, he joined fellow Houston Ballet soloist and summer program alum Tyler Donatelli in conversation with Pointe’s editor in chief, Amy Brandt, to talk about how the right summer program can lay the foundation for a successful career. Watch the whole discussion from Instagram Live (below), or read on to catch up on the highlights.

Start With Support

“The environment was the big deciding factor for me,” says Donatelli. At 14, she attended Houston Ballet Academy’s summer program, and returned at 16 to join Houston Ballet II, which is part of its Professional Program. “I liked that it was competitive yet welcoming,” she says. This season, look for an atmosphere where you’ll feel pushed by your teachers and peers without things becoming overwhelming.

Watters found this balance of challenge and comfort with Houston Ballet Academy faculty member and HBII ballet master Claudio Muñoz, whom Watters first met during the school’s summer program audition back in high school. “I was laughing,” he remembers. “I’d never had an audition before where I laughed.” Find a program that allows you to relax like that, says Watters, and then you’ll be able to focus on becoming an artist.

Look Beyond Technique

Watters’ Houston Ballet intensive began with a trip to the theater on day one, where students got to watch the company finish its season with Swan Lake. “To see [the company] and then start classes the next day was a real push into game time,” he says.

From there, the summer program taught Watters to expand his view of what it means to be a professional. More so than the height of his extensions or the curve of his pointed foot, his teachers were interested in his work ethic and how he handled or applied corrections. “It’s okay to make mistakes because how you handle those mistakes is really important,” he says. Looking back, it’s those lessons that inspired him to stay at Houston Ballet professionally. “I just saw improvement in my dancing so fast,” says Watters, “that it just made me want to stay.”

Harper Watters pliés onstage in an expansive arabesque position.
Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters in Justin Peck’s Reflections. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

New Cities and New Friends

Both Watters and Donatelli came to Houston Ballet Academy’s summer program from out of state. Though they were away from home for an extended period, the school made them feel at ease in their new city. “They have activities over the weekend that connect you with other dancers,” says Donatelli. “Houston brings in so much talent,” she says, “and you’re inspired by all those people.” Look for a place where you’ll have chances to step outside the studio and explore your new home with newfound friends.

“The homesickness was outweighed by the incredible classes,” says Watters. “There’s not a lot of time to feel like you’re missing things.”

Does Houston Ballet seem like it could be your home away from home? Learn more about its summer offerings and how to audition here.