In February, Houston Ballet first soloist Chun Wai Chan ventured out of his comfort zone to work with independent choreographer Laura Gutierrez for an immersive interactive duet called The Back Room—and the result was incredible. The audience had to accommodate the moving dancers for this site-specific work, created for Houston's leading indie theater space The Rec Room. Chan had no trouble clearing a bench full of people to make room for his dancing.
The two were remarkably well-matched in style and temperament. Chan, who had just shown off his classical chops as the Prince in The Nutcracker, completely understood Gutierrez's stripped-down aesthetic and embraced her improvisational methods. "Usually people tell me what to do at the ballet, and I'm very good at doing it right," he says. "But in this project Laura gave a clear structure, and I filled it out with what I thought was right." Chan is on the rise as it is, but The Back Room was a bold step toward independence and stretching his skill set.