August 22, 2012

A&E Guide: Spotlight on Adam Hougland

The Lone Star state is more famous for its conservatives and cowboy boots than its thriving dance scene. Nevertheless, at the age of 14, Dallas native Adam Hougland found himself donning an unconventional kind of footwear: ballet shoes.

Always artistic, Hougland had dabbled in acting and visual arts as a child, but nothing had ever really caught his attention. The minute he set hand on a barre, however, everything changed. “Dance was different, because I was immediately obsessed with perfecting each skill or movement,” Hougland explains. “Developing technique seemed an essential part of being a dancer, and I was eager to dive in and learn as much as I could.”

After graduating from the Dallas Conservatory of Ballet, Hougland went on to the prestigious Juilliard School, where he received his bachelor’s degree in dance in 1999. It was at Juilliard that Hougland discovered his passion for choreography, through a senior project entitled “Beyond.”

“I was fascinated with the idea of creating a theatrical dance, with a set that would really bring my idea to life,” he says. The piece, which delved into themes of captivity, freedom and the prisons we construct for ourselves, won Juilliard’s Hector Zaraspe Prize for Choreography and was subsequently taken into the repertoires of several professional companies, including the Louisville Ballet.

Following the success of “Beyond,” Hougland was named principle choreographer for the Louisville Ballet, a position he has held for 10 years. “The company has been crucial to my development as a choreographer,” he says. “I was really young when I started working here, and I’ve sort of grown up here artistically. The company has a really solid core group of dancers who have been here as long as I have, which makes for a very special creative relationship.”

Hougland has created five original works for the Louisville Ballet, most recently “The Rite of Spring.” His work is consistently praised for its innovative eye, leading him to be named one of Pointe Magazine’s “10 VIPs of 2006” and one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2011.

Describing himself as a “very musically driven choreographer,” Hougland does not shy away from tackling canonical works such as Stravinsky’s “Rite.” However, he does not limit himself to traditional material, also drawing inspiration from films and theater.

“When making a piece of work, I just focus on being brutally honest and committed to my idea,” he says. “I can’t stand how much artists — for lack of a better word — bullshit. I think the arts are in such a perilous state today because audiences have become disillusioned by art that they can’t relate to. So I’m trying to get ballet a little bit more down to earth and a little less snobby. I’d rather do something completely outside dance than make work that is overly indulgent or self-absorbed.”

A rapidly rising star in the dance world and an innovator of great artistic vision, Adam Hougland still strives to keep it real.