Alecia Lawyer & Amy Gibbs
The women behind ROCO spark conversation about female leadership in classical music.
Since its establishment in 2005, the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra has been known to be two beats ahead of its time. Its founder and artistic director, Alecia Lawyer, made it that way when she launched and just so happened to appoint an all-female staff—a rarity in the biz. Recently, ROCO joined the national conversation about women’s leadership and power with rekindled vigor at its first-ever Women in the Arts panel, discussing the current state and future of female representation. For its 14th season, Games People Play, a female composer, conductor and soloist is featured in every single concert. The influence of the organization also goes beyond championing female representation. “We have the third-largest number of commissions nationally,” says the managing director and resident right hand, Amy Gibbs. “By the end of this season, we’ll have premiered 79 commissioned pieces,” she says. The 40-piece group easily flexes down to two players in a hybrid model—a new form of classical ensemble. ROCO embraces tech integration, live-streaming full orchestra concerts and launching an app. This coming year, it premieres its first recording on a label, Visions Take Flight. “It’s all about access and taking it to the next level,” says Lawyer.
The ballerina inspires a new generation of dancers.
To convey fierceness and grace while striking a grand jeté is no easy feat, but Melody Mennite, principal dancer at Houston Ballet, does both with elegance. Watching her work, it’s no surprise she’s one of only nine women to have ever choreographed for the esteemed company—seven commissions in total. In her 18 years with Houston Ballet, the Santa Cruz, Calif., native has collected such big-name main role credits and accolades as Marie in Stanton Welch’s Marie, Nikya in La Bayadère, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and many more. In 2016, she co-founded REACH, which seeks to provide dancers and choreographers a platform from which to express themselves. Proceeds from REACH go to a charity of its choice, like Houston Ballet’s X3 arts education program, its benefactor for the past two years. It’s no wonder the company’s younger generation of dancers look up to her, as not only the eldest but also the most experienced of its female dancers. “I feel honored to be in that position. Aside from learning about my strengths and weaknesses, I’ve learned acceptance,” she says. “As I’ve brought that to myself throughout this career—which can be demanding and perfectionistic—I’ve become more gentle with myself, and I think I’m able to demonstrate that to the younger generation: that you can work really hard and still esteem and take care of yourself well.”