By Ouisa Davis
There are, in our midst, special souls who shape the artistic landscape of the El Paso border region. The contributions of El Paso Symphony Orchestra Maestro Abraham Chavez; director of Spanish language theatre and the creator of the original Viva! El Paso Hector Serrano; folklorico dancer and teacher Rosa Guerrero; flamenco dancer and teacher Rita Triana; El Paso Opera’s Prentice Loftin; Gilbert & Sullivan producer Joan Quarm; Kids & Co and El Paso Playhouse’s Jan Wolfe; stage designer Bert Ronke; and painters Hal Marcus and Francisco Romero loom large in our memory.
When one of these, our founders, leave the “stage,” it calls us to pause and take notice.
Ingeborg Heuser, a noted professional ballet teacher, choreographer, and designer, passed away on Feb. 14 in El Paso, surrounded by her loving family and caregivers.
The former professor in the music department of the University of Texas at El Paso and artistic director of Ballet El Paso, Ballet of the Americas, UTEP ballet, and Texas Western Civic Ballet, her productions graced the stages of El Paso’s performance venues with local ballet students and dancers for over five decades.
Although her journey began in Germany, she was a true El Pasoan and loved the Paso del Norte region with all of her heart. It is fitting that she left this world on Valentine’s Day – one of her last productions was “To El Paso, With Love,” performed at the Coronado Country Club on a Valentine’s Day weekend.
After completing her student years at the Ballet School of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Germany, the German-born Heuser became a member of the corps de ballet and received her first solo contract a year later. With this company, she toured Europe and appeared in six German and Italian movies. Her most important teacher was the famous pedagogue and choreographer Tatjana Gsovsky.
Arriving in the United States in 1948, she came to El Paso in 1953 when her husband, Joe Weissmiller, was stationed at Fort Bliss. She began teaching at the YWCA while working in the advertising department at the White House department store. She opened her first studio, the Ballet Centre, on Federal Street in 1955, which moved to Raynolds Street in 1956, and later was housed on Cincinnati Street.
Heuser became ballet director of the Texas Western Civic Ballet in 1960 and was asked by E.A.Thormodsgaard, chairman of the music department at that time, to formulate a ballet program at Texas Western College. In 1962, George Balanchine invited her to participate in his teacher seminars and regional assistance programs.
Guided by Doris Hering and Jean Gordan of Dance Magazine, as well as her trusted friend Ruth Page, Heuser set the course for the company that was to become Ballet El Paso. She brought guest artists, most of whom were friends, from around the world.
As a pedagogue, Ingeborg Heuser taught at the Berlin Academy, in Mexico City, Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles. She was invited to replace David Lichine for two months in Rome at the National Academy of Ballet.
As the first professor of ballet and director of the ballet division in the University of Texas at El Paso music department, Heuser created and framed the El Paso dance landscape. As children grew and developed as dancers in her private studio, they were invited to join the UTEP Young Dancers School and became apprentices and performers in her many ballet productions. Thousands of El Paso children and young people passed through her studio doors.
Many of her students went on to become professional dancers in all genres, ballet teachers, company artistic staff members, artistic directors, and choreographers, as well as writers, business owners, school teachers, doctors, lawyers, artists, homemakers, accountants, architects and other professionals.
Many of her students were accepted into major companies of the world, including San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, Bejart’s Ballet of the XXth Century, Pittsburgh Ballet, New York City Ballet, Ballet West, Ballet Arizona, Grand Ballet Canadien, Ballet San Antonio, and several smaller American European ballet companies.
Heuser choreographed many ballets for Ballet El Paso, and in Rome, Italy, Utah and Alabama. She choreographed several El Paso Opera productions, and ballet sequences for the original Viva! El Paso! directed by her former student, Hector M. Serrano.
Through decades of public and school performances, Heuser introduced El Pasoans to the beauty of the ballet and laid a strong foundation for the arts community in our border region.
Heuser was a consummate and versatile professional, designing (and sometimes sewing) costumes for her ballets, collaborating with theater professionals such as Albert “Bert” Ronke, Mike Spence, Paul Enger, and Robert Phaup with scenic design, lighting and technical production.
She is survived by her sons, Joseph Weissmiller and Christian Blackwell; her daughter-in-law, Jorie Ewald Blackwell; and her grandsons, Alex Blackwell and Johann Blackwell. She also leaves behind hundreds of former students, admirers, friends and compatriots who celebrate her life and are grateful for the gifts of dance and friendship that she shared with them.
On Saturday, Feb. 26, her family and friends will gather at 9:30 a.m. to celebrate her life at the Church of St. Clement, 810 N. Campbell, with burial immediately following at Memory Gardens of the Valley, 4900 McNutt Road in Santa Teresa.
Ouisa Davis is an El Paso attorney and student of Ingeborg Heuser.
Cover photo: Ingeborg Heuser, right, worked with ballet student Arthur Rocha in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Ouisa Davis)