Falling for Sunshine and Dance Festivals

It’s early fall so there’s much to write about in Houston dance. First up, my review of Fringe Festival contribution “The Sky Was Wild With Sunshine,” choreographed by Ashley Horn Nott. Followed by a feature article for Arts+Culture Magazine’s October issue, available in print and online, entitled “The Fest Test: The Impact of Dance Festivals on Texas Dance.” Click the images to read the articles.

Review: The Sky Was Wild With Sunshine

The Fest Test: The Impact of Dance Festivals on Texas Dance

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Writing on Texas Dance in 2016

The year is coming to a close. I’ve written pieces for Houston’s premiere dance organization, Dance Source Houston; Texas’ primary source for Arts+Culture news, A+C Texas Magazine; and even wrapped Houston Ballet into the content at Dance Advantage.

Click the photos below for a small taste of my work and what Texas dance had to offer in 2016.

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Covering Dance in Space City: 2014-2015

ContDance2015-ACTX
Arts+Culture Texas cover story on what fuels contemporary dance in Texas. CLICK to read.
Tap Festivals in Texas
Arts+Culture Texas story on summer tap festivals in Texas. CLICK to read.
Instasavvy Houston Ballet
Arts+Culture Texas reposted my Dance Advantage story on Houston Ballet’s leadership on the social platform, Instagram. CLICK to read.
METdance and Apollo Chamber Players
CLICK to read more…
Houston Ballet on the Dance Salad Menu
CLICK to read more…
Jane Weiner's Next Steps
CLICK to read more…
Uptown Dance Company preview
CLICK to read more…

Recap of 2013-2014 Season Contributions

What do Arts+Culture Magazine, The Rockettes, and Dance Source Houston have in common? Me!

These are my contributions to publications over the 2013/2014 season of dance. They include editorial, previews, how-to, and informational articles and blog posts. Enjoy!

ACTexasLogo

 

Dance Salad Festival Preview The Endurance of Contemporary Dance in Texas Learn about Texas' Ballet Roots

Rockettes.com logo

These and more on the Rockettes.com website:

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Dance Source Houston    the dance dish - dance source houston

CORE Performance Preview Ad Deum Dance Preview Dana Nicolay Preview Rednerrus Feil Preview

The New Crop: The Ecology of Houston’s Emerging Choreographers

Reprinted from Arts + Culture Magazine Houston

Nick Muckleroy of Urban Souls Dance Company in Courtney D. Jones' ...and the bodies drop. Photo by Sam Li.
Nick Muckleroy of Urban Souls Dance Company in Courtney D. Jones’ …and the bodies drop. Photo by Sam Li.

In the decade since I first came ashore on Houston’s dance scene, I’ve experienced how rapidly this particular dance performance landscape and its inhabitants evolve and regenerate.

Where artists have pruned or redirected their energies, new growth is consistently emerging and making room in the bed of Houston dance. To understand how dance gets made here is to study the city’s dance ecosystem and the creative organisms currently emerging and thriving within it. With the Big Range Dance Festival running June 1-16, this is a perfect month to examine the ecology of the new crop of choreographers.

Oh, What a Garden

In bloom at any given time in Houston are a variety of self-presenters and independent choreographers. Self-presenters build an organization around their own work or a collaborative. Independents are generally dancing for self-presenters, while pursuing festival-style opportunities to present their own choreography.

Stephanie Wong, a former dancer, is the executive director of Dance Source Houston (DSH), which offers vital publicity support to choreographers and companies in the city.  From her vantage point, getting work presented is one of the primary challenges to new choreographers.

“For someone just starting out, being able to dip a toe in the water, rather than jumping in all at once can be advantageous,” says Wong, “Building audience and interest in what you’re doing also takes a lot of time and patience.”

Kristen Frankiewicz. Photo by Kim Espinosa.

A rising independent choreographer currently building interest in her work is dancer and University of Texas at Austin alumni Kristen Frankiewicz. She did some company time in San Francisco, but found a more appealing and exciting fit in Houston’s dance sphere.
Choreography has come about naturally for Frankiewicz, who is showing her newest work, Glass Scratch, during “Program A” of The Big Range. Although she’s presented frequently over the last few years in both Houston and Austin, she says she doesn’t have the “hunter gene” for composing new work. Instead, the work has a way of finding her.

“If an idea moves me, then I get down to business and hunt it out,” says Frankiewicz. “I like to keep my choreographic perspective fresh and informed, and really only present work when I feel it has the potential to add something to the table.”

Likewise, since her return to the area from Broadway touring, native Houstonian Courtney D. Jones has found a home for her work with Urban Souls Dance Company. Her second work for Urban Souls, ….and the bodies fall, premiers June 2 at the University of Houston’s Cullen Hall. The Hope Stone dancer and triple threat (she’ll appear in Houston Grand Opera’s Show Boat next season) will join the faculty at University of Houston and serve as guest choreographer at Rice University this fall.

“I was thrilled to see such diversity in options,” says Jones. “It feels like almost every weekend there is a little something for everyone to buy a ticket and enjoy.”

Among these “somethings” are events like the Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex Dance Gathering, Hope Stone’s Hope Werks, and 12 Minutes Max, a combined effort of DSH, DiverseWorks, and CORE Dance, each one offering a unique opportunity for emerging choreographers to present without the overhead expense of self-production.

Dance Film Takes Hold

Up-and-coming dance-for-camera artist Lydia Hance founded Frame Dance Productions in 2010. (Some disclosure: You’ll find me in recent films produced by Frame Dance, for which I’ve also served as a board member).

Hance’s work often requires projectors and surfaces to project upon, but conventional dance venues and producers are rarely prepared to meet these needs without compromise. As a result, she’s concluded that, despite the extra legwork required, for now, self-producing events is less challenging than the alternative.

“I don’t want to pull myself out of these festival environments. I want to be part of the dialogue, even if it takes time,” Hance asserts. “In the meantime, I will continue self-producing. I didn’t look at the Houston dance community and think, ‘I need to fill this niche.’ I looked at my work, looked at the Houston dance community and thought, ‘there’s room for me.’”

CONTEXT, her most recent installation at Winter Street Studios, proved a stunning success, and is evidence of efforts to carve her own path, not only in terms of the spatial context in which dance is viewed, but in the trans-discipline defining of dance.

Wong (DSH) is struck by the amount of dance for film currently being presented, stating, “There seems to be a real interest and momentum behind the exploration of video as a medium and the normal limitations that medium allows us to transcend.”

Rosie Trump, Director of Dance at Rice University and a choreographer/filmmaker, has actively sought local dance filmmakers to feature in The Third Coast Dance Film Festival she founded in Houston. Though she could easily have filled the roster with imports, Trump wants to foster dance film production in this community.

It’s the accumulating presence in Houston of dance for camera by individuals like Hance, Trump, and Ashley Horn, that most sets the city’s current yield of dancemakers apart from its more established artists. Horn’s Big Range offering is Jazzland, a dance film with an original score composed by improvisational pianist Robert Pearson.

The Laboratory of Evolution

NobleMotion and Recked Productions, the creative conduits of Andy and Dionne Noble and Erin Reck are generating fresh excitement in Houston. All three individuals on the dance faculty at Sam Houston State University have found a home on the Big Range. This year, they’ll each present work the first weekend in June on the festival’s Program A.

“Essentially, audiences will support good work,” says Wong. The creation of new dance work is reinforced by an infrastructure of time, space, and money but is fueled by a kind of mutual advocacy as well. No dancer is an island. Erin Reck asserts the need to work in support of oneself and one’s art by staying active in the field and not living in a cardboard box, “Basquiat style.”

“Artists need other artists to help them grow,” Reck reflects. “We are inspired by each other, pushed and challenged by each other, pinched when we try to create something gimmicky or mediocre and applauded when we successfully step outside our box.”

Urban Souls Dance Company
June 2, 2012
www.urbansoulsdancecompany.com

The Big Range Dance Festival
June 1-16, 2012
www.bigrange.org

Reprinted from Arts + Culture Magazine Houston

Stanton Welch: Houston Ballet’s Fast and Furious Choreographer

Reprinted from Arts + Culture Magazine Houston
Get your March issue here.

Stanton Welch's Cinderella -- Photo by Amitava Sarkar

HOUSTON BALLET’S ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, Stanton Welch wasted no time ascending to world renown as a choreographer. Once he got started, that is.

Most dancers expect to spend years in the studio and on the stage before moving on to a choreographic career. The offspring of professionals in the field usually start clocking their hours even before they can walk.

Nevertheless, Welch, whose parents Marilyn Jones and Garth Welch were both principal dancers with The Australian Ballet and pillars in their country’s dance community, managed to grow up without taking more than an arbitrary jazz class until he was 17.

Still, one cannot have dancing parents without a great deal of exposure to the art form. It was the perspective he gained as an audience member that finally drew a teenage Welch into the dance studio, where he began an intense period of training and excelled, making his mother and father progenitors of what would become known as “The Royal Family of Ballet” in Australia.

Before dance, acting captured Welch’s attention. “I did some TV shows as a child and lots of film and acting lessons;” he recalls, “even writing plays and films.” –– transferable creative skills put to good use when, right away, as part of his dance training, Welch began to choreograph at his parents’ ballet school.

“I had always wanted to be involved in the creation as well as performing,” explains Welch.

And, create he did. His very first piece, “Hades,” made during his initial year of training, won numerous prizes and praise. Therefore, it should not surprise that only four years into his pursuit of ballet, he took on his first professional commission, creating “The Three of Us” for The Australian Ballet and “A Time to Dance” for The Dancers Company (the regional touring arm of The Australian Ballet) in 1990.

Patrons were already buzzing about Welch’s work when in 1994 his ballet “Divergence” debuted. A milestone work for the choreographer that continues to delight audiences worldwide, the sultry and virtuosic piece entered Houston Ballet’s repertoire on its 10th anniversary. Not yet another decade later, Houston audiences will likely find that the iconic “Divergence” remains as fresh and relevant as ever when it appears again this season in the mixed-bill “Rock, Roll, & Tutus.”

“I liken Stanton Welch’s choreography to a well-tailored suit; intelligently constructed, refined, and neatly executed, Stanton’s choreography expects impeccable technique and beautiful line,” says Houston Ballet’s newest principal, Danielle Rowe, who as a former dancer with The Australian Ballet has appeared in “Divergence” in her home country.

“Divergence” is not the only work Welch is dusting off in 2012. Though it has not sat long on Houston Ballet’s shelf, his darkly romantic (with a feminist twist) version of “Cinderella,” created in 1997 for The Australian Ballet, has a revival in late-February.

“Ballet is a living art form,” Welch explains. “The ballets don’t start to age until I am dead. Every revisit can feel new. Every time it evolves.”

Though he created “Cinderella” while still in his 20s, it was not Welch’s first full-length ballet. In 1995, The Australian Ballet gave Welch the opportunity to pour his passion for the opera, “Madame Butterfly,” into a ballet. The production received a standing ovation on its opening night and is frequently considered Welch’s signature work. Restaged by not only The Australian Ballet and Houston Ballet (look for it again in 2013), but also by companies throughout the world, “Madame Butterfly” resulted in the naming of Welch as a resident choreographer of The Australian Ballet and sparked a prolific period of dance making as his work became internationally sought-after.

Recognized as a choreographic shapeshifter within the dance world, Welch explores classical technique and execution while easily adapting to ballet’s contemporary or classical modes of expression –– all with a hint (sometimes more) of rebellion and defiance. Welch’s “Cinderella,” for example, is no waif pining for a prince. Instead, a tomboy that in the end –– well, let us not spoil the ending here. To say that it is a fairytale fit for young girls in the 21st century will suffice.

In 1999, Welch created his first work for Houston Ballet, then under the direction of Ben Stevenson. Veteran principal dancer, Mireille Hassenboehler notes that before “Indigo,” she had never danced in a ballet with bared legs and midriff.

“I think it was the first time I felt like a strong, sexy woman on stage,” she exclaims. Probably due to his early acting experiences, helping dancers develop a role is one of Welch’s strengths. “He is very good at communicating motivation and expectation,” says Houston Ballet principal, Melody Mennite, who has created roles in several of Welch’s ballets, including another strong female — the title character in “Marie,” Welch’s ballet about the doomed Marie Antoinette. Assuming artistic directorship of Houston Ballet in 2003 hardly inhibited Welch’s creative habit. He has premiered more than 20 ballets in less than a decade. He affirms that ideas for new ballets sometimes hit him suddenly, while others slowly come to a boil in his imagination.

For the triple-bill, “Rock, Roll, & Tutus,” which in addition to “Divergence” will feature the Jagger-inspired, “Rooster” by Christopher Bruce, Welch aims to debut a new piece that is the polar opposite of the other dances.

“I hope ‘Tapestry’ will be a very different type of work from the high-impact ‘Divergence;’ says Welch “I’d like it to be a very subtle, pastel, romantic work.”

Now in his early 40s, Welch has been creating diverse and notable choreography for nearly half his life. “We are preparing to do a newly composed score,” he divulges, “This is a new, difficult, and exciting frontier.”

It is just one more challenge to meet as he finishes his ninth season as Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director. Asked if his work has changed during this time, Welch’s answer is matter-of-fact: “I must focus not just on what I need as a choreographer, but also on what the company and the city needs.”

February 23–March 4:  “Cinderella”

March 8–18:  “Rock, Roll & Tutus”

Brown Wortham Center
www.houstonballet.org