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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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
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Houston Ballet on the Dance Salad Menu
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Jane Weiner's Next Steps
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Uptown Dance Company preview
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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!

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

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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

Dance Month Scratches A Niche

The 33rd Annual Dance Month at ERJCC’s Kaplan Theatre

Company E. Photo by Paul Gordon Emerson
Company E. Photo by Paul Gordon Emerson

Find a need and fill it.

She didn’t directly quote this old success adage, but it’s a precept Maxine Silberstein, Dance Director of the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston (ERJCC), puts into practice when coordinating the organization’s Dance Month series, which kicked off last weekend with Israeli folkdance workshop, Tirkedu Houston.
Laura Gutierrez. Photo by Rick Cullough.
Laura Gutierrez. Photo by Rick Cullough.

Take, for example, the revival of Houston Choreographers x6, a program designed to present premiere work by six of Houston’s professional, but still emerging, choreographers on the Kaplan Theatre stage January 26 and 27.“Any opportunity to present work is important to Houston artists,” Silberstein explains. “We have a vibrant community of dancers and choreographers so we try to give them that opportunity.”

Until several years ago, Choreographers x6 was a regular feature of the annual post-holiday affair. “For 14 years, we had different choreographers every year,” Silberstein recalls. “Then, there came a time in the Houston scene where all of a sudden there were other companies or people who were starting to present programs introducing new choreographers.”

Choreographers x6 was shelved for a few years but returns this month. Why now?“ “There is a new pool of choreographers that we have not presented and yet they’ve already proven themselves as choreographers,” says Silberstein.

Kristin Frankiewicz. Photo by Stephen Pruitt.
Kristin Frankiewicz.
Photo by Stephen Pruitt.

This pool includes Kristen Frankiewicz, Laura Gutierrez, Lydia Hance, Erin Reck, Jhon R. Stronks, and Sandra Organ-Solis. Organ-Solis appeared on the playbill for the very first Choreographers x6. This time, she’s crafted Ella, a tribute to Jazz icon, Ella Fitzgerald. It will be just one of a diverse selection of new dances premiering on the family-friendly mixed bill.

Dance Month programming goes beyond providing space and stipend for six artists, however, also giving Houston-area students and pre-professional choreographers a chance to show their work, providing master classes for dancers, lecture demonstrations in schools, and this year, an occasion to highlight Dance on Film.

Consider that Silberstein annually selects a dynamic, professional dance company on the rise to headline the Houston happening, and the role of Dance Month as a cornerstone event within the local dance community becomes very clear.

This year, Silberstein set her sights on Company E, a small repertory company from Washington D.C. only in its second year. Paul Gordon Emerson, Co-founder and Executive Director of the company, is no fledgling, though.

Company E. Photo by Paul Gordon Emerson.
Company E. Photo by Paul Gordon Emerson.

He came late to dance at age 27, yet somehow his unique and varied history in the arts and government – he’sworked in campaign politics, defense and foreign policy analysis, served as a legislative director, a radio and cable-TV broadcaster, a journeyman in construction and design, and he’s a published author, dabbles in sculpture, and is an accomplished photographer – melds within this art form and within Company E, which aims, not only to perform high-quality dance, but also serve as international cultural ambassadors for the U.S.Company E has already built partnerships with the Embassy of Israel, the Embassy of Spain, and have traveled to the Central Asian nation of Kyrygzstan to engage in cultural exchange with Samruk Dance Company, a relationship fostered and supported by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Mission to Kyrygzstan.

Silberstein first read of Company E in The Jewish Daily Forward as they prepared to debut their first home-town performance, NEXT: Israel at D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre, which featured the work of some of Tel Aviv’s most progressive choreographers.“

We asked for a program that featured Israeli choreographers,” Silberstein divulges, “because I think, and Martha Graham felt the same way, that Israel has some very strong dancers and choreographers, and because we’ve had Roni Koresh and Andrea Miller on our stage before.”The one-night-only performance NEXT: An Evening of Choreography of Israel and Spain on February 9 at the Kaplan will indeed feature Theatre of Public Secrets by Roni Koresh (founder of Philadelphia-based Koresh Dance Company); and two works, Alma and Inside It’s Raining, by English-Israeli choreographer Rachel Erdos.

As the program title suggests, the Kaplan audience will also stamp their passports in Spain with the performance of Y, a collaborative work created by Company E for their evening-length Kennedy Center performance of Looking for Don Quixote, and Few by Barcelona choreographers, Thomas Noone and Nuria Martinez. You Go First, by New York dancer and choreographer, Loni Landon, brings a touch of home to the evening’s trot around the globe.”We look for smaller companies while others bring in bigger, more well-known groups and we look for very strong companies, the majority of which have not been in Houston before,” says Silberstein. “It’s a big risk for us to bring companies to Houston, and yet, I think this is part of our niche.”

Learn more at www.erjcchouston.org

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston

Catching Up With Blasts From The Past

Happy New Year!

My dance education blog, Dance Advantage, has kept me on my toes. And did I mention I’ve been doing some freelance work for the Rockettes website, too? It’s about time I get some of my more recent dance writing work on this blog.

So, I’m kicking off January with some links to the past to catch up to the present.

Photo by Jae Man Joo
Photo by Jae Man Joo

Complexions Contemporary Ballet Ready To Rock Houston

What does a dance company have in common with U2, one of rock music’s biggest acts?

With a big smile on his face, Dwight Rhoden quips, “I think dancers are rockstars”.

Rhoden’s New York City company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, is about to rock… and roll through Houston on October 14 with a program that includes musical accompaniment big and bold enough to blow off the Wortham’s roof: The Rolling Stones, Roy Buchanan, “The Hallelujah Chorus,” and, of course, U2. The evening will close with Rise, a work set entirely to tunes from the Irish rock band’s catalog.

Rhoden gets no argument here about the exceptional qualities of dancers. However, as I see it, the troupe he founded with dancer Desmond Richardson in 1994 is like U2 in other ways, too. Both have accessibility and wide appeal, traits which some in their respective fields dismiss as if it were harder to be obscure. Both groups resist being bound by or excluded from the circles of commercial and “high” art. Both even have a frontman (in Complexions’ case, Richardson) who can command a stage like few others.

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World premiere of inventive Tapestry highlights Houston Ballet’s “Rock, Roll & Tutus”

Photo by Amtiava Sarkar || A scene from "Rooster," choreographed by Christopher Bruce, with Christopher Coomer and Katelyn May
Photo by Amtiava Sarkar || A scene from “Rooster,” choreographed by Christopher Bruce, with Christopher Coomer and Katelyn May

If any company can rock a goofy strut and some tutus made of air conditioning filters it’s Houston Ballet. They proved it at the opening of “Rock, Roll & Tutus” last week.

The program, which includes the world premiere of artistic director Stanton Welch‘s Tapestry plus two ballets previously performed (Rooster and Divergence), continues with three performances Friday through Sunday.

Marquee aside, Welch planned for Tapestry to be the antithesis of rock and roll as he set it to Mozart‘s Violin Concerto No. 5. While it showcases the rock star qualities of violinist, Denise Tarrant, the only thing “in your face” about this ballet is the talent of the company.

Daring, inventive and occasionally just plain jaw-dropping partnering punctuates the entire first section during which dancers appear in a muted tangerine and blue. To the delight of the audience, Karina Gonzalez is tossed between Connor Walsh and Ian Cassidy like a wisp of smoke — particularly sweet-scented smoke.

Read more…

Houston Contemporary Dancesquared

Photo by Simon Gentry
Photo by Simon Gentry

No, The Stoners and The Metronics are not emerging indie-rock bands.

These handles are how Hope Stone and Houston Metropolitan Dance Company members have been referring to themselves as they merge for their joint performance, squared dancer, November 9 and 10 in the Wortham’s Cullen Theatre.
An alliance built on mutual admiration and like-mindedness, Hope Stone helmswoman, Jane Weiner and Houston Met’s freshman artistic director, Marlana Walsh Doyle agree the pairing is one that has been simmering for some time.
Earlier this year, as the weather was heating up, so were the possibilities for partnership. Fresh off her August who’s-who of Houston artists, WRECK-WE-UMM, Weiner says her band of “permanent pick-up dancers,” was on a collaborative high.
“It didn’t feel competitive but it felt edgy,” Weiner recalls of that summer experience. “Everybody was pushing each other but everybody was on the same page and very ensemble-like.”

Rockettes Features:

More coming this way in 2013!

Psophonia Dance Company Puts Their Finger on a New Pulse

[@DanceSource @psophonia] #Houston

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As the heart of Psophonia Dance Company, co-founders and Artistic Directors, Sophia Torres and Sonia Noriega have been pumping out new dance work for 13 seasons.

Their partnership has even survived a transplant. “Sonia has lived in Chicago for 5 years now and I don’t think in all that time we’ve had a break in our stride,” Torres reflects.

In that vein, the two are keeping the work flowing even while giving up their choreographers’ chairs to some fresh blood – their dancers. New Pulse, which presents at Barnevelder November 18 and 19, will feature original choreography by current and former members of the company.

Nurturing young talent and providing company members with production and artistic support is an idea that’s been on the table for some time. It’s also giving the company’s two matriarchs a chance to clear their heads before scrubbing in on any new operations. “I actually went through a creative spurt this spring, setting three new works on Psophonia, one on University of Houston, and one on Houston Community College students. I was ready to step back and regenerate,” explains Torres.

To assemble the program, Noriega and Torres asked the dancers to submit work that had been previously set. The dancers proffered work created in college or for other companies and events. While the choreographers who wanted to revise sections of their work were given support and suggestions on editing, the content was left in their hands. “Sophia and I have always respected and encouraged each other for our individual choreographic voices to develop,” says Noriega, “so giving them their freedom and encouraging them to express their work as they see fit just seemed natural for us.”

New Pulse will feature seven works from seven new choreographic voices.

Patty Solorzano’s “Entre Irse Y Quedarse/Between Going and Staying” is inspired by childhood recollections of Mexico and her struggle to adapt to a new culture when her family relocated to the U.S.  Dancers manipulate long skirts in this contemporary work influenced by Mexican Folkloric dance and prop photographs represent memories and a boundary between past and future. Fittingly, Solorzano’s challenge was transmitting the movement and emotional context of the piece to the performers in only one week before making her next big transition, a move to Michigan.

Tapley Whaley premiered “Cry of 146 at “Not For Sale”, a concert benefiting the anti-human trafficking organization, Love 146. “The subject matter is current, intense, and tragic, “ remarks Torres. “I applaud Tapley for choosing to tackle such a weighted subject and working with other organizations to raise awareness.” Whaley took time away from the company in March to have a baby. Now raising a seven-month-old, Whaley considers the creative opportunity to re-set “Cry of 146” and time with other dancers a blessing.

Jeanna Vance, who is also on leave from the company to start a family, describes the personal adversity she faced during a two-year period of her life. “It was like a storm that wouldn’t end.” A resulting introspection and surrender, bringing waves of relief and peace, inspired “First Breath.

Collaborators Kendall Kramer and Marielle Perrault provide an element of surprise with some clever light manipulation in “I. Photo II. Synthesis”. “I don’t want to give the ‘secret’ away, but it is great fun to watch,” says Torres.

Meanwhile, Emily Bischoff manipulates sound in “Shenanigans”. Recording discussion from the current cast of dancers, she has edited and reversed their voices to accompany a section of the piece. This work emerged as Bischoff contemplated the complexities of the brain, which seems to generate information in curious ways. “Random events stirring up organized and clear thoughts,” Bischoff observes.

Boroto, set to the contemporary African music of Badenya Les Freres Coulibaly, originated with the music. Choreographer Marielle Perrault explains, “I created movement inspired directly from what I heard. Every step is a reaction to the drums, the vocals, the climactic build.”

But words, specifically ‘lush’ and ‘sensual’, are the foundation for “Strolling le Carré, Stephanie Beall’s nod to the bateleur, street entertainers, of France.

For Beall, putting her work in front of an audience is a milestone. “I’ve never thought I was a good choreographer and had a fear of pursuing that avenue.” She and the other dancers-turned-choreographers express their gratitude to Noriega and Torres for the opportunity to revisit their dances. “I felt their support throughout the entire process,” says Solorzano.

Each also conveys appreciation for the chance to present work on a full stage with costuming, lighting, and ticket sales. Perrault summarizes, “Usually these factors are minimally accessible for beginning choreographers, but Psophonia knows the importance of developing a new generation of choreographers.”

Fans of Psophonia can take heart that Noriega and Torres will produce new work in 2012. Unlike many companies that spend months creating new choreography for a one-weekend show, they will continue to take their repertory on the road to places like Dallas, Chicago, and Cincinnati. This season, look for the company in Imagine Christmas at Moody Gardens. “This was an unexpected performance opportunity and we are excited about going to Galveston in December and performing daily for about two weeks.”

Intentions are to make New Pulse a regular event in Psophonia’s programming, making it an artistic, ahem… artery for future young dance-makers.

Psophonia Dance Company presents New Pulse Friday and Saturday, November 18-19 at 8pm at Barnevelder Movement/Arts, 2201 Preston St. To purchase tickets visit www.psophonia.com or call 713-802-1181.ext. 4.

Reprinted from Dance Source

Houston Ballet Introduces Three Winning Works

Ballet: ONE/end/ONE, Choreographer: Jorma Elo Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet, Photo: Amitava Sarkar
Ballet: ONE/end/ONE, Choreographer: Jorma Elo Dancer(s): Artists of Houston Ballet, Photo: Amitava Sarkar

The term ‘winning’ may have changed in nuance of late but it still seems a fitting description of the three contemporary works Houston Ballet has delivered to its audience with Raising The Barre. Introducing a World, American, and Houston premiere, the company displays its versatility, the prowess of its members, and three impeccable examples of ballet’s alive-and-wellness with one fell swoop.

Jorma Elo, resident choreographer at Boston Ballet, is clearly winning throughout the ballet world with a characteristically playful, always satisfying catalog that now includes ONE/end/ONE, created for and on Houston Ballet. To be the instrument and focus of Elo’s creativity is a rather victorious notch in the HB belt, as well.

Adorned in straight black tutus and rich bodices with embroidered necklines for both, men and women, the dancers’ classical appearance is a red herring in this ballet. Classical lines and structure do embed the framework of ONE/end/ONE’s three sections but Elo turns tradition and expectation on their side, if not completely on their head, as he weaves in his unique language of quirk.

With head dives and kicking legs, hip swivels and the occasional body roll, the charm of Elo’s dances is that throughout their twists and surprises, we see something human. Personality. Elo’s work is full of it, and Houston Ballet’s eight couples each add his/her own to the work.

Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez have a romantic but mischievous chemistry as he ducks a rotating leg or leads her in a somersault offstage. Melissa Hough, having danced Elo during her time at Boston Ballet and with a strong background in jazz and contemporary forms, is unleashed in the energetic third section. Following this lightening round, ONE/end/ONE skids to a halt with the final strains of a Mozart violin concerto, played with wicked agility by the Houston Ballet Orchestra and featured violinist, Denise Tarrant.

America’s past and the music of its heartland is a fascination for many an artist ‘across the pond.’ New to Houston Ballet and surprisingly, on this side of the Atlantic, is the 10-year-old Grinning in Your Face by Christopher Bruce. Set to selections from guitarist, Martin Simpson’s album of the same name, Bruce bid farewell to Rambert Dance Company with this ode to America’s Dust Bowl. Simultaneously timeless and old-timey, the slide and scratches of Simpson’s acoustic folk renderings are immediately transporting while vocals rich and raw evoke the hardships of life in the Depression-era Midwest.

With a vocabulary that borrows more from modern and folk dance than ballet, Bruce’s choreography brings a barefooted ensemble to what you might imagine is a dirty, earthen floor. The men gamble, win hearts (or not), and swagger in work clothes. The women fret, confab, and tend to one another in loose feedsack dresses.

Grinning is the theatrical centerpiece of Houston Ballet’s program, displaying a series of encounters rather than a single narrative. Assuming the velocity of a hummingbird, Melody Mennite (formerly Herrera) flits charmingly through one scene as the yellow-winged “Little Birdie.” The heart sighs along with Rupert Edwards and Jaquel Andrews as their duet recalls the exuberance and mischief of young love. Their entanglement resolves with a twinge of menace before giving way to lighter subject matter, including a stamping, sweeping social soirée featuring the full cast. As a lone motherly figure, Jessica Collado is the witness weaving each episode into the fabric of memory.

Where war seems at times celebrated as the boon that brought America out of their 1930’s economic depression, Bruce wraps up his work with a disquieting homily reminding us of the cost and violence of combat. The connection this Texas audience has with the often somber but heartfelt Grinning In Your Face is palpable.

In contrast to the sepia palette of Grinning, Christopher Wheeldon’s acclaimed Rush cascades onto stage with a splash of color. The elegant geometry of the costume design and opposing lines and diagonals of the staging have a cool art deco feel. The ballet, originally choreographed for the San Francisco Ballet in 2003, has a familiarity rooted in Balanchine and the traditional ballet hierarchy of two principals, four soloists, and a corps of ten.

Having attended the Saturday performance, I missed the pairing of Houston Ballet’s new addition, Danielle Rowe with Simon Ball. It was my good fortune, however, to view the exquisite Sara Webb whose quintessential feet and legs seem to go on forever as they envelop partner Ian Casady. Though a single red line of light extends across the backdrop, the central pas de deux frequently surrenders Webb to the floor and the air in what seems an unbroken helicoidal pathway. Is the homage to the spiral intentional? Who knows, but Wheeldon breaks through this aloof and evasive magic with more canon and color, ending it all in a gratifying flourish.

Ripe with prepossessing charm, all three works are welcome additions to the Houston Ballet repertoire. This city is winning as our resident ballet company continues to raise the bar… barre.

Raising the Barre performances continue this weekend, June 3-5. Visit houstonballet.org or call 713.227.2787 for tickets or more information.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston