"Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?" ~ Nietzsche
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.
The 33rd Annual Dance Month at ERJCC’s Kaplan Theatre
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”