"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.”
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.
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.
World premiere of inventive Tapestry highlights Houston Ballet’s “Rock, Roll & Tutus”
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.
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.”
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.
Art can almost always teach us something about ourselves, our spirituality, our culture, our history. Part of the fun is discovering the unexpected – something you didn’t know you wanted to know. During Luck of the Draw, the annual Black History Month performance by Earthen Vessels (previously known as The Sandra Organ Dance Company, or SODC), the audience is introduced to luminaries both local and less often lauded. The highlighting of Southern musicians and artists like Billy Taylor Jr., Scott Joplin, Dr. John Biggers, and William H. Johnson is welcome education and serves as choreographic stimulus for some of the program’s finer moments.
Artistic director and choreographer, Sandra Organ Solis has gathered together thirteen capable dancers with a variety of strengths for her company. They work well as an ensemble in the character-driven Joplin and Johnson. This mash-up sets the vibrant work of William H. Johnson, an artist of the Harlem Renaissance, against the King of Ragtime’s jaunty melodies. Though living and working during different but consecutive eras, the two artists share commonalities, including somewhat tragic ends, which are revealed by the brief biographies projected prior to the dance work. The juxtaposition is complimentary and the comedic, often slapstick performances are entertaining, making the most of the dancers’ unique abilities.
New works premiering earlier on the bill are undermined by clunky costumes and performances that lack conviction. The adjustable domino-like aprons in Dominoes aka Bones seem like an interesting concept as dancers move about like pieces in a game, but the dancers end up looking as uncomfortable and stiff as the awkward fabric they are wearing. Similarly, the Big Parade quartet looks more inhibited than jazzy in their red marching band regalia.
Fortunately, the dancers appear more at home in the Act I closer, Rails, Rows, and Seasons (also new for 2011). Solis draws inspiration from Four Seasons, a work by muralist, draftsman, and lithographer, Dr. John Biggers. Even if his name is not familiar, it’s likely you’ve seen Biggers’ work around Houston. His murals grace Wortham Center, and the Texas Southern University and University of Houston campuses. Accompanied by a sophisticated Bobby McFerrin groove, the company (costumed in this work by Pat Covington and Pat Padilla, with some additions from Aaron Girlinghouse) is awash in golden hues pulled directly from the artist’s palette. Solis cohesively weaves four female soloists, each representing one of Biggers’ seasonal matriarchs, among a chorus of dancers. This corps moves regally in response to the four season characters, an embodiment of the rail lines and shotgun homes featured as a backdrop in Biggers’ lithograph.
Rock, Paper, Scissor (2004) is revitalized and contributes to Luck of the Draw’s game of chance theme. Sketches of the three basic hand signals for this popular pastime prove unnecessary as the dancers scissor their legs, roll, and float in three distinct sections of choreography. Less clear is the motive for the quartet’s military fatigue attire. However, the partnering is inventive, highlighting the athleticism of dancers Corey Greene and Le’Andre Douglas (two young men versed in urban dance and working with URGEWORKS), and Candace Rattliff and Courtney D. Jones.
Other revived works are included in the program. Between Us is a flirtatious pairing of two duets that never quite sizzle. Angry and Bookends are a coupling of short works inspired by an hilarious boxing sketch (once again delivered to the audience as a precursor). Featuring Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, and Tim Conway, the real fight occurs between rounds. Not exactly a one-two-punch, Solis’s response to the skit takes a solemn tone, while a more direct re-creation finds its way into Joplin and Johnson. Delight Songs features poetic contributions from young students recorded in 2002 for an assignment within the Writers in Schools Project. The audience views this simple and elegant interpretation twice in a row, the only change, a different piece of music. The experiment becomes a bit of a game as the audience can cast a private vote for their favorite. For the record, I preferred what was behind door #1.
Though the artistry and performances are not always consistent, Earthen Vessels (SODC) is particularly and uniquely strong in its delivery of history and genuine entertainment through the contemporary dance medium. Luck of the Draw presents enough variety to provide a little something for everyone and would be especially enjoyable and educational for families.
Performances of Luck of the Draw continue at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex next weekend, February 25-26 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, February 27 at 2:30pm. For tickets visit organdance.org.
Revolve Dance Company is the kind of ensemble that makes dancing look effortless when you know full well it isn’t. On Friday, December 10 they made this abundantly clear to a packed Barnevelder Movement/Arts audience with their sixth full-length concert, Premieres6.
The performance included, you guessed it, six premieres with works by foundational members, Amy Cain, Dawn Dippel, and Matt Dippel, plus guest choreography by Houston dance artist, Lindsey McGill, and nationally known choreographer, Wes Veldink, a frequent Revolve collaborator.
The eleven-member company’s repertoire is decidedly contemporary and somewhere in the jazz genus, but they show restraint when it comes to movement pyrotechnics, particularly for a professional company born and cultivated at a suburban competitive dance studio. All of the overstated power moves and flashy stuff are MIA, unless you consider consistently good dancing, flash.
In the middle of a mostly mellow lineup, Matt Dippel’s Wake is a welcome diversion. Opening under the midnight blues of Jeremy Choate’s contoured lighting, the company sits bowed and kneeling like monks before eventually engulfing Dawn Dippel in a pulsing, dystopian but not quite menacing mob. Ms. Dippel’s flame red hair shines like a beacon in the half-light hues, but it is her command of the stage that makes it difficult to tear your eyes away.
Science revealed recently that Earth’s moon does, in fact, hold water – more than we ever thought, actually. Yet, when has the moon not ‘held water’ for those that look upon it? Lindsey McGill’s romantic ode to moon gazing, …when the moon holds water, is layered with articulated, if not mysterious, gesture. At first it whispers, inviting witnesses to a private slow dance between dancers Amy Cain and Matt Dippel. Nuzzling, tracing, and measuring both the corporeal presence and the space once occupied by the other, the duo are folded into the geometric undulations of the full company. The choreography builds to a splash of unison at its climax, then wanes like the lunar surface, all under the ever-present double orbs in Choate’s orange heavens.
Ms. Cain’s Of This World is an exploration of the four terrestrial elements, capped with an earnest coda set to Antony & The Johnsons’ rhapsodic lament for the natural world. Houston Ballet Academy instructor and former HB dancer, Beth Everitt completed a goddess-like Air trio that also included Cain and Dawn Dippel. But, it is Matt Dippel and Lauren Difede who almost single-handedly cleanse the work of platitude with their breathtaking partnering as Water. (Jennifer Stricklin performed with Dippel in the Water duet for Saturday’s performance.)
Dawn Dippel’s Restful Retreat has familial charm and lives up to its title, though a jumble of images and props sometimes amount to contextual clutter. Everest featured three of Revolve’s junior company members and guest performances by the Senior Performance Company of North Harris Performing Arts, the studio co-owned by multiple Revolve Dance Company members. The dancers looked at home among professionals even if the dance in this context amounted to an exclamation point that NHPA is running a top-notch program. Veldink’s lyrical And I Love You, Bye is winsome but doesn’t fight hard enough to be more notable than its accompaniment. It was Cain and Ms. Dippel that demonstrated they could rival a song as big as Florence and The Machine’s Dog Days Are Over in a go-for-broke torrent of movement that morphed into a curtain call on steroids.
Contemporary dance can sometimes be identified by its boring apparel parade of pants and tunics. Therefore, deserving of mention is dancer and resident costumer, Jane Thayer who works with each choreographer to create a mosaic of costumes that manage to be individual and sometimes even surprising without being ostentatious.
Revolve Dance Company puts on a satisfying show that runs with the same kind of precision shown in the dancing. Their work is imaginative without breaking any rules. A homegrown collective, Revolve’s members are easily some of the best contemporary dancers performing in Houston and can be counted on to impress with a dignified elegance.
Growing up, fringe was the dangly stuff on my 1980’s era dance recital costumes. By the nineties, the embellishment all but vanished from the recital fashion landscape, however what I recall about the stuff is that it is particularly difficult to untangle. After you remove that little thread the costume companies weave between the strands, the fringe never hangs all in the same direction again.
Now, I identify fringe as that marginal, sometimes eccentric, expressive rendering out there on the edge of art. FrenetiCore’s Houston Fringe Festival did not consistently make it all the way to the edge with its opening weekend program, but like any good fringe performance it was a jumble of presentational art, providing a little something for everyone.
CORE Performance Company, which splits its time between Houston and Atlanta contributed CORE-poreal. The four short works, choreographed and skillfully danced by members of the company were the evening’s most sophisticated and arresting offering.
In the beginning there was a word and the word was love inventively depicts a couple (dancers Alejandro Abarca and Mary Jane Pennington) traversing the obstacle-ridden road of courtship and love. Though in a clever finale we see who wears the pants in the relationship (literally, if not figuratively), Corian Ellisor’s duet is, throughout, a subtle and honest display of vulnerability and dependency between two lovers.
Veteran CORE member Blake Dalton has produced an intriguing dialog in Find. The rich layers of Dalton’s spoken word and accompaniment wash over while the always captivating, Claire Molla, echoes and responds. Ellisor meanwhile cuts a statuesque figure in Abarca’s quenching Red MANgrove, and though Pennington apparently struggles with headings, Untitled III, her pas de trios with Abarca and Ellisor, is effortlessly elegant.
On opening night, FrenetiCore’s own dance and multi-media collaboration, Tread Lightly was waylaid by technical difficulties. The fragments that made it to the stage promised an imaginative use of luminary technology.
The collective Architects of Cinema delivered an improvisational conversation between Sandy Ewen’s scratching, creaking, prepared guitar and Y.E. Torres’s snaking undulations, while filmmaker Chris Nelson’s close-ups of hands and feet interacting with natural elements like twigs and water shifted to dark figures transporting a cheerless lantern in a dark hallway. The effect was tranquilizing for an opener.
In Soar, Virginia-based actress, Lindsey Carey is engaging as Polly, a storyteller who takes the audience through a series of theatrical episodes about women and their romantic entanglements with jerks. Her exploits in this one-woman-show ramble like one of those water park river rides; generally amusing with a few surprises. Carey manipulates her facial expressions with such clarity during an engaging pantomime that the mundane choice of song (an Alanis Morissette anthem) is pardonable, and a mathematical equation proving that girls are evil, followed by a proof that men are worse, is mischievously funny. However, things take an unhappy turn when Polly reveals the true tale she’s been smothering under a pillow of fluff. There is not a progressive crescendo to this climax and, as a result, the moralistic conclusion seems abrupt and incongruous though charged with affectingly sincere emotion.
The Rat Girls are an absurdly funny duo from Austin that poke fun at art and culture while wearing detachable tails, scarfing wieners, and clogging to Beyoncé. The satire is craftier than that sentence might imply. Also in the lineup, The Nonsense Music Band, a one-man orchestra (namely Dug Falk) administered a nerdy brand of anecdotal hip hop that served as an entertaining conclusion to a lengthy program.
Like the trimming on my old costumes, weekend one of FrenetiCore’s Houston Fringe Festival featured art that dangles in that free-form, all-over-the-place kind of way. Untangling afterward is as intriguing as the performance itself but, if it all hung with factory-issue tidiness, well it just wouldn’t be fringe, would it?