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.

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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!


Houston Met Mixes Up A Flavorful Meal

Dancer Kiki Lucas; Photography by Ben Doyle, Runaway Productions

Serving up the menu of a mixed program can be tricky. I’ve seen what goes on in the background on the reality show Hell’s Kitchen. There’s a science to arranging dishes and getting them out on time. Open the oven too early and the soufflé drops. Houston Metropolitan Dance Company cooked up a flavorful bill of fare on Saturday night when they tried Mixing It Up, Again.

As usual in my case, the dessert course was the highlight. Delivering the strongest male performance of the evening, Kerry Jackson is trapped in a box of light. His passionate tirade in Consumed, an introduction to Kate Skarpetowska’s slightly scary world of driven conformists. Leaping from the stage he escapes an army of “suits” that urge surrender to their worker bee mentality. A Julliard alumni, Skarpetowska has danced for David Parsons, Lar Lubovitch, and newly named Alvin Ailey Artistic Director, Robert Battle. These influences are clear in athletic choreography, rich with human peculiarities. The work captivated through to a humorously disturbing finish. An odd sort of dessert I suppose, this was Houston Met at its most gritty and menacing, in no small part aided by Meredith Monk’s eccentric vocals and a pulsating score by Richie Hawthine. Dramatic and robust, the supercharged work accentuated the company’s prime attributes. Not a bad way to send the audience out the door… appetite satiated.

A patchwork of lyrically stirring appetizers, Braham Logan Crane’s History introduced the full company. The piece though, did not come into its own until the majority dispersed and sheer curtains of fabric rained down on female soloists, Kiki Lucas, Lisa Wolff, and Jocelyn Thomas. The choreography twines and twirls around a pristine vocal/piano by Angela Ai, a singer-songwriter with inflections akin to Tori Amos and Kate Bush. The dancers’ performances tightened during the latter half of this collection of excerpts as the songs build to a joyous finish. Joe’l Ludovich and Will Matthews’ well-coordinated visuals of ancient rock, architecture, and surging water filled the expanse of the Cullen stage.

In Kiesha Lalama White’s Unsung Moment, Marlana Walsh-Doyle, Terrill Mitchell, and Lucas depicted fear, denial, and confrontation (respectively) with clarity in this study of the underlying emotional conflicts provoked by war. Unfortunately, odd choices in projection and musical transition were occasionally disruptive.

The optimist in me lost the internal bet I’d waged that a work titled Bound would not include a tether. Convention aside, Houston Met veterans Walsh-Doyle and Lucas are engaging performers and this duet by Joe Celej did not overstay its welcome.

In her turn as choreographer, Lucas infused Semi Detached with powerhouse moves and grooves. There is meticulous structure reinforcing this clever battle for control over a chair. A short, sweet sorbet, Pattie Obey’s Passada provided a tinge of romance, its sensual rhythms kindling a triangle of longing and flirtation.

These four world premieres were diverse enough in scope and theme to keep Houston Metropolitan Dance Company’s full-course meal interesting and the program zipping along.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston

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Houston Met Dance Confronts the Ground with jhon r. stronks

Last spring, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company premiered jhon r. stronk’s Not Yet Soaring as the finale of their Mixing It Up concert. Its fresh and joyous movement language was a highlight on the program and the company encouraged stronks to develop the work further. The resulting collaboration, Still Confronting the Ground is a dance theater work that “finds them attending to the serious business of happiness in an evening of choreography and performance created in honor of growing up, and what it takes to get there.”

Clair Hummel, a graduate student at the University of Houston Theatre, Dance, Costume Design and Technology department has created costumes for this piece. Kris Phelps serves as Houston Metropolitan Dance Company lighting designer. Meanwhile, Houston composer, DJ, and sound designer, Jerahmiah DiMatteo is live-mixing an electronic score that mingles with spoken text, some written by stronks himself.

I caught up with jhon to find out more about the work, its rehearsal process, and what audiences can expect from Still Confronting the Ground. Continue reading Houston Met Dance Confronts the Ground with jhon r. stronks