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

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Traversing the Iberian Peninsula with Sara Draper and Dancepatheatre

Dancemakers Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, have notably and characteristically synthesized their investigations in movement with their study of culture and humankind. As a graduate of anthropology, Sara Draper, the artistic director of Dancepatheatre, has taken a similar approach. In her one-night-only, June 20 repertory concert, Memories of Spain, she traversed the Iberian Peninsula with postcard precision. A glimpse of the region’s ancient history, a peek at its rhythmical underpinning, a gander at its cultural temperament. Including revisited work, dance in development, and a premiere performance, the evening managed to coalesce into an enticing mosaic, depicting not only Spanish culture, but Draper’s own creative sojourns.

Leading with two recovered works, Draper gave the audience a taste of her past in El Cerrojo and The Back, a self-choreographed solo work lifted from her 2003 Life Museum series. El Cerrojo (The Door Latch) is a duet for two women set to both English and Spanish translations of the Bible’s fifth chapter of Song of Songs. The text is punctuated by compass seco (pure percussion) clapping rhythms. On this evening, dancers Lydia Hance and Joani Trevino gave strong performances, fervor rising to the surface in waves as they waited and searched together for their lover.

Sheathed in a classic but simple gown and deftly concealing her face throughout The Back, Draper’s envious dorsal musculature is on display. The Back quivers in what we might imagine is a fit of tears. Like Atlas, it bears the weight of the world. In a final, climactic image, The Back supports the wingspan of a free and ascending spirit. At first glance, the Chopin score (a sparkling rendition of Nocturne No. 2 played live onstage by Timothy Hester), and the work’s focus on physique seemed an uncertain fit for the program. However, Draper’s introspective look at the hardships and joys of womanhood, and her sensual, feminine, and unpretentious treatment of this body part was, unexpectedly, a complimentary prologue.

A tonadilla, I discovered, is literally a little ditty that was originally inserted during the entr’acte of theatrical productions in 18th century Spain.  Satirical and gossipy commentaries on Spanish life, these interludes featured singers that rose to a level of fame that would rival today’s pop stars. A collection of five short pieces in this style were utilized in a premiere work, aptly titled Five Tonadilla with Elementals. Though I had none of the above frame of reference and understood none of the Spanish lyric, these melodramatic vignettes nevertheless emerged as a charming collection.

For Draper, this was a first attempt to incorporate a classical vocalist into her choreography. Overall the blending worked. It is a challenge to put non-dancers on stage beside trained movers. For the most part soloist Shannon Langman, seemed at home with the subtle gestures and more pedestrian adaptations of the core choreography. She exhibited expert control of tone and breath even while moving toward or rising from the floor and as she fell backward in a maneuver of trust with the dancers. It was ultimately Langman that stole this performance as the symmetrical hovering of the two Elementals (again a pairing of Lydia Hance and Joani Trevino), often blended into the background.

Following an interjected flamenco suite featuring guitarist Valdemar Phoenix and dancer Ana de la Peza, were extracted solos and duets from Dancepatheatre’s ongoing project, Al Andalus! The Legend. Having feasted on a program of thumbnail dances thus far, I’ll admit I was ready to sink my teeth into something a bit meatier. I got more appetizers. Pushing this aside, however, the seven snapshots increased in their allure as the program progressed. Lydia Hance and Richard Hubscher were a technically beguiling pair. Missing, however, was the chemistry befitting two lovers. A male duet featuring Hubscher and Sterling Ramsey seemed tentative. However, standout performances concluded the program. Namely, a pre-flamenco gypsy solo performed by singer and dancer Lucia Rodriguez-Sanchez and two contrasting solos by dancer Kristina Koutsoudas. Shrouded in a black Moorish tunic revealing only her hands and eyes, and somberly illuminated according to Jeremy Choate’s design, Koutsoudas was mesmerizing as a mournful Berber princess whose tribe has been slaughtered. Equally captivating were the joyous and seductive gyrations of her hips and torso in a celebratory finale. I will be curious to see this epic work eventually complete with the transitions and continuity I craved.