Writing on Texas Dance in 2016

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.

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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
CLICK to read more…
Houston Ballet on the Dance Salad Menu
CLICK to read more…
Jane Weiner's Next Steps
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Uptown Dance Company preview
CLICK to read more…

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

Revolve Dance Company: Premieres6

 

Wake by Matt Dippel - Revolve Dance Company | Photo by David Bullanday Photography.
Wake by Matt Dippel - Revolve Dance Company | Photo by David Bullanday Photography

 

 

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.

 

Reprinted courtesy Dance Source Houston

Second Annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival

Texas Dance Improvisation Festival

Don’t call it improv. Not only does it look like a typo in print but, as Leslie Scates, one of Houston’s leading improvisational dance artists will tell you, “using “improv” continues to connote the work as casual.” In fact, it takes a particular kind of dexterity, vital to today’s dancer, to go beyond auto-pilot in improvisation and the preparation that goes into pulling off a spontaneous masterpiece is anything but casual. It’s no surprise then that The Second Annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival (TDIF), to be hosted by Rice University October 7-9,  is filling up with registrants from the widespread cities of Texas.

“Improvisational dance is a form that demands as much practice, intention and craft as any other dance technique,” says Rosie Trump, co-facilitator of this year’s event and Assistant Director of Rice University Dance Department. Addressing the need for a Texas-based event, she adds, “This is a legitimate form with a recognized lineage and secure future. Although TDIF is a relatively young festival, there are dance improvisation festivals that happen all over the country and internationally.”

The event, conceived by Jordan Fuchs, was facilitated in its inaugural year by he and Sarah Gamble at Texas Women’s University Department of Dance. As an attendant of that event, it was Scates who advocated for bringing the traveling festival to Houston for its sophomore assembly.

Funded in part by grants from the City of Houston Mayor’s Special Initiatives Grant program of the Houston Arts Alliance, TDIF will kick off with an improvisation jam at 6pm on Thursday, October 7.

Two full days of improvisation classes will follow. Movers of all types and improvisational novices are welcome to register for the festival classes. “Because you define the physicality in your dancing while improvising, it can be very appealing to all levels,” says Trump. “We have a variety of sessions to suit registrants at different stages of experience.”

Describing what even veteran performers and students have to gain from studying the craft of improvisation, Scates says, “Improvising teaches them to pay attention to choice-making in their dancing brain. It turns their bodies into 3D dancing instruments rather than instruments that constantly get and require feedback from a mirror or a particular ‘front.’ It teaches them to craft movement for repeatable choreography, improvise with other bodies and vocabularies, and to see other people as source material providers and not competition.” She points out that the related practice of contact improvisation “provides ample technique for creating partnering and becoming a versatile post modern dance machine.”

This year, TDIF will welcome Los Angles based dancer, improviser and arts activist, Meg Wolfe as its featured guest.  “She is this visionary force in the LA dance scene,” explains Trump. Adding that “Southern California is a difficult place to navigate as a dance artist,” Trump explains that Wolfe curates Anatomy Riot, a regular choreography showcase; organizes a master class series called DanceBANK; co-edits the L.A. dance journal, and is the coordinator for a new grant program in Southern California. “I am very excited about what she will be able to share with the the Texas dance community, because so much of what she has initiated has been done without institutional or traditional support systems,” remarks Trump.

In addition to classes, two evening jams and a panel discussion will all take place at Rice University’s Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation Center, 6100 Main St, Rice University.

A performance and closing jam will be presented Saturday, October 9 at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, in downtown Houston.

Though the movement will be unplanned, Scates insists that there is no “phoning it in” during true performance, improvisational or otherwise. “Improvisers rehearse. Improvisers create scores so that the craft of improvising choreography has a setting, limits, definition and intent. Improvisers learn to capitalize on a brilliant moment and develop it.” The public is welcome on a first-come, first-served basis (with priority given to registrants) to attend the performance and jam at Barnevelder for an unrepeatable, “improv”-free evening.

Participants must register though the Texas Dance Improvisation Festival is completely free of cost.

Find more information or sign up for the full or partial event at tdif.rice.edu.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston