Festivals are perfect for dance newbies—there’s generous variety, and you get to sample dance in small doses. It’s rare that parkour, ballet folkorico, classical Indian dance, and edgy contemporary can share a program, and those are only a handful of the styles presented by Dance Houston on February 21 at The Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater. Dance Houston’s founder and director Andrea Cody gave us an overview of her organization’s mission. “On top of twelve years of success, this year’s festival features an unprecedented contribution from our artists and support from our financial sponsors,” says Cody. “We are upping our investment because that’s what it takes to be leaders in the evolving culture of this cosmopolitan, international city.” We are lucky Houstonians to have such bold dance warriors.
Andrea Cody has brought on highly respected creative directors Leslie Scates, Dominic Walsh, and Jane Weiner who have taken active roles in reinventing this festival. They are each working with a few of the companies to challenge them and give feedback. Choreographers can get stuck inside a comfort zone, and this type of exchange is crucial for fresh ideas to develop. Jane Weiner weighs in, “I am seeing that this will impact the artists and groups she works with in positive and innovative ways.” The pairings are cross disciplinary and unexpected, surely to influence both the mentor and mentee company.
Scates is collaborating with two groups that are returning to Dance Houston this year: Urban Souls and Compania Folklorica Alegria Mexicana. Scates, Houston’s master of improvisational choreography and partnering, is known for her ability to facilitate growth by asking incisive questions. Scates reports, “I created a partnering section for [Urban Souls], assisting the company in thinking of alternative ways of choreographing…They are an incredibly talented ensemble and are fearless about invention.” She helps artists unpack and restructure their creative practices.
Compania Folklorica Alegria Mexicana’s new work Mexico Magico portrays the Mexican rituals that begin prior to birth of a person and progress until her death. Compania Folklorico Alegria Mexicana is known for its mastery of ballet folklorico. The artists are exploring “traditional folkloric vocabulary in new ways by altering space and music choices,” says Scates.
Son Kiss’d Dance Theater is working with Weiner on a piece inspired by poetry written and performed by Outspoken Bean, Houston’s electrifying spoken word artist. Weiner’s own Hope Stone Dance Company awakens repertory work Suspicious Fisherman, an eloquent and intricate solo performed by Shohei Iwahama.
Walsh is guiding Nritya Dance Company and FrenetiCore, both new to the Dance Houston stage. Nritya is debuting a piece that portrays the uprising and suppression of inner demons through classical Indian dance. Principal dancer Meera Naehr says rehearsals with Walsh are “intense and inspiring.” FrenetiCore will don steampunk regalia in a brand new work. “Dominic is a giant in the dance world,” says FrenetiCore artistic director Rebecca French. “His ideas and insights have been invaluable to shaping our performance.”
A daring addition to the Dance Houston stage is Urban Movement, Houston’s parkour group. If you are unfamiliar with this style, Cameron Pratto from Urban Movement describes it as “an approach to movement…an approach to life. Although it is primarily performed outdoors with very little restriction, I think you’ll find the way we move even within a small space to be refreshingly unique.” Andrea Cody says they are “extraordinary athletes who are adapting their new, unconventional style of movement to fit within the confines of our theater space.”
It is exciting to see diverse backgrounds merge in collaboration; Dance Houston provides this opportunity. Urban dance company Inertia will join Dance of Asian America to revamp their nationally acclaimed Thousand Hand Goddess previously seen on America’s Got Talent.
“Dance fans will get a first glimpse at the new artistic direction Dance Houston is taking. We are pursuing a new mission to advance dance as an art form and an instrument to serve the community. This performance features new models for creating and presenting dance,” says Cody.
Dance Houston invites the audience to join this new expedition. “We will be sending a survey to every ticket buyer to learn how he or she interprets and connects with the show,” says Cody. “I hope you will take the time to experience this performance and share your ideas with us. By doing so, you can help us navigate a new direction for dance in Houston.”