Peridance Headlines Dance Month at a Post-Harvey JCC

Peridance Contemporary Dance Company – Photo by Jaqlin Medlock

Among the many sad stories we’ve all heard here in Houston since Hurricane Harvey tried to wash us away, one of the saddest is when someone finds out exactly what their insurance policy covered—and most importantly what it did not. Standing in the hallway just behind the reception desk at the Evelyn Rubinstein Jewish Community Center, Maxine Silberstein points to lower level rooms, one of which was her office, which are visible through large windows but inaccessible to guests. She tells me they found out that most of that level was not covered by insurance. The lower level included many classrooms, a dance studio, and a great deal of their electrical plant. It will cost into seven figures to repair.

After that grim introduction, Silberstein, the organization’s Adult Dance and Visual Arts Program Coordinator, walked me to their Kaplan Theater, which was not on the lower levels but did not escape damage. Water did come in to the theater from the overflowing Braes Bayou, but only the stage had to be replaced. The water spilled into the walkway in front of the stage, but did not get into the audience, saving the seats from any damage.

Most pertinent to my visit was the fact that the stage was back in business soon after the destruction, and is more than ready for the annual Dance Month hosted there. This year, Dance Month runs from January 14 – February 10, 2018, with a variety of programs to interest almost every dance enthusiast and maybe a few folks who don’t yet know they are dance enthusiasts.

Open Dance Project – Photo by Lynn Lane

The opening event on Sunday, January 14, 3:00 p.m., is a lecture with film clips, Broadway Jazz: from Jack Cole to Bob Fosse. Presented by Debra Dickinson of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, the audience will see clips of choreography by both men as well as dancers such as legendary Gwen Verdon, who spent time with Jack Cole’s studio before becoming the muse and wife of Bob Fosse. Dickinson brings to the lecture not only her experience as a teacher at Rice, but also as a Broadway performer. This presentation should appeal to anyone who has a taste for film or Broadway musical dancing.

The following weekend, Thursday through Sunday, January 18-21, is Tirkedu Houston! The multi-session Israeli folk dance workshop by Ohad Atia will be of interest to international folk dance enthusiasts. Atia, a native of Israel, grew up dancing in the folk tradition and today conducts camps and workshops worldwide.

Saturday, January 27, 8:00 p.m., brings a highlight of every Dance Month, the Houston Choreographers X6. Each year, the JCC commissions six local independent choreographers to make new dances to be presented in an evening showcasing the variety of dance happening right now in Houston. This year’s roster includes Annie Arnoult (recently named by Dance Magazine among “25 to Watch in 2018”), Tehillah Hartmann, Jennifer Wood (all working in one strain or another of contemporary/modern dance), Tony Merriwether (tap), the team of Bryan Paule and Joel Rivera (hip hop), and Andre Silva (contemporary ballet). As a special guest, the Houston Ballet Academy will also appear to perform sections of Stanton Welch’s Long and Winding Road. Silberstein tells me, “We really try not to make it a modern dance program.  We look for different styles and different disciplines that can be brought together.” The Dance Month committee’s commitment to this ideal is exemplified by working to solve a particular problem it creates: how to present both modern dance and tap on the same stage. “We’re figuring out how we’re going to move one panel of marley [a type of softer flooring used for many dance styles] back to allow for the front part [of the stage] to be used for the tap,” Silberstein explains.

Rathna Kumar

Next on the Dance Month calendar is A Cultural Journey through India with Rathna Kumar and Venugopal Josyula. Presented as part of the JCC’s Arts in the Afternoon programming, this 1:00 p.m. program on Friday, February 2 is promoted primarily to the local retirement community, although all are welcome. Kumar has long presented Indian dance in Houston and she brings with her a member of her Anjali Dance Company to give a demonstration of the various Indian regional dance styles. Kumar’s infectious enthusiasm for her work will be delightful as well as educational for all who attend.

Finally, to close out Dance Month, Peridance Contemporary Dance Company takes up residence at the JCC to offer workshops as well as a performance.

Company members will be in Houston to conduct a class at the JCC on Thursday, February 8 at 7:00 p.m. This class may be taken as a master class or as an audition for their teen summer programs and their two-year college-level training program in New York at the Peridance Capezio Center. Dancers interested in auditioning for these opportunities should register at http://auditions.peridance.com/form/houston-texas before the residency.

Then on Saturday, February 10 at 8:00 p.m., Peridance will present a program of their work on the Kaplan Theater stage. While perhaps not as well known nationally as some dance companies, Peridance has been around for decades under the artistic direction of Igal Perry, with a strong history and reputation among dance communities, particularly in their home base of New York.

“One of the things we’ve tried to turn our focus to in recent years is to find a company that has an Israeli artistic director or a company that may have some Jewish roots,” Silberstein explains. While stressing that the material may not have an Israeli or Jewish theme, Perry, an Israeli, brings a style or energy that holds some continuity with other companies such as the better known Batsheva Dance Company, a style Silberstein calls “very earthy.” She continues, “It’s not predictable, it’s got a high energy, and a lot of strength.” Another aspect of Perry’s work to which Silberstein calls attention is his tendency to have equal gender representation, so that the strength of both men and women are highlighted in the choreography.

As any arts presenter can tell you, getting an audience is always a concern. Silberstein notes that the Choreographers X6 program usually does well because of the local connections and local family and friends attending. This is the first time they’ve presented Peridance, however, and she hopes people will come out to see them. Silberstein voices a lament of maybe every arts presenter when she says, “The worst thing you can hear is when someone says after the performance, ‘I heard that was great, I wish I had come.’ Well, sometimes you just have to take a chance.”

Starting out 2018 with a celebration of dance seems like something well worth taking a chance on.

All of the Dance Month events will take place at the JCC. For tickets and other information please visit: www.erjcchouston.org/arts/dance-month-at-the-kaplan-theatre/

About the Author

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer, living in Houston, Texas. His writing has appeared in literary journals, anthologies, and general interest magazines. Recent publications include a personal essay in Soul by Southwest and a short story in The Corvus Review with an essay forthcoming in Illness, Resilience and Spirituality (a book to be published in 2018). His novella, Cary and John, was published in 2014. He has recently turned (or returned) to playwriting, with two short plays produced since July, 2016. He is an occasional performance artist and actor, and will be directing two plays for the Company OnStage’s 2017-18 season.

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  1. [MISC] Dance Month 2018 at JCC via The Dance DiSH | J.M.M. | January 9, 2018

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