Uptown Dance Company Teams Up With Ad Deum

By Michael Wade Simpson

When Beth Gulledge-Brown from Uptown Dance Company approached Randall Flinn, director of Ad Deum, with an idea about collaborating, she wasn’t just asking him to choreograph for her company. Her idea was more radical—to turn both groups into one company over a two month period—a complete blending of dancers, directors and resources. The result, the first “Spring Fusion Dance Festival,” on April 4-5, will feature works performed by each company as well as a dance they created together.

Flinn’s reason for accepting Gulledge-Brown’s offer was not entirely artistic, he admitted. “Beth and I are doing something courageous here. To keep a company alive for more than ten years takes a lot of sacrifice by the director. It’s not easy keeping your vision alive.”  Ad Deum was founded in 2000, while Uptown began in 1999. “We wear a lot of hats,” he said, “choreographer, artistic director, grant writer, graphic designer. Beth even runs a dance school. And we have to go out and build our community and audience. So we’re sharing resources here. It’s a risk.”

There are 10-12 small companies in Houston constantly struggling to stay alive, he explained. “Everyone is having to take risks to find resources, to keep going.  We’re all applying for the same grants.” Companies who count on grant money sometimes have to shut down when they don’t win it, he said. “We hope that this collaboration will serve as an example for other companies.”

“Our goal is to be able to create without limitations,” said Gulledge-Brown. “I like to give audiences different styles of dance.  I’ve known Randy for a long time, have respected his work, and knew he had a lovely company with nice dancers.  Working with new dancers infused energy (into the process). As a choreographer it’s nice to work with other people.”

IMG_9674_cropped-1024x728“It was a beautiful exchange,” Flinn said. “Every day I would leave the studio with such a sense of happiness, knowing that something good had happened.” Working with another choreographer could be like two cooks fighting for space in a tiny kitchen, but as both Flinn and Gulledge-Brown agreed to make one joint piece together to music from Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite,  both dance-makers discovered that their respect for each other yielded only positive results. “It was all about kindness, respect and gratitude,” Flinn said.  Working that closely with another choreographer could cripple or free an artist, he said, but “we’ve been able to help each other be freer. I could look at Beth create and say, ‘wow.’”

Both companies are versatile stylistically, presenting contemporary ballet, as well as jazz and modern choreography, in their concerts. In the case of the joint creation, the music came first. “I picked three favorite pieces of music and he picked three,” Gulledge-Brown said, “then we listened to all of them together.  We went with classical.” The piece, for fifteen dancers, has a variety of tempi and inspired them to create a “very playful,” dance, she said.

“We decided to do the first and last movements together,” Gulledge-Brown said. “We were in the room together. He would add to things I had started. We would play with things. Sometimes we both had ideas. Randy does a lot of small, fast movement, and I do more slow choreography. We totally co-created,” she said. Flinn said “I would watch Beth and think, ‘how do I compliment what she is doing?’ I don’t think people will be able to look at the choreography and say, ‘Beth did that,’ or ‘that is Randy’s.’ Sometimes in surrendering your own style, there can be the birth of a new creation, a new image, something more than what either of us alone could have thought of,” he said.

In addition to the two other new pieces Gulledge-Brown created for the Fusion concert, a modern work with a driving, industrial score by Nico Muhly, and a jazz piece to classic Aerosmith rock, audiences will also be treated to upgraded scenic elements at Uptown’s black-box theater. “We’ve been renting lights in the past, but this year we invested in our own lighting,” she said. “It’s an intimate studio setting, seating 120, but it’s configured as a three-sided theater with two wings and a crossover space.”

Ad Deum will also present two pieces, From One Heart, by Flinn, to music by the cellist Zoë Keating, and another dance, Joyful Noise, which was created on the company by the choreographer Durell R. Comedy, from the José Limón company in New York. “We were enriched by the opportunity to work with someone from this historic company,” said Flinn.


Uptown Dance Company and Ad Deum Dance Company present Spring Fusion Dance Festival on Friday, April 4th, 2014 and Saturday, April 5th, 2014 at 7:30 p.m., at Uptown Dance Centre, 7417 Shadyville Lane, Houston, TX 77055. Tickets are $25 General Admission / $20 Senior / $15 Student with College I.D. For tickets and information, call 713-686-0334 or visit the website at www.uptowndancecentre.com

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