Barnstorm Presents Dance From Beyond the City Limits

Barnstorm Presents Dance From Beyond the City Limits
Houston’s Dance Festival Draws Out-of-Town Artists

Houston dance enthusiasts look to the annual Barnstorm Dance Fest to see the current mainstays and up-and-comers of the city’s community of movers. This year’s festival, May 28 through June 1, will be no different.

For this preview however, we wanted to focus on three performances that come from beyond the Houston city limits, all of them reflecting the variety in style and themes for which Barnstorm is known.

Program A – May 28 and 31, 7:30pm
Red Nightfall Dance Theatre – Austin, TX

From the state capital comes MoonFall, a fantastical, mythical story of the Sun and the Moon seeking equilibrium in a world thrown off balance. Conceived and choreographed by Dorothy O’Shea Overbey for her company, Red Nightfall Dance Theatre, the piece has a goal of telling the story that, through metaphor, might lead the audience into a more hopeful future.

O’Shea Overbey grew up in Austin, studying dance at Ballet Austin and taking classical piano lessons from University of Texas professor, Amanda Vick Lethco. This dual artistic training set the foundation for O’Shea Overbey’s life and particularly credits the music lessons with leading her to commission original compositions for her dance works.

She left Austin to attend Southern Methodist University, where she double majored in dance and philosophy and expanded her dance vocabulary beyond ballet. After college, she danced in Colorado (Colorado Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet) and then on to New York City where she freelanced with a number of choreographers, most notably former NY City Ballet dancer, Judith Fugate.

The creative energy of NYC drew O’Shea Overby to taking acting classes, particularly in the Meisner Technique, which she describes as deeply affected her approach to choreography, devising movement from story and action words. When she felt it was time to return to Austin, she brought this theater training firmly packed away into her creative toolbox.

MoonFall is intended to engage the audience on more than one level, with elements of immersive and interactive practices. “I want to create something which is not trauma-reliant art,” she says. “It is about imbalance but I also want to create something that is a beautiful experience for the audience and to tell a story of the possibility of the evolution of our consciousness.”

Program B – May 29, 7:30pm, June 1, 5:00pm
Hannah MacKenzie-Margulies – Minneapolis, MN

Hannah MacKenzie-Margulies wanted to take dance at the age of three, but her mother insisted she wait until she was at least four.

That one-year delay didn’t inhibit MacKenzie-Margulies’ career too badly, it seems. Dance has taken her from her childhood in Boston to studying at the Joffrey Ballet School and jobs dancing with companies on the East Coast to Oregon and Reed College (where she first started to create her own choreography) to a brief dip into California before currently residing in Minneapolis, where she created the work she’s bringing to Barnstorm.

“You are the only one in this Hangout.” has its origins in a story MacKenzie-Margulies heard about a megacorporation trying to cut back on expenses by removing staplers from their offices. The absurdity of that story coupled with a choreography-generating obstacle course game she learned from Doug Varone. The piece for three dancers that developed is a high-energy rat race that fluctuates with a more mysterious quality. “Toward the end, the piece, to me, gets a little bit nostalgic.”

“I’m a millennial and sometimes half joking half seriously say I make millenial dances,” she quips. “I’m very interested in labor and work and the multiplicity of meanings of the word ‘work.’ We work to make work about work that is still, in the end, work. That’s a fixation I’ve had for a while. This piece came out of a time when I was really struggling with my day job and trying to balance my day job with my artistic pursuits and trying to find peace with it.”

From her childhood immersion into ballet to now claiming her “base is in contemporary dance land,” she doesn’t subscribe to any one school of modern training. “I’m really interested in bending or subverting stylistic boundaries between genres and styles,” she says.

MacKenzie-Margulies applied to Barnstorm after seeing a call for work on social media. “Instagram knows me pretty well,” she says. “It knows I’m interested in opportunities and calls for choreography. I tapped on it and I remember thinking, well, it’s only in Texas. The application was pretty straightforward and I thought it would be nice to show this piece again and thought, what the heck, let’s give a try.” Then she admits, “I was really not expecting, frankly, to be invited so it was a nice surprise. It was really a whim that I applied.”

Program C – May 30 and June 1, 7:30pm
Deepta Seshadri
 and Radhika Karandikar – Dallas, TX and San Diego, CA

Two years ago, Deepta Seshadri and Radhika Karandikar did not know each other. Though both from India, and both recent immigrants to the U.S., they found each other on social media as they sought out connections in their new homes, Seshadri in Dallas, Karandikar in San Diego.

“Both of us were probably in a similar state of mind and life stage when we relocated. I think we looking to making connections and build our network here. Thanks to social media, we connected.” Seshadri says. The miles apart didn’t prevent them from talking about creating work together. They brainstorm and build over Zoom and Seshadri has made a trip to San Diego for some physical time together.

As they talked about themes, one obvious topic came forward. “One of the themes that struck me, probably because I had very fresh experience in my mind, was the theme of migration,” Karandikar says. Their continued conversations revealed commonalities. “We started sharing each other’s experiences, and looking at other people’s experiences. We found things that were very individual, but also things that all migrants share, whether from India to the U.S. or from the U.S. to another country. There are experiences that change your perspectives.”

As they developed their piece, eventually named “Roots to Routes: An Exploration of Migration and Identity Conflicts,” they also realized that their piece needed original music. As they gathered their music team, their stories of migration became part of the process and the choreographers think of them as full collaborators. These collaborators are:

Vocals and music composition: Sindhu Natarajan
Percussion design and vocal percussion (konnakkol): Maya Rau-Murthy
Instrumental percussion (mridangam and kanjira): Aditya Iswara 
Violin: Krupa Sekhar
Creative inputs: Smt. Indira Kadambi and Sri Vaibhav Arekar

Tickets for Barnstorm Dance Fest may be purchased at Festival passes are available.

About the Author

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer, living in Houston. Visit him online at

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