Dance Gallery Festival Takes a Chance on New Choreographers

Ad Deum Dance Company. Photo by Lynn Lane

Independent choreographers often bounce from festival to festival showing their work, even paying a performance fee for their work to be seen. Finding funding to produce new work on a stage is difficult. Eventually you run out of steam, says Astrid von Ussar, the founder and artistic director of The Dance Gallery Festival. For eleven years, the festival has provided a platform for promising young choreographers to be seen in Texas and New York without the cost of production. Ten new works have been selected to be presented in this years festival in Huntsville, TX on October 27 and 28th, 2017.

You can always see the big companies. You can always see Graham, Ailey, Taylor. And they are always going to be presented at big dance venues. We will always have our staples of modern dance. The younger up and coming artists sometimes dont have the chance because nobody knows them. Nobody knows their name. And some of them are really good artists, states von Ussar.

As a choreographer herself, she knows the fatigue of making dance, funding dance, marketing dance, and then finally producing dance. And thats only the beginning of being seen. I feel it is unjust that they dont get that chance because they are not as known. What we try to provide is that we really look for the next generations voices. We are trying to give them this platform.

This year, METdance will be performing a work by Courtney D. Jones/CDJ Dance. While METdance is an established dance company in Houston, they make it a priority to support and perform emerging choreographers work.  Marlana Doyle, Artistic Director of METdance says she saw the piece created for Houstons High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. I was in awe of the story as well as the intense passionate dancing, staging and choreography within it. I asked [Jones] to set it for us for our 22nd season. 

Esteemed performer and educator Jones describes her piece as loosely based on my relationship with my mother and my caretaker role for her. She is paralyzed from the waist down. The three women [in the piece] navigate the roles my mother and I share. The piece moves through the progression of the disability to how Jones feels as she takes on the responsibility of the mother, and how they both battle trying to fulfill that role at the same time. 

Ad Deum Dance Company, another Houston repertory company, will present Mozarts Mass by choreographer Durrell R. Comedy of the Mark Morris Dance Group. The choreography is inspired by Mozarts piece Waisenhausmesse (Mass for the Orphans). Artistic Director, Randall Flinn explains, the work is based on a [Biblical] scriptural reference regarding the orphans who receive the spirit of adoption and call out to Abba Father. Comedy is about to be a first-time father himself, so this piece is close to his heart. Flinn says Comedy has a keen sense of artistry from his years dancing the works of Limon and Morris. Hes masterfully musical. The piece evolves into a lighthearted and playful offering of praise from those adopted and redeemed by the love of a Heavenly Father, describes Flinn.

The Dance Gallery Festivals commitment to choreographers, however, reaches beyond the produced stage at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. The festival also includes opportunities to perform in New York City, and a “Level Up” program that commissions artists to create work. To have the opportunity to present your work in New York City is a highlight for many festival participants. Choreographer Kjara Wurst explains, I moved from Europe to Washington DC just months ago. Being able toshow my work in New York for the first time is very special to me. Dance Gallery Festival plays an important role in giving choreographers a platform to show their work for which I am very thankful and excited to be a part of. Wurst describes herself as a storyteller and in her piece Us, “like a fly on the wall, the audience observes glimpses of a relationship over a long period of time.”

Last year the festival offered a residency in the Catskills for their commissioned Level Up choreographers.  “We need to focus on the artistry, otherwise we could just put on So You Think You Can Dance 24/7, warns von Ussar. New work takes time to incubate, more than the few days television shows take to produce a flashy 90 second scene. The Level Up choreographers were given studio space, at no cost, to create, test ideas, and work without burden of financial stress. We encourage networking and bringing people together, says von Ussar. The festival has shown dedication to their artists, and has welcomed some of them back multiple years. Artists come in as emerging choreographers and sometimes return as guest teachers or commissioned choreographers.

There are always emerging artists that need to be presented and shown. I feel that tapping into this national and international pool, weve really been able to reach artists who would not otherwise be seen. Other artists on the Texas program include Bruce Wood Dance (Dallas), Charlotte Settle (NYC), James Morrow/THE MOVEMENT (MA), Jenny Gerena (AZ), Joshua L. Peugh/Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (Dallas), Mike Esperanza/BARE Dance Company (NYC), Nathan Powell (ID), Rohan Bhargava/Rovaco Dance (NYC), and Victoria DeRenzo (TX).

Von Ussar sums it up: Paul Taylor and Alvin Ailey were once young and unknown and somebody stood there and said hey. Somebody took a chance on them. See who The Dance Gallery Festival has taken a chance on. Tickets are available online for the Texas performances October 27 and 28, 2017 at SHSU Performing Arts Center, 815 17th Street Huntsville, TX.


About the Author

Lydia Hance is a choreographer, filmmaker, collaborator, and educator. Lydia Hance is the Founder and Artistic Director of Frame Dance Productions, a contemporary dance company making collaborative works for the screen and stage.

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