Dance Salad Festival Will Again Serve Houston Audiences Distinctive Dance Dishes

Royal Danish Ballet’s Carmen. Choreography by Marcos Morau. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt.

Now in its twenty-fourth year in Houston, Dance Salad Festival will again serve audiences a feast of contemporary and classical dance, with at least two US premieres and three world premieres from nationally and internationally-recognized choreographers. I had the privilege to connect with Valentina Marini and Sussanna Leinonen, and our exchanges reflect both an appreciation for the Festival’s Artistic Director Nancy Henderek and an enthusiasm for sharing their work with Houston audiences.

Spellbound Contemporary Ballet performing Full Moon. Choreography by Mauro Astolfi. Photo by Paolo Porto.

Mauro Astolfi, the Artistic Director of Spellbound Contemporary Ballet of Rome, Italy, will present selections from Full Moon. Valentina Marini, the Director of the company, describes this new work as generating, “ a special atmosphere [that] creates a suspension and pathos,” due to the coherence of the choreography, lighting, and musical score. Spellbound’s relationship with Dance Salad began in 2012 courtesy of a friendly suggestion and chance meeting with Henderek at New York City’s Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference. Ever since, Spellbound has participated in five of the last seven iterations of the Dance Salad Festival, which she characterizes as “brilliant.” According to Marini, the festival offers opportunities to, “not just expose yourself but admire colleagues at the same time,” explaining that Henderek’s selections stem from, “a deep knowledge of each work.” When asked what she hoped Houston audiences would take from Full Moon, Marini shared that Spellbound wishes “to bring them ‘to the Moon and Back’.”

Susanna Leinonen Company performing Shame/less, a curation based on Nasty choreographed by Susanna Leinonen, created specifically for Dance Salad Festival. Photo by Mirka Kleemola.

Susanna Leinonen and her eponymous Finland-based company will perform Shame/less, an abbreviated version of her work Nasty, which she indicates makes “a clear statement about women’s right to self-determination and about situations like Trump’s comment on Hillary Clinton where he called her in the third presidential debate a ‘nasty woman’.” Leinonen first presented work with Dance Salad Festival in 2004, Trickle, Green Oak, and reports a “heartwarming” reception and “an impressive setting,” leading to subsequent acceptances of invitations from Henderek to return to Houston. She hopes that the piece will encourage audiences to consider equality between men and women, with the goal of “provok[ing] a discussion among the locals and to recognize the current place and status of a woman.” Leinonen also noted that Houston offers the Dance Salad Festival “an attentive audience,” and added that, “It feels good to bring a controversial piece there.”

Several additional accomplished choreographers and performers will accompany Astolfi’s and Leinonen’s work in Houston, including Marguerite Donlon, whose Berlin-based Donlon Dance Collective will premiere “Strokes Through the Tail” and Sokvannara Sar, currently of Carolina Ballet, who will perform “Mopey,” a solo crafted by Nederlands Dans Theater Associate Choreographer Marco Goecke. Finnish-British choreographer Kristian Lever will present “Unravel,” a Houston premiere, performed by dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet, Copenhagen, who will also present the US premiere of selections from Carmen, by Spanish choreographer Marcos Morau. Victor Ullate, also a Spain-based choreographer, will present for the first time in the US “De Triana a Sevilla,” a pas de deux performed by Ashley Bouder of the New York City Ballet and her recently retired colleague Joaquin De Luz. Semperoper Ballett of Dresden, Germany, will contribute a solo from Courtney Richardson, one of their principal dancers, and an excerpt from choreographer Alexander Ekman’s film excerpt COW. Dancers Maria Kochetkova, a traveling guest principal dancer, and Sebastian Kloborg, of the Royal Danish Ballet will perform work by a pair of dances by American choreographers: “New Suite,” an early piece by William Forsythe and “Closer,” from Benjamin Millepied.

Dance Salad returns to Houston on April 18, 19, and 20 at 7:30pm at the Wortham Center, Cullen Theater. Be sure to secure your serving by purchasing your tickets at dancesalad.org. Also check out the Choreographer’s Forum  at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston on April 17 at 7pm at Museum of Fine Arts Houston, featuring Marguerite Donlon, Susanna Leinonen, and Kristian Lever.

About the Author

Jessica Ray Herzogenrath, PhD, researches and writes about American history and dance. She has recently begun a new position as Grant Proposal Developer in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where she has also taught in both the dance and history departments. Her current manuscript project with University of Illinois Press, Dancing American, tells the stories of the women who promoted dance in education in early-twentieth-century Chicago. In addition, she has been named the 2018-2019 John S. Aubrey Fellow of the Newberry Library (Chicago) for her proposed project: "The Doyenne of Chicago Dance: Ann Barzel as Champion, Collector, and Critic". For more information, visit jessicarayherzogenrath.org

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