Third Time’s a Charm for Dance Salad’s Twenty-Fifth

Hofesh Shechter Company. Photo by Rahi-Rezvani.

To say that the past two years have been a cause for reflection is a vast understatement for arts presenters, especially those who have spent years shoring up and solidifying their annual programming. For Dance Salad, Nancy Henderek’s once-a-year gathering of international contemporary dance artists, COVID-19 may very well have marked the end of her long-standing tradition. 

“I never knew if there would be another one,” says Henderek. “When you get closed down for the first time, you just think we’ll move the whole festival to 2021.” But then infection rates in Europe began spiking in January of that year, and the borders shut down again. In the immediate disappointment, it appeared that Dance Salad would not get to see its much anticipated twenty-fifth anniversary.

After the premiere of a retrospective Dance Salad film last fall, which was co-presented by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Henderek found herself reinvigorated and started talks about moving forward for 2022. After much reorganization, re-planning, and rethinking, Dance Salad returns April 14 – 16 at the Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater, but with very little restructuring in its third go. In fact, much of the program was able to stay intact over the course of the two pandemic years, and each night will feature curated excerpts from larger works by six acclaimed companies, including Hofesh Shechter Company (London), Semperoper Ballet Dresden (Germany), Royal Danish Ballet’s Kammerballetten, Royal Ballet of Flanders, Dunia Dance Theatre (Zimbabwe and Belgium), and Laboration Art Company (France).

The care and attention to detail that goes into curating an iteration of Dance Salad stems from Henderek’s love of the form, and she travels extensively to find the pieces that will eventually coalesce into her programs. “I feel that that there are pieces that I see that I really want to share with people,” she says, noting that she’s fortunate to be able to see contemporary dance on the international scene live and in-person and not via video submission. “If you love dance, I want to share it with you, to share other people’s culture and what they perceive as contemporary dance. This is dance by people who have been brought up differently, and see the world through a different slant.” 

Dunia Dance Company. Making Men. Choreographed by Harold George. Photo by AntoinePanier.

Henderek might best be described as a tastemaker in the bygone sense of the word, as Dance Salad is shaped by her acute perspective and personal history. The artists she invites to Houston often develop long-term professional relationships with Dance Salad, making pivotal career benchmarks out of the program. Her relationships with the choreographers run deep, and her role often becomes that of curatorial collaborator. 

One of the highlights of this year’s program is the Houston premiere of Dunia Dance Theatre, showcasing Harold George’s Making Men. “Harold was in a piece of choreography of mine when I first got to Brussels,” Henderek says, referencing the genesis of her beloved festival in Belgium, and later moved to Houston after its third year. “He was doing his own work, and he still liked dancing other people’s work, so I’ve known him for years and years and years. He was in one of the original Dance Salads in Brussels, so it’s fitting that he’s in the twenty-fifth anniversary.” 

Henderek describes George’s piece as “the best piece he’s ever done,” which says a lot considering his extensive repertoire. The piece is a collaboration with filmmaker Antoine Panier, and sees the dancers emerge from the background as the film ends, almost as if the images onscreen have been given life and are realizing themselves in three-dimensional form. The work is a contemplation of masculinity, and observes four individuals as they bloom into manhood. 

Laboration Art Company. ANNA. Choreographed by Laura Arend. Photo courtesy of company.

Another treasure that will be on this year’s program is a gem she discovered at the Avignon Festival. Laura Arend of Laboration Art Company will be bringing ANNA, which Henderek originally saw in a salon-style venue that held no more than thirty or forty people. “She likes intimate pieces,” observes Henderek, who had the fortune of seeing the evening-length presentation of ANNA a year before the COVID-19 pandemic. “What I felt in that piece was the two interlocking women dancers – it was amazing how the dance unfolded.”

Arend will be making her stateside debut, which is also one of the curious features of Dance Salad. “That’s fun for me,” says Henderek. “To bring people in who are unknown and mix them in with the very-well known, like the Royal Danish Ballet or the Norwegian National Ballet. Everyone who is known was once unknown.” 

Henderek is a veteran Houston dance presenter, and like all of her colleagues, she knows that spearheading an artistic endeavor of this magnitude requires more than an eye for choreography. She, like every director, is tasked with building an audience, which seems an even more precarious venture as we step away from two years of uncertainty. Without question, Dance Salad is an opportunity for self-education. 

“If you want to keep being fresh in your own creativity, you have to see other people’s work,” says Henderek to the city’s dance community and young artists looking to establish their own identities. “To learn and to find out that dance can go beyond your own imagination, and that is what makes your own imagination grow. That’s why you come to Dance Salad.”

 And this year, to celebrate the fortitude of dance presenters everywhere. 

Dance Salad Festival runs April 14-16 @ 7:30PM at the Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater. For tickets and program information for each evening, visit www.dancesalad.org

About the Author

Adam Castañeda is a dancer and arts administrator in Houston, Texas. He is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Pilot Dance Project, a non-profit arts organization with the mission to empower and transform communities through innovative dance, theater, and visual art. With his company he has performed in evening-length works by Ashley Horn, jhon r. stronks, Jennifer Mabus, Jaime Walne-Fruge, and Heather VonReichbauer. When not with the Pilot Dance Project, he enjoys performing with Suchu Dance/Jennifer Wood.

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