Three New Dance Artists Step Out of Residency, and into the (Barn)Storm

When Lauren Serrano moved to the Houston area to pursue an MFA from Sam Houston State University, the city and its arts scene were shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of her early Houston dance experience was through the lens of a community navigating new dancemaking and dance presenting processes while balancing social distancing protocols. With the pandemic a not-so-distant memory, Serrano is stepping into a dance community now operating at full throttle.

An accomplished performer, most notably as a company member of NobleMotion Dance, Serrano saw Dance Source Houston’s Artist-in-Residence program as an opportunity for growth in several arenas. “I’m challenging myself to get better as a choreographer,” she says. “In my heart, I love performing and teaching, but I never thought I’d be choreographing outside of studios for kids. I’m proving that I can do that in a more professional space outside of grad school.”

Serrano notes the additional benefits of the program as reasons for applying, many of which are luxuries in a field where resources are few and far between. “I was actually really interested in all of the professional development seminars and the guidance in developing ideas and how to present them to audiences,” says Serrano in reference to the marketing and other behind-the-scenes skillsets needed to make dance happen.

The program also awards its choreographers a stipend, which can be allocated however the artist chooses. “Funding is always an issue especially if you’re a new choreographer,” says Serrano. “It’s hard to find dancers who will dance the work the way you want them to, and to pay them.”

Inspired by the work of biological anthropologist Helen Fischer, Serrano’s residency project explores the science behind human courtship, love, and intimacy. “It was very interesting that though the way we date changes, even marriage changes, over time, the human nature of it doesn’t,” says Serrano. Her dance utilizes human gestures, body language, and a bit of humor to illustrate Fischer’s concepts, which have been used in the algorithms of

“I like to explore things that I’ve experienced, and that people can relate to,” says Serrano. Much of the movement of her work was generated from discussion with her dancers with each performer developing a specific character in the process. “It’s not a narrative per se,” she says, “but an unfolding of things that can happen.”

Tarika Nath, another of this year’s artists-in-residence, takes on another universal subject matter: grief. After being notified that her grandmother had three days to live, and having flown to California to say her final goodbyes in December 2022, Nath returned to Houston looking for a promised sign that her grandmother was still in her presence.

“When I came back to Houston, there was no sign because that’s not typically how it happens,” says Nath. “I started researching on how to communicate with the dead. I read an article on red cardinal birds, and how they are the most common sign that a loved one is sending a message.”

After an intense depressive state in which she remembers getting out of bed only twice in five days, Nath recalls forcing herself to get a little movement back into her body. “I put on a tape recording of my grandmother singing,” says Nath. “I thought, I want to go outside. So I take out my ghungroos, and it’s freezing cold, but somehow I’m not feeling cold. And then a red cardinal appears right in front of me.”

After interacting with her for a few moments, the cardinal disappeared into thin air. Nath has a photograph of the creature as proof of the encounter. Her work is an imaginative take on a group of red cardinals in heaven as they prepare to give signs to their respective loved ones.

Nath will be working in the vocabulary of Kathak, one of the eight classical Indian dance forms, and the only one from the Northern part of the subcontinent. Taught by masters of the Lucknow Kathak tradition, the challenge for Nath is creating a contemporary piece of work while staying true to the roots of this ancient tradition. There is a lot of integrity to uphold considering the specificity of the art form.

“When you go to Lucknow, the language they speak is a different type of Hindi,” says Nath. “It’s soft, like how you would speak in a palace, and that translates to our art form,” which, unlike the Southern classical dances, has influences from the Mughal Empire and Persian aesthetics. “In the other South Indian art forms, they make a lot of statuesque poses, but we are depicting real, everyday life.”  This is a beautiful sentiment considering the very real nature of grief.

The final artist-in-residence is Jadd Tank, who will be reworking an older piece into a new form. “Bourgeois-Z” is an examination of contemporary capitalist culture that has its origins during his stint in New York City.

“I was overwhelmed with how prevalent the world of purchasing, the world of commerce, was in our day-to-day culture,” he says. “You go home and shop online and you leave the house, and there are stores. It’s a transactional culture. I was curious as to our level of consciousness within this type of culture.”

The work, which was workshopped earlier this spring on my company The Pilot Dance Project, sees five women running in a state of heightened anxiety. Tank hopes that the audience is able to see themselves in the dancers’ plight, and that “Bourgeois-Z” acts as a mirror of sorts.

“I think “Bourgeois-Z” does what a good artifact does, what a good statue does, in terms of being a specific representation of human beings in a capitalist system,” says Tank. “It’s an artifact of the ick that we feel in our bodies.”

This latest cohort of Dance Source Houston’s artists-in-residence represents a diverse range of emerging voices with varied backgrounds, thematic interests, and movement traditions. It’s exciting to think about where their dances will take them once Barnstorm wraps in early June. It helps that all three seem to be investigating imaginative landscapes that address different human experiences.

After speaking with the three of them, I personally cannot stop thinking of the red cardinals and a sign I eagerly await.

Barnstorm Dance Fest
May 28-June 1 
MATCH, 3400 Main Street  
Tickets and more information at

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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