Treat Yourself to Houston’s Dance Salad Festival This Easter Weekend

Lil’ Buck – The Swan. Photo by Sharon Bradford.

On Easter weekend, arts-lovers in Houston may hunt for colorful eggs or a great buffet, but they never need to hunt for dance. Dance Salad Festival has been the place to find world-class dance for 22 years in this city. Drawing visitors from near and far, the dance companies, choreographers and performers presented come from all over the world and are well-known in their home countries. Many are premiering work at the three-day festival that has never been seen before in the United States and the eclectic sampling of dance makes going to any, or all three, of the performances a treat.

The lineup is different each night April 13–15 and, as usual, curator Nancy Henderek has developed a program that feels natural in its progression, with players familiar enough to give audiences some footing while presenting new works and artists that expand their palettes for dance.

Carolyn Carlson Company – Li. Photo by M. Logvinov.

American-born and trained, Carolyn Carlson was one of Alwin Nikolais’ lead dancers before leaving the country in 1971. She became a star choreographer at the Paris Opera Ballet in the late 1970s and has since nomadically directed and choreographed companies throughout Europe. She brings a curated version of Black over Red (My Dialogue with Rothko) to Dance Salad. The solo was originally danced by Carlson herself when it premiered in 2013 but was given to Paris Opera Ballet Etoile Marie-Agnes Gillot for this, its U.S. debut, at the special request of Carlson. Carlson’s duet entitled, Li, will also make its U.S. premiere and star Paris-based dancers Chinatsu Kosakatani and Nakata Yutaka.

A free choreographer’s forum on Wednesday, April 12 at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston will feature the film version of Carlson’s work Inanna as well as discussion and Q-and-A about the four-decade career of Carlson, moderated by London dance writer Maggie Foyer.

Susanna Leinonen Company –Romeo & Juliet. Photo by Jonas Lundqvist.

Two ballet pas de deux bring some romance to the festival. Famed dancer, choreographer and former principal guest artist of The Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta’s original adaptation of Carmen was co-produced by The Royal Ballet, Queensland Ballet and Texas Ballet Theater (TBT), and premiered for the first time in North America at TBT in September 2016. The double pas de deux presented for Dance Salad is certain to simmer and will feature real-life couple and former Houston Ballet dancers Carl Coomer and Leticia Oliveira. Susanna Leinonen Company of Finland will also debut in Houston with its curated version of Romeo & Juliet, set to Prokofiev’s famous score mixed with a contemporary score by prize-winning composer Kasperi Laine.

Leinonen’s choreography has been presented around the world in more than 20 countries. Her work, Touch of Gravity, which will be seen for the first time in the U.S. at this year’s Dance Salad, is also set to music by Laine. The physics-defying contemporary dance piece, frequently described as breathtaking, premiered in Helsinki in 2014.

Antwerp-based dance company Eastman return to the festival with a curated version of choreographer and Dance Salad regular Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’sFractus V. Cherkaoui will be among four dancers of different contemporary backgrounds as well as four live musicians from Japan, Korea, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Representing a total of nine nationalities, the performers will “dialogue” in a way only Cherkaoui could construct.

Daniel Proietto’s Player. Norwegian National Ballet. Whitney Jensen pictured. Photo by Erik-Berg.

The work of Argentinian-born dancer/choreographer, Daniel Proietto, will debut another solo this year with Player. In 2014, Houston Ballet dancer Samantha Lynch performed his work Cygne, a nod to the Dying Swan solo made famous by Pavlova. Player, a piece he’s described as energetic and physically demanding, was created for Norwegian National Ballet dancers Whitney Jensen and Osiel Gouneo. The American-born Jensen will perform the role at Dance Salad.

Brooklyn-based Evidence Dance Company will present an excerpt of artistic director Ronald K. Brown’s March. Brown founded his company when he was just 19 and his exuberant blend of modern and African dance has been performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philidanco, and won numerous awards. March is set to a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Shantala Shivalingappa. Photo by Marco Serri

Certainly among the more widely-known performers on the Dance Salad program, especially if one includes his Instagram following, is Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley. Hailing from Tennessee, the jookin’ virtuoso known for his own brand of undulating toe-dancing has drawn on a ballet background he acquired as a youth in Memphis’ New Ballet Ensemble and his collaborative spirit to inspire recognition and appreciation of street dance as a fine art. He will perform the solo that turned him into an instant celebrity and internet sensation and has become his signature work, The Swan. He will also appear in Blooming, a duet with Indian classical dancer Shantala Shivalingappa. Shivalingappa has also shown great enthusiasm for collaboration, working with artists like Bejart, Bartabas, Bausch and a host of other dance-makers.She will also perform, for the first time in Houston, an adapted version of the Rasalila piece from Shiva Ganga (Love Poem on Krishna and Radha).

If that seems like a lot of dance candy to unwrap in one Easter weekend, remember that every night of the festival is different and trust that you are still likely to leave Dance Salad wanting more. All program schedules are subject to change but can be found on the Dance Salad Festival website,, along with ticket information.

About the Author

Nichelle Suzanne is a web and social media specialist for Rice University and the founder of For 10 years, she has covered dance in Houston and beyond for publications such as the Dance Dish, Arts+Culture Texas, CultureMap, and the NYC Rockettes blog at

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