100 Creatives 2014: Emily Robison, Choreographer and Filmmaker

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All photos courtesy of Emily Robison
Emily Robison
Age is no indicator of achievement or ability for choreographer and filmmaker Emily Robison. At 17, she's among the youngest artists we've profiled in this series. A dance student at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts, Robison has appeared at the Big Range Dance Festival and was a lead dancer for the Lynn Lane, Catalina Molnari and Toni Leago Valle project ReGifting Lions. Later this month, her film, Repercussions, is being featured at the Third Coast Dance Film Festival. (She's been making dance films for two years now.)

Robison considers herself an artist working in movement (more on that in a bit). As a dancer, she's what many call a "disgusting" dancer. "Out of context, this sounds like an absolutely terrible thing to call someone," she says. "However, what dancers mean by 'disgusting' is that I have an acute ability to articulate my torso and limbs in an unusually fluid manner. I use unconventional and occasionally awkward contours that could be interpreted as 'disgusting.'"

This story continues on the next page.


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100 Creatives 2014: John Cramer, Freelance Violinist and Concertmaster at Opera in the Heights

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Photo courtesy of John Cramer
When John Cramer was 6 years old, he hated the violin. He wanted to play the piano, but his family only owned an old violin that his father played long ago, so he bore with it and followed in his father's footsteps. His mom also sang in a choir, leaving the Cramer household with everything but a shortage of musicality.

Eventually, once Cramer started playing in a string quartet during high school, music became a lens through which he started seeing the world. "We would get together after school and just play. Most teenagers would want to go to the mall or go play sports. For me and for my friends, we were just music nerds. Fun for us was to go to the music stores and buy sheet music or going to the record store to pick up an album. We'd go home and we'd listen to it and we'd want to play the music. It was really about being able to make music. That was, for me, what was always very exciting."

When he translated his passion for music into a career, he initially tried to make it as a freelance musician, taking gigs every time they were offered to him. But with a young family to provide for, he realized this wasn't viable and that he needed a day job. "For me to be a freelance musician now means that I've given myself the freedom where I don't have to focus on my violin playing for my survival. I have another job that pays the bills. So that allows me the best of both worlds--I'm able to play music, the music that I enjoy and not the music that I have to do, and it's more on my terms."

It's this understanding of the financial struggles that young artists face that makes Cramer so adamant about appreciating and supporting the local arts scene. "If someone is doing a cello recital or a violin recital, I definitely want to go. If someone is doing a reading of a novel that they've published or a book of poetry, an art exhibition of their work, for me that still is important to support, especially with the local artists. Because it's a tough, tough business."

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100 Creatives 2014: Shipra Mehrotra, Odissi Dancer and Choreographer

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Photo Courtesy of Shipra Mehrotra
It seems that for Shipra Mehrotra, a life in dance was always in the making. She began her training in Odissi, one of India's eight classical dance forms, at an early age. In addition to learning Odissi at Washington D.C.'s Nrityalaya School of Classical Indian Dance, she studied ballet for ten years and modern for four. It was as an undergraduate at Northwestern University that she decided to pursue dance as a full-time career.

After college she traveled to Orissa, India to further her knowledge of Odissi at the renowned Orissa Dance Academy. And like all professional dancers, her training hasn't stopped. "I consider myself a life-long student of Odissi, always in the pursuit of excellence," says Shipra. "And so I return every other year to Orissa Dance Academy for additional training."

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100 Creatives 2014: Winston Williams, What Happens to Confiscated Comics?

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What He Does: So there you are in school, just trying to dull the pain of public education by quietly reading an issue of The Maxx (For the sake of narrative in this case you're me, it's the '90s, and you better believe you're wearing JNCOs). Suddenly, the teacher swarms down upon the and relieves you of your reading material because you're not paying attention. She says you'll get it back at the end of class but do you? Do you ever really?

Winston Williams is proof positive that you don't. He's been drawing since he could remember, but it was a friend of his mother's that led him down his true path as a comic artist. She was an elementary school teacher, and she handed him a box full of confiscated comics from an entire year. Initially he began just copying the art, but eventually got good enough to begin branching out into his own characters.

His latest work is a comic book called The Soul, written by Jose Alonso. It follows a Houston Police Department struggling to maintain law and order in a not-to-distant dystopia future. Currently the first issue is available at Third Planet.

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100 Creatives 2014: Octavio Moreno, Opera Singer

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Photo courtesy of Octavio Moreno
Octavio Moreno in "Don Pasquale" at Opera in the Heights 2013
Octavio Moreno, one of our nominees for Best Supporting Actor in August's Houston Theater Awards, grew up thinking of opera as people just screaming on stage. Not very compelling, not worth his time. He initially wanted to be a professional soccer player in Mexico, where he was born, but after a knee injury he had to rethink his plan. He then wanted to become a poet and study Hispanic literature--still no thoughts of pursuing music, let alone opera. It wasn't until he decided, completely on a whim and after overhearing a conversation outside of the building where he had to declare his course of study, that he wanted to study music that he considered it as a profession.

"I really, really loved words. I liked to write poetry, or at least what I think is poetry. It wasn't even until after four or five months of studying music and attending concerts that I started remaking my view of operatic songs," says Moreno.

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100 Creatives 2014: Dylan Godwin, Theater Renaissance Man, Storyteller and Teacher

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Photo courtesy of Dylan Godwin
Most 8-year-olds don't see many theater productions, let alone more-than-G-rated ones like Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire, but it was this experience that solidified Dylan Godwin's desire to become a performer. He remembers sitting in the front row, being absolutely absorbed into the world created by actors on the stage of his community theater in Athens, Texas.

"It was this hot, humid New Orleans world, and I was completely sucked into it. I mean, you see people acting and going up on stage to do a show all the time, but it was the first time I'd ever seen someone onstage just living a life," says Godwin. "It was so interesting to watch them because it was like they weren't aware that we were watching them. It was just absolutely captivating to me."

Godwin's big, excited personality was pretty conducive to the culture of storytelling in the small town where he grew up. Every day after school, he and his friends would stay at the community theater until 10 p.m. and spend their weekends there. Athens, he says, "has a real sort of oral tradition. I always grew up with stories. And that's how my brain works."

For him, it's the universality of storytelling--the getting lost in a world that comes with reading a really great book or watching a poignant movie--that draws him to performance as an art. "Something about using your body, your voice, through dance and through singing and through whatever else feels like a real culmination of everything that storytelling is about. It just feels like a very natural thing."

And he's definitely a natural at it: he won our award for Best Breakthrough performance for his role in Good People at the Alley Theatre.

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100 Creatives 2014: McKenna Jordan, Owner of Murder By The Book

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Photo courtesty of McKenna Jordan
There's a unique sense of warmth and familiarity that washes over you when entering a local, independent bookstore, and that's exactly what McKenna Jordan tries to cultivate as owner of Murder By The Book on Bissonnet. Though it wasn't initially part of her post-college life-plan--she wanted to go to Law School--Jordan's group of employees has turned into a family of bookworms that spends more time together than any normal family should.

"We work several hours a week together, we work in close quarters, we have birthday parties together--we spend a lot of time together. So, you know, if I know that someone is going through a tough time and they need time off, then they get extra days. It's flexible in that it is a family type of environment."

The store's status as independent allows Jordan's employees a lot of creative input when it comes to the store's inventory. Any books that staff members are passionate about will be ordered and placed on shelves, even if they're about needlepoint, according to her.

In a time when Amazon delivery drones are on the horizon and print literature is being slowly replaced by e-readers and Kindles, stores like Murder By The Book hold a special place in the hearts of book lovers. For Jordan, who graduated from the University of Houston with degrees in English Literature and Violin Performance, that special place gives the store a unique purpose.

"Amazon doesn't host author events. So we host those events, where people get a signed print book. We continue to discover new authors and to sell those titles, and we're hand-selling books to our customers. I'm directly interacting with them, and we're constantly giving them recommendations. Amazon and Barnes and Noble don't do that."

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100 Creatives 2014: Steven Trimble, Dirty Dirty Mixed Media

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What He Does: Mixed media is kind of a loaded term when describing art. It can indicate a multi-dimensional work of genius, or one thing someone simply splattered with paint and glued more things onto. Steven Trimble, though, is definitely the real deal. His pieces are largely paintings but call to mind street art more than typical portraits and landscapes. He works with spray paint, newspaper, grease markers, acrylic paints and grit to make evocative images that punch like revolutionary propaganda.

A graphic designer by trade, Trimble started down this path in 1999 when he founded a clothing brand by the name of solidskin independent klothing with a couple of friends. The designs that would eventually transition into his current art started out as T-shirts. Now they've achieved a life of their own.

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100 Creatives 2014: Sandria Hu, Visual Artist and Professor of Art, Inspired by Archaeological Digs

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Photo courtesy of Sandria Hu
Archeological Dress #4, a collograph print

When she visited Slovakia in 1986 as a Fulbright Scholar, Sandria Hu wasn't planning on visiting any archaeological dig sites. But when she was invited by local archaeologists, what she encountered was awe-inspiring.

Hu's eerie and breathtaking current exhibition, called "Archeological Dress," consists of 20 collograph printed children's' dresses lowered into a batch of gel medium and pressed flat to dry. Once they harden, she scours each dress with a toothbrush, similar to the process of unearthing an artifact from a dig site.

She knew she wanted to be an artist when she was attending elementary school in San Francisco, but as she's gotten more serious about it, the experience of creation has transformed into something beyond pleasure for Hu, something that sounds surreal in description.

"It's very agonizing. I don't have fun when I do my artwork, I really don't...I find it very stressful, I find it very agonizing, and I think it's only because I'm still searching. And sometimes when you're looking for something, you're not really at ease. You're not really happy. Because you don't know what it is you're looking for. I'm always searching for that next thing. I find it very intense, I find it really absorbed."

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100 Creatives 2014: Robert Gouner AKA Goon73

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What He Does: In 2008 Robert Gouner, the photographer who would become known as Goon73, was heavily into riding and building/customizing motorcycles. He wrote a monthly column for a motorcycle website and when the format changed to print he suddenly needed pictures to go with his articles. Since he didn't know any photographers, he started taking pictures himself. Once he's finished shooting all his bikes, he'd discovered a new passion in the process of picture taking. It allowed him a brand new creative outlet and with help of some patient mentors he began his career.

Gouner is heavily influenced by a love for abandoned buildings, horror movies, and pop culture. About a year after picking up the camera he was exploring an abandoned hospital as a possible photo shoot location when he discovered that the bottom floor of the hospital had approximately four feet of mold on the walls of the lower floor. Figuring that if he brought a model to shoot in the location he would need something to keep them all from getting sick, he scrounged up some surplus gas masks. The resulting masked shots became a major component of his future.

"There is something about the anonymity afforded by the masks," says Gouner. "When you combine the apocalyptic undertones and brutality of their original role, it is hard to explain, but it is fascinating to me."

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