Dance Salad Festival 2014: Three Nights of Back-to-Back Highlights

Categories: Dance

Photo by Diego Franssens
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's m¡longa produced by Sadler's Wells, London, UK.
Dance Salad Festival 2014 is a heady mix of brilliant works, in both classical and contemporary styles, by choreographers and dance companies from around the world. Nancy Henderek, the festival's artistic director, says in a three-night program made up of back-to-back highlights Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's tango-influenced m¡longa stands out. London's Sadler's Wells invited [Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui] to work with a group of tango dancers and musicians from Argentina. The resulting m¡longa, is a full-length work too long to bring to Dance Salad in its entirety. Instead audiences will see curated segments featuring five tango musicians, ten tango dancers plus a contemporary couple. "He's made a contemporary piece out of it," Henderek tells us. "It combines all the tango verve and music along with these beautiful steps. There's lots of couple work in tango and what Larbi's done is taken these couples and made them into a group. They break apart, they exchange partners, they change places and use their arms in a new and different way but it's all still with a tango impulse and [sensibility]."

Cherkaoui's m¡longa will be performed all three nights of the festival (each performance has a different line-up and if you want to see all of the groups, Henderek suggests attending two nights in a row). The choreographer is no stranger to Dance Salad, having had several of his works performed at the festival over the years; Paris Opera Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet are among the groups he's worked with. "We've had other works of his with other companies in previous years. He's very much in demand and while this is a familiar choreographer, the piece we're going to see is unlike anything else he's ever done."

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Aisha Tyler Says, "Don't Worry, I've Got Jokes"

Categories: Dance

Courtesy Kahn Media Strategies Inc
Actor/comedian Aisha Tyler doesn't take requests when she's on stage. "I know people have their favorite jokes so I understand when they ask for something but I'm not a rock band, I don't do the same thing over and over. I don't get up and do "Freebird" as an encore. I have a foggy plan in my head of what I want to do when I go onstage, but really I want every show to be fresh. I want to surprise the audience and surprise myself every time I walk out there."

Tyler's attitude doesn't stop audience members from shouting out requests or even lines when she's performing. "People do yell things out when I'm on stage and I ignore them wholeheartedly. I always tell them - 'Relax. I've got jokes. Sit back and have a drink. I'm prepared to entertain you for an hour, hour and a half so you don't have to worry about the show. I've got it well in hand.' If they really want to hear a joke from five years ago, they should go buy the DVD. That way they can sit on their couch in their underwear and rewind to their heart's content."

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Society for the Performing Arts 2014-15 Season: Music, Dance & Chinese Acrobats

Categories: Dance, Stage

Photo courtesy of SPA
Expect magical surprises with The Illusionists
In planning its upcoming season, the Society for the Performing Arts made sure "ecletic" remains its invisible middle name, lining up everything from magic escape artists to dancers, a concert violinist and Chinese acrobats.

"Our 2014-2015 season opens the door to performing artists for all ages and tastes," said SPA CEO June Christensen. "From the debut of America's Test Kitchen with Christopher Kimball to cabaret-style performances on the Jones Hall stage with the burlesque troupe known as The Hot Box Girls to Mexican-American singer Lila Downs to the National Acrobats of China, our lineup offers a mix of traditional and not-so-traditional events. One company I am most excited about sharing with Houston for the first time is the Scottish Ballet performing its beautiful rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire." Magic also takes center stage when The Illusionists, seven incredible performers showcasing mind-bending acts, make their Houston debut.

The scheduled performances:

American's Test Kitchen LIVE*
with Christopher Kimball
8 p.m., Thursday, August 21, 2014
Jones Hall

Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cook's Illustrated, hosts an insider's look at PBS Television's "America's Test Kitchen." Audiences are promised"an insider's view of the show, including the process of how the equipment testing, food tastings and science experiments take place."

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FrenetiCore's WIRED Is a Happy Mix of Performance, Humor, Strength and Technology

Categories: Dance

Photo by Les Campbell
We've got a couple of disclosures about FrenetiCore and WIRED. First, since Houston Press contributor Adam Castanada, who writes about dance for us, is a member of the FrenetiCore dance company, a usually non-reviewing member of the HP editorial staff (that would be me) steps into the role of reviewer here. We're pretty sure Castanada wouldn't mind performing then dancing then dashing off-stage to write up a few review notes before running back on-stage to dance again, but we thought it best not to ask him.

Second, we're discussing Saturday night's performance here. We attended Friday night's performance for the purpose of reviewing the show. Unfortunately there were several major technical failures (lights, curtains, music, video and computer feeds all went bonkers at various times though the show). FrenetiCore was forced to take an impromptu intermission mid-show in order to address those issues. The result was a significant break in the show's flow. We felt we were unable to fairly judge the dancers' performances under those conditions. We're happy to say Saturday's show was 99 percent glitch-free.

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The Joffrey Ballet's American Legends Program Includes Stanton Welch's Son of Chamber Symphony

Categories: Dance

Photo by Jim Luning Photography
Ashley C. Wheater, Artistic Director for the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet
In the early 1980s, Ashley Wheater was a young dancer for the Australian Ballet; at the time the company was led by Garth Welch. Stanton Welch, Garth's son, was 14 years old and at the beginning of his dance training. The young men met and remained friends over the years. Fast forward to today and the pair now lead two of the most prestigious dance companies in America. Ashley Wheater is artistic director for the famed Joffrey Ballet and Stanton Welch is the artistic director for the Houston Ballet. Joffrey Ballet is in town, courtesy of the Society for the Performing Arts, to perform its American Legends program, an evening of works by celebrated American choreographers, including Stanton Welch's Son of Chamber Symphony.

At Wheater's invitation, Welch set his complex and athletic three-movement work Son of Chamber Symphony on the Joffrey Ballet company in 2010. Welch has been said to give the corps de ballet choreography more often set on principal dancers and soloists. That tendency is evident in Son of Chamber Symphony.

"Technically, it's very difficult," Wheater tells us. "It's really demanding for everybody. And the thing about it is that the company's completely exposed; you can really hone in and see what the company can do, what each dancer is capable of. What I love in Stanton's work is that he believes in the language of classical ballet. He wants to keep people having to work at it and to be on their game. In the piece you can see everything that's required of us as a classical dancer. and it's in a very contemporary way."

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Marcus Jarrell Willis and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: A Story of Grace

Categories: Dance

Photo by Andrew Eccles
Marcus Jarrell Willis
Marcus Jarrell Willis, a former Houstonian and HSPVA alum, has been a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for six years now. (Before that he was a member of Ailey II.) He's a different dancer now, says Willis.

"For me, things have changed in that I used to be focused on getting everything perfectly right," he tells us. "Dancers are perfectionist and we always want to be standing at the right angle, to have the lines of our bodies perfect with that turned out, this turned in. I was so focused on getting it right that I actually wasn't living in the work at the moment.

"Now, I've performed [the works] so many times, it's in my body. I know the steps. I still strive to make sure everything is psychically correct but now I'm able to live in the work as well. Like with I Want to Be Ready (a meditative solo in Revelations), I can move past just performing the right moves and begin to experience it while I'm performing."

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100 Creatives 2014: Stephanie Todd Wong, Executive Director of Dance Source Houston

Photo by Lynn Lane
Stephanie Todd Wong (left) with board chair Christina Giannelli at The Barn.

Wearing a full skirt that doubled as a cape, Stephanie Todd Wong brought the vision of a bullfight to life as she became a matador onstage dueling with an imaginary bull.

That Washington, D.C. performance a few years ago in Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter by famed dancer and choreographer Anna Sokolow was one of the highlights of Wong's dancing career -- a career that has since morphed into choreography, teaching and, most recently, the administrative side of the business.

Since 2011, Wong has been the executive director of Dance Source Houston, whose mission is to support artists and organizations that showcase them and to build an audience for dance in Houston. The group supports people in dance not just in Houston, but from all over.

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Dance Month Concludes With Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company

Categories: Dance

Photo by Paula Lobo
Dancers in Keystone.

The Setup:
Dance Month at the Kaplan Theatre is an annual celebration that includes master classes from national touring troupes, Israeli folk dance workshops, a professional concert of Houston choreographers and a showcase of the city's top pre-professional companies. Dance Month always concludes with the presentation of a national company of distinguished artistry. This year the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company took the Kaplan Theatre stage on the afternoon of February 3 and performed two repertory works alongside a larger piece by Doug Elkins.

The Execution:
The program opened with Dorfman's Keystone, a duet performed by Jacqueline Dumas Albert and Louie Martin and set to a familiar track list of Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah," Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and Jamie Randolph's "White Christmas." The title of the dance refers to the uppermost stone of an arch that holds the rest of the structure in place. The dance begins with Albert and Martin leaning into each other, heads on shoulders, creating a literal representation of the architectural feature.

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Suchu Dance Creates Something out of Nothing in New Dance Space

Categories: Dance

Photo courtesy of Suchu Dance
Suchu Company Dancers in Nothing.

The Setup:
Contrary to the erroneous reports from other publications, Suchu Dance is not dead and gone. Jennifer Wood's iconoclastic dance company is no longer in the space formerly known as the Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex, but it has taken up residence inside a Garden Oaks strip center at 3480 Ella Boulevard. Suchu Dance's self-titled new headquarters is no stranger to dance; it previously housed the Houston JazzBallet Company directed by Patsy Swayze. It's the same studio space where her son and most famous pupil, Patrick Swayze, learned the skills that would make him famous in Dirty Dancing. To break in the space, Suchu Dance presents Nothing, the company's first evening-length work since last summer's BOSK.

The Execution:
The most notable feature of Suchu's new home is that the performance space is considerably more intimate than the Barnevelder stage. The audience does not gather in front of the dance, but sits around it, which allows for individual experiences based on the angle of observation. And there are no wings per say; rather, dancers filter in through a white curtain that separates the performance space from the rest of the facility.

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The Mark Morris Dance Group Performs Modern Dance as Play With Live Music

Categories: Dance

Photo by Tim Summers
Dancers in A Wooden Tree.

The Setup: In a moment of visual hijinks, a man and woman in the middle of a budding courtship turn to each other with faces full of passion and, no, they do not promenade, but grind their pelvises in the air back and forth.

It's one of a series of laugh-out-loud moments in A Wooden Tree (2012), a dance full of literal humor of a bawdy nature. Performed to the absurdist folk songs of Ivor Cutlor, and dressed in the threads of '60s East Villagers, the cast tells stories of courtship, friendship, living and dying. It's all in good fun, even the spontaneous vulgarity of hip thrusts to convey serious romance.

A Wooded Tree was one of four repertory works the Mark Morris Dance Group brought to the Wortham Center's Cullen stage on the evenings of January 31 and February 1. Thanks to the Society for the Performing Arts and its impressive Tudor Family Great American Dance Series, the Houston audience was treated to one of the most enriching and fulfilling evenings of dance from a visiting dance company in recent memory.

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