Taking a Chance: Rebecca French and FrenetiCore Carve Out a Space in the East End

Houston is a rambling, gambling town and this year Best of Houston celebrates those in the community who are taking a chance.

Rebecca French, choreographer, dancer and co-founder of FrenetiCore, has faced more than just naysayers in the 14-plus years it has taken her to establish her performing arts organization.

There were timid bankers who wouldn't loan FrenetiCore the $150,000 it needed to buy its own building in the East End. "We would just get lumped in with all the other non-credit-worthy applications. Nonprofits and churches -- nobody will lend either of us any money," she says.

There were area thugs who didn't like the idea of French and company moving into the East End. "Mobsters harassed us for a while," she says. "They'd paint-balled the building. It was six straight months of people slashing my tires and paint-balling everything."

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100 Creatives 2014: Shipra Mehrotra, Odissi Dancer and Choreographer

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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FrenetiCore's Quench Is a Soggy Success (We Mean That in a Good Way)

Categories: Dance

Photo by Lynn Lane
From Quench
Note: Our usual dance writer Adam Castanada was unable to review FrenetiCore's Quench because he was on stage during the performance (he's a member of the FrenetiCore Dance group). Night + Day Editor Olivia Flores Alvarez stepped in.

We're having a little bit of trouble reading our notes for Quench, FrenetiCore Dance's latest evening-length program. Our handwriting is okay (even for writing in the dark), it's not that. It's that the pages in our notebook are are a little smeared. Quench lived up to its promise and got everything - and everyone - in the theater wet. We were about three rows up, so we didn't get quite as drenched as the people in the first row, but before the night was done FrenetiCore managed to splish, splash and, in some cases, soak everyone in the room.

The Set-up: Rebecca French, artistic director and choreographer for FrenetiCore Dance, promised her audience two things: One, Quench would be fun. Two, everyone would get wet. She delivered on both counts. A collection of mostly non-narrative vignettes, Quench explored, in a light and playful way, water. How we have fun in it, how we fight in it and at the end our the performance we saw, how to raise money with it. Ashley Horn provided lovely underwater film segments and SPIKE the Percussionist supplied live, on-stage drumming. Dancers became nymphs, water sprites, mermaids, happy children and at one point, thirsty dancers.

As an encore, the dancers performed their own version of the ice bucket challenge. (For $10, audience members could douse the dancer/s of their choice with icy cold water.)

This story continues on the next page.

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Dominic Walsh Says Good-Bye to Houston...for Now

Categories: Dance

Courtesy of DWDT
Dominic Walsh
Houston's arts community was stunned on Friday when CultureMap announced choreographer Dominic Walsh was suspending the 2014-2015 season for his company, the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. Walsh later released a statement confirming that he would be taking a sabbatical, saying, ""This sabbatical will give me the chance to explore other opportunities and interests that I simply have not been free to spend time on with the many obligations I've been committed to for these 12 years.I look forward to accepting opportunities to create and stage my works, teaching classes as a guest and coaching ballets."

Walsh also has personal reasons for the change. Denver's Colorado Ballet recently promoted Walsh's longtime partner, Domenico Luciano, to Principal Dancer with the company. "I'm very much looking forward to having a bit of personal time, and to having the availability to stay in Denver cheering on Domenico as he starts his second season with Colorado Ballet," Walsh continues.

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The Intrepid Side of Psophonia Dance Company

Categories: Dance

Photo Courtesy of Psophonia Dance Company
Dancers in Intrepid.
The Setup:
Intrepid, Psophonia Dance Company's spring show performed this past weekend on June 6 and 7 at City Dance Studio, is an appropriate title for this endeavor. The company usually performs feature-length entirely choreographed by artistic director Sophia Torres, but for their latest concert, the dancers took on the challenge of presenting three works, by three different dance artists. In addition to new work by Torres, the program included guest choreographers Leslie Scates and Estela Tejeda.

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Houston's SPA Unveils First Ever Jessica Lang Dance Residency for Middle and High Schoolers

Categories: Dance

Photo courtesy of Jessica Lang Dance
Jessica Lang

In the world of dance, Jessica Lang, who once danced with Twyla Tharp's company, is known for her choreography. Her resume includes work done with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Ballet San Jose, Richmond Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Ailey II, ABT II, Hubbard Street 2,New York City Ballet's Choreographic Institute, and more.

In 2011, she founded Jessica Lang Dance in New York City and now, assisted by Houston's Society for the Performing Arts, two of its company members are on their way to Houston to conduct a weeklong dance seminar for middle schoolers and high schoolers.

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Suchu Dance Presents Steel Puffs Have Left the Building

Categories: Dance

Photo Courtesy of Suchu Dance
Prudence Sun, Shanon Adams, Tina Shariffskul, and Sarah Leung are the Steel Puffs.
The Setup:
In Steel Puffs Have Left the Building, Suchu Dance's second full-length work in its new Garden Oaks space, choreographer Jennifer Wood explores the multifaceted nature of the feminine. The all-female quartet of longtime company members Shanon Adams, Sarah Leung, Tina Shariffskul and Prudence Sun investigate the tension-filled space between what is inherently female and culture's narrow prescriptions for how the fairer sex should look, behave and, more important, move.

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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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