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Spirit of Swayze

Modern dance troupe plans time of its life in new location, where nobody puts Baby in the corner

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Suchu Dance members in an earlier performance of Nothing Courtesy of Photo by John Ferguson
Suchu Dance Company new space under construction December 2013
Suchu Dance Company's new space under construction in December 2013 Suchu Dance/Facebook
Suchu Dance
Exterior photo of Suchu Dance. Photo by Jennifer Wood
Suchu Dance
The 1,500 square foot studio, which Wood leased for three years, will be divided into two areas. Photo by Jennifer Wood
Jennifer Wood, Choreographer and artistic director of Suchu Dance
Jennifer Wood, Suchu Dance artistic director. Photo courtesy of Suchu Dance
News_Nancy Wozny_Jacob's Pillow_Suchu Dance_at_Inside_Out
Suchu Dance Company new space under construction December 2013
Suchu Dance
Suchu Dance
Jennifer Wood, Choreographer and artistic director of Suchu Dance

Before we fell in love with Johnny Castle in the film Dirty Dancing and Sam Wheat in Ghost, the famed Houstonian who played those roles lived a double life as a football hopeful and an emerging dancer. After practicing the sport at Waltrip High School, Patrick Swayze would walk across the street to take lessons at the Swayze School of Dance and the Houston JazzBallet Company, an academy managed by his mother, Patsy Swayze, located in a commercial strip built in 1970.

The space at 3480 Ella Blvd., which was vacant and in disrepair for a number of years, will become the new home for Suchu Dance, a modern dance company that has earned its rightful place in Houston's cacophony of entrepreneurial and avant-garde art.

After searching for four years, it was by serendipity that Suchu artistic director Jennifer Wood found the storied studio in the Garden Oaks/Oak Forest neighborhood, which residents endearingly coined "The Goof." Wood was en route to a friend's home when she saw a vacancy sign on the building, which was most recently some type of tile showroom, and placed a call.

"It's not easy to find a suitable performing arts and teaching space in Houston," Wood tells CultureMap. "Either the rents are not affordable for a nonprofit operation, or the buildings require too much updating. We were lucky that this landlord helped with the build out."

 "It was a baby that grew into a giant elephant. I never wanted something so grandiose."

The 1,500 square foot studio, which Wood has leased for three years, will be divided into two areas. The larger, measuring 38-by-30 feet, will accommodate performances and an audience of approximately 50. The smaller, measuring 29-by-17 feet, will be dedicated to classes, workshops and multidisciplinary projects.

This Suchu Dance studio is more appropriately sized for the company than its previous home at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex, which it turned over to Dance Source Houston in March. Now called The Barn, the 7,000-square-foot theater in the East End had become a burden for Suchu Dance, inhibiting the troupe's creative output with the financial responsibility of overseeing a facility that was used by a number of small and midsized performing art groups, Wood says.

"We had been at Barnevelder for 12 years, and we needed a change," she says. "When Barnevelder grew into a space for the arts community, it became too big for us. Often I was put in a difficult position of asking friends and colleagues to meet financial commitments they weren't able to at the time, but I had to, as the main tenant, pay the bills.

"It was a baby that grew into a giant elephant. I never wanted something so grandiose."

The move allows for more creative freedom, Wood explains. The cost of creating new work, which includes building sets, decreases in smaller spaces.

To christen the studio, Suchu Dance will present Nothing, a new evening-length work set for Feb. 6-22. With choreography by Wood, the performance run breaks a six-month hiatus in the company's performance calendar. Although Wood has been busy with residencies at the University of Houston and work in Las Vegas since the summer, this silence marks the first time in 20 years that Suchu has not presented a work in the fall.

For Nothing, everything has been painted white. Soft sculptures swathed in white fabric will suffuse the stage. The aesthetic represents Suchu Dance starting from a blank slate, a look that mirrors the endless possibilities of Wood's new home, breathing life into an seemingly unremarkable building that holds remarkable history.

"I hope this isn't the biggest mistake in my life," she jokes. "Change is good, right?"

Lets hope, as the movie says, Wood has the time of her life. 

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