Dance is its own planet. National Dance Week, leading up to World Dance Day on April 29, seems a fitting time to honor some of its prize citizens making a difference in the global community — many who just happen to have shows coming up this week.
Here they are: Thang Dao, with Ballet Austin II and the Vietnamese Culture & Science Association (VCSA) in Quiet Imprint on Saturday at The Hobby Center; Nancy Henderek of the Dance Salad Festival, Thursday through Saturday, at Cullen Theater Wortham Center; and Nao Kusuzaki and her colleagues at Houston Ballet and the Japan-America Society of Houston in Dancing for Hope, a benefit for Japan, Thursday night at The Hobby Center.
International dance right at your door
Whenever international dance people find out that I live in Houston, their first question is, "Do you know Nancy Henderek?"
The global curator of the Dance Salad Festival has been putting Houston on the world dance map for the past 16 years. She has some delicious delights up her international sleeve with a return of one of my favorite choreographers, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, along with an impressive list of rarely-seen-in-Houston troupes.
I appreciate the way Henderek puts her support behind rising choreographers, giving us a chance to see how they are developing. With Cherkaoui's third appearance on the Salad, he's now a force of nature dance maker on the scene.
The same holds true for Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who made her U.S. debut as a choreographer in 2006 with her powerful duet, One, created especially for Jacoby & Pronk, who also made their company debut. Expect a strong Asian contingent too, with Beijing Dance/LDTX and Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company performing with the accomplished Ahn Trio, who were just on the SPA stage earlier this year.
After a few years of highlighting mostly male choreographers, this year's bill is a boon for women dance makers, and includes Ochoa, Masa Kolar, Jasmin Vardimon, Ma Bo, Nai-Ni Chen and Oksana Titova. Henderek often includes a nod to Houston's dance history, and this year is no different with National Ballet of Canada principals and former Houston Ballet dancers Bridgett Zehr and Zdenek Konvalina returning to perform Derek Deane's romantic duet, Impromptu. I know the city welcomes these two favorite dancers back.
A Houston Ballet soloist rallies her troupe
I met with Kusuzaki and Connor Walsh two weeks ago in the Center for Dance's swanky new dancers' lounge to hear about "Dancing for Hope, A Japan Relief Fund," a fundraising event that came together in record time.
"Growing up in Japan, and having my entire family as well as many close friends on the island, this recent disaster hit me close to my heart," said Kusuzaki, who is from Ehime, Japan. She quickly teamed up with Shizu Yasuda, of Ad Deum Dance Company, who are also performing in the show.
"Helplessness overwhelmed me initially, which turned into a realization that there is always a way to make a difference," Kusuzaki says.
She joined forces with the Japan-America Society of Houston, with additional help from the Japanese Association of Greater Houston and assumed the role of artistic event coordinator, something she has never done before. She convinced 21 fellow company members, including several principals, to participate.
In no time, Kusuzaki came up with program (with some advice from her HB colleagues), which includes excerpts from Christopher Bruce's Hush, Le Corsaire, La Bayadere and Stanton Welch's Mediaeval Baebes and Madame Butterfly, to name a few. Rehearsals and planning took place on days off and down time. This is one industrious and disciplined tribe.
Welch is completely behind the project, giving the team full access to his ballets and rehearsal space.
“I am very proud to have so many of Houston Ballet’s dancers pull together and take part in a relief benefit for Japan. Houston Ballet feels personally connected, since we have numerous Japanese professional dancers and academy students. Fortunately, all their families were safe and sound after the disaster,” Welch said. “The Japanese culture is so very rich, deep, and has inspired me as a choreographer many times and in many ways.
"I am glad that a part of Madame Butterfly can be included on this important occasion."
Kusuzaki will be dancing Welch's breathtaking pas de deux from Butterfly. The evening also includes Otro Portal, danced and choreographed by Houston contemporary choreographer Paola Georgudis.
National Ballet of Canada principals Bridgett Zehr and Zdenek Konvalina are simply gorgeous in this pas de deux
An excerpt of Stanton Welch's haunting Mediæval Bæbes is on the Dancing for Hope Program