State of the Arts 2011
Let's dance

Space City becomes Dance City: Houston Dance Festival aims to keep Bayou City on its toes

Space City becomes Dance City: Houston Dance Festival aims to keep Bayou City on its toes

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Hope Stone Dance in Lemonade Stand as part of Houston Dance Festival at Barnevelder Aug. 11-13 Photo by Simon Gentry
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NobleMotion Dance's Shohei Iwahama in "Splitting Night: An Evening of Dance and Light" Photo by Lynn Lane
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From Andrea Dawn Shelley's Frozen Angels, iMEE artists Mikhael Plain, Lindsey McGill and iMEE theatrical artist and Musician, Graham Patzner Courtesy of © Mike Mesikep Photography
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iMEE Artists Mikhael Plain, Cristian Laverde Koenig and Lindsey McGill performing Spencer Gavin Hering's 4Ward & 4Gotten Courtesy of © Mike Mesikep Photography
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Hope Stone Photo by Simon Gentry
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Seth McPhail of NobleMotion Dance in Splitting Night: An Evening of Dance and Light Photo by Lynn Lane
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For many of us dancer lovers, it's not  really summer without a festival. American Dance Festival (ADF) at Duke University has just wrapped up their final year with Charles Reinhart as director, while Jacob's Pillow and Bates Dance Festival continue through August. I spent the early part of this summer at the Pillow, leaving with a full dance tank. Next summer, when Bates celebrates its 30th anniversary, a trip to Maine may be in order.

Festivals offer an intense experience, a chance to bond with your peers, hone your technique and see emerging and established artists. I credit a seminal summer at ADF in 1977 for my own dance-focused path.

These dance-jammed events may also be crucial in creating a dance hub.  Look at the Dance Salad Festival, which put Houston on the international map. Big Range's reputation grows both in and outside of the city, while The Third Coast Dance Film Festival, presented by Rice University's Dance Program, moves into its second year on Sept. 16 and 17. FrenetiCore's Houston Fringe Festival, Aug. 11-27, continues to draw performers from outside of the city's boundaries.

 The folks behind the Houston Dance Festival (HDF) have a few ideas on building a dance city. From high-profile dancers to imported choreographers, HDF has an impressive line-up of activity planned. 

The folks behind the Houston Dance Festival (HDF) have a few ideas on building a dance city. From high-profile dancers to imported choreographers, HDF has an impressive line-up of activity planned.

The HDF team includes Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Dance, Spencer Gavin Hering and Andrea Dawn Shelley of iMee, Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble of NobleMotion Dance and lighting designer Jeremy Choate. They came up with the festival after a casual meeting. "We met over dinner with Jeremy and that's when things starting morphing," recalls Shelley. "You put a bunch of dreamers in a room and things get exciting."

Building off of Weiner's multi-company series Lemonade Stand, initiated last season, the group decided to go for broke, making it a full five weeks of dance, including a Master Class series held at Houston Ballet's Center for Dance, along with four consecutive weekends of performances at Barnevelder.

Weiner, the most established artist of the group, spent a decade at Bates, developing life-long connections in the national dance scene. "Oh, the power of a festival, all the dancers run about in sweats, talking and taking dance. I always felt a magic at Bates," she says. "It was an elixir that charged me throughout the year, especially when I was facing the enemy lines of folks who think that art is fluff. The feeling of the unity and empowerment we all felt would prove to be a strong support outside the walls of the festival, carrying me well into the winter."

Choate sees the festival as crucial to Houston's future. "One of the reasons HDF is so exciting for me is that I think this festival could end up exporting Houston Dance through the import of tourism," says Choate, HDF's co-director. "I can see the festival as actually exporting Houston dance through the festival participants. Avid dance fans from around the country, that have never had a good reason to visit Houston, would have the opportunity to experience so much of the work we're making here, in a small package of time."

Here's what's in store. The first weekend of master classes on Aug. 5-7, represents a broad sampling of Houston's finest dance teachers, from Karen Stokes to  Amy Ell.

Hope Stone launches the first weekend of dance on Aug. 11-13. Expect a quirky new trio featuring Houston Ballet's Connor Walsh, Melody Mennite and Kelly Myernick, with a Mad Men vibe. The evening also includes snippets from The Cooking Show and 's-a tale of possession, along with a chance for Weiner to show off her kooky stage presence in her tongue-in-cheek talk show, Jane Knows Stuff.  

"I'm vying to fill the spot for the new Oprah Winfrey talk show now that she's gone," quips Weiner. 

iMee occupies the middle spot on Aug. 18-20. Hering and Shelley may not be festival veterans, but they're well aware of the power of numbers. When Weiner offered their company a spot in her Lemonade Stand last summer, the husband and wife team experienced the positive traction that came from following Hope Stone. Their troupe has now officially relocated to Houston, after being also based in California and Miami.

They know the city well, having danced with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater during his first few years and most recently in Hope Stone's last season. "Jane has been a mentor to us, she's part of the reason that we are here," says Hering. "We are the newer choreographers in the festival, so we have brought in Maurice Causey, a former Ballet Frankfurt dancer and former Ballet Master for Netherlands Dance Theater."

iMee presents Causey's premiere of Grim Eye, set to music by London-based composer Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Sergei Prokofiev. Their A-list dancers include Houston Ballet's Jessica Collado and Oliver Halkowich, along with Edgar Anido of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Britt Juleen Gonzalez from Dresden SemperOper Ballett,, Cristian Laverde Koenig and Lindsey McGill.

During the final two weekends, NobleMotion's collaboration with Choate, Splitting Night, takes over Barnevelder on Aug. 26-28 and Sept. 3-4. The partnership moves into its second year, energized by the success of  two earlier works, Photo Box D and Light Blanket, which will anchor program. The evening will also include six new lighting installations. Stay tuned for a deeper investigation of the relationship between light and movement in my Aug. 25 column.

The entire HDF team feels passionately about the need for artists to join forces for Houston to reach its potential as a dance-centered city.  For Noble, who actually met Weiner at Bates, the festival is not only a chance to solidify his company mission but put Houston on the national dance map.

"Why shouldn't Texas have a festival modeled after Bates?" ponders Andy. "It could bring money and exposure to Houston artists, along with more talent to the area, both dancers and choreographers. If the nation sees that dance is thriving in this community, then it becomes a destination for creative souls."

Get a taste of the first Houston Dance Festival