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The Arthropologist

Bipartisan cooperation: Houston dance companies join forces for world premiere of squared dancer

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Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Hope Stone Dance and the Metropolitan Dance Company preparing for a run of "squared dancer"
Hope Stone Dance and the Metropolitan Dance Company preparing for a run of squared dancer Photo by © Simon Gentry
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Marc Hennessey, composer and plays live for the premiere
Composer Marc Hennessey, who plays live for the premiere Photo by © Simon Gentry
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Met dancers Cynthia Harada and Kerry Jackson in rehearsal for the world premiere of "squared dancer"
Met dancers Cynthia Harada and Kerry Jackson in rehearsal for the world premiere of squared dancer Photo by © Simon Gentry
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, promo shot of Hope Stone Dance and Houston Metropolitan Dance for "squared dancer"
Promo shot of Hope Stone Dance and Houston Metropolitan Dance for squared dancer Photo by © Simon Gentry
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Catalina Molinari in rehearsal for "squared dancer"
Catalina Molinari in rehearsal for squared dancer Photo by © Simon Gentry
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Hope Stone Dance and the Metropolitan Dance Company preparing for a run of "squared dancer"
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Marc Hennessey, composer and plays live for the premiere
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Met dancers Cynthia Harada and Kerry Jackson in rehearsal for the world premiere of "squared dancer"
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, promo shot of Hope Stone Dance and Houston Metropolitan Dance for "squared dancer"
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Catalina Molinari in rehearsal for "squared dancer"
Nancy Wozny, head shot, September 2012

Everyone has a hobby. Mine: arts gossip. So when I heard that The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company and Hope Stone Dance were dating, I had to check it out for myself. So on came the hat, sunglasses, backpack, water, spy equipment and other provisions for the 1/10 of a mile trek from my house to The Met studios. The things I do for dance.

I get there and what do I see? Members of one company sitting on the laps of the other company. Bingo.

Then I find out, the very scene I just witnessed is the beginning of squared dancer, the namesake work of a joint evening of the same name performed by The Met and Hope Stone on Friday and Saturday at Wortham Theater Center at 8 p.m. In addition to Jane Weiner's world premiere, squared dancer, the evening also includes work by Robbie Moore, Erin Reck and Suzi Taylor.

 It's rare that we see such a large and diverse group in motion anywhere in Houston. They are black, white, blonde, Latino, Asian, straight, gay, married, single, some are from red states, blue states, and some from those decision-challenged states.  

Usually, when I do stories about collaboration I interview one director (Weiner), asking, "So, how is going?", then the other director (Marlana Doyle), "Really, how is it going?" Then I'll find a dancer to dish out the real dirt. Here, I don't need a single soul to tell me a thing, it's all in the dance: Two terrific companies, one choreographer, 24 of the city's best contemporary dancers, one outstanding musician, all making art together. 

In the corner, electric violinist Marc Hennessey, who also goes by the curious name "To All My Dear Friends", is making gorgeous sounds. There's a hint of bluegrass in his music, much like the hint of square dancing in Weiner's piece. Hennessey harks from Ashville, where they actually square dance.

Now, I know next to nothing about actual American square dancing, so I'm not entirely sure I would recognize a do-si-do if I saw one, but this is what I do see: Dancers making way for each other, letting others pass before taking the stage, fast, aggressive and athletic movements without collisions, men lifting women, women lifting men, men lifting men, group lifts where several dancers take charge of sending one dancer airborne, perfect unison, oceans of smiling, laughing and all round fun having.

Everyone appears to be listening, even the boss, Weiner, to the dancers.

Pedestrian movement

The piece lays out how it works in life. We take turns in the center. With two long benches creating a right angle on the side and back of the stage, the dancers enter and exit the dancing area from the bench. Sometimes, it's our time to watch, other times, it's our time to shine.

There's a whole second dance happening on the bench, as they make room for each other, console an exiting dancer or just groove along with those dancing on stage at the moment. There's one passage when a dancer ends up crawling back to the bench. We've all been there. He is welcomed home with love and acceptance from his benchmates.

The movement is culled from what we like to call "pedestrian movement" in the modern dance biz, which means there's lots of running, hopping, skipping, leaping and turning. But honestly, I've yet to see a pedestrain anywhere move with this much finesse. Every now and then a dancer will break out in spectacular attitude turn, reminding us that these are no ordinary square dancers.

I t's all in the dance: Two terrific companies, one choreographer, 24 of the city's best contemporary dancers, one outstanding musician, all making art together.

It's rare that we see such a large and diverse group in motion anywhere in Houston. They are black, white, blonde, Latino, Asian, straight, gay, married, single, some are from red states, blue states, and some from those decision challenged states. Several are aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. Some are from faraway places like Japan, Colombia and California. At least one is a mother. One looks like he could have played football, but now he dances like a dream. It's like watching the world dance. 

After a divisive election season we are hungry for civility. I feel nourished by watching these dancers soar through space. Dance, a team sport, models getting on with one another so well. Weiner's particular niche as a choreographer is showing exactly how we build and sustain community.

Some of you play fantasy football, I play fantasy arts. In my fake scenario I bring members of Congress and other elected officials to see this dance, because sometimes you just need to see for yourself what getting along really looks like. "Watch, follow, then lead," I would tell them. "It's all in the dance."

Get with getting along in squared dancer performed by The Houston Met and Hope Stone.

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