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The Arthropologist

The story behind the stories of 2012: Arts columns brought praise — and some angry emails

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Courtney D. Jones, Catalina Molnari, Kiki Lucas,Squared Dancer
Courtney D. Jones, Catalina Molnari and Kiki Lucas in Jane Weiner's 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"
Watching a rehearsal of Squared Dancer moved Wozny to tears  Photo by © Simon Gentry
Dancers Among Us, Noble Motion Dance Company, Jordan Matters,
NobleMotion Dance Company members Jesus Acosta, Tristin Ferguson, Jared Doster and Shohei Iwahama in Jordan Matters' Dancers Among Us  Photo by Jordan Matters
Nancy, Decisions, Connor Walsh and Melisa Hough in Houston Ballet's production of Aszure Barton's Angular Momentum, October 2012
Wozny watched as Houston Ballet Connor Walsh and Melisa Hough rehearsed Aszure Barton's Angular Momentum.   Photo by Amitava Sarkar
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Karina Gonzalez_Houston Ballet
Jordan Matter's fantastic book Dancers Among Us A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday ia a marvelous reminder that dancers are extraordinary human beings. Photo by Jordan Matter
Courtney D. Jones, Catalina Molnari, Kiki Lucas,Squared Dancer
Nancy, The World in a Dance, November 2012, Hope Stone Dance and the Metropolitan Dance Company preparing for a run of "squared dancer"
Dancers Among Us, Noble Motion Dance Company, Jordan Matters,
Nancy, Decisions, Connor Walsh and Melisa Hough in Houston Ballet's production of Aszure Barton's Angular Momentum, October 2012
Houston Friends of Chamber Music presents the Canadian Brass
News_Nancy_Dancers Among Us_March 2012_Karina Gonzalez_Houston Ballet
Nancy Wozny, head shot, September 2012

I said I wouldn't do an end-of-year list this year. Apparently, I lied.  Here are five fave stories that I wrote in 2012, the aftermath and well, a few angry emails.

It's all in the dance

Bipartisan cooperation: Houston dance companies join forces for world premiere of squared dancer proved a revelatory story for me. There isn't much to it; it's just me sitting in the corner watching Jane Weiner's Squared Dancer. I wasn't planning on doing a story on the joint concert between The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company and Hope Stone. I truly was on a "check on the gossip on the dance street" mission.

Plus, I expected to miss the show because of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival.

 Within minutes of watching this dance take flight, oceans of tears were streaming down my face. 

Within minutes of watching this dance take flight, oceans of tears were streaming down my face. Something about this enormous gaggle of dancers trying to work things out struck me as astonishing, and something we need talk about more often.

Examples of our goodness seem harder to come by these days as we have become so acclimated to a divisive culture. Simply watching people get along in motion eased this deep sense of despair.

We often call dance, especially modern dance, "abstract." There's nothing abstract about watching a fabulous and diverse group of dancers move with joy and purpose.

"I cried when I read it," wrote Courtney D. Jones in a Facebook comment.

"The dance/arts are mostly about community. Building one. Repairing one. Creating one," says Weiner. "What you saw and wrote about is my dream. The coming together of all worlds. Not just dance worlds. The government needs to watch how we do it."

And, get this, I turned down a ticket to see Robert Redford so I could go see the actual show. 

I still want to interview your audience

I received several offers to interview audiences after Meet a performer's best friends: The audience. I picture myself in a little booth, with a bowl of M&Ms teasers, at the exit of the Wortham, or some other theatrical establishment, looking like a wayward Lucy in the Peanuts comic script.

The "audience doc" is in.

 So imagine my joy when a woman turned to me, and asked, "What brings you here?"  

I still get the urge to turn to the person next to me and find out why they came. But while I was in the thick of it, I suffered from an overwhelming case of sudden onset shyness. It's really hard to invade someone's private audience space and pester them about why they are there. Part of being a member of the audience is being anonymous. I found that out the hard way.

After a while, a weariness set it, as I would size up the person next to me as to their willingness to put up with a busy body row mate. So imagine my joy when a woman turned to me, and asked, "What brings you here?"

What a gift for this fake arts sociologist. It was a moment of connection that will be with me forever. That woman was Lucile Agaisse of Houston Friends of Chamber Music (HFCM). Isn't it terrific that someone else wants to interview the audience?

Thanks to Agaisse, I now keep up with HFCM. You will find me in the audience when the Kostov-Valkov Duo comes to the MFAH for a Gallery Concert: Viva La Música Española on Jan. 20.

The season continues with Canadian Brass drops into Stude Concert Hall at Shepherd School of  Music on Jan. 22 and the Gryphon Trio on Feb. 12, also at Stude. 

So how old are you?

For most artists, age is a tricky issue. Artists actually never turn 50, some never even 40, a miracle, I know.

Unlike people, arts institutions are proud of their advanced age. The aging process: As Houston arts organizations grow older, they, too, question their purpose in life generated considerable fuss, mostly from the organizations that I left out. I even got angry emails from people in the story, who felt short shrifted. 

  I even got angry emails from people in the story, who felt short shrifted.  

Then there was the matter of a little mistake. There's nothing worse then getting an age wrong, which is what happened with Art League Houston (ALH). Visual arts director Jennie Ash emailed me to set me straight. Graciously, she let me know I was off by a few years. 

For the record, ALH was founded in 1948 in a mid-century building complex designed by Paul H. Elliott on 906 Tuam. It's one of Houston's oldest non-profit arts organizations.

These days, Ash regularly keeps me up with all things ALH. Their next round of shows, opening on Jan. 18,  includes Funnel Tunnel by Patrick Renner and The uncontrollable nature of grief and forgiveness (or lack of) by Houston-based artist Kathryn Kelley.

In the Project Gallery, ALH partners with El Rincon Social (ERS) to present Bringing it All Back Home, a group exhibition organized by ERS’ Founding Director Juan Pablo Alonzo, which explores the powerful nature of everyday materials transforming into something extraordinary.

Cowboy with a Camera

Writing That's life! Photographer captures dancers in everyday settings doing extraordinary things required a level of fearlessness. Those of us who spent a few hours with renegade photographer Jordan Matter, including the Galleria security, have the day etched in our memory.

Freezing cold, getting the shot before getting arrested, daredevil feats from the dancers and the photographer, made for one eventful day. I'm now holding Matter's fantastic book Dancers Among Us A Celebration of Joy in the Everyday in my hands. It's such a marvelous reminder that dancers are extraordinary human beings. I'm privileged to walk among them.

 It's such a marvelous reminder that dancers are extraordinary human beings. I'm privileged to walk among them. 

I'm proud to say I had a little hand in the fact that Houston Ballet dancers, Charles-Louis YoshiyamaConnor Walsh and Melody Mennite, along with NobleMotion Dance company members Jesus Acosta, Tristin Ferguson, Jared Doster and Shohei Iwahama, made it into Matter's splendid book.

Acosta remembers that crazy day. "We covered our whole bodies in mud. After a couple of shots, and after the props had begun to deteriorate in our hands, we were escorted off of the property by Pasadena police. And just like that, the shoot was done. I could tell by working with Jordan that he truly loves what he does."

Dancers Among Us spent seven weeks on the New York Times and Indie best seller lists. It's raked up honors from Oprah Magazine and Barnes & Noble, along with mainstream media coverage on such shows as ABC World News, The Today Show, The Insider, the Huffington Post and NPR Morning Edition.

Rehearsals are where its at

Every now and then a story reels me back into my center, which is exactly what happened with Behind the scenes: Rehearsals reveal the very guts of dance and the way creative minds tick. Rehearsals are the very activity that connects my past life as a dancer and choreographer with my present life as a writer. I had really forgotten how messy dance can be, how raw and fluid things are in the beginning and what a tremendous arc there is from idea to finished product.

 I had really forgotten how messy dance can be, how raw and fluid things are in the beginning and what a tremendous arc there is from idea to finished product. 

I spent a day at Houston Ballet watching photographer Jim Lafferty work while Aszure Barton created Angular Momentum in preparation for a Pointe Magazine photo essay. The dancers were in the beginning stages of letting Barton's strange and idiosyncratic vocabulary sink into their bodies. I could feel the company giving their all to figure it out.

The performance was nothing short of stunning, the dancers owned every inch of Barton's weird and wonderful movement. Something about seeing the beginning and end anchored me dead center back into the beating heart of the dance world. 

Watch the Houston Ballet dig into the heart of Aszure Barton's Angular Momentum

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