Sandra Organ's new dance show is a real Thriller
Sandra Organ Dance Company (SODC) celebrates Black History Month with "Dancing the Dozens" for the next two weekends at Barnevelder Arts Complex.Sandra Organ-Solis, Houston Ballet's first African-American ballerina, founded SODC over a decade ago, and considers her February show the anchor of her season.
Dedicated to telling the African American experience though dance, this year she addresses serious subjects as well as pop culture. The line-up features a dozen dances, some new, some classic, and will include her signature I Have a Dream piece, set to the words of Martin Luther King's famous speech. Organ-Solis also pays tribute to two of her idols, Louis Armstrong and Michael Jackson. She brings us in on playing and dancing the dozens.
Q. I imagine "Dancing the Dozens" is your take on playing the dozens, a tradition of one-upping insults. You are such a polite person. I can't imagine you ever starting a sentence with "Yo mama is so fat." Do you ever play the dozens?
A. No. My father called it woofin', and it wasn't allowed in our house. He considered it undignified. Plus, my mother was such a saint, no one would ever dare insult her. In my show I make reference to the tradition of playing the dozens without going to a vile place. Remember it's a family show. There's footage of Flip Wilson playing with Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby's Noah routine, a terrific video clip with George from The Jeffersons, and one with Mr. T schooling some kids. Most of my company members had never heard of Flip Wilson, so that was fun.
Q. You have a long history of choreographing to Louis Armstrong's music. What drew you to his work?
A. I have been creating dances to his music since 2001. Armstrong was like an ambassador to the world. People of all ages and races listen to his music. He also captured an era, the generation that came before me. We will be dancing to his versions of Mack the Knife, Dream a Little Dream for Me and When the Saints Go Marching In. That last one will be popular. How about them Saints!
Q. You honor another one of your heroes, Michael Jackson.
A. He was my first celebrity crush. I grew up moving to the groove and beats of the Jackson Five, and I was a member of the Michael Jackson fan club. It's amazing to see what comes out of my body when I put his music on. I have set dances to I Want You Back, ABC, Rockin Robin and Shake your Body to the Ground. I've been writing about it on my blog.
Q. Talk about your piece, I Have a Dream.
The vocabulary for the piece came from workshops we did with Houston school children. From their gestures inspired from King's speech we ended up with material for the dance. The speech was made in 1963, the year I was born. There's tremendous footage from the march on Washington in the piece as well. Setting it to movement makes it more poignant I think. The pedestrian style of the movement reminds us that King speaks to all of us. The words speak beyond their meaning and time.
Q. How does the show end?
A. With Thriller, of course. After Jackson died I held a dance tribute to him at Discovery Green and 500 people showed up to learn Thriller. It was so amazing. Afterward we just put on his music and rocked out. He opened a new door to dancers and choreographers, and I wanted to honor his contribution. Like Armstrong, he brought all kinds of people to his music. So to keep the spirit going the first 25 people with tickets get to learn the dance and perform with us. It's actually a hard dance, and if you get there early, you will see for yourself. But he made it look easy.
See a video of the Michael Jackson Thriller Tribute at Discovery Green: