The Arthropologist

No worries: New art & dance virgins headed to Houston

No worries: New art & dance virgins headed to Houston

There's more blooming in Texas than my shocking pink azaleas. This weekend, at least four new dances are born, three at Ballet Austin's New American Talent/Dance (one by hometown choreographer  Dominic Walsh), and another right here in Houston at Hope Center.

Later on this spring, Bootown's Houston Finge Festival gives local actors, playwrights and dancers a chance to strut their new stuff at numerous venues about town. DiverseWorks' residency features freshly cooked dances by Toni Valle of 6 Degrees and Amy Ell of Vault. Sara Draper of Dancepatheatre started a Young Choreographer's Mentorship Program and Danceplorations, which gives emerging artists a chance to show off some new dances on April 17.

Making new work possible is not easy.

It takes space, money and people who care about the next generation of artists. Structures need to exist to give artists a chance to experiment, get feedback and try out new ideas. Stepping stones need to be in place that help artists travel from idea to fully staged productions. Despite the flurry of activity, I still worry about where new work is going to come from.

If they don't make stuff what will I write about? Beer? (It's all about me don't you know.)

No Worries, Be Dancin'

Jane Weiner of Hope Stone doesn't waste her time worrying, instead she set up Hopewerks, a residency program for choreographers. Artists get space, time and an informal performance opportunity.

This weekend, Catalina Molnari presents Why do We Need Extra Buttons on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. at Hope Center. Molnari, a well-known local dancer, had been suffering from a bad case of choreographer's block, and had not created much new work since leaving University of Houston.

"Jane urged me to do it and once I signed up I wondered what I had gotten myself into," Molnari says. "But once I started, ideas just flowed, dancers appeared, and the process was really easy and painless." Molnari is convinced she would not have taken this step if Hopewerks had not existed. Next up for a residency is last week's ex-New Yorker Erin Reck.

No Crying, Just Do It

Just a like a baby, new art needs a little push, and that goes for more seasoned artists as well. Ballet Austin artistic director Stephen Mills places the incubation of new work central to his company's mission.

"We are a small ensemble company and can't do everything," he says, from his sleek, relatively, new headquarters in Austin. "But we can make the creation of new work our own circle of genius." Mills is on his third round of New Talent, a leading ballet choreography competition.

He is about the most worldly ballet guy I know. He wants to have an impact in his city and the dance world, which is keenly paying attention to his savvy competition. After Mills and his team weaned down the 75 applications to 10, three jurors culled the applicants down to a final three, Walsh, KT Nelson and Nelly van Bommel.

This weekend, the audience will have the last word, American Idol style, selecting the winner. And it gets better, there's prize money.

Mills enjoys watching the flourishing careers' of past winners. This season, he invited past Audience Choice Award winner Thang Dao to set a new work on Austin Ballet II.

Walsh set Whistling, a nostaglic romp through Latin Mambos, on Ballet Austin in a week.

"Because  Stephen is a choreographer the company is used to having work set on them," Walsh says. "They have a great ability to retain information and pick up details really quickly. "Our styles are really different, but I really like what he's doing with the company."

As for the audience voting, Walsh is on board. "If you can't beat 'em join 'em," he says. "It's really clever to use pop culture to get people jazzed about dance."

A Chance for Dance Virgins 

Sometimes, it takes a wide-open approach to encourage an artist to take that first step. That's why Bootown's Emily Hynds runs a non-curated festival. If you can fill out the paperwork, you are in. Maybe you have a tiny dance idea and just want to get your art-making feet wet. Not a problem, in June, The Big Range Dance Festival features A Dance Gathering, an open evening of four-minute dances.

Just sign up and the stage is yours.

More good news is on the horizon. Should funding be secured, 12 Minutes Max and Monday Night Football, two long forgotten art ovens, will return next year thanks to Sixto Wagan of DiverseWorks and Christina Giannelli of Dance Source Houston.

So there you have it, numerous reasons for me to quit all that worrying. I hope to see you at one of these hatchings soon — and pass the cigar!

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Joseph Hernandez and Ashley Lynn Gilfix of Ballet Austin in the New American Talent/Dance program performing "The Whistling," choreographed by Dominic Walsh Photo by Tony Spielberg
News_Nancy Wozny_Ballet Austin_Joseph Hernandez_Ashley Lynn Gilfix_3439
Dancers Jaime Lynn Witts, from left, Joseph Hernandez, Christopher Swaim and Michelle Thompson in a performance choreographed by Nelly van Bommell Photo by Tony Spielberg