Cue the wedding march, 6 Degrees and Vault, two Houston contemporary dance companies are about to tie the knot. There hasn't been this much excitement in artsy nuptials since The Arts Guys married that oak sapling.
The ceremony begins Friday promptly at 8 p.m. at DiverseWorks, when choreographers and artistic directors Toni Leago Valle and Amy Ell reveal their new work and pledge everlasting love, for at least two weekends.
Opposites attract and this couple couldn't be more different. Valle, dark-haired and intense, projects a no-nonsense presence. Her ability to do it all is legendary in the dance community.
Valle's work is often deeply personal, sometimes even autobiographical, always dance-y. Her newest opus, Baptism, is all about water, bucket loads of it, how it contains us, holds us captive, and sometimes sets us free. "Water is a nurturing force, a chance to be reborn," Valle says. "It can also drown us." Valle is married in real life and is a mom.
Ell, white-haired and pale, is soft spoken, keeping a quieter persona on the scene. She prefers to hang from the rafters, and is one of the most trained aerial artists in Texas. She's studied circus arts all over the world, including a close collaboration with Fred Deb' the orginator of "silks" and director of Compagnie Drapes Aeriens.
Ell may be tiny, but as the reigning triple threat of Gyrotonic, Pilates and aerial work, she is hands-down one of the strongest dancers in Houston. No one scampers up a 20-foot pole or down a silk like this little dynamo. Ell premieres Blau, a work that travels from the ground into the airspace using single-point low-flying trapeze.
"Blau" is German for blue, and refers to both the layers of self and stage spaces she uses during the piece. "Think of the human onion, you peel off one layer and there's another one," she says. Ell likes to adapt her many aerial skills to the space. Although DiverseWorks' ceiling is too low to use silks, it's perfect for for trapeze. Ell is single and a single mom of a teen ballet dancer.
It's a marriage of water and air. As expected, neither has seen each other's new work yet. That would be bad luck for the betrothed pair. "We are both working from an abstract place this time," Valle says. "I am sure our work will complement each other's, but be different enough to make a really fun evening of dance."
Not-so silly nuptials
The choreographers have been meeting for over a year, discussing the possibility of doing something together. Being a choreographer can be a lonely job, slaving away in a studio alone to come up with cool moves to show your dancers. All the biz work takes another toll. Valle and Ell came up with an idea where they share the production and marketing, rather than the artistic end, of making a show.
"We make good partners. It's more fun than going it alone, and we share the workload of putting it all together," Ell says.
"One day after a meeting, I murmured 'Something old, something new' as a way to describe what we are doing as older choreographers doing something fresh," remembers Ell. "At first, I thought the idea of a wedding was silly. I finally got the nerve to call Toni with the wedding concept and she immediately loved it. It's just quirky enough."
The idea stuck and gave the team just enough of a concept to present their work together.
In a generous move, they also share five dancers, which makes the evening feel even more unified. University of Houston assistant professor and choreographer/dancer Teresa Chapman finds the couple inspiring.
"In some ways they couldn't be more alike. They have such passion, energy and drive," Chapman says. "In other ways, they couldn't be more different. Amy works micro to macro, while Toni has the big picture more in mind from day one."
As for which one is the groom or the bride? "Depends on the day, really, on the hour," quips Valle. "Today, we were both grooms," Ell adds.
To commemorate the big day they have tweaked the saying to read, "Something old, something now, something drenched, something Blau."
The wedding idea worked well for all the usual kickoff parties and fundraising efforts leading up to the show. Their announcement came in one of those traditional fat envelopes with a fancy engraved invitation. The two held a shower, complete with a layered vegan wedding cake. The rehearsal dinner featured short performances. The wrap-up cast party has a honeymoon theme. I imagine they will be sharing the dreaded thank-you-note writing to donors.
Ell and Valle are two of the most generous, adventurous, and well-loved dance people in town. I know the entire dance community joins me in wishing them well on this special occasion.
Quick, run and get some champagne. To Toni and Amy, may your dance dreams come true.
As for the future, The smiling couple declined to speculate how long the marriage will last.
"We like to live in the moment," offers Valle. Ell concurs. "As they say, one day at a time."