How does it all fit together?
Dragons, buttons, brain science and the great crumbling void make perfect subjects for dance for the eclectic group of post-modern choreographers showing brand new work at The Big Range Dance Festival launching this weekend at Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex.
The festival swoops into year eight with three jammed-packed weekends of dance by established, emerging and a handful of out-of-town artists. With Suchu Dance artistic director Jennifer Wood in her first gig as solo curator, the lineup is bound to have an esoteric edge.
While other festivals take a broader approach, Big Range focuses exclusively on the post-modern genre.
"I am interested in choreographers pushing out of their comfort zone," says Wood, who premieres a fresh work of her own, cryptically titled Unite Dynomite and Smite You White Backbiting Mites. "I was looking for artists who are either challenging themselves or the form."
This year's roster came together effortlessly. Once Wood knew she would be wearing the curator's hat, she took in as much dance as she could. "Everyone was so open and excited to be presenting at the Festival that it turned out to be an easy job," Wood says.
About those dragons, there are elephants too in jhon r. stronks' two new works. Stronks, who divides his time between Houston and Los Angeles, is up to his usual mysterious ways in The Truth About Dragons … Falso Pudor, which draws from the social and political polarities between feminist and masculine ideology.
"Dragons hold our shadows; they give us a mask behind which we feel safe enough to allow our anger and rage to be expressed," says stronks, who is known for his spiritually rooted dances.
Ole Skool Goldfish and The Past Lives of Elephants draw from the particular qualities of these creatures. "Goldfish grow and shrink in relationship to their habitat and elephants are fabled to remember every moment and serve as the witness to what has transpired."
Stronks will also be headlining Venturing Out on June 9 with PIC NIC (Parnassus Performance Band) in a guided dance-gallery tour through the chambers of Barnevelder. Like everything stronks does, it's best just to experience and ask questions later.
No dance distinctions
Big Range is unique in that veterans and newbies share the same evening. "We really like to balance the program so new artists can build audiences," Wood says.
Fresh-out of-the-gate choreographer Catalina Molnari shows Why Do We Need Extra Buttons, a piece incubated through a Hope Werks residency. I saw it, loved it and can't wait to see it fully produced. And no, I will not reveal the answer to her puzzling question.
Jacqueline Nalett'sLiquidbreathlandscape merges waterfall footage with swirly movement. "The dance is inspired by the twisted shapes of nature," says Nalett, an up-and-coming visual and dance artist. "I am on cloud nine because I have always wanted to show at Big Range."
It's also a time for new-to-the-area artists to get their feet wet within the local community. As the new director of Rice Dance Theatre at Rice University, Rosie Trump is just such an artist. Trump collaborates with Alison Bory for The Big Empty: Two Solos about Lack, Absence and Holes, which tackles budget cuts, diminishing resources and widening gaps.
"I am excited to be a member of the Houston dance community," says Trump, who makes her Houston choreographer debut at Big Range. "The Big Empty is a perfect piece to introduce to Houston because it showcases many staples of my work. Plus, it's a little funny, a little sad, and mostly autobiographical."
Erin Reck, another dual-city choreographer, is on the bill with a collection of recent works she's calling Natural Disaster. Reck became entranced with neuroscience while a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College. Recent brain research continues to inform her work. In Dissipating Pathways, Reck takes the model of the human nervous system and extends it into space.
"Our awareness is larger than our physical body," says Reck, who travels back and forth between hometown Houston and New York, where she dances with a group of A-list choreographers.
Highlighting the next generation of choreographers to watch is yet another festival perk. When Kristen Frankiewicz dances you just want to find out what club she's going to after and follow her there. The Suchu Dance company member is up to her charming self in Thre3fold, a new trio with help from Daniel Adame and Alex Soares.
"Think Royal Tenenbaums meet dance," Frankiewicz says. "It's a cascading ride of reactions, actions, stolen moments and quirkiness."
The emerging choreographer is up-front about her personality driven dances. "People just want to get up and dance with us," she says with a mischievous grin.
No age limits
Big Range always opens its doors to a few out-of-town artists, like Karen Schupp, a teacher at Arizona State University. Schupp will be presenting Response, which she describes as a series of choreographic self-portraits.
"Each self-portrait explores the relationships between personal volition and acceptance," Schupp says. "They are highly athletic, yet sensitive, and juxtapose complex dance vocabulary with sincere vulnerability."
No festival is complete without its seasoned veterans. Becky Valls created Unhinged, a solo for herself, especially for Big Range.
"I am in my 50s and am not ready to stop performing," says Valls, who is most known for her compelling family saga, Memoirs of a Sistahood. "I am working with movement invention rather than starting with a preconceived idea or intent." Valls also collaborates with Leslie Scates, Houston's leading improv guru, for a new duet.
As you can see, Big Range lives up to its name. Expect a variety of topics in motion; post-modern-land is a sprawling place. Wood hopes Houston will embrace the festival's off-the-beaten track ethos.
"It's going to be really exiting," she says in her usual deadpan manner. "Oh, and Erin Reck will have a big pile of dirt on the stage."
Get a glimpse into the Big Range Dance Festival below: