What a weekend! On top of my now busy schedule with summer intensive auditions here at HB, I had the pleasure of seeing my first two performances of 2016, Friday Flowers from Hope Stone at HB on Friday (how convenient!) and Dancestry….Vivid at the Long Center in Austin on Saturday.
Reactions, feelings, inspirations a plenty after these two unique and moving shows. It made me remember how lucky we are to be able to move and express movement and study movement. A lot of intention and research went into both of these shows in different ways. And I’d like to take a moment to write about that kind of beautiful passion.
I can already tell that this is going to be a long one… But all great dance events should be able to occur in pairs.
Friday Flowers : Where did you put your flower?
*all of these clean and dynamic photos are by the fabulous HTX photographer SIMON GENTRY
The night started with tiny squares of colorful, delicate origami paper as tickets. Mine was a lovely little red, green, blue, white, and gold cherry blossom swatch with the line, “Fresh as a Daisy” hand written on the back. Talk about a personal touch. I wish more performances gave that extra pre-show effort to connect to the audience.
A gang of little children ran across the lobby in excitement, which if you know me seemed like a bad omen for shouting and crying and wiggling during the performances. HOWEVER, these tiny audience members, once they got into the black box studio, were extremely well mannered and, yes, cute.
This little gang handed out little colored daisies to the audience (it was interesting to note the ones who completely ignored these kids politely asking “Would you like a flower?” at the entrance. I’m not even that cold-hearted!)
But apparently these little kids were living in a car and got invited to help out and experience the performance by Jane Weiner, creator and choreographer. This woman is one of the most generous dance-souls we have in Houston. Here’s a quote from her about her program Hope Stone Kids to prove it:
“I see the void and want to help fill it.”
Wanting and doing. Jane Weiner is a true Houston hero in dance.
That’s another beautiful and surprising thing about the show, it was one of Hope Stone’s newly designed donation-based performances, which opens up a whole new world of audience members. It wasn’t at all like the usual crowd at HB performances. I felt warm, invited, welcomed, and part of the group, without even talking to anyone! (I’m not one of those writers who likes to gab endlessly pre- or post-show…)
Former Hope Stone company members made their entrances with hugs and laughter. They seemed so happy about the future of this revamped company. There was an older woman with a long silver mane, lovely glasses, and killer boots sitting near me who was honestly the very image of how I want to be when I’m that age; attending contemporary dance events quite often, smiling and composed in a great outfit. There were actual college-aged students, a rarity in most HB performances. And I even saw one eager and kind young girl from the Academy here with her mother and father! Overall, I saw diversity (#buzzword of the decade) and excitement, rather than complacency and homogeneity. And that alone was enough to make my night.
While Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden” was played on a surprisingly delightful loop, the people who did get flowers managed to find ways to distract themselves pre-show with them. Where were they going to put their little daises? You can’t just let a flower like that drop to the floor. (Or, I guess, you could for the sake of art.) Some placed their little daisies inside their programs, softly pressing them in a way between the pages. Some looped them through their jacket’s button holes. A lot of people put them in their hair, behind their ears or glasses. Epic hippie vibes all up in the black box studio, especially with the constant waves of patchouli floating in the air!
I observed one lone gentleman plucking the petals off one by one, which already made me reminiscence about the upcoming “Marigold” section which was first performed at Barnstorm last summer with my wonderful San Jac professor and friend, Diane Bedford.
I haven’t even gotten to the dance and already I’m glowing because of that pre-show energy!
Friday Flowers was sectioned into 7 parts: Carnation, Marigold, Black-Eyed Susan, Geranium, Rose, Daisy, and Chrysanthemum.
Sold. I’m a sucker for anything of the flora and fauna variety. And by giving them their own little dance vignettes made for one of the most cohesive contemporary dance performances I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t have a favorite because the entire show ran like an episodic mini-series on Netflix. Or like a really good season of Skins (so, just season 2). Meaningful and honest without overcrowding the other sections. It managed to stay simplistic, despite so many petals and pots and partnering!
And the duel narration which took part partial during and in-between the sections was so fucking clever. I’m still not sold on the use of song by dancers who can’t manage to sing honestly (and loudly enough) on stage… but Troy Schulze reading excerpts from “The Reasons for Flowers” by Stephen Buchmann (SUPER GOOD READ!) was one of the most interesting surprises of the night.
I thought his droning deep voice, just barely audible, would be stupid and pointless (For the record I really didn’t like him breaking that character and joining in to sing “Black Bird” during “Black-Eyed Susan.”) But the excerpts that were selected to be read during the certain sections danced made so much sense and caught me off guard many times! Bees pollinating. The Sexual organs of plants. Ancient cultural uses of flowers. Genetically altering flower production. These are just a few themes that actually married perfectly with the fast-paced partnering, dizzying solos, and dazzling emotions on stage.
Match that with the sweet Aussie narrative by Amy Pearl Reagan about Weiner’s time in NYC as a young-adult (post-grad I must add) and you’ve got the vocal performance of a theatrical dance show quality nailed. Some of the lines from Weiner via Reagan were spot on for this young-adult post-grad audience member:
“There were many times in New York when all I wanted were some fresh flowers, but I just couldn’t afford them. . . Flowers to me give the impression of being rich. As a struggling artist, every penny counted, and I wasn’t allowed them.”
Been there done that, in HTX though. That narration made me recall my batch of TXST friends who are off in NYC experience their own little bits of Daisy or Rose or Carnation moments in the Big Apple. Struggling artist is an understatement for those 3 exceptional dancers I know, with piles of student loans and unforeseen expenses ahead. So, I’m thankful for that bite of random reality from this performance.
At the end of the show, Florence + the Machine’s vibrant “Dog Days” blasted overhead after soft and tender and silly moments from the previous vignettes. And petals were thrown and gathered and thrown again in such a celebratory way. Happy is the only word to describe this ending moment. That raw, energetic audible gasp by Gage Self to Kelsey Jean Gibbs before “Run fast for your mother run fast for your father” shot back into the song was one of my favorite moments hands down.
But there were so many other moments of mention too! Melody Walsh’s little pointe piece, though hardly contemporary enough, was a beautiful accident of off-balance asymmetry. She really delivered on kicking those bottles of Coke down with her tattered pointes only to reluctantly reorganize them. While the illustrious Georgia O’Keefe’s quote about flowers (it would have been a travesty to not include the mother of painted flora in this show) followed Walsh’s unsurprisingly powerful performance.
And let’s take a moment to recognize one of my favorite dancers of Houston, Jacqueline Boe (who deserves that title above a certain dancer who’s been picked nearly every single year in HTX) partnered with Travis Prokop for “Geranium.” Sensuality when dealing with flowers is a MUST. Flowers are very much a sexual item; they represent all the exposed bits and pieces which we manage to hide and shame. So, naturally, the only duet in the program had to come from a sexual place. And it was. Without being cheap! Nothing at all like an Instagram flower selfie from one of those cheap Kardashians. What more can I say other than I hope these two partner together again in the future. They are supremely talented and beautiful while exploring movement together.
I could go on and on about this show. Take a moment to read Adam Castaneda’s wonderful article about the show. But I’ll end my recollection here with the one word that has to be take take away from Friday Flowers and Hope Stone Dance in general:
Dancestry….Vivid : Living Dancing History
*the previous show of Dancestry from May 2015 had many different pieces involved. I couldn’t see it because I just moved back to HTX… But I’m lucky to be able to see this show with added pieces. All photos by the star photographer AMITAVA SARKAR
Very few dance majors get to experience their dance program/division’s history in full detail, researching and digging and exploring the past. Most founding members or directors are still living, handing out what they have daily, and many colleges have the expensive use of Resident Choreographers placed there for years and years. It’s a dying art, to reach backwards and gather enough teachers who have been directly touched by the founding member’s hand. But TXST is lucky in that we have the generosity and wisdom of the Duke.
Katherine Duke studied with Hawkins from 1983 until 1991, and later became Artistic Director and choreographer for the company in 2001 to-date . I took some master classes with her during one of her many visits to TXST, and let me just say that behind her abs of steel and the arms of marble is a woman of pure, loving dedication. She loves dance before so many things in life. And that comes across immediately in the studio with dance majors and on stage in front of dance history enthusiasts.
And let’s just say it’s not an easy task. Hawkins isn’t for everyone, but it could be… because Hawkins work and everything inspired by it is so damn astonishing, startling, and pure. The potential within Hawkins movement and principals is ideal for explorers of dance. It just hasn’t translated as well as Graham has to current generations, unfortunately. Lucia Dlugoszewski is another Hawkins name that many people OUGHT to know but usually don’t. Her piece performed for Dancestry….Vivid, “Motherwell Amor” struck the right chords of awe, shock, and stimulation.
TXST also has a history of professors who are connected to Hawkins and are working on their own living history of dance beyond Hawkins. (And I adore all of the dance professors at TXST with all of my heart!)
That’s where Isadora Duncan and Loïe Fuller come in. We had Meg Brooker for a few semesters, and her charming presence was enough to invoke a Duncan-eqsue following from a few of us majors at the time. Had I the chance, I would have followed her everywhere like a reborn Isadorable in jeans; sadly, my senior schedule never allowed me the chance to take class with her. But there are two of her close students from TXST who are actively pressuring Duncan training to help their own 21st century goals (See Shannon McMullan’s Interview Post)
We also have ties to Jessica Lindberg Coxe of the Lindberg/Slayter Reconstructions. Her contributions alone are enough to make my heart soar! Plus she’s a sensational performer. I mean so much about Loïe Fuller gets pushed around and shortened by the arrival of Duncan and Ruth St. Denis. I wish we could have more time to stress Fuller’s importance to dance majors in history courses! She’s immensely unique and such an inspiration to dancers with technological aspirations. And what Coxe has been able to achieve in her reconstructive pursuits marks the point that dance is alive, whether past, present, or future.
Put these three large names together along with my former TXST professor, Shay Ishii’s luminous dance company, a few current TXST majors, and some awesome Erick Hawkins dancers and you’ve got a recipe for not only pure beauty in movement, but pure voices in dance history.
We are not all one lump of this generation or that. We bleed over into each other and react to what one another has to offer and share. There’s a constant swirl of conversation, when enacted, between all of us. Meaningful conversation is such a vital thing for dance history connecting directly to dance majors in higher education.
For instance, while watching the opening piece, “Lily Reimagined” by Fuller (1896), rearranged by Jessica Lindberg Coxe (2014), I had one name mingling with Fuller’s: David Bowie.
The loss of such a majestic musical icon was tough last week… But I went to Bowie Tribute Night at Numbers in HTX, after Friday Flowers, and I danced my heart out to the entire collection of danceable Bowie songs! (Whipping my hair around for “Golden Years” was especially poignant, and I’ll never forget all the disco balls dripping from the ceiling in his honor.)
Bowie was a male goth-glam partner to everything Fuller was as an early feminist pioneer. He sang about the stars and fantastical elements. She danced under the cover of yards of fabric illuminated by celestial colors. The drama and flare from everything these two artists did was palpable. And needs to continue to be palpable for generations to follow. Thus reconstruction, tribute nights, remembrances.
Legacy is an important thing for all the key choreographers of Dancestry. But memory is the most fleeting element to dance. Which is what makes these performances so necessary.
We’ll vividly remember the swiveling dancer, wrapped up like a lily (for Fuller’s mother, Lily, btw).
We’ll emote with the devotional emotions of Duncan’s pieces which are timeless despite reenacting specific vibes in noteable history.
We’ll be very confused and freaked out by the sound and movement of Dlugoszewski’s Hawkins inspired work, but eventually come to realize the brilliance of it.
We’ll sigh in calm unison during Fuller’s tranquil sea-foam floating “La Mer.”
And then we can move onwards with Brooker and the Shay Ishii Company as they improvise and modernize the aesthetics of Classical Modern Dance memories. Dancers aren’t just moving backwards with performances and studies like this; we are living.
Learn more about the companies and dancers from this post: