Another nonlinear review about a lovely nonlinear dance performance and a musing on how live theater works across decades.
(I’ve always attached moments to music or film or literature that I’m invested in at the time. Recently, I’ve been charting my current dance experiences by Björk albums–again–and for this performance it was Debut (1993). (I guess I’m still riding that Day for Night wave…) But you know when so many elements of life become wonderfully intertwined and woven together that various events and performances just makes sense days afterwards? Once upon a time in the land of green skies, blue grass, and red bottom shoes … is like that. Listening to Debut has unleashed threads between recent life and art–cause art is life.)
First, the sad news: the Pilot on Navigation is closing. I just got the courage and drive to go out to the far end of EaDo, only to meet a location so perfectly welcoming, forced to close its doors on May 15. I’m grateful for the newer, shiny performance centers around HTX that are taking dance seriously, but it still feels flimsy to say we have a thriving local community when the smaller side of the arts are pushed out for wanting to remain distinct, determined…
Anyways, red bottom shoes is the last full performance at the Pilot. Please make it out there to bid the space farewell and experience a live performance unlike many others.
jhon r. stronks’s Once upon a time in the land of green skies, blue grass, and red bottom shoes …
“Mixing mythology with contemporary concerns of community, identity, and accountability, Once upon a time in the land of green skies, blue grass, and red bottom shoes … is an allegorical fairy tale that utilizes the entirety of the Pilot on Navigation facility, including its dance studio, workshop area, exhibit hall, outdoor patio, and black box theater. stronks will collaborate with new media artist Brian Buck and costume designer Claire Hummel to create an interactive journey through the space that asks audience members to question their role in the present state of cultural affairs.”
Dates: April 28, 29, 30 and May 5, 6, 7
Time: 7:30 PM
Location: The Pilot on Navigation, 5102 Navigation Blvd, Houston, TX 77011
Tickets: $16 presale, $20 at the door
Cast: Shanon Adame, Emily Alvarez, Julie Bata, Brittani Broussard, Adam Castaneda, Roy Daniel, Somya Gupta, Eva Jin, Cloe Leppard, Nicole McNeil, jhon r. stronks, and Lori Yuill
For tickets and more information please visit www.freneticore.net
photos by Pim Lim
Once upon a time in the land of green skies, blue grass, and red bottom shoes … (don’t you just fucking love that title!) took over the five separate spaces of the Pilot building itself, “not including the theater, to create one integrated environment.” It travels through the entrance at the side of the single, simple studio, creeps over into a workshop area with three chairs and a chain-link exit/entrance, then explores the narrow hallways of the small exhibition area which you have to walk down to get into the famous outdoor patio space, only to be lead back into the building, at the usual performance stage, except you’re only allowed to sit along the sides of the stage–the wings and foreground–not in the usual proscenium seats.
It’s a journey. An investigative epic in dance improvisation and performance art. My friend and dancer in this work, Adam Castaneda, said in a preview, “It’s going to be a new experience for people who are used to just coming to the theater, coming in through the lobby and just sitting down. . . not going to be a set choreographic experience. . . a representation of the dance community all coming together [to create] one product. It is a closing of a chapter in the Houston arts community. For better or for worse, it served the arts community for ten years. It’s time to say good-bye.”
Upon entering, you’re given a long single-sheet program with the usual details on one side and prose on the other. It had beautiful stanzas describing the performance intention like,
“Though we be Miss. Understood – We are a truth./ Do not fear us.”
“We are love. We are the emptiness. We are death.”
“Please know that throughout this evening you have/ permission to:/ Move in and out, around and through the spaces between you and what is/ Confronting you,/ Consoling you,/ Challenging you,/ Believing in you, and / denying you.”
Reading that prose in the performing space as the dancers warmed up in front of everyone was exhilarating. A reminder that a program can be just as artistic in words as the performance is in movement. Language remained important throughout the night with humming, chanting, speaking, laughing, singing. There was even chalk on the patio to draw and write out messages for the people in the next performances.
The movement was varied across the different spaces. At times it felt like undergrad modern classes, hinges and under curves across the floor at practice. At other times it was stillness, explored in full and respected. Twerking, salsa, contemporary. Jumping, tripping, stamping. Nothing was off limits. I welcome any kind of bacchanal of movement exploration like this!
This reflected back at us, the audience, as we were initiated in a sense. Dancers welcoming us to the space, and the space to us. It was ritualistic without any formalities, only fun and freedom. I had a smile on my face for the best parts and a tilted head during the mishaps. But that’s the beauty of live theater, anything that does go “wrong” becomes a part of the existence of the performance. Responsible dancers will absorb mistakes and respond like a bolt lightning. And everyone in red bottom shoes … had a keen ability to react; I commend this strong, powerful, lively, sensational cast of beautiful people.
And then, the Shyamalan twist… (Go watch Split, btw) the audience was part of the performance the entire time! Mind blown.
We’re gathered in the final space, jhon changes from a daffodil yellow mini dress to a celestial evening gown of silver stars, killer ruby-red stilettos on at almost all times too. He’s the troubled, triumphant Venus of the night. The rest of the dancers are individual deities too, splashing around in the constellations of life. They are all part of the same coven, and they begin to make us realize that we are part of their realm by slowly pulling us in and, eventually, away from out seats.
Mentally, you get into the mindset of a performance as an audience member by empathizing with the dancers, staring at their faces and bodies. It can be harder when the distance is greater, at least for me when I’m in the nose-bleeds at the Wortham… Connecting the immediate visuals with the heart and soul of the movement (or sometimes stillness)before your eyes is a lesson in itself. Don’t drift too far off. Don’t put too much of yourself into someone else. red bottom shoes … went deep into empathy with a heavy heart and beautiful soul. The thesis of the night: times are tough for artists… but we keep dancing and loving.
By offering a friendly hand and glittering smile to join in the movement, the performance exceeds that one-sided ruling system. It’s like saying, we are all in this together. As a INFJ-T, my instinct is to be terrified of performances that do this, taking the audience out of their “comfort zone” by making them stand up or move or speak in front of everyone else. But how selfish we can become, as audience members, when we get to that point of fear, relishing in our dark, cold theaters and overprices seats distanced from the dancers by rows, an orchestra pit, curtains, space.
Here are these artists who’ve defeated all fears and are moving on a stage for all to see! And we fear joining them just because we aren’t perfected in the craft? Why shouldn’t we, the mere mortals, return the favor and join in every now and then, imperfections and all on display? I can’t say I had the best time dancing randomly by the side of a glittering, towering goddess like jhon–I was battling a migraine before and during the performance–but it was one of the most illuminating moments, a protest to everything that usually holds me back.
It was a energetic communion of spirits, dancing as one, expressing a vulnerability to match the times. We’re scared of what’s to come in many ways, all of us–you can’t deny that. Through the arts, we can become stronger though. Together we can rise up and revel and reflect and respond and react.
More about jhon:
jhon r. stronks is often accused of presenting audiences with seemingly unruly work that reveals itself according to its own logic. Seeing himself as a collage artist stronks combines the fundamental elements of composition and choreography, with a confluence of movement styles and techniques drawn from his personal movement foundation in Modern, Post-Modern, Jazz, Classical Ballet and Africanist dance training. From this place, Stronks dives into the deep end playing with alternative structures for dance making that are more intuitive and often unpredictable. The result is the creation of a broad field for the dancing, where the context is clear; the eye has choices, and the viewer gets to decide.
As a performer he has worked with Winifred R. Harris’ Between Lines (Los Angeles), Keith Johnson and Dancers (Los Angeles), Duende Dance Theater (Atlanta), Coriolis Dance Project (Atlanta), Sandra Organ Dance Company (Houston), Travesty Dance Group (Houston), Leslie Scates (Houston), Pink Aware (Houston) and Spent Five Seasons as a Member of Core Performance Company (Atlanta).
jhon served as a resident guest Artist (2001 -2006) for Spelman Dance Theater at Spelman College in Atlanta Ga., Artsitic Director for Africa to A –Train a music and dance collaboration between Neighborhood Music Scools of Georgia State and Moving in The Spirit in Atlanta, GA., and Director of the Houston Metropolitan Dance Centers pre- professional dance program and youth company. He is the Artistic Director of “there…in the sunlight” a project heading that functions as a vehicle for stronks’ independent choreography. Choreographic awards and achievements include Houston Press’s 2014 Houston Master Mind, Houston Press Best of 2013 in the Contemporary and Modern Dance Categories, two 2008 Buff Orpington Awards for Houston Contemporary Dance Achievement, Best Choreographic Work Under 15 Minutes and Best Choreographic Work 15 to 40 Minutes.