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Joseph Campana
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Houston Dances: Fall 2009-10

by Joseph Campana
October 18, 2009
Houston, TX
Editor's note: As you will quickly gather by comparing the publication date of this article and the dates of most shows discussed herein (except for the last one), this article was intended as a preview article. Unfortunately, my life got crazy for a variety of reasons and I didn't get to processing it until today. Fortunately, this article was also intended as what on ExploreDance.com is called a "Regional Roundup". The idea is to alert dance critics and audiences around the nation and the world to great dance companies, presenters and venues in a specific city or region as recommended by a critic in that region, so that if you are traveling to that region (in this case, Houston, Texas) you know what to look for, or if one of these companies comes to your region, you know that they might be worth a look, or a review. (And along these lines, if anyone knows how to find authentic Paso Doble in Madrid, please let me know.)
Those unfamiliar with the dynamic arts scenes in the great and ever-expanding cities of Texas might be surprised that the sultry Gulf Coast city of Houston bristles with neither cacti nor tumbleweeds. There is, instead, dance everywhere. The city was a perfect location for the Dance USA conference this summer, which featured a performance of eleven local dance companies whose upcoming seasons, along with innovative presenters, promises to challenge and delight a range of viewers. Here are just a few of the many wonderful performances not to miss this fall.

Those seeking what's most Texas about the local dance scene should attend two upcoming performances. Dance Houston features a city-wide festival of countless dancers in countless styles at the Wortham Center, Saturday, August 29, 2009 at 8:00 PM, from traditional to popular to innovative forms: hip hop, ballroom, contemporary, and otherwise. The "15th Annual Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance" sponsored by Dance Source Houston (which maintains a comprehensive website with a calendar, reviews, and other information about local dance), features a range of aesthetics, from aerial dance to dance on film. Choreographers and companies include Amy Ell, Freneticore, Polly Motley, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, Hope Stone, and Urban Souls dance companies. The performances are free at 8pm at the Miller Outdoor Theatre at 100 Concert Drive in Houston on September 25 and 26.

The mainstay of classical dance in the city, Houston Ballet has, under artistic director and choreographer Stanton Welch, has come to be known for an intriguing mixture of classic and modern works, neglected European choreographers (such as Hans van Manen and Edward Tetley), and Welch's own distinctive creations. The 2009-10 season, the company's fortieth, opens with a recreation of Houston Ballet's former artistic associate Kenneth MacMillan's late 20th century masterpiece Manon, which brings the sexual decadence of Paris to the steamy landscapes of Louisiana. This opening salvo will be followed by an invigorating mixed modern program, Without Boundaries, which will introduce Jirí Kylían's Falling Angels and Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room to the Houston Ballet repertoire while premiering Welch's Elements set to the music of Paul Hindemith. Manon runs on September 10, 12, 18, 19, 2009 at 7:30pm and on September 13, 20, 2009 at 2pm Without Boundaries runs September 24, 26, and October 2, 3, 2009 at 7:30pm and September 27 and October 4, 2009 at 2pm. All performances take place in the Brown Theater at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue in downtown Houston.

Dominick Walsh Dance Theater, founded in 2002, has emerged from the shadows of Houston Ballet (award-winning choreographer Walsh was a principal dancer there) to become Houston's most visible modern dance company. While this season opens with a reprise of last season's Mozart inspired Trilogy (a collaboration with the Sarasota Ballet), the real excitement comes as DWDT joins so many other companies around the world this year in celebrating the anniversary of the Ballets Russes with 1909-2009: The Great Collaborators of the Ballets Russes on October 15-17, 2009 at 8pm in Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St # 300 in downtown Houston. The performance revives Walsh's admired Le Spectre de la Rose along with premieres of new adaptations of Ballet Russes classics: The Afternoon of a Faun, The Dying Swan, and The Firebird, the latter featuring Paris Opera Ballet Etóile Marie-Agnès Gillot as a guest performer.

DiverseWorks has made a name for itself as a cultural center of great innovation with an interdisciplinary arts focus and an ambition to present and commission a wide range of aesthetic work. Past shows have included Jonas Bokaer, a series of contemporary French choreographers, and the performance art of Michelle Ellsworth. This fall brings Morgan Thorson's Heaven on Oct. 15 – 17, 2009, 8pm in the DiverseWorks Theater 1117 E. Freeway, on the edge of downtown Houston. Minneapolis-based Thorson explores rapture from a range of religious and artistic perspectives in a piece co-commissioned by PS 122 and the National Performance Network. Most interestingly, Diverseworks is featuring, this season, "Pay What you Want" tickets to its performances. Of course, Houston is all about the interdisciplinary arts, with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts anchoring this multi-media focus. But along with the Mitchell Center and Diverseworks, Divergence Vocal Theater has emerged for a second season not only to bring an innovative edge to opera but to make sure it remains in close contact with its sister arts. Dance fans might want to check out Autumn Spectre on October 2nd and 3rd at 8pm at the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 2119 Avalon Place, Houston, Texas 77019.

Every city needs a big presenter for marquee names and packed crowds. Houston is fortunate to have the Society for the Performing Arts, which brings the Chieftains to town but also lavishes attention on dance. This is the body that brings companies in great demand, Mark Morris and Alvin Ailey to be sure, but SPA also works to bring more innovative artists, such as Ros Warby last year and, this fall, award winning British choreographer Richard Allston, whose company will perform Friday October 16th at 8pm. SPA will also host up and coming choreographer Trey McIntyre on November 13th at 9pm, both in the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater.
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