By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Rebekah French didn't meet her father until she was 13. He was a hippie who was more concerned with watching a bug on a flower in his California garden than with any real-life obligations, like children. She grew up with her mother, poor, near Lake Houston. When she wanted to move out of the house and go to college to study dance, she did the thing that poor girls who want to be dancers and have father issues do in Houston: She stripped. She did drugs to get through the job, and then she did the job to get more money for drugs. The cocaine went up her nose and into her arm. She overdosed once, turning blue. She became a dominatrix to try to turn the tables on the men in the clubs who inspected her like a piece of meat. There, she made even more money -- once, $1,000 in a night. She bought more drugs and the things that she'd always wanted as a little girl, like a big vanity. It was hard to strip and dominate and take ballet class at the same time. High heels pushed her butt out and made her back sway; in ballet, she had to tuck her butt under and hold her back straight. She had her feet in two different worlds; something had to give.
Hubscher told her that she didn't need to make money to go to college, because she didn't need to go to college. "You learn to dance by dancing," he said. He was authoritative, and she listened to him. "Discipline me, train me, teach me -- raise me, even," she thought. For Hubscher, the tables had most definitely turned. The student had become the instructor; the child looking for a father had become a father figure himself.
French moved into a glorified closet at No tsu oH, earning her keep by scrubbing dishes in the coffee shop and scooping up dog shit on the dance floor. She didn't have any money, and she liked it that way. "No tsu oH was my A.A., my support system, for a while," she says. Plus, she got to dance.
But the thing about father figures is that their authority is never absolute, particularly for those prone to rebellion. When Hubscher launched into a cruel Stevenson-esque tirade against the dancers, French called him "Adolph Baryshnikov." When she realized he wasn't perfect, she criticized his choreography: "He's angry and he's very sexual, so it's always about death and fucking -- in that order," she launches a zinger and then laughs. "I've explored the pelvic grind in every possible way that I ever can." When she gave him a letter delineating her grievances and suggestions for improvement, Hubscher ripped it up in front of her. French quit to do her own work, much like Hubscher had done several years before.
All this drama leads to the criticism, even from within the company, that Hubscher's troupe is more about therapy than art. But as Hubscher puts it, "Creating art is a therapeutic thing." And besides, "What's theater without a little drama?"
Performed by a constantly mutating cast of characters, Hubscher's pieces -- inspired by bordellos, vintage clothes, Y2K and whatever book he has stumbled onto lately -- aren't always as successful as Bone Machine. Jim Pirtle chalks it up to the open-door policy of a place like No tsu oH and the Easy Credit Theater, where anyone can get a cup of coffee and damn near anyone can become a dancer (although Hubscher does draw the line at the toothless coffee shop regular who has been known to put on his own little dance performances and alternately claims to be Raquel Welch and Nadia Comaneci). "Really fantastic things can happen, and really boring things can happen," Pirtle says. "That's the pot-luck nature of tolerance."
But when the pieces do work, when it's 3 a.m. and you've found a spot on one of the more comfortable and less pee-stained couches, and the live music has a strong rhythm, and the light from a bare bulb casts a shadow on the ghoulishly made-up faces, and the baby happens across the stage at just the right moment, and Hubscher's solo has a touch of Baryshnikov bravura, and the pas de deux has a passion that hints at backstage romance, and a new dancer stumbles a little on the crooked, 100-year-old floor without even thinking to cover the mistake, and a blue-collar worker from the Chronicle presses sits next to a Houston Ballet dancer and yells, "Right on, Richie!" Then, it's a magical experience.
"In a weird way," Hubscher says, "if Ben had given me the white tights, I would have never explored my imagination to this degree. I would have been stuck playing the prince."
"There's as much freedom in going to hell as in going to heaven," says French. There's as much happiness in rolling around in the dirt upstairs at No tsu oH as there is in posing on a beautiful stage at the Wortham Center. Maybe more.
For information on the Easy Credit Theater's performances, call No tsu oH at (713)222-0443.E-mail Lauren Kern at lauren.kern@ houstonpress.com.