To watch jhon r. stronks take the stage is to witness a creature fully inhabiting the environment he thrives in most. The man behind Houston's "yay dance" movement was originally a voice major in college, but that changed after facing an intense vocal jury. "I went down the hall and changed my major to dance," he says. "I didn't like being by myself. I wanted to stay in the choir my whole life, but that wasn't an option. So I chose dance where I could go across the floor in groups of four."
jhon teaches at the Met and the University of Houston, and he is also the artistic director of "there...in the sunlight," an ongoing project that at times resembles a company, but always functions as a release of his choreographic expressions. His movement vocabulary draws from Modern and contemporary technique, but having been trained by Winifred Harris and Keith Jones, it's also a distinctly Africanist style. "Winifred had a Dunham background, which has Afro-Caribbean elements because it's Dunham driven. My movement comes from my body and how I was trained and taught how to love my body. There's something Africanist about my dance, but it's also gendered," he says in regards to the articulations of the pelvis that characterize his art. "I dance how I was taught to dance."
What he does: "I usually tell people that I am a movement-based performance artist, even though that is a bit vague. Basically, I make dances."
Why he likes it: For jhon, it's the duality of dance that is the primary appeal. "It has the right proportion of chaos and structure. Dance is physicality and stillness, which is also a statement of physicality." Then of course, there's the human element. "I also like that dance is directly interacting with people in real time, whether it's making something or performing. Live teaching: it's real people. There's always a negotiation of understanding."
What inspires him: "Behavior. I'm either working around an actual behavior or delving into a subject matter to come to an understanding of the behaviors that are a part of it. Even when I'm making things in an institution, it's the behavior of the movement that is the focus. If it's a technique driven piece, I'm focused on how the movement is being done."
If not this, then what: "I think I might be doing some kind of social work. Not necessarily being a social worker, but anything involving people, most likely in the education field. No matter what I'm doing, if it's not dance or music or something artistic, it would be something with culture and the understanding of people." If that sounds a bit vague, he definitely knows what he doesn't want to do. "I definitely would not be a zumba instructor. And I don't think I'd be a good politician. I haven't ruled out the Peace Corps at this point. I can see myself working at an embassy, creating dialogue and getting things done."
If not here, then where: "I'm originally from California, and I love the parts of LA that most people don't know about. I also love Berlin, and Melbourne, Australia is a really awesome place to be. If I could live anywhere, it would be somewhere I could be in the mountains, and then in a moment be in the water. So water and rocks."
What's next: Aside from his new duties at the MET as studio manager, jhon is one of six choreographers who will be featured in Houston Choreographers X6 on January 26 as part of the Jewish Community Center's annual Dance Month. Then there is the Venturing Out series, which he presents alongside Amy Llanes of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company. "Venturing Out is my process," he explains. "I create things, and then I show them hear what is experienced. I go back and work on them, state what I'm going to do, go in and do it, and then hear the response."
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There are five more performances left in the series throughout the spring. The ticket price includes a mixer, performance and post-performance reception. "We start with a mixer, and then the choreographers introduce themselves to the audience and talk briefly. People can actually ask questions at this point, which usually leads to some sort of dialogue, which leads to a conversation about "what we do,"" he says with added air quotes for mock emphasis. If this all sounds like a whole lot of dance, then jhon's master plan is working. His is, after all, one of the leaders of coup to have the city of Houston invaded by dance. We hope the takeover happens sooner than later.
The next three performances in the Venturing Out series run February 24, April 7 and May 19 at City Dance Houston, 1307 West Clay. Pre-performance mixers begin at 5 p.m. with performances beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for all three parts of the presentation. For more information, visit yaydance.org.
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