A seasoned dancer has an internal, intuitive understanding of her piece and the audience, says Nancy Henderek, artistic director of Dance Salad Festival 2016. “Instead of three turns, they may try four. Or they’ll stretch their bodies longer. They can feel where to put in something more.”
This mirrors Henderek’s method of programming for the dance festival. “When I see something that really touches me in some way or moves me, I know this is a good piece to bring [to the festival],” she says. After years of immersion in the dance world, she instinctively knows what “something” is and when more of it is needed.
Because of Henderek’s organic approach, true to its title, the festival is an assortment of textures and flavors. This is most apparent in Four Seasons, an internationally recognized work choreographed by Mauro Astolfi that traverses the four seasons, blending Luca Salvadori’s original compositions with Antonio Vivaldi’s Baroque violin concertos. Dancers locomote the set, a house ”lit with projections of contemporary visual art and lighting,” says Henderek. Spellbound Contemporary Ballet company members will perform the entirety of Four Seasons over the course of the three-night-long dance festival.
International works Made in Love (Minutemade) and Versus Standard will make their stateside debut, as do selections from Fall, friend of the festival Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s fresh-off-the-presses piece. This 2015 premiere from Cherkaoui suggests dancers and audiences alike embrace the concept of falling or, rather, failing up.
Two newly established U.S.-based contemporary dance companies join the fray as well. Philadelphia’s BalletX and Portland’s NW Dance Project both present works so young that were they children, they would still require breastfeeding. “When I saw BalletX's Beasts, I saw many sections that read as individual moments of distinct memorable works,” says Henderek. Henderek describes NW Dance Project’s Yidam, by pedigreed choreographer Ihsan Rustem, as “a dynamic, forceful and fast-paced piece.”
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For audience members interested in the comfort of familiarity, several tried-and-true pieces appear in the festival. Lyrical Spanish ballet Por Ti returns. Cherkaoui reprises his luxurious pas de deux Faun. And Stuttgart Ballet’s principal dancers Alicia Amatriain and Jason Reilly return to Dance Salad Festival, this time to perform as gangling, awkward partners in Le Grand Pas de Deux, a farcical spoof of the classic ballet pas de deux set to a whimsical overture from Gioachino Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie.
Each piece in the impressive assembly has passed Henderek’s rigorous litmus test that considers brain and heart in equal measure. “I want to be able to say, ‘Come and see it!’ and have some feeling behind it,” she says. “Live performances have a sparkle because of the human dimension. In one moment you can really connect with something that is there, right in front of you, happening immediately with all the permutations around it.”
7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 24, Friday, March 25, and Saturday, March 26. Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 832-487-7041 or visit dancesalad.org. $25 to $58.