Death Haunts a Funeral Home in Pilot Dance Project's Requiem

Jennifer Mabus tells “the different stories that people bring to a funeral home” in Requiem.
Jennifer Mabus tells “the different stories that people bring to a funeral home” in Requiem.
Photo by Lynn Lane

When dance-maker Jennifer Mabus heard that EaDo’s historic Morales Funeral Home, the first Hispanic-owned mortuary in Houston, was available for a site-specific work, she had an admittedly surprising reaction.

“That’s pretty perfect,” she recalls saying with a laugh.

Newlyweds Felix and Angela Morales (he from a family of morticians) moved from San Antonio to Houston in 1931 to open their groundbreaking business on Canal Street, which at the time met a very specific need.

“There was still quite a bit of segregation and racism in Texas, and a lot of Mexican funerals were happening in garages and places like that,” says Mabus. “So this created a space – they were pioneers in that, creating a space – for Mexican-American families to have their services.”

In Requiem, the first work presented by the Pilot Dance Project since it left the Pilot on Navigation space earlier this year, Mabus will tell not only the Morales family story, which she calls “remarkable,” but also “the different stories that people bring to a funeral home.”

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Each of the six performances of Requiem is capped at 25 audience members, and each performer will act as a guide, leading groups of two or three around the house, stories unfolding around them through solos, duets, trios and ensembles; some on the porch, in the entryway or chapel, and some that can happen anywhere. Each dancer is also creating a story of their own, about someone they miss or something that’s gone, that they will personally dance for their group.

“[Audience members] may see part of one dance and part of another dance or they may choose just to watch one whole dance,” says Mabus. They can also engage in small tasks, like placing a candle or writing a memory. Or, if anyone finds themselves feeling overwhelmed, as Mabus found herself feeling when she first walked through the house, they can experience Requiem from the porch.

“I was not prepared for the sense memories that happen when you walk into a space like that,” admits Mabus. “I was going back to stories of my grandmother’s funeral, so there’ll be a strong sense memory connection for people as they walk through.”

That said, though the piece explores grief and the practices of grieving, Mabus stresses that Requiem is neither emotionally manipulative nor macabre; in fact, she’s felt guided by those sense memories to create something she hopes audiences will find warm. “I’m going with the idea [that] the story is not over – in whatever way you choose to believe that to be. [I’m] going with the idea that there’s hope in all of these stories, and that there’s comfort.”

Performances of Requiem are scheduled for 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 p.m. on August 5 at the Morales Funeral Home, 2901 Canal. For information, visit artful.ly/store/events/12198. $16 to $20.


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