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The Top Five 2013 Dance Concerts in Houston

Up for Air, by Recked Productions
Up for Air, by Recked Productions
Photo by Simon Gentry

I was filling in my calendar for January and February, making note of the dance concerts I wanted to make sure to cover when I realized it's the start of the final month of the year. 2013 is about to close, which ends another chapter in my book of dance watching. It's been a full one, and the treasures have been plentiful. From Houston Ballet's sumptuous story ballets to the Society of the Performing Arts' megawatt Great American Dance Series to the city's cherished contemporary dance companies, Houston was overflowing with world-class dance. In closing out this year, I went through my notes and compiled a shortlist of concerts that I still find myself talking about from time to time. Here's my personal list of the best dances of 2013.

5. Up for Air, Recked Productions Any writer compiling a 2013 retrospective of Houston dance would be hard-pressed not to include Erin Reck's enchanting site-specific work Up for Air. The Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool at Hermann Park is a cherished Houston landmark that belongs to so many of our childhood memories, but in Reck's hands, the site was given a new layer of purpose and meaning.

The wonder of Reck's work rests not so much in the sheer size of the concept or its angelic choreography, but its ability to breathe life into an institution while staying true to its ethos. If the spirit of the Reflection Pool was somehow conjured, Up for Air would be the shape it would take. The dancers, all dressed in life, evoked pulses of nature, from their birdlike perching at water's edge to their flutter of hands in the air amidst falling leaves. In the sun of May, the shimmering imagery approached the fleetingness of an Impressionist painting. Fleeting, but indelibly now a part of the Reflection Pool's memories.

Purging Honey!, by "there...in the sunlight."
Purging Honey!, by "there...in the sunlight."
Photo by Margo Stutts Toombs

4. Purging, Honey!, "there ... in the sunlight." For the record, this spot might have very well have gone to B.L.K. Gurls ~n~ W.H.T. Boiz: Singin' 'bout Gawd! jhon r. stronks and his personal brand of revelatory, dance-from-the-soul movement are so intimate, yet, universal in their truths that the work of "there ... in the sunlight." can only be described as essential viewing. In Purging, Honey!, stronks dives head first into an exploration of maturation, identity, and queerness. What makes a man? And what makes him Miss Understood?

This heartfelt and heartily danced concert answered those questions and then some. Gender isn't a static label. It's a continuously morphing form of self-expression. And it's also to be celebrated in whatever shape it manifests itself. The movement of Honey! is of the dance party variety, with a street-savvy attention to rhythm and beat. In a stronks show, the hips and torso move in abundance; it's dance that really grooves. I don't think there was another dance concert this year that had so much to say, and had so much fun saying it.

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BOSK, by Suchu Dance
BOSK, by Suchu Dance
Photo Courtesy of Suchu Dance

3. BOSK, Suchu Dance Modern dance can say many things and tell many stories, but is it possible for movement to successfully tell a dark comedy? Or to be more specific, is it possible to dance a dark comedy about killer bunnies? If you're choreographer Jennifer Wood or one of her Suchu dancers, the answer is yes. BOSK is anything but absurd, even when a herd of antlered dancers leap onto the stage in majestic parody. The show managed to be laugh-out-loud funny while also maintaining a perpetual sense of danger and suspenseful foreshadowing. The mythic deer, rabid bunnies, menacing crocs and Japanese-inspired set and costume design created a woodland fantasy on acid that I was in no hurry to be rescued from. BOSK proved that modern dance can be just as entertaining as it can be artful.

Shifting Spaces, by Chapman Dance
Shifting Spaces, by Chapman Dance
Photo by Lynn Lane

2. Shifting Spaces, Chapman Dance Artistic collaborations are all the rage these days, especially collaborations between mediums. The ideas are interesting, but the execution isn't always on point, and sometimes I get the impression that the work might be more successful if the disciplines stayed on their own footing. I did not have that feeling watching Shifting Spaces, a collaboration between choreographer Teresa Chapman and visual artist Lucinda Cobley. It was the one dance collaboration I saw all year that felt natural and instinctive in its carefully structured order.

Cobley's prints on silkscreen and fabric provided a well-grounded primary color base for Chapman's effusive dance to leap from. Those bold and beautiful cryptic landscapes of geometric configurations made for a visually exciting counterpart to the triptych of dances that was exploratory and ethereal while also funny and flirtatious. Thinking back on Shifting Spaces, the choreography itself might also be described as painterly.

Exquisite Corpse especially was a dynamo of a composition that saw its six dancers fill the stage in mauve patterns of potent movement. And as far as making a lasting impression in concerned, a viewer would be hard-pressed to forget the otherworldly spell that is cast by Sequences. The dance is an evocation of ritual, of recasting the inner self in a more acceptable - and accepting - light. Atonement is suggested, but so is the revelation of joy.

Artists of Houston Ballet in Stanton Welch's The Rite of Spring.
Artists of Houston Ballet in Stanton Welch's The Rite of Spring.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar

1. The Rite of Spring and Murmuration, Houston Ballet Stanton Welch, artistic director of Houston Ballet, chose to celebrate the centennial of the Nijinksy's groundbreaking ballet not by restaging the original, but by creating his own version. Complete with Stravinsky's score, Welch created a wonderfully carnal portrait of ceremony in its most primal form. There is no human sacrifice here, and no virgin dances herself to death. But by using the art of Rosella Namok as a backdrop, and culling visual design elements from Native American, Native Australian, and African cultures, Welch choreographs a story of two warring tribes who are joined together by the marriage of the Chosen One to a warrior chieftain.

Nijinksy's stark concept is intensified by the magnitude of dancers onstage - the entire company takes part in the Houston Ballet production - and his angular, pulsating choreography is intensified by Welch's keen insight into layered drama. The result is a gripping, cathartic dance for the twenty-first century.

Ticket holders to The Rite of Spring were also treated to Edwaard Liang's Murmurations, a gorgeous, effervescent dance that takes its choreographic cues from the migratory patterns of birds. Ezio Bosso's Violin Concerto No. 1is a wonderful enchantment for the sweeping dance to live in; dancers flock in and out of the wings in light-footed sequences that makes them look like fairies in flight. Like The Rite of Spring, it's a ceremony, but one of the natural world. The two dances make for wonderful counterparts, and a night of dance that I'm still remembering with excitement and fascination nine months later.


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