There is a moment in Michele Brangwen's short dance film What I'll Tell Her Later Tonight when three dancers are halted in their choreographed tracks by a trumpet player. The trumpeter moves forward, causing the dancers to move backwards almost as if they are being pushed by the brass sound waves. After a few paces, the two female dancers envelop the musician in a gentle caress of their bodies. Then the male dancer makes contact, his hand placed lightly on the trumpet player's shoulder in contemplation, perhaps, or concern. Such a scene is the perfect embodiment of the mission of the Houston- and New York City-based Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble. "We are dedicated to breaking down the boundaries of dancers and musicians in performance," Brangwen explains. "The musicians and dancers share the stage and the focus."
As a dancer, Michele was trained at the Melissa Hayden School of Ballet, the David Howard School of Ballet, and the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance. Her classical pedigree, however, is only one facet of her work. Her choreography not only makes use of traditional ballet and Modern technique, but also draws on movement taken from everyday life. The primary focus is the interaction between the performers on stage, especially between dancers and musicians.
The subject of her work is just as diverse as her inspirations. "I like to explore issues that are socially relevant in my work, or very much connected to people's emotional life," she says in reference to works discussing 9/11, Hiroshima and collateral damage in the Middle East. But she also tackles much more light-hearted fare, like Desperadoes, a tango piece about the haphazard havoc induced by love. Of course, everything always comes back to the music. The Ensemble's upcoming performance features their twentieth commission of new music, this time from Grammy nominee Tim Hagans. The presentation of both dancers and musicians in dialogue creates a seamless marriage that's a true joy to watch.
What She Does: "I am a dancer, choreographer and filmmaker. Thirteen years ago I started the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble, a contemporary dance company that specializes in commissioning new music for dance and incorporating musicians into the visual imagery."
Why She Likes It: "For me the reality of life, its essence, is somehow contained in the creative moment. It is the place for me where things feel the most real."
What Inspires Her: "So many things inspire me. Dance, live music, books, painting, sculpture, film, the way people move when they think no one is watching. To go out and hear live music when I'm working on a new piece is very helpful even though the music may be different than what I am working on. It still opens up some sort of channel. I also love to watch people out at night." Michele also finds inspiration from the artists she surrounds herself with. "My dancers and musicians inspire me. They each have their own unique way of moving and their own sound. And their personalities are so beautiful and so strong. It's exciting to work with them and create new material for them."
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If Not This, Then What: "One of my artistic heroes is the actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes. When Cassavetes was a very young man, he told his father that he wanted to be an actor. His father, who had immigrated to America from Greece, told him that he had chosen a noble and beautiful profession but that it would be difficult because he would have to be truthful. In keeping with that sentiment, I would say that to dance, and to make dances, is a noble and beautiful profession, and for me there is no other."
If Not Here, Then Where: "On a regular basis, I work in two cities: Houston and New York City. As an artist, any city where I am given the resources to make art is a good city. When you have lived or visited a city and been able to create there, it is a magical thing."
What's Next: "We have two performances in Houston on Saturday, February 9 at Barnevelder Theater. These performances will be filmed as part of ARTCAST, an Internet television pilot created by the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble for broadcast in April 2013. The ARTCAST series will include dance, music, and film created in Houston and in New York City. ARTCAST is intended to develop audiences for the arts, and to link audiences and artists in different cities. The series will debut on Ustream TV and will also be available on Youtube." The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble will present No Standing Any Time on February 9 at both 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Barnevelder Theater, 2201 Preston. $15 to $20. For more information, visit www.brangwendance.org.
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page). Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer Jordan "Monster Mac" McMahon, artist, designer