Sophia L. Torres has always loved being onstage, even if that meant playing the Wicked Witch of the West in elementary school. "It was my first big role, and I loved it," she says, even though her mother wasn't too keen on her daughter paying the villain.
As a member of her high school dance team, she was the go-to girl for choreography advice. Her innate understanding of movement caught the attention of a senior member who told her about auditions for the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She was accepted and jumped at the chance to dance.
After graduation, she decided to hone her technique at Southern Methodist University where she was exposed to dance artists from the Martha Graham Company, Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp. SMU "really opened up my thought process in a positive way," she explains, especially in regards to her own movement style. "I learned that it's OK to be strong, to not necessarily be pretty in my movement, which is earthy. It has punch, as opposed to being light and ethereal."
In addition to teaching at the University of Houston and Houston Community College, and her work with Young Audiences of Houston, Sophia says she "now owns" the fact that she co-directs a professional dance company. She describes Psophonia as "athletic, visual, audience-friendly, and approachable."
And like her role models Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, she plans to keep dancing for as long as she can. "I'm going to be like Martha Graham, 93 years old and still dancing. Her company came to Houston and the way that she walked out onstage - she could still command an audience and have a strong presence." She felt the same sense of reverence when she saw Cunningham perform. "He showed me that I can create for as long as I still have something to say and have good ideas." If her current work is any indication, that won't be anytime soon.
What she does: Like other Houston dance professionals, Sophia is a choreographer, performer and instructor. And also like other dance professionals, the duties of running a company go beyond the stage. "I'm the janitor, the costume designer, I make the programs and I do the PR," she explains. "I wear all the hats."
Why she likes it: Even though she's a skilled dancer and a long-time instructor, Sophia is a choreographer before anything else. "I've been creating dances since I was four years old, so my inner voice says that I'm a choreographer. Dance is the way that I communicate with people, the way that I express how I feel, and how I get away from myself to reflect on situation. It's my process for understanding who I am." What inspires her: Not all of Sophia's choreography comes from the personal. Her work explores whatever subject that occupies her thoughts. "I love to have people go somewhere with me through dance. Sometimes it's a funny place, and sometimes it's a dark place." Wherever the dance comes from, special consideration is given to the audience. "I'm seeking to connect, so I don't want anyone in the audience to feel like everybody in the room got it, and they didn't."
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If not here, then where: California is beautiful, and New York is a great city to visit, but for Sophia Houston is the place to be. "The Houston dance community is amazing, and you don't know it until you go to other places. There is a secret here. The mentality with all of the companies and groups is that one person's success is all of our success." What also makes Houston such an appealing place to choreograph is its roster of dance-friendly spaces to showcase work. "The Barnevelder, Diverse Works, City Dance, the new Rice Studios, the Photobooth - those spaces are so inviting and available to us as artistis. They're giving dance another place to be, which is exciting." What's Next: The dancers of Psophonia are preparing for Taking Flight, the company's spring concert at City Dance Studio. The pieces on the program share the idea of flight and what it means to go airborne. Falling While Waiting studies the idea of fishing in a moving riverbed. "The dance examines this sense of trying to keep your balance when the current is moving against you, trying to pursue something even when there's an imbalance." To orchestrate the choreography, she directed her dancers to run and throw themselves at one another to see what would happen, and how the body moves when it is forced to fall. Falling is flying after all, at least as far as humans are concerned. Another dance in Taking Flight is based on the Japanese legend that cranes are healing creatures. The dancers will be dressed in paper dresses that rustle and geisha make-up for an ethereal look. "It's a more sculptural piece," she explains when describing the slow, carefully articulated movement of the dance. It will be a departure from the other fast-moving pieces. Fast or slow, the concert promises to offer its audience an exhilarating view from above.
Psophonia Dance Company presents Taking Flight on May 24 and 25 at City Dance Studio. For more information, visit www.psophonia.com.
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana María Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer 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