What she does: Jennifer Wood is able to give an a typically sizable amount of artistic freedom to the dancers she works with while maintaining her creative control. "I'm kind of like Willy Wonka, but with an iron fist," says the founder and artistic director of Suchu Dance, a contemporary dance company in Houston. Since 1998, Wood has been known for choreographing unpredictable performances . "I try to challenge myself, if I feel comfortable with something I'll do the opposite, sometimes it's not a conscious choice. If one show is one way, the next will be in a completely opposite direction."
She frequently incorporates different physical barriers for her dancers during their shows. "I had a fantasy about making a hill on stage. One time we were even toying with the idea of having the audience sit on stage and covering the risers with foam to use it as the performance space." Wood also varies the performance for the audience as well. "We've changed the theater space to where it was an arena setting so people weren't on ground level. Another time we had just one row of chairs on each side of the stage. There was space between each chair so the dancers could come in at any gap in the rows."
Why she likes it: Wood grew up in Montrose with parents who encouraged her participation in progressive art. "I was raised to be some kind of artist and get the training my mom never had growing up. At the time I didn't appreciate it, but now I do -- I got to see a lot of things that most high schoolers weren't exposed to."
Wood attended graduate school for a year in Philadelphia before she realized that Houston could better suit her style and choreographic ambitions. While some of her colleagues worked three part time jobs in order to choreograph professionally in New York, Wood's move back yielded her both practice and performance spaces and greater independence.
What inspires her: Wood has a laissez-faire philosophy when it comes to creating a dance. "When we start something from scratch, I purposely have everything completely open; we don't know where it's headed, we're exploring it. We spend a lot of time feeling around in the dark not knowing where we're going."
What's next: Wood's most recent work, "Masters of Semblance", is a compilation of segments from preceding dance performances from the past four years. Wood says that she's not the type of person who "every Friday night pulls out the video tapes and walks down memory lane" because she's so critical of her work.
"But sometimes I look back at [the dances] and I think, 'That wasn't as bad as I remember!' And those moments are the ones that I picked from. I'm also handpicking sections I felt I missed an opportunity to make richer." Suchu Dance members will also have the opportunity to choreograph their own material in the next few months. "Ever since I started my company, I always felt that everything's wide open; there's room to make mistakes and do something not so great. I have complete freedom."
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