What she does: Nancy Henderek enjoys putting together a "dance salad" every year and uses the Wortham Theater Center stage as her bowl. Her best ingredients include a blend of unique choreography and professional dancers from all around the world. Henderek dutifully serves her main course in the form of the Houston International Dance Coalition's Dance Salad Festival (April 21 this year) to audiences as the festival's artistic founder, creative director and dance curator.
To pick what artistic content goes into the three-night Dance Salad Festival performances, Henderek bases her decisions on the criteria that dancers must be able to express the culture their choreography was created in and have the ability to inspire viewers. "Dance Salad [Festival performances] are a mixture of [single] ingredients that have to stand on their own in terms of how pieces are presented and [those components should] also mix in a full evening of [other] curated pieces," says Henderek.
Why she likes it: Henderek grew up in Washington D.C and was exposed to the world of dance at the age of three-and-a-half by her mother. Like many young dancers, she wanted to imitate what she saw after watching The Nutcracker. Maria Tallchief, a former prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet served as her role model. "She was a phenomenal dancer a long time ago and I remember her being just bigger than life on stage," says Henderek. "She inspired me to dance."
After almost 20 years of working with the Dance Salad Festival in Houston and in Brussels, Belgium, Henderek wouldn't single out a favorite piece. "I love putting them all on [the stage] or else I wouldn't have invited [the dancers] in to begin with," says Henderek.
"The intention [of creating Dance Salad] was to share wonderful works of art from around the world," says Henderek.
What inspires her: Her travels abroad play a huge part in how she selects acts for the festival. Henderek's initial guidelines for deciding which new and unique pieces to curate stem from finding choreographed pieces that interest her. "It can be the mixture of the music; it can be the expression of the story being told or if it's an abstract piece, the beauty of it just in the lines of the dance steps being performed, what the dancers are putting into it, their expressions ... it has to have something that resonates with me and it's not always the same thing that will inspire me from one thing to another thing," says Henderek.
Although Henderek does not dance professionally anymore, she still finds inspiration from music. "I still stretch and I do what I need to do to try to keep my own body still functioning," says Henderek. "[Moving around] still connects me when I hear music, it still makes me feel like I want to dance and that's what I love."
What's next: "I'm not always thinking in terms of 'I hope everyone will love it more and more and more,'" says Henderek. "You want more people to come each year but I get focused on the actual production that I'm doing and I keep thinking 'Well, just get through this one and see how it works and hopefully we'll have another one next year.' [The festival] has grown amazingly over the years."
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Henderek is currently putting the final garnishes on the production for the16th annual Dance Salad Festival April 21 exhibition date. "When I'm doing this, the process of putting it together is inspiring to me but I also love sharing it and so when I'm sitting there in the audience, I am just as excited as the people around me or I want them to be. I want to share with the audience to enjoy it as I enjoy it," says Henderek.
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