Dance Salad 2012: Nancy Henderek Gives Us Some of the Highlights

Dance Salad director and producer Nancy Henderek travels the world searching for choreographers and dancers to bring to the performing arts festival she founded 20 years ago in Brussels and then brought to Houston. Rather than looking for undiscovered stars or courting famous companies, Henderek says she looks for people and pieces that move her. "It has to intrigue me, it has to interest me. The choreography, music, message, how it will be accepted here, all of that comes into play, of course, but mostly I look for work that excites me." Henderek says each piece has to stand on its own and also fit into the festival as a whole.

We admit it's rather like asking a mother if she has a favorite child, but we asked Henderek about festival highlights this year, and, it's no surprise, there are several. Compagnie Pál Frenák, based in Budapest and Paris, is high on the must-see list. "Absolutely no one knows Pál Frenák's work. This will be the first time they've ever been to the United States," Henderek tells Art Attack.

The company, led by Hungarian choreographer Frenák, is performing Seven, which explores the experience of being an expatriate, of redefining identity. During part of the performance, the stage is bathed in a dramatic, dark blue light and dancers move around and through huge tire tube-like forms. Frenák mixes classical and modern techniques, incorporating mime, sign language and even aerial dance to create something completely fresh. (For a sneak peek at Seven, click here.)

The wonderfully dramatic and groundbreaking Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (The Young Man and Death), about a young man driven to suicide by his unfaithful lover, is a coup for the festival. Choreographer Roland Petit's rarely seen signature work is being revived by longtime Petit assistant and dancer Luigi Bonino and performed here by English National Ballet stars Jia Zhang and Yonah Acosta (former Houston Ballet company member Carlos Acosta's nephew).

Acosta joins an impressive list of men who have performed the role of the young man in Mort, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov among them. The work is considered a landmark in dance. Baryshnikov supposedly said the beginnings of contemporary dance began with Roland Petit's work.

"It's the oldest piece in the festival," says Henderek. "People are looking for the next big thing, but sometimes we forget that people were very creative in the past. At the time it was considered almost shocking. Even though it was created in 1946, it's still very contemporary, still very relevant.

"What was so wonderful about Petit was the drama that he infused in ballet. He took ballet from being a pretty, fluffy art form to something that was very serious. He took on social issues. It's gritty work, and it's all there onstage."

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Olivia Flores Alvarez