Dance Salad Festival 2014 is a heady mix of brilliant works, in both classical and contemporary styles, by choreographers and dance companies from around the world. Nancy Henderek, the festival's artistic director, says in a three-night program made up of back-to-back highlights Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's tango-influenced m¡longa stands out. London's Sadler's Wells invited [Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui] to work with a group of tango dancers and musicians from Argentina. The resulting m¡longa, is a full-length work too long to bring to Dance Salad in its entirety. Instead audiences will see curated segments featuring five tango musicians, ten tango dancers plus a contemporary couple. "He's made a contemporary piece out of it," Henderek tells us. "It combines all the tango verve and music along with these beautiful steps. There's lots of couple work in tango and what Larbi's done is taken these couples and made them into a group. They break apart, they exchange partners, they change places and use their arms in a new and different way but it's all still with a tango impulse and [sensibility]."
Cherkaoui's m¡longa will be performed all three nights of the festival (each performance has a different line-up and if you want to see all of the groups, Henderek suggests attending two nights in a row). The choreographer is no stranger to Dance Salad, having had several of his works performed at the festival over the years; Paris Opera Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet are among the groups he's worked with. "We've had other works of his with other companies in previous years. He's very much in demand and while this is a familiar choreographer, the piece we're going to see is unlike anything else he's ever done."
High on our own must-see list is
by Liu Lu, a work that is connected to kung fu king Jackie Chan. The martial arts master/film star is most often associated with flying scissor kicks and blockbuster movies and while he won't be making an appearance, members of Contemporary Dragon Kung Fu, a martial arts company he founded, will be among the festival's performers.
Liu Lu trained the athletes for a year to create Gateway, a testosterone-infused update of an elegant Chinese folk dance traditionally performed by women wearing costumes with extremely long sleeves. Gateway, which has become a signature work for the choreographer, keeps the sleeves but replaces the delicate women dancers with brawny male athletes.
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Gateway is among the seven works enjoying their U.S. premiere during the three-day-long Dance Salad. Also being seen for the first time in the United States is Norwegian National Ballet's Cygne. Choreographed by Daniel Proietto with music by Olga Wojciechoska and performed by Samantha Lynch, Cygne was inspired by Anna Pavlova's in The Dying Swan, but don't let the tutu fool you; Cygne is a sculptural, dramatic contemporary work. The piece features onstage musical accompaniment by the young boy soprano Andreas J. Augustinius.
France's Paris Opera Ballet, Denmark's Royal Danish Ballet, Germany's Wiesbaden Staatstheater Ballet, Spain's Elephant in the Black Box and China's Beijing Dance/LDTX (in its fourth appearance at the festival) complete the festival's lineup.
See why many fans consider Dance Salad Festival the apex of Houston's dance season at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Wortham Theater Center/Cullen Theater, 501 Texas. For information, call 877-772-5425 or visit dancesalad.org. $20 to $50.