When dance-maker Karen Stokes cut a section on the Houston Ship Channel from her piece Hometown in 2003, she had no idea if she’d ever return to it. But now, more than a decade later, that piece has blossomed into a multi-year initiative, which culminates with DEEP: Seaspace, a celebration of human exploration and innovation through two of the city’s defining institutions: the Houston Ship Channel and NASA, sea and space.
Four years ago, as she began looking at locations for site-specific work, Stokes knew one thing: “I need a site on the ship channel.” Unfortunately, the federal government had other ideas.
“You can’t get to the ship channel very easily because of Homeland Security,” says Stokes. “So that was an interesting roadblock right away.” It’s one reason the vast majority of Houstonians may not be very familiar with the Houston Ship Channel, especially its beauty. “At night it’s like castles of light from these industrial complexes, and the sheer ingenuity of it all is kind of mind-boggling.”
From the industrialism and man-made ingenuity of the Houston Ship Channel in Sea, Stokes shifts to Space, the second half of the program. “[For Space]I wanted the sense of awe and wonder that you can have when you look up at the stars and think about the universe.”
Her research for Space led Stokes to NASA and astronaut Steve Bowen, through a fortuitous connection – “a student of mine, a beautiful dancer,” says Stokes. “[She] almost whispered to me, ‘I don’t know if this would be of interest to you, but my dad is an astronaut.’”
“Actually, that would be of interest to me,” Stokes recalls saying, laughing. Stokes interviewed Bowen and four ship captains to create audio prologues for both sections that will play as audience members are seated. Stokes says the inclusion of their words gives the piece “some context” as she weaves between two worlds, one very literal and one abstract and interpretive, but both of which allow Stokes to get to the heart of the piece.
“I think this whole project is looking at the human species from the standpoint of our goodness and what we can do when we work together, what we’re capable of when we’re good.”
Performances are scheduled for October 20-22 at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit karenstokesdance.org. $15 to $38.50.