The impetus for founding Creative Minds Collaborative in 2016, according to Executive and Artistic Director Nao Kusuzaki, was fairly practical.
“We were going to do an exchange program performance in Chiba [Houston’s sister city in Japan] and a bunch of us – myself and some of my dancer colleagues, artists, pianists from Houston – were trying to raise funds for it and figured out that having a non-profit organization makes everything much easier,” explains Kusuzaki.
This practical need for a centralized place for freelance artists to come together, coupled with Kusuzaki’s desire to collaborate with artists of different fields while cultivating understanding between artists and the community in an intimate and familiar way, led the organization to continue setting performances in smaller, nontraditional venues like art galleries.
That is, until they couldn’t.
On Sunday, November 26, Creative Minds Collaborative will present their latest program Retracing Paths at The MATCH, the seeds of which grew from the organization’s necessary pivot to virtual programming in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started a series called Artists Open House,” says Kusuzaki. “We called it Artists Open House because we were basically doing these Zoom showings where a dancer would perform in her garage, and another one from their living room, and another one from any of their intimate spaces, and we would create a full concert program and we would dance together to live music.”
The experience, Kusuzaki says, was “eye-opening.”
“[For] the people who witnessed it, it was really engaging,” says Kusuzaki. “We communicated afterwards and talked back with the artists and the audience through the chat and breakout sessions, and I always wanted one day to have that live in a theater setting where everyone would be together, so we’re retracing paths.”
One of the works that premiered during these virtual showings is Traces of Us, which was choreographed by Kusuzaki and former Houston Ballet First Soloist Oliver Halkowich. On Sunday, Halkowich (now the resident choreographer for the New Orleans Ballet Theatre) will present a reimagination of the piece, titled Frame of Mind.
From what Kusuzaki’s seen of Halkowich’s piece, she thinks it will be “more theater dance.”
“It’s going out of your comfort zone, from the ballet to some other form of dance, from the very classic to John Travolta,” says Kusuzaki.
Frame of Mind will be joined on the program by two premieres, one choreographed by Kusuzaki and current Ad Deum Dance Company member Dylan Allen, and the other by Maria McCain, the director of dance at the University of St. Thomas.
Kusuzaki shares that “a big motivation” in choreographing her piece with Allen was the desire to “take the audience into a joyful, positive place.”
“His style is contemporary and in socks. Mine will be on point, so it will come from really grounded into lifted into the future,” says Kusuzaki.
Set to music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Kusuzaki and Allen’s piece is abstract, but represents a character trying to hold on to the past before finding a moment of letting go, finally becoming present in the moment, which opens the door to a positive future.
“There have been a lot of divisions and separations in society,” says Kusuzaki. “I wanted to bring us from the past into the future so we can all feel connected, and to bring [a sense of] togetherness into the piece.”
On the other hand, Kusuzaki says McCain’s piece, inspired by September 11th terrorist attacks, will “loosely” represent the past and is “more modern in style.”
“I think it’s more the opposite of mine; more somber, reflective, and coming to terms with the past,” says Kusuzaki.
For Kusuzaki, the intermission-less program will, across three sections, explore the power of “retracing paths,” i.e. “reflecting on the past and dancing in the present” toward a transformative future. Though the three pieces are different, one connective element will be the piano, played by pianist Kana Mimaki.
“Everything will be played live with a piano on stage, so that’s a thread that will loosely, abstractly, represent the thread into the future,” adds Kusuzaki.
The contributions of Mimaki, who also assisted Kusuzaki in selecting music, leads Kusuzaki to observing that the world audiences will enter on Sunday is “a world of creating together.”
“What you will see is a result of collaboration, a true collaboration, that is coming to life,” says Kusuzaki.
The collaboration between the artists on the program, including featured dancers Laura Hilley and Allison Miller joining Allen and Halkowich, is made all the more special because, as Kusuzaki points out, “in 2020, we all lived in Houston, but now as artists we’re on different paths.”
“Even though we’re bringing back what we created just over three years ago, we’re on completely different paths and in different world,” says Kusuzaki.
Retracing Paths is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Sunday, November 26, at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, visit cmcollab.org. $10-$25.