The Setup: For most native Houstonians, Hermann Park and the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool are as familiar to us as our own backyards. On May 18, during two afternoon performances, Recked Productions transfigured the space into a site-specific dance, Up for Air, that melded the realms of the heavenly and the earthbound, the natural and the man-made.
The Execution: Erin Reck's site-specific project couldn't have happened on a more perfect day. It was the kind of bright Saturday afternoon that precludes a Houston summer. Standing at the Sam Houston Monument end of the pool, it was possible to witness the performance from its first steps. Dancers in white trickled along the sides of the water, teetering along the edges in contracting shapes of repose. They peered into the water in suspended balance and examined the space above their reflections. Their flighty flocking suggested birds of the long, stately variety.
Once at the Sam Houston end, the dancers began to cross into the moving water. Their gestures reached upward, a relic of sun worship of ancient civilizations. The image of more than 30 dancers moving over water was captivating, and they stopped park goers - many of whom were not aware of the scheduled performance - in their tracks. The dancers moved forward and exited the water, but the last wave of eight wavered between pool and ledge, spiraling in and out as if unsure of what world to inhabit.
The dance moved from the water to the trees lining the reflecting pool. These magical water fairies turned into woodland nymphs, their hands aflutter like startled butterflies. Isadora Duncan might be an obvious name to mention when discussing a dance set in the outdoors, but Reck's movement is so harmonious with the nature it is placed in, one must assume a filial connection between Duncan's Grecian dances and Reck's grand project.
What makes Up for Air so special is its incorporation of site features that are specific to Hermann Park. For example, near the end of the performance, a small group of dancers assembled around a fountain in a seating enclave to watch a lovely solo by Kristen Frankiewicz. She pattered across stone squares in the fountain to the angelic vocal accompaniment of Natasha Manley. When she finished, the dancers turned facing the hill just under the Miller Outdoor Theatre. On cue, a flurry of white descends from the hill, the dancers from the previous segment now unleashed and came back into the dance. This stunning effect would not have been possible anywhere else.
The Verdict: The size and the scope of the project was stunning, but even more wonderful to see was the choreography, which simultaneously altered the experience of the reflection pool grounds and manifested its ethereal personality in physical form. The hour-long performance flew by like a dreamscape, and I didn't want to leave this airy, almost surreal world inhabited by my favorite Houston dancers.