The Setup: Contrary to the erroneous reports from other publications, Suchu Dance is not dead and gone. Jennifer Wood's iconoclastic dance company is no longer in the space formerly known as the Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex, but it has taken up residence inside a Garden Oaks strip center at 3480 Ella Boulevard. Suchu Dance's self-titled new headquarters is no stranger to dance; it previously housed the Houston JazzBallet Company directed by Patsy Swayze. It's the same studio space where her son and most famous pupil, Patrick Swayze, learned the skills that would make him famous in Dirty Dancing. To break in the space, Suchu Dance presents Nothing, the company's first evening-length work since last summer's BOSK.
The Execution: The most notable feature of Suchu's new home is that the performance space is considerably more intimate than the Barnevelder stage. The audience does not gather in front of the dance, but sits around it, which allows for individual experiences based on the angle of observation. And there are no wings per say; rather, dancers filter in through a white curtain that separates the performance space from the rest of the facility.
I tend to smile (inwardly, at least), during a Suchu Dance show, and I felt myself doing so in the first moments of Nothing. The six company members make their entrances in strutting catwalk fashion, their layered, sculpted costumes ready-wear versions of haute couture. They assemble into lines on the vertical, horizontal and diagonal places, with energy transferred from one end to the other with canons of sequential movement. A head twitch, a shoulder roll, a break in the spine - each release a link in a ripple effect that is as smooth as it is fun to watch.
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The best moments in Wood's choreography are when the entire cast is working in tandem to create a sequence of humor or pathos. I remember one sequence in particular when each dancer pushes through the tight grouping of five, causing them to react outward. This pattern cycles through, and each time the push through creates a bigger and bolder reaction until the rebound blossoms into a frantic surge to regroup.
The new space allows for quick exits and entrances, which clears the space for concentrated duet and trio work. One of the funniest moments in the show comes from Tina Shariffskul and Prudence Sun in a skit-like bit that's all too true to life. They stand on opposite sides of the room, and then meet at the center, at first barely able to acknowledge one another with a handshake. They walk back to their respective sides and then meet again at the halfway point, their familiarity increasing, the cold handshake progressing to a full-blown embrace replete with beaming smiles. But the acquaintance turned friendship turns sour as the reactions quickly devolve into avoidance and downright repulsion. It's funny because it's so true, but also because it's performed so accurately by Shariffskul and Sun.
In the final moments of the show, the room is flooded in florescent light. What does the whiteness suggest, exactly? I'm guessing it's symbolic of the clean slate Wood and her company are now working from, but the movement is also suggestive of possibility. The way the energy of the dance gathers and builds tells me that there's magic brewing in the Swayze's former haunt, and this is just the beginning.
The Verdict: Aside from its beautiful white-on-white aesthetic and wonderfully imaginative costumes, I don't think Nothing will have the lasting impression on me in the same way of my favorite Suchu works of recent years, namely, BOSK and Circle of Perpetual Apparition. But I very much enjoyed the exploratory nature of the choreography and the way Wood attempts to make the space an integral part of the experience. Even if it can't be qualified, there's so much to smile about in a Suchu performance. Clearly, Nothing is something. Nothing runs through February 22 at Suchu Dance, 3480 Ella Boulevard. Tickets $20 at the door, $17 in advance and pay-what-you-can on Mondays. For information, visit suchudance.org.