The Family Values Jive

On the surface the idea of finding the similarities between people of different faiths and backgrounds might seem a little quaint, perhaps even trite. Then again, dance isn't really the form to turn to if you're looking to elucidate Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Dance is best when it's kept simple.

For the Houston version of The Father/ Daughter Project, Los Angeles choreographer Victoria Marks is constructing pieces with local religious leaders and their fathers or daughters (or, in one case, granddaughters). "I'm really interested in using dance to build bridges, and bring people who don't normally get together," says Marks, who is not particularly religious. She sees herself as a portrait artist, someone who paints a picture of the people she meets. She's been able to recruit a Baptist pastor, a retired Methodist minister, a practicing Buddhist, a rabbi, and a deacon candidate in the Catholic church. As fate would have it, Marks arrived just in time for the flood. It's "practically Biblical," she notes, with irony.

In a recent rehearsal, Marks worked with Paul McKinney, a Pentecostal pastor, and his daughter Shanica. Marks prefers to deal with people who have no previous dance experience and, except for a couple of classes that Shanica took in college, neither McKinney has any professional training. Marks likes to build dances around the personalities of people she finds in the community. When she discovered that the McKinneys had a talent for singing, Marks incorporated it into the routine.

Singing, it turns out, is not only a source of connection for Shanica and Paul, but also a point of contention: The daughter wants to become a hip-hop artist. "I support my daughter," Dad says, "but not necessarily the secular music."

That conflict drives the piece. As Shanica puts it, the routine is about "me growing up, and my dad wanting me to go, but not wanting me to go." But it's not explicitly stated. A lot of the choreography is, as Shanica says, like a coat with a lining you can't see, but you get a sense of it anyway.

In their third rehearsal, the two used movements associated with a pastor or a singer. Paul pointed and pranced as if he were at the pulpit, while Shanica waved open hands as if she were belting out some tune. They occasionally wandered to different parts of the stage to do their own thing, but they always came back together to shake hands or do a high five. The lyrics were similarly vague, using only single words or phrases like "you," "we" or "when I."

The dance, in a sense, is vaguely archetypal: A father and daughter start off as one, then go off to lead their own lives, yet still support each other and share the bonds of family. Yet the deeper specifics of this particular father and daughter -- maybe even the complexities of all such relationships -- somehow manage to shine through.

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Dylan Otto Krider