Get ready to say good-bye because whether you loved it or hated it, the Pilot on Navigation, the independent East End black-box theater formerly known as Frenetic, will close its doors on May 15.
Executive and artistic director Adam Castaneda says he reached out to landlord Rebecca French, FrenetiCore’s founding artistic director, who resigned in 2016, about leasing the space for another year in February. “That’s when I was informed that two-thirds of the facility I’d been using had pretty much been sold [out] from under me, so all that I was really left with was a third of the space, which would include the theater itself and the lobby,” he says.
Castaneda believes the intention was for the two to part ways once and for all, saying French’s actions speak for themselves. “I can’t really run a business using a third of what I had,” he notes, adding that though they were losing his office, the dance studio, outdoor patio and exhibition hall, the rent wasn’t really changing to reflect that loss either.
The organization’s office, along with the 10th Annual Houston Fringe Festival, will move to The MATCH in Midtown. The dance programming will be distributed among various East End venues until 2018, when it will also move to The MATCH.
Castaneda admits he’s unsure how the move to The MATCH will affect the Pilot's shows — though he does know the organization will no longer be able to afford two-weekend runs — but he stresses that the Pilot is still committed to “producing thought-provoking, intelligent modern dance,” such as jhon r. stronks’s Once upon a time in the land of green skies, blue grass, and red bottom shoes…, which will be the company's final production on Navigation.
Castaneda approached stronks back in September, and stronks liked the idea of using the old venue’s five distinct spaces, not including the theater, to create one integrated environment. In February, as it became clear that The Pilot Dance Project would be leaving the space permanently, Castaneda says, the two solidified those plans. “We thought it would be a great good-bye and farewell to the space that’s meant so much to him and to me as well,” he affirms.
red bottom shoes… will start in the dance studio, with the audience then moving to the workshop, and then to the exhibition hall and patio, before entering the stage from the back.
“The audience will not be allowed to sit on our iconic red seats,” says Castaneda. “They’re actually going to be sectioned off, so the audience is going to be onstage with the performers and they’re very much going to be a part of the performance. It’s going to be a new experience for people who are used to just coming to the theater, coming in through the lobby and just sitting down.”
Castaneda says red bottom shoes… is an allegorical fairy tale “about accountability and taking ownership of your movement and your performance,” which is reflective of not only the organization’s transitional period, but also the Houston dance community and the turbulence created by the current U.S. administration.
As devil’s advocate, Castaneda says, “Even if this is the best direction for the country, it’s not inclusive of everyone,” an issue he says disturbs stronks. So the show is “not going to be a set choreographic experience.” Instead, it will be an improvisational “representation of the dance community all coming together [to create] one product.”
Castaneda says stronks, and dance-makers Jennifer Mabus and Jaime Fruge, will continue to be a part of the organization’s evolution. (He adds that over the next 12 months, they plan to take steps to have the name legally changed from FrenetiCore to The Pilot Dance Project, too.) No longer focused on narrative or multimedia dance, they will focus on bringing to life the voices of these and other select choreographers by giving them the budget and resources to create evening-length work.
“I’m very excited to see how in the years to come we’re able to make an impact for these independent choreographers,” says Castaneda. In the present, he hopes Houstonians who may have an extra $16 will come out to say farewell to the Pilot on Navigation.
“It is a closing of a chapter in the Houston arts community. For better or for worse, it served the arts community for ten years,” he adds. “It’s time to say good-bye.”
Performances of jhon r. stronks’s Once upon a time in the land of green skies, blue grass, and red bottom shoes … are scheduled for April 28-30 and May 5-7 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pilot on Navigation, 5102 Navigation. For information, visit freneticore.net. $16 to $20.
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