Houston is a dance town, no doubt about it. With companies like the Houston Ballet performing year-round, festivals like Dance Salad (now a mecca for dancers and fans from around the world), a burgeoning crop of dance filmmakers and education programs like the University of Houston's School of Theatre and Dance, there's a performance or screening every week of the year. The dance community has also built its own support system, with newsletters and shared performance space. Every year we name the best dance company of the year during our Best of awards, but just one winner doesn't seem nearly enough. Here's our top 10 contemporary dance companies. (It was a tough list to compile, with dozens of companies worth attention and praise.)
10. Suchu Dance
Led by Jennifer Wood, one of the most daring choreographers in town, Suchu Dance is known for its decidedly off-beat productions (yes, those are bunny ears on the dancers in the above photo. Wood has choreographed some 40 pieces since 1998, including 24 evening length works. Over the last year, the company has performed at both the tiny Photobooth and the enormous shell of a former J. C. Penny store. Both suit her, and the company, perfectly.
9. CORE Performance Company 1404 Allston, 713-862-5530 coredance.org
CORE Performance, located both in Atlanta and Houston, scored a recent coup when it enticed internationally known choreographer Amanda K. Miller-Fasshauer, who has spent the past three decades living and working abroad, to set a new work on the CORE company. Miller-Fasshauer's nonlinear work,The Liberated Accident, An Evening in Three Chapters, was performed earlier this November.
8. Houston Met Dance Company and Center 2808 Caroline, 713-522-6375
The Houston Met Dance Company, started in 1995, grew out of the ashes of the Delia Stewart Dance Company. Michelle Smith, executive director of Met Dance, was with Delia Stewart and continued with the Houston Met since then. Along with having its own company choreographers, Kiki Lucas and Marlana Doyle, Houston Met Dance Company works with internationally known dancemakers such as Peter Chu. The group can boast that its dancers are contracted year-round and are all trained in-house, a rare accomplishment for an independent arts company.
7. Hope Stone, Inc. 1210 W. Clay, 713-526-1907
Led by the innovative and completely unpredictable Jane Weiner, Hope Stone is dedicated to the idea that everyone is a dancer. "If you can move, you can dance," Weiner has told us before. We especially enjoyed the recent Hope Stone performance Squared Dancer, a shared program with Houston Met Dance Company. Choreographed by Weiner, the piece included yodeling from the P Girls of the Golden West, abstract Philip Glass music and clicking pennies in the dancers' pockets. (We told you she was unpredictable.)
6. Ad Deum Dance Company 713-626-5050
Randall Flinn is the director for Ad Deum Dance Company and as the company approaches its next performance, Moving Violations Pardoned, he's happy to welcome work from a former student, Durell Ron Comedy. Now a dancer with the Jose Limon company, Comedy created Joyful Noise for the Ad Deum dancers. The company has toured the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia, but we're happiest when it's at home and performing for Houston audiences.
5. FreneticCore Dance Theater 5102 Navigation, 832-387-7440
Among our most favorite FreneticCore productions is Zomberina! The Movie, about a group of zombie ballerinas in a dance competition. Led by Rebecca French, who founded the company with Robert Thoth in 2003 (Thoth recently left the company, leaving French as Artistic Director), FreneticCore Dance is known as a well-rounded company. Not only does the group perform, its members are active in teaching (from other professionals to neighborhood children for free in its FrenetiKids program) and expanding the base of dancemakers in Houston. There's an active Artist-in-residence program and dancers are encouraged to be more than just dancers or choreographers; French gives them the support to explore filmmaking, costuming and musical scoring.
4. Psophonia Dance Company 713-802-1181
Artistic Director Sophia L. Torres, profiled in the Houston Press100 Creatives series, and her dancers are set to perform Infinite Shapes of Creatures later this November. An active teacher, associated with the University of Houston, the Houston Community College system and Young Audiences, Torres calls her company "athletic, visual, audience-friendly, and approachable." We'd add "equal in its emphasis on the technical and artistic aspects of performing."3. Dominic Walsh Dance Theater
2311 Dunlavy, 713-652-3938dwdt.org
We've only had two chances to see Dominic Walsh Dance Theater this fall, the latest being in the Houston Grand Opera's production of Aida. Led by former Houston Ballet member Dominic Walsh, the company has a varied repertoire including The Trilogy: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Victor Frankenstein, The Dying Swan, Camille Claudel and the spectacular Afternoon of a Faun.2. Karen Stokes Dance
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A winner of our MasterMind award last year, Karen Stokes Dance has recently been accepted into the Houston Arts Alliance Residency Incubator program. Stokes, the daughter of pioneering Houston dancemaker Roberta Stokes, is a professor at the University of Houston's dance program as well as leader of the company.
There's more that's unique about choreographer/dancer jhon r. stronks than just his name; he's one of the most daring and innovative dancemakers in town, and his company, There...in the Sunlight, is among the city's most ambitious. Recent productions include B.L.K. Gurls ~n~ W.H.T. Boiz: Singin' 'bout Gawd!, an evening-length program of solo and duet performances by stronks and former student/fellow choreographer Jasmine Hearn. The production explored issues of race, gender, sexuality and reconciliation. Those might seem rather serious topics, but stronks and There in the Sunlight approached them with a sense of humor and whimsy.