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Going Underneath the Surface With The Pilot Dance Project

The Pilot Dance Project presents six new works during their concert Underneath the Surface.
The Pilot Dance Project presents six new works during their concert Underneath the Surface. Photo by Ashley Horn
If you’re looking around at the arts, you may notice some thematic similarities, and it’s not a coincidence according to dancer and choreographer Ashley Horn.

Though reluctant to use the “T” word, trauma, Horn says, “If you look across the spectrum of what dancemakers and a lot of artists are presenting right now, the themes are so common” and “it’s because we’ve had this collective, terrible experience that we’re all needing to talk about with our art.”

Horn finds it interesting that so many artists post-pandemic are “arriving at that same place unprompted” and producing works “about loss and people and connection,” which includes her own new work, “Little Things, Tiny Things,” set to premiere during The Pilot Dance Project’s upcoming concert Underneath the Surface.

“Little Things, Tiny Things” is one of six original works on the program. It joins pieces from Pilot Dance Project company artists, including Lori Yuill, Ke’Ron Wilson, CholoRock Dance Theatre’s Jose Zamora, and two premieres from Pilot Dance Project Artistic and Executive Director Adam Castaneda.

Though Horn says the pandemic made her think about loss “in a more pressing way,” it was on her mind well before COVID-19 was a household name. “I feel like the last, maybe, five years of my life, ten years of my life have been something like an exodus of people that I have loved,” says Horn. “I am much more an island now than I’ve ever been, and so I wanted to think back on those people and the little things that they left with me and the ways that I remember them.”

Horn describes the dance as “a few little snapshots,” with each of the piece’s three sections representing and revisiting “tiny encapsulated memories.” One such memory, Horn shares, is of a little stop-motion butterfly she made with a friend, Rob Bridges, who passed away unexpectedly. It was a moment in which Horn says she realized the two were “kindred spirits,” and it opens the work.

“We were both so proud of it,” says Horn. “I knew in that tiny little moment making that little thing that we spoke the same language.”

Though Horn describes her work overall as vulnerable, she says that within her creative process she continuously abstracts it so that “it doesn’t feel as vulnerable.” But this is not the case with “Little Things, Tiny Things.”

“With this piece I didn’t do that on purpose,” says Horn. “I do talk a little bit in it about my memories and so I think that this piece is just honest and accessible and raw. It is what it is.”

The challenge of “Little Things, Tiny Things” is not just in its vulnerability. It is also a quartet from someone who admittedly loves working with odd numbers. Horn attributes her ability to tackle this challenge to the dancers and being back in the studio in general.

“Being away from it for a year really reignited in me what a magical space it is and how lucky we are to be there and be makers and be with other people who are makers,” says Horn. “We just walk in with this kind of wide-eyed wonder that we lost.”

After “teaching so long, and dancing so long, and choreographing for so long,” Horn says the studio, like the little things explored in the dance, is something that she took for granted. But the experience, like the dance Horn created, offered an opportunity to be grateful.

“I think gratitude is going to be the thing we take away from this,” says Horn. “I hope it’s the thing we take away from this.”

Underneath the Surface will be performed at 8 p.m. on June 25, 26, and 27. The Friday, June 25, performance will be at the P.E.T. Outdoor Theatre, 733 Service Street, and the Saturday, June 26, and Sunday, June 27, performances will be indoors at the Houston Metropolitan Dance Center, 4916 Main Street. Each performance will be limited to 25 audience members. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.