Dance Salad Festival Brings World-Class Choreography to Houston Audiences

Helsinki, Finland-based Susanna Leinonen Company will present Shame/less, a curation based on the full-length Nasty, with choreography by Susanna Leinonen.
Photo by Mirka Kleemola
Helsinki, Finland-based Susanna Leinonen Company will present Shame/less, a curation based on the full-length Nasty, with choreography by Susanna Leinonen.
Imagine asking Francis Ford Coppola or Steven Spielberg to edit The Godfather or Schindler's List down to a short film, without losing the thread or storyline, so that it could be screened during an evening of shorts.

After the initial emotion — horror, shock, insult? — hopefully those filmmakers would realize that the challenge was yet another opportunity to be creative, to reinvent their own work by their own hand and perhaps reach wider audiences.

That challenge just so happens to be the winning formula for Houston's Dance Salad Festival, where director Nancy Henderek travels the globe to find top shelf dancers and choreography and throws down the gauntlet.

"These choreographers are inventive, creative people — that's what makes them good choreographers. Once you tap into that it’s not harming the piece, but allowing the choreographer to actually be creative again with their own work, then they tap into their resources and really enjoy the [curation process]," says Henderek. "And then it goes back to the original way as it tours the world.

"It’s more complex than simply taking one part of the piece. It’s reimagining the piece in another way yet still holding the meaning of it for the choreographer so that they find a way of looking at it in a different way."

Each evening of the festival has a slightly different program, and we can look forward to curations from Rome-based Spellbound Contemporary Ballet (Full Moon), Dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet (Carmen), and Helsinki-based Susanna Leinonen Company (Shame/less).

"Oftentimes they’ll even change the name of the piece. In this case Shame/less instead of the original title Nasty," says Henderek, who finds it interesting that choreographers view these shorter curations as something new, rather than a piece of the whole.

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Dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet will perform a curated version of Carmen, with choreography by Marcos Morau.
Photo by Klaus Vedfelt (cropped)
"Really creative people love to be challenged to create again in their own way something that is special. That is in a way the essence of Dance Salad Festival; we’re able to incorporate shorter pieces with longer backgrounds."

That longer background can be seen in Carmen, which has been choreographed by Barcelona-based Marcos Morau and will be danced in amazing Spanish costumes, including a toreador jacket inlaid with precious stones. "In the original version he’s making a movie of Carmen on the stage. It’s a huge piece, a full evening work," says Henderek, who adds that Morau found a way to reinvent the dance for a smaller group of performers.

Henderek didn't have any trouble convincing Spellbound Contemporary Ballet to create a mini version of Full Moon. "We’ve done curated works with them before; they have been to Dance Salad over the past 24 years," says Henderek. "This is a wonderful piece. They invited me to see this premiere last summer in Rome and I was so impressed with the piece: beautiful music, beautiful movement and a very interesting concept."

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Maria Kochetkova and Sebastian Kloborg (Royal Danish Ballet) in Closer, with choreography by Benjamin Millepied.
Photo by Bernard Rosenberg
Longtime fans of dancer Maria Kochetkova will want to reserve tickets for Thursday evening when she'll be dancing Closer with Sebastian Kloborg (choreography by Benjamin Millepied) and an excerpt from New Suite (choreography by William Forsythe). After that she is booked to do Giselle in Berlin, Germany.

The 17th Annual Dance Salad Choreographers' Forum is scheduled for April 17 from 7-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Brown Auditorium, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit Free.

Dance Salad Festival is scheduled for April 18 through April 20 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 832-487-7041 or visit $19 to $53.