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Jennifer Stahl on Tuesday, Apr 22, 2014
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How do you create a "salad" of dance? By tossing together tastes of choreography from around the world. For the past 19 years, producer Nancy Henderek has traveled the globe to handpick artists to bring to Houston each Easter weekend for the annual Dance Salad Festival. The lineup is typically an eclectic mix of today's most exciting names in dance as well as up-and-comers the US has never seen before—and this year's performances didn't disappoint. Here were my favorite highlights:
1. Royal Danish Ballet's Ida Praetorius and Andreas Kass in Bournonville's Kermessen in Brugge. This sweet duet may have been out of character with the rest of the festival's contemporary fare, but it was delightful. Praetorius is a complete charmer onstage—and can knock out some fantastically sprightly Bournonville jumps.
2. Elephant in the Black Box in Jean-Phillippe Dury's CEL Black Days. This new Madrid company, led by former Paris Opera Ballet and Compania Nacional de Danza dancer Jean-Phillippe Dury, made its US debut here—and I hope we see more. Most entrancing in CEL was soloist Emma Tilson, a former University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Pacific Northwest Ballet School student. I'm not quite sure of the meaning behind her nude sports bra coming on and off throughout the piece. But, whether topless or not, in close-up projections or live, her full-bodied movement gave the piece a gorgeous gravity.
3. Norwegian National Ballet's Samantha Lynch in Daniel Proietto's Cygne. The crowd went wild for the homecoming of Lynch, a former Houston Ballet girl. The solo (well, duet, if you count the tiny boy child who comes out at the end to run around) is kooky and weird and incredibly compelling. The choreography deftly shifts from traditional ballet vocabulary to street dance shoulder distortions. It's what you might imagine Bjork would choreograph if she did a version of The Dying Swan. And apparently, this company has recently become obsessed with swans: This weekend, NNB premieres Alexander Ekman's A Swan Lake (which features an actual 16 square meter lake) and then does Petipa's version next month.
4. The Houston audiences. I love how much passion and excitement for dance there was in the house! Each night was practically full, and I even met a few die-hards who came back night after night to see multiple shows (the programs rotate a few pieces each night). The performances may have ran three hours long, but the energy never lagged.
5. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Embrace (a "curated" version of M¡longa). Although we only got to see part of this work, the selection we were treated to was fascinating. Cherkaoui used 10 traditional tango dancers and two contemporary dancers to offer a fresh take on 100-year-old tango steps. Most intriguing were the sections where he retooled duets into trios—still maintaining tango's signature precision and lightning fast footwork, but taking it to a completely new place by adding in the unexpected element of a third party. I could have watched this all night.
Bonus: Karina González and Houston Ballet rehearsing Swan Lake. Okay, this wasn't part of Dance Salad. But right across the street at the Houston Ballet studios, I got to watch the corps work on their spacing, port de bras and line. Even though she wasn't the focus of the rehearsal, González was listening intently to the ballet master's corrections and practicing them herself. She was standing off to the side, working on the tilt of her head and pathway of her arms. It was incredible, and helped me understand how she's become such a beautiful dancer.
CEL Black Days photo by Ignacio de Urrutia. m¡longa photo by Diego Franssens. All images courtesy of Dance Salad Festival.