Comings, Goings, and Comebacks on the Houston Dance Scene

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Fly Dance Company

Dance companies do not last forever, and Houston has seen a fare share of them come and go. Over the past few years Houston has seen Weave Dance Company and Chrysalis close their doors. Money, personnel, a lack of local support, and a shift of artistic vision all contribute to these difficult decisions. The most recent loss—Fly Dance Company—was a favorite in Houston and throughout the US. Fly was the brainchild of choreographer Kathy Wood, who cleverly combined her keen choreographic eye with a group of hip-hop dancers. “My hat goes off big time to Kathy and Mike Wood,” says Linda Phenix, the former co-director of Chrysalis. “They worked their fingers to the bone and provided incredible opportunities to many young men over the years.” Fly was the subject of a major feature last summer in The New York Times and a feature in Dance Magazine.

Fly’s Board of Directors named the physical demands of a hectic touring schedule and continued financial losses as the key reasons to cease operations. “We regret the loss of FLY’s social impact, which we think has been considerable, through both its concerts and outreach activities,” says Mike Wood, the company’s manager. “We believe that FLY has been a positive life experience for its dancers in setting goals, working hard to achieve them, traveling, and meeting all kinds of people.” Fly has much to be proud of, including performing over 60 concerts and 100 outreach shows yearly in the Houston area and throughout the U.S, 10 sold-out concerts for the Kennedy Center, two concert performances for the Lincoln Center, the Vail International Dance Festival, Jacob’s Pillow, and concerts at over 100 performing arts venues in Texas, across the US, and Europe. Without a doubt Fly will be missed.

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Amy Cain, Jennifer Stricklin, and Dawn Dippel of Revolve Dance Company
Photo by Billy Ocel

According to Andrea Synder, Executive Director of Dance USA, the number of dance companies in the U.S. is not on the decline. As old companies close shop, new ones emerge. Such is the case with Houston, as several new players have hit the dance streets. Revolve Dance Company, based in Spring at North Harris Performing Arts (NHPA) dance studio, is picking up steam. Just two years old, this ambitious group of dancers plans to expand in the upcoming season. Two of the lead dancers, Amy Cain and Dawn Dippel, recently danced the roles of the sexy gypsies in Dominic Walsh’s Romeo & Juliet. Under the director of Ken McCulloch, Revolve fuses ballet, hip-hop, and jazz to create fun and entertaining dances. The company has a concert planned for October at Montgomery College and was invited to participate in Choreographers X 6 as part of Dance Month. “When we started NHPA in 1994 we included a professional company in our vision,” says Cain, one of the group’s dancers and choreographers. “We wanted a place for our Senior Performance Company members, who have worked their way up through our program, to land professionally both as a performer and as an instructor/choreographer at NHPA.”

Also making a mark on the scene is Rebekah French of Frenticore which combines film, dance, and text in multi-media works. According to FrenetiCore directors, choreographer French and Robert Thoth, the mission is two-fold, “to provide a collaborative link between multiple art forms, and to provide the community at large with engaging, middle-brow original works that appeal to a broad audience.” FrentiCore calls itself a “brave little dance group that entertains dance enthusiasts and non-dance audiences alike with a combination of plot-based movement and filmic narrative.” Now based in their very own theater and rehearsal space, the group is building momentum. “No one else in Houston is doing contemporary dance/physical theater with a multi-media approach,” says French. “That’s the kind of dance I like to see–dance that engages the audience in a story, and challenges their minds while entertaining them; that’s what I want to give Houston audiences.” This past season FrentiCore collaborated with Bobbindoctrin in Danse Macabre, and presented Bedlam, a new dance theater work in their new theater.

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Toni Valle in Cracked
Photo by David Brown

The climate for dance companies may be rough, yet several independent choreographers are making strides without the “institutional” baggage. Toni Valle and Roxanne Claire have both been awarded prestigious DiverseWorks residencies for the 06/07 season. Both are mothers that have re-emerged on the scene with renewed vitality. Valle’s new work, Cracked, is a painful but endearing tribute to nakedness and self-image, sex and surrender. Claire, who has spent the past decade running a dance school and raising two children, is back at work making dances. “Paris/GE is an exploration of my memories of living in Paris and Geneva, a time of my life that was both ‘the best of times and the worst of times,’” says Claire. “It is in the tension between love and loneliness, desire and despair that we find our center, our inner compass.” She showed a riveting section from the dance last year at the Big Range Dance Festival and some of the film work at DiverseWorks as part of Monday Night Footfall.

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Farrell Dyde
Photo by Scott Angle

Not everybody is coming or going—some dance folks have nine lives. You might call Farrell Dyde the comeback dance kid. He has been on and off the scene for the past few decades. He started The Farrell Dyde Dance Theatre in 1980 which evolved into Novodada Dance Theatre in 1991. With 100 works under his belt, (two for the Houston Ballet), Dyde decided he just couldn’t quit Houston dance. This July you can find him performing Persona Non Gratis, an hour-long dance theatre work depicting three distinct aspects of the same person, at Barnvelder. “I have tried a lot of different approaches, including involving the entire dance community in my efforts. I have spent time in New York working as a fundraiser for Lar Lubovitch in order to get a better sense of how the business is done there,” says Dyde. “It is still an uphill battle, but I am here not only to get my own company together, but also to offer support to the rest of the dance community for efforts that I feel connect to my sense of mainstream dance history.”

Change is inevitable in any performing art scene. Sure it was a major loss to have Weave Dance Company end. But, then again, one of the founding members has graduated from Harvard School of Education, while two other members are leading dancers with Hope Stone. Linda Phenix of Chrysalis is flexing her directing muscles and has gotten positive reviews for her work with Theatre Lab. Her co-director, Chris Lidvall, is Houston’s leading Alexander Technique teacher.

What future lies ahead for Kathy and Mike Wood and the fabulous members of Fly is uncertain. Houston has not seen the last of their many talents. In fact, at this very minute Kathy Wood is at work on a new musical, and some of the dancers are in the process of forming a new group. As difficult as it is to see a dance company close its doors, it’s part of a healthy dance ecology to support and welcome change.

Reprinted from artshouston

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