Houston Makes Room for a New Dance Company: A chat with Beth Gulledge-Brown of Uptown Dance Company

Paola Georgudis and Ray Dones
Photo by Cristin Miller

Houston dance educator and choreographer, Beth Gulledge-Brown of Uptown Dance Centre as just launched her professional company. She stopped by DSH to give us the whole scoop about her inaugural show at The Hobby Center this upcoming weekend.

Dance Source Houston: Congratulations on your new project and welcome to the neighborhood. A city can never have enough dance troupes.What made you want to start a dance company?
Beth Gulledge-Brown: I started with a pre-professional training company to have a place for my gifted, older students to grow and expand as artists. I always planned to start a professional company, however, it’s taken seven years in the planning. The professional company is an opportunity for me to work with more mature artists and bring new choreography and excitement to the dance community. The company also offers a future opportunity for my students and pre-professional company dancers to have something to aspire towards.

DSH: Did anyone try to talk you out of it?
BGB: Yes. Many people did, mostly due to the difficulty of fundraising for a non-profit organization.

DSH: Anything a bit scary about starting up an arts organization in this economy?
BGB: Yes. Starting a professional company that is primarily funded through individual donations is difficult in this economy. We are trying our best to seek out all opportunities for fundraising in order to continue our professional company following this inaugural season. We have been able to bring together a wonderful group of gifted dancers that have woven themselves together to create a beautiful tapestry. We are also working on finding sponsors for this talented group and looking forward to the possibility of receiving future grants. This is economy is hard but we are hoping to weather the storm.

DSH: Any sneaky survival ideas?
BGB: Hard work and dedication to our cause, and continually looking for new ideas and new approaches to raise funds for our company.

DSH: If you had to describe the vibe of your company in one sentence what would you say?
BGB:The company is young, fresh, and innovative.

DSH: How did you go about hiring dancers?
BGB: I held auditions in Houston and New York. I hired some dancers that trained with me in the past and dancers who I met through my New York auditions.

DSH: How do you see the relationship between the studio and company?
BGB: We foresee a fortuitous relationship between the studio and company. The company offers excitement, growth, and the pinnacle of our program. The company offers our young students a future as well as giving them something to aspire toward. Our students and parents are an integral base of support for the company as well as the studio. We strive to include them in the excitement surrounding the development of the new company. We are fortunate that our parents support the endeavors of all aspects of the studio and the company.

DSH: Do you see the company as a vehicle for your own choreography?
BGB: The company and the pre-professional company have always afforded me the luxury of not only choreographing my own works, but to give other talented artists a place for their work to be seen. I always want Uptown Dance Company to be a unique working environment for dancers, choreographers, and musicians to collaborate on projects.

DSH: What’s the choreographic mix for the Hobby show?
BGB: The concert will go from classical ballet, to contemporary ballet, to modern jazz featuring live accompaniment. This has been a great collaboration of musicians, dancers, and a group of talented choreographers all contributing a different style, making this a rich and full concert. I am honored to work with choreographers Max Stone from New York, Paola Georgudis from Chile. Ray Dones’ work will premiere at Triple Focus at the Jewish Community Center during Dance Month.

DSH: I was impressed with Stone’s work. How did your paths cross?
BGB: I had the opportunity to work with Stone when I was dancing professionally in New York. Stone is a native of Dallas, who began his professional career on Broadway. He has a unique style of contemporary jazz, and he has developed his own approach to movement and technique. His work is unique with great lyrical and transitional qualities.

DSH: Ray Dones and Paola Georgudis are both choreographing and dancing in the company. It must be great to have in-house talent. What do they add to the rep?
BGB: Ray and Paola both bring a unique talent and energy and passion through their choreography. They each have a distinct individual style that adds dimension to the project.

DSH: You have quite a bit of international experience that Houston folks might not know about. Where have you traveled?
BGB: I feel fortunate to have showcased my work and my company in Austria, China, Mexico, and Costa Rica. This has been a great joy to travel with the company and I hope to take the new professional company around the world as well.

DSH: I noticed from your bio that you lived in South Africa for a while What brought you there?
BGB: I went to South Africa when I was a junior in high school with my family. My dad was doing an engineering project in Durbin. When I first arrived I wasn’t dancing and I struggled to find a place to dance. I even danced in a garage studio with a ballet teacher from Russia. Shortly thereafter I found the program at the University of Capetown. I went to Capetown to audition for a specified program that consisted of 25 dancers. I was in their performing program which was a group of 5 males and 5 females. It was an intense program and I grew a lot there.

DSH: What’s next after your big debut ?
BGB: We are looking forward to participating Triple Threat at JCC’s Dance Month in January and our pre-professional company II will be presenting The Nutcracker Tea in December at Uptown Dance Centre.

DSH: What’s the most exciting part of this adventure for you so far?
BGB: To watch the dancers grow from a group of individual artists into a cohesive company. The process of witnessing this growth in the artists is a vitalizing inspiration for me that encourages me to push forward with this endeavor.

Uptown Dance Company presents Dance Infusion on Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 6pm, at Zilkha Hall at The Hobby Center. Call 713-315-2525 or visit
www.thehobbycenter.org

reprinted from Dance Source Houston.

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