You don’t need to know a drop about dance to make a dance, so thinksJennifer Wood, Houston’s beloved indie Suchu Dance choreographer and now mastermind behind The Nach Project (TNP), funded by a Houston Arts Alliance grant.
“Anyone can try their hand at being a budding choreographer, from novices to professionals, all our welcome,” Wood says. “And you don’t even need to live in Houston. TNP is open to people from all over the world.”
“We may even make a dance on the spot,” she says. “It’s not a sit down and be quiet event. People will be able to come and go, and there will be food and drink. Plus, it’s free.”
“Nach,” which rhymes with “much,” is Punjabi for “to dance.” The idea sprang from Wood’s desire to both keep us guessing and to educate her audiences on the ins and outs of dance making. Wood likes to change it up a bit, and rarely does the same thing twice.
“I wanted to get away from what I normally do and step out of my comfort zone,” Wood says. She also got tired of people asking if her dancers were making it up as they go along.
“People have no idea what goes into making choreography. I still get audience members wondering if we are improvising on stage,” she says. “The choreographic process is not well understood by the general public.”
As Houston’s most prolific choreographer, Wood knows first hand that making a dance is hard work. She perused her old choreography books for inspiration, but found herself quite stuck in coming up with a plan at first. So she worked in reverse, by creating a dance, then figuring out afterward how it all came together. That process formed the beginning of her very engaging and complete instructions to make a solo, duet or trio. If you get lost, help is on the way.
TNP is user-friendly from beginning to end, yet writing instructions proved no easy task.
“I had a little identity crisis when I first started. Who am I to tell anyone how to make a dance? There are so many ways to do it,” Wood admits. “These are just three of them.” To make the guidelines easy for the non-dancer, she enlisted the help of Vipul Divecha, who translated her dancer-ese into plain language that anyone can understand.
“Vipul had no idea what I was talking about in my first draft,” Wood says. “I really thought they were completely clear.”
All the dances will be uploaded to the website, so there will be a communal sharing of new work. Wood emphasizes process over results. “This is not about the end product,” she says.
TNP is set up as a separate entity outside of Suchu Dance, Barnvelder’s resident troupe. Known for her more cryptic methods, Wood rarely likes to talk about her own process. Most of her dances fall into the pure movement category, which makes the question, “What is this dance about?” even more troubling.
“People are usually disappointed when I talk about my work,” Wood says. “There is always a level of mystique when I work on a show. I don’t want to ruin the magic.”
Her next opus is Masters of Semblance, running March 24-April 3 at Barnevelder, where she will recycle, reuse and re-purpose some of her earlier work.
“I will be using different costumes and music. I doubt anyone will be able to recognize these dances,” she says. As separate as she plans to keep her endeavors, TNP has already infiltrated her artistic process.
“I am more appreciative when I give my dancers instructions and they stare back at me with blank faces,” Wood adds.
The one thing both projects (Suchu dance and TNP) have in common is that they are often wildly entertaining. Wood’s quirky sense of humor is in great evidence no matter what she does. The choreographer has some words of advice for novice dance makers.
Don’t be scared of the instructions,” she says. “Do one step at a time and see what you come up with. Don’t worry if it’s any good or you will never get anything done. Just have fun.”
Wood has Texas-sized plans. “I hope The Nach Project will grow into a global dance community with user-generated content,” she says. “It has the potential to be a world-wide forum for learning about and for sharing dance. I really hope that the project continues to grow as something accessible for everyone everywhere in the future.”