Monday, December 06, 2004

Dancing on a Wall with Insects: Amy Ell's Arthropodic Animal: Insecta

I always find it to be a good thing when I can’t pronounce the title of a dance. It’s even better when I need to hit the dictionary to find out what it means. When I find out that the title has something to do with science, I really get excited. Amy Ell’s Arthropodic Animal: Insecta scores on all fronts. Ell’s eclectic title derives from the Phylum and Class of the fly, ant, and termite, all of whom also make an appearance in this dance.

If we count quality over quantity, then it’s no surprise that Ell landed one of two coveted dance residencies at DiverseWorks. Ell may not be prolific but she’s intense. Her dances have that look as if they have been brewing for some time now. This one is no exception. Despite exotic title Ell claims this work has its origins in daily life. “I tend to create work pertaining to where I am in life in relation to my daughter's life. As she grows it brings up unresolved issues from that previous time in my life. I am not particularly interested in solving these unresolved issues but it is always interesting to view them. Savor them. Swish them over my teeth,” states Ell.

Ell wears many movement hats: Owner of Corefitness, a Gyrotonic guru, one of the few in Houston trained in Thai Massage, longstanding dancer in Hope Stone, single mother, and a sometimes choreographer. “The primary principle of Gyrotonic--maintaining length while moving through space in a supported position--has influenced my work the most,” states Ell. The mom role surfaces as well.

Ell enlists a wall especially for the space at DiverseWorks that the dancers literally dance up. And no, it doesn’t remotely look like a Fred Astaire movie. Special pegs and a slight slant allow the dancers to seamlessly move up the wall creating an expanded use of stage space. The wall built and designed by Tim Young, can withstand the weight of 9 performers.

The wall is also a projection screen. The piece begins with a Lynne McCabe’s video creations of maggots dancing on the wall. If you feel like squirming out of your seat, that’s the point. “I allow the audience to participate in this experience the feeling of not fitting in, of feeling repulsive due to the many changes occurring in their bodies through the image and sound of maggots.” Enlarged maggots move with unexpected grace. Gradually human limbs emerge jutting out into space. The melding of human and maggot strikes a personal note in Ell's life.

“For me, going into my teenage years is so closely related to how many people view insects--with disdain and disgust. I am focusing on the female journey into adolescence. I think I felt more like a maggot than a human.” In another section a colony of ants partners the dancers. Ell tends to attract a sturdy, fearless group of dancers. Ell’s moves have a raw physicality, perhaps influenced by her own intense fitness regime. This time she has brought along a batch of Houston’s finest movers, Madonna Heer, Paola Georgudis, Lindsay McGill, Erica Sandberg, Bonnie Boykin, Penny Tschirhart, Alison Whitworth,and Priscilla Nathan Murphy.

Sixto Wagon, Performing Arts Curator at Diverseworks has been eyeing Ell's development for some time now. "Amy brings such physicality to beautiful, and sometimes disturbing, ideas. It's been a great honor to be part of this process as the work has grown from that incredible performance at FootFall last year. Seeing her build upon that success and push to create such a substantial work is what the Houston Performing Arts Residency program is all about," states Wagon.

Arthropodic Animal: Insecta will be performed on December 16, 17, & 18 at 8pm at DiverseWorks. Call 713-223-8346 or

Photo by Matt Dalton