Thursday, June 23, 2005

Two Buf Babes of Dance: Chris Lidvall & Linda Phenix Land the Buff Orpington Award

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Chrysalis Dance Company
Photo by Jim Caldwell

Chris Lidvall and Linda Phenix landed the coveted “Buffy” Award for outstanding achievement and service to contemporary dance in Houston. Technically speaking, it’s the Buff Orpington Award (named after a chicken, of course). Lidvall was anything but chicken when she founded Chrysalis 22 years ago; Phenix also stepped up to the plate giving 16 years to the company. Dance companies are not for the faint of heart.

Way to go girls! You deserve it. It’s high time Houston stood up and said, “Bravo.” Louie Saletan organized a fabulous video tribute with former dancers, friends, and associates giving testimonials at the conclusion of the Big Range Dance Festival. Plenty of Houston dancers passed through Chrysalis’ studio and had wonderful tales to share. These two movers and shakers of all things dance created a company that sustained itself through some of Houston’s highs and lows, trends and fashions, and the generally rough, “not for sissies,” terrain of modern dance.

Most of the companies were about promoting the work of a single choreographer. Lidvall and co-founder Deborah Quirk decided that a repertory dance company would add a new dimension. During the 80’s Chrysalis imported some fabulous choreographers, including Ed Burgess, Art Bridgman & Myrna Packard, Trish Casey, Lynda Davis, Christina Ernst, Kate Kuper, Miquel Lopez, Heywood "Woody" McGriff, Doug Nielsen and Julie West. Chrysalis was one of the few, perhaps the only, company in town bringing in outside choreographers.

The last ten years brought the likes of Sean Curran (twice), Doug Elkins, Charlotte Griffin, Lisa Nicks, Holly Williams, Sabrina Madison-Cannon and Dana Nicolay. Even Chrysalis dancers were given a chance. Bonnie Boykin, Juliette Hicks, Jennifer Lawson, Maria Montes de Oca (all would go on to found Weave), Shara Armstrong-Phillips, Melissa Driggers, Mireya Gamez, Allyson Giesen, Brandi Karpiuk, Karen Kimbro, Michelle Manzanales, Brent Smith, and Nicole Williams all showed work during their Chrysalis tenure.

Phenix and Lidvall were also talented choreographers themselves. Their irreverent work, Green Pieces, addressed issues related to art and the environment. Who could forget their bubble wrap bride? Or how about their hilarious video, Art and its Many Uses, featuring a crazed Phenix as highly wacky authority on art.

Lidvall and Phenix were all about opportunity and letting other people have a shot at it. They also did some extraordinary outreach programs with children at risk and in the penal system. They didn’t take the easy road there either. Many a child and mom have been enriched by their work in various settings. Chrysalis was also known for their fine collaborations at Artful Thursdays at the MFAH.

Houston is better for having Lidvall and Phenix at the helm of Chrysalis Dance Company for all those years. These two smart and sassy high-class dance mavens will be missed on the dance scene. Both have already moved on. Lidvall is Houston’s premiere Alexander Technique teacher. (Feeling a little compressed and want to move up-you know who to call.) Phenix has gathered quite a reputation as a theater director. Her directorial work on the Big Bang, Boy Groove, and I Sing at Theater Lab was top- notch. I have no doubt that the two of them have great futures ahead of them in their next incarnation.

My life as a choreographer, dancer, and now writer has been enriched by these great babes of dance. I have been deeply impressed by their grace, wit, and ample talents. My heartfelt and hearty congratulations to Linda and Chris!