Friday, November 11, 2005

Quirky Works Turns 3: A Conversation with the Houston Met's Michelle Smith

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The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company
Photo by Amitava Sarkar

Michelle Smith, Artistic Director of The Houston Met, has to be about the perkiest member of the Houston Dance Community I’ve come across in my hunting. Her positive attitude, can-do spunk, and willingness to try new ideas are the ingredients for staying power in these not so arts-friendly times. The Met shows no signs of wear and will be presenting three Houston premières. I caught up as her group of capable dancers were preparing for another round of Quirk Works at the Wortham.

How did Quirky Works come about?
MS: Quirky Works came about after our re-organization in 2001. The Houston Met had the November 2002 dates but we were not sure we wanted to take on the performance ourselves and thought if we had another company or two to help with expenses we could still perform. We talked to Linda Phoenix of Chrysalis and Kathy Wood of FLY and asked if they would be interested in joining us. The idea was a complete collaboration where everything is shared – everything 50/50 expenses and income. We didn’t quarrel over who brought more minutes or who did more at the mail out – it was simply a split of everything. The artistic goal was to present companies in a quirky, fun evening and be able to bring both dancers and audiences together.

Where do you shop for choreography?
MS: The dancers themselves work outside of Houston and in their travels are always looking for artists. We also receive tapes from choreographers wanting to present their work on the company. The artistic committee reviews their tapes and selects to form a well-rounded performance year.

How does the tripling up at the Wortham work?
MS: The Wortham is the house for us. The sharing of expenses is only one aspect; building audiences is also important. If we can bring some of those groups together than the audience members can see one or two of their favorites in one evening rather than trying to get to two or three performances.

How did the line-up for this Quirky Works III come about?
MS: We’ve had a long standing relationship with Acia Gray of Tapestry. Plus, we thought out audiences would love tap dancing. Michele Brangwen came to us and, after talking some we invited her in to perform. In each case of Quirky Works, the Houston Met has been the instigator in the collaborations. The requirements are this: to pay for a portion of the expenses, to receive a portion of the income and to perform.

How do you all agree on a program order?
MS: Diversity is key, not just in style but music, mood, timing of pieces. It takes a lot of talking to get it right.

You have a work on the program by Charlotte Griffin. I understand she was the 2005 recipient of the Scripps/ADF Primus-Tamiris Fellowship at the American Dance Festival, representing the USA in the International Choreographers Commissioning Program. That’s impressive. How did her work come to your attention?
MS: We got Griffin’s work through Peter Chu and Marlana Walsh. Most of choreography comes to us via connections and word of mouth. We had seen her work at the Jazz Dance Congress back in 2001 when Ballet Jazz de Montreal performed Tequila Shots for a Fool and we loved the work.

Tell me about the other works on the program.
MS: Priscilla Nathan-Murphy’s Cadence, slated to premiere at the Weekend of TX Contemporary Dance, is a percussive building of music and movement. It involves 12 dancers and has been a challenge for the dancers both in movement and especially music. We are very excited Doug Bentz’s Faun and, yes, it’s contemporary spin on Afternoon of a Faun Bentz is from Point Park University where several of our members attended.

What’s new at the Met?
MS: We performed at the Midwest Touring Conference Showcase in Indianapolis, We hope it kick starts touring nation wide. We took five dancers and showcased four pieces. Then we just finished two weekends in Ft. Worth, TX at the first annual “Up and Running” Choreographers Festival. Kiki Lucas had her piece selected along with 15 other choreographers.

What’s next for the Met?
MS: We will be teaching and performing at Dance Fusion, at Colin County Community College in Plano, TX. Peter Chu will be returning to choreograph a new piece in December, Kevin Wynn and Pattie Obey are slated for the spring and Michele Sherrill, formerly of Dallas Black Dance Company, for the summer.

The Houston Met, Tapestry Dance Company, and Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble present Quirky Works III, at the Wortham Center/Culllen Theater, 510 Preston on November 19, 2005 8:00 p.m. Call 713/522-6375 or visit