Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Festival for All: Andrea Cody on Dance Houston

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Marvelous Motion

Andrea Cody is the Founding Director of Dance Houston. She grew up dancing at the Houston Ballet Academy and later became a nationally ranked swing dancer. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she returned to her hometown to start Dance Houston. She's known for creating mixed genre bills that demonstrate a wide variety of the city's dance activity. She took the time to chat from the sidelines of her 8th dance event and her upcoming August festival.

In a nutshell, what's the mission of Dance Houston?

Andrea Cody: We are raising dance appreciation in Houston. There are three important A’s to increasing dance appreciation: awareness, attractiveness, and accessibility. We address all three of these issues to create a new, enthusiastic audience for dance in Houston.

How did you catch the festival bug?

AC: The bug first stung me when I was a kid. I was the lead singer in a rock band, and my favorite gigs were playing at Houston-area festivals. I was also training at the Houston Ballet at the time, and I wished for a fun-filled festival of dancers like the ones I performed at as a singer.

Tell us about the line-up for August. You are known for finding new groups that were hiding in the wings. Any new finds for this festival?

AC: I’m most excited to see Marvelous Motion’s synchronized pop-locking and Planet Funk’s hip-hop revue of popular movies. I’m also thrilled to welcome Revolve Dance Company to Dance Houston. They will be presenting a contemporary jazz piece that’s delightfully cute and hip. Finally, it will be an honor to present a group led by one of the world’s most esteemed Indian Dance gurus, Rathna Kumar’s Anjali Dance Company.

How do you select groups? Is the festival actually curated? I ask this because in the past it had an open-to-all feel.

AC: Companies apply by submitting video samples and reviews of their work. I select troupes that best represent their respective genres of dance. I’ve got a limited number of slots for hip-hop, ballroom, contemporary, and world dance, so the tough choices are between a great company and a unique company.

You are known for bringing groups together that would not ordinarily meet, like hip-hop and flamenco. How is this part of your plan?

AC: I want to give Houstonians a dance concert that they will really get excited about. Popular dance styles like the ones we present are highly appealing to sophisticated, urban people. This formula brings together hundreds of dancers and thousands of audience members to celebrate dance.

Can you give me some examples of dance worlds colliding backstage or in the community?

AC: Dance is different things to different people. Depending on who is dancing and who is watching, dance can be artistic, entertaining, a social activity or competitive. Generally, the choreographers and companies prefer their own styles and methods, sometimes to the exclusion to other styles. This can sometimes create tension. Of course it also fosters a competitive spirit that pushes each company to put forth their best work.

Many of us are still in a hip-hop funk since FLY closed its doors. According to your calculations FLY was not the only group flying about. Is hip-hop big in Houston? Do we have our own style? Enlighten us.

AC: Hip-hop in Houston is the most entertaining and inventive--you'll see creative movements, emotional range, group dynamics, humor, and narrative. Our two most popular groups are known for distinct styles—Marvelous Motion for synchronized popping to melodic urban music; and Planet Funk for extraordinary productions that involve contemporary and urban dance, video backdrops, special effects, flying dancers, acrobatics, and original sound scores.

You moved the show to the big stage at Cullen. Why the move up?

AC: We’ve got a growing audience that prefers not to sit on each other’s laps. We couldn’t be more excited about this move. There was this electrifying energy in the air when we filled up Zilkha Hall, and we can’t wait to feel what it’ll be like when that energy is doubled.

You have an enormously generous spirit. I know this because you are the only choreographer I know that sent me a thank you note for a less-than-stellar review. I was impressed with your willingness engage in dialogue. You seem to be open to several channels to change and grow your art and organization. You are positive and spunky. What gives?

AC: I am passionate about what I do and I want to be the best at it. My mentors help me determine factors that might limit my organization’s potential, and I am grateful for their insight and honesty.

What's changed in how you run the festival since your first one in 2003?

AC: I’m more proactive now. When I first started, I left a lot up to the artists, but now I influence everything from costumes to choreography. Our new location at the Wortham will expand the festival to two stages—the mainstage of the Cullen Theater, and a second stage we are setting up in the lobby. This arrangement will cut the concert’s length down to a more manageable two hours of nonstop dance performance.

Why does Houston need Dance Houston?

AC: It’s the only chance we’ve got to tap into the local dance community without spending every weekend at a different performance. If you fall in love with one of the companies, then you can follow them throughout the season. If your diet consists of only one dance concert a year, then why not get a little taste of everything in just one sitting? For dance aficionados like me, it’s heaven on Earth.

Where do you see yourself with Dance Houston in the next few years?

AC: Dance Houston will keep getting bigger and better. We expect to triple our audience as we continue expanding our season with concerts like our flamenco series and annual hip hop showcase. We aim to continue finding new ways to engage people with dance.

Dance Houston 2007 takes place on August 10th and 11th at The Wortham Center, Cullen Theater, at 7:30pm. Call 713.526.1049 or visit

Reprinted from Artshouston.