Monday, April 06, 2009

The Right Mix: Nancy Henderek on Dance Salad's line-up

Ana Laguna and Mats Ek performing Memory
Choreography by Mats Ek

Dance Salad, now in its 14th season, places Houston on the international dance map. Founder, curator and world dance traveler Nancy Henderek gives us a sneak peak of what to expect in this year's outstanding line-up.

Dance Source Houston: The work of Swedish choreographer Mats Ek is a main ingredient this year. How would you describe his work?

Nancy Henderek: We have shown several of Ek's pieces over the years. This year he will be dancing with his wife and muse, Ana Laguna, in a heartfelt duet, Memory. Laguna will also be dancing his exuberant solo, O Sole Mio, and finally The Royal Swedish Ballet will dance his riveting piece Apartment. As for what makes his work distinct, I would say he deeply understands relationships with people, and sometimes, even with objects. I remember watching him once in rehearsal and he just picked up a bowl and began experimenting with it. I would say he has such a human orientation.

DSH: Tell me about the panel with Ek, Wendy Perron Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine and Maggie Foyer of Dance Europe.

NH: Ek is the featured choreographer on our panel because he is so special and his work is such a large part of Dance Salad this year. There will be a film showing of some of his work along with comments by Perron and Foyer, each offering different perspectives.

Natalia Sologub and Claudio Cangialosi of Dresden SemperOper Ballet,
Dresden, Germany, performing Steptext
Choreography by William Forsythe
Photography: Costin Radu

DSH: It's curious that the program includes William Forsythe and Carolyn Carlson, two Americans who built their careers in Europe.

NH: True, they left us to work in Europe, but brought their American values with them. They made their reputations there, found a home and bloomed. There will be two works by Forysthe, Steptext (1985), and the world premiere of Two Part Invention. Carlson has done several pieces with the Ballet de l'Opera National de Paris. "l' Esprit du bleu," an excerpt from Carlson's Signes, is a beautiful piece, still in places and very dynamic in others.

DSH: Is this the first time the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris has been to Houston?

NH: There is no record of a visit, so yes.

Alexandra Gilbert of Toneelhuis Theater, Antwerp, Belgium, performing Myth.
Choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
Photography: Koen Broos

DSH: In the past you have told me that it sometimes takes years to get a certain choreographer to come due to schedule conflicts and timing. Is there a choreographer on the bill who has been on your wish list for a long time?

NH: Yes. I have been interested in Belgium choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui for a while. He has just shot up in terms of fame and is very sought after now. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui/Toneelhuis Theatre will present selections from Myth (2007) and Origine (2008).

DSH: How did he react to the idea of combining two works?

NH: He worked closely with me to put something special for Dance Salad and ended up doing something very creative. This is where the curatorial process comes in. And we are lucky to have Ensemble Micrologus, an Italian Medieval and Renaissance instrumental and vocal group, playing live.

DSH: Was there a bit of back and forth between you and the choreographer?
NH: Absolutely. I presented what I thought would work in detail and he spun off from my ideas. It's going to be enormous fun to see what he comes up with.

Dancers from Carte Blanche, Bergen, Norway, performing Uprising
Choreography by Hofesh Schechter
Photography: Erik Berg

DSH: What about the Scandinavian contingent?

NH: It's considerably large this year with Norway's Carte Blanche making its US debut with a work by Hofesh Schechte, Sweden's Goteborgs Operans Ballet with a pas de deux from Kenneth Kvarnstrom’s OreloB, Denmark's The Royal Danish Ballet with the US premiere of Jorma Elo's Lost on SLOW, and The Royal Swedish Ballet with Ek's work.

DSH: I am excited to see another work by Elo. He is all the rage these days. How would you describe his style?

NH: Elo has a way of merging beautiful line and quirky movement at the same time; There will be a classical développé followed by a strange movement at an odd angle. It can be humorous, also he has original feel. It doesn't look like anything else.

DSH: How difficult was the visa situation this year?

NH: It was going well until we ran into three problems which have been cleared up thanks to Kay Bailey Hutchinson. She has been a great friend and supporter of Dance Salad.

DSH: How do you know the mix is right?

NH: There are many pieces that I really like that I could present in the festival. Which ones actually will be on the stage, in that illusive mix, it's hard to say when that happens. I do this on a piece by piece basis, adding them one by one. If I really like a ballet I will be relentless in my pursuit to make it happen.

DSH: So there will be some surprises?

NH: Sometimes things fall into my lap, like the new world premiere solo by William Forsythe, Two Part Invention. He asked if I wanted it, I said sure. I didn't know if this piece would be created in time. I was just told this week that Bill finished it Wonderful. This is a mystery piece and I have no idea what it will be like. I only know that the music is from Thom Willems, Forsythe's favorite composer.

I always want to know what I am putting on stage, but in this case, I am waiting to see what this master can come up with for a dancer he has worked with for years, Noah Gelber. Noah used to be in the Forsythe company, dancing all his rep. Bill made this piece for him to come here and show it to all of us for the first time.

DSH: What have I missed?

NH: We have to talk about English National Ballet. They are one of the top companies in Europe and they rarely tour. They have not been in the states for about 30 years or so. And they will be performing another work by David Dawson.

Dance Salad Festival takes place on April 9, 10 and 11 at 7:30 pm at Wortham Center, Cullen Theater. Call 1-877-772-5425 or visit

Choreographers’ Forum: A Conversation, Wednesday, April 8, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 6:30 pm, with Mats Ek Wendy Perron, Editor in Chief, Dance Magazine and Maggie Foyer, of Dance Europe.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.