Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Houston Makes Room for a New Dance Company: A chat with Beth Gulledge-Brown of Uptown Dance Company

Paola Georgudis and Ray Dones
Photo by Cristin Miller

Houston dance educator and choreographer, Beth Gulledge-Brown of Uptown Dance Centre as just launched her professional company. She stopped by DSH to give us the whole scoop about her inaugural show at The Hobby Center this upcoming weekend.

Dance Source Houston: Congratulations on your new project and welcome to the neighborhood. A city can never have enough dance troupes.What made you want to start a dance company?
Beth Gulledge-Brown: I started with a pre-professional training company to have a place for my gifted, older students to grow and expand as artists. I always planned to start a professional company, however, it’s taken seven years in the planning. The professional company is an opportunity for me to work with more mature artists and bring new choreography and excitement to the dance community. The company also offers a future opportunity for my students and pre-professional company dancers to have something to aspire towards.

DSH: Did anyone try to talk you out of it?
BGB: Yes. Many people did, mostly due to the difficulty of fundraising for a non-profit organization.

DSH: Anything a bit scary about starting up an arts organization in this economy?
BGB: Yes. Starting a professional company that is primarily funded through individual donations is difficult in this economy. We are trying our best to seek out all opportunities for fundraising in order to continue our professional company following this inaugural season. We have been able to bring together a wonderful group of gifted dancers that have woven themselves together to create a beautiful tapestry. We are also working on finding sponsors for this talented group and looking forward to the possibility of receiving future grants. This is economy is hard but we are hoping to weather the storm.
DSH: Any sneaky survival ideas?
BGB: Hard work and dedication to our cause, and continually looking for new ideas and new approaches to raise funds for our company.

DSH: If you had to describe the vibe of your company in one sentence what would you say?
BGB:The company is young, fresh, and innovative.

DSH: How did you go about hiring dancers?
BGB: I held auditions in Houston and New York. I hired some dancers that trained with me in the past and dancers who I met through my New York auditions.

DSH: How do you see the relationship between the studio and company?
BGB: We foresee a fortuitous relationship between the studio and company. The company offers excitement, growth, and the pinnacle of our program. The company offers our young students a future as well as giving them something to aspire toward. Our students and parents are an integral base of support for the company as well as the studio. We strive to include them in the excitement surrounding the development of the new company. We are fortunate that our parents support the endeavors of all aspects of the studio and the company.

DSH: Do you see the company as a vehicle for your own choreography?
BGB: The company and the pre-professional company have always afforded me the luxury of not only choreographing my own works, but to give other talented artists a place for their work to be seen. I always want Uptown Dance Company to be a unique working environment for dancers, choreographers, and musicians to collaborate on projects.

DSH: What's the choreographic mix for the Hobby show?
BGB: The concert will go from classical ballet, to contemporary ballet, to modern jazz featuring live accompaniment. This has been a great collaboration of musicians, dancers, and a group of talented choreographers all contributing a different style, making this a rich and full concert. I am honored to work with choreographers Max Stone from New York, Paola Georgudis from Chile. Ray Dones' work will premiere at Triple Focus at the Jewish Community Center during Dance Month.

DSH: I was impressed with Stone's work. How did your paths cross?
BGB: I had the opportunity to work with Stone when I was dancing professionally in New York. Stone is a native of Dallas, who began his professional career on Broadway. He has a unique style of contemporary jazz, and he has developed his own approach to movement and technique. His work is unique with great lyrical and transitional qualities.

DSH: Ray Dones and Paola Georgudis are both choreographing and dancing in the company. It must be great to have in-house talent. What do they add to the rep?
BGB: Ray and Paola both bring a unique talent and energy and passion through their choreography. They each have a distinct individual style that adds dimension to the project.

DSH: You have quite a bit of international experience that Houston folks might not know about. Where have you traveled?
BGB: I feel fortunate to have showcased my work and my company in Austria, China, Mexico, and Costa Rica. This has been a great joy to travel with the company and I hope to take the new professional company around the world as well.

DSH: I noticed from your bio that you lived in South Africa for a while What brought you there?
BGB: I went to South Africa when I was a junior in high school with my family. My dad was doing an engineering project in Durbin. When I first arrived I wasn’t dancing and I struggled to find a place to dance. I even danced in a garage studio with a ballet teacher from Russia. Shortly thereafter I found the program at the University of Capetown. I went to Capetown to audition for a specified program that consisted of 25 dancers. I was in their performing program which was a group of 5 males and 5 females. It was an intense program and I grew a lot there.

DSH: What's next after your big debut ?
BGB: We are looking forward to participating Triple Threat at JCC's Dance Month in January and our pre-professional company II will be presenting The Nutcracker Tea in December at Uptown Dance Centre.

DSH: What's the most exciting part of this adventure for you so far?
BGB: To watch the dancers grow from a group of individual artists into a cohesive company. The process of witnessing this growth in the artists is a vitalizing inspiration for me that encourages me to push forward with this endeavor.

Uptown Dance Company presents Dance Infusion on Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 6pm, at Zilkha Hall at The Hobby Center. Call 713-315-2525 or visit

reprinted from Dance Source Houston.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review: The Strangerer by Mickle Maher

Photo by George Hixson

After slogging through more than 20 mind-numbing, sometimes crushing, debates this election season, I wasn't sure I was really going to make it to a play supposedly based on the 2004 Kerry/Bush debate. Frankly, I found the stump sputters in the last debate so painful I switched to watching Entourage. Between idiotic sound crumbs, incoherent mutterings, and dismembered sentences, the sheer violence to language has been nearly unbearable for even the toughest word wonks.

In the end, I think it was Albert Camus that actually got me in the car that night to watch The Catastrophic Theatre's production of Mickle Maher's The Strangerer. Who among us wasn't a tad concerned when they heard that W had selected Camus' famous novel as vacation reading? Just how loopy is that White House librarian? To think that Camus, the man that did not believe in God yet was not an atheist, would enter W's gray matter is too large a brain tangle to fathom. Not so for Maher, who re-imagines the debates as one long existentialist (of the French variety) rant.

The Strangerer starts off believable enough with Jim Lehrer in the moderator's seat. The candidates enter, looking more or less like their characters, and Lehrer launches into this first question. It's hysterically funny in its pitch perfectness. Then the lights dim, shadows emerge, 1960s Western TV music comes on, and W proceeds to stab Lehrer between the shoulder blades. Lights back up, Lehrer composes himself, and the debates continue until the lights dim again. You get the picture. After a stabbing, shooting, and attempted pillow suffocation, W begins his existential unfolding. Imagine tugging a loose thread on a knitted sweater and you will get the feel for the deftness of W's unraveling. He speaks of looking for the perfect theatrical moment in a post-apocalyptic Coral Gables, Florida. Held captive by his dead mother, he tries to escape to watch a play amidst his profound musings on the best way to off Lehrer. Maher's language is rich, deliciously thick, and peppered with the kind of Bushisms that the late Molly Ivins would cherish. W's meltdown veers toward the poetic at times. It's funny and horrific, brutal and absurd, mostly all at once. Kerry has his own undoing which has to do with sleep, which he falls into often. Somnambulism seems an apt choice here.

Sean Patrick Judge (Lehrer), Paul Locklear (Bush) and Troy Schulze (Kerry) deliver pointed, spot-on performances, demonstrating a mastery of mannerisms that never descends into full-out parody. Judge nails Lehrer's modulated tone, Locklear, W's good ol' boyness, and Schulze, Kerry's wooden gestures. The production, directed by Catastrophic Theatre's Artistic Director Jason Nodler, is the sharpest thus far from this newish troupe. Jodi Bobrovsky's immaculately slick debate arena comes complete with red astroturf and sterile lecterns. DiverseWorks has never looked so scary. Kirk Markley's harsh blue lights capture the fake stage debate atmosphere exactly while Chris Bakos' sound design lends just enough eeriness to know that we have left reality as we know it.

The debate finally ends, Lehrer gives W his favorite knife, and the two exit leaving Kerry, the zombie, alone on stage. He finally emerges from his slumber to relay the contents of his dream. It's dark, murky, incomprehensible, yet we follow every word like the last thread to come undone. The Strangerer concludes on an enormously unsettling note. Feels about right for all that hangs in the balance.

The Strangerer continues at DiverseWorks until November 8th. Visit www.thecatastrophictheatre.com/ or call 713-880-5216.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

4 Houston Dancers at Fall for Dance

Symphony in C choreographed by George Balanchine
Artists of Houston Ballet
Amitava Sarkar

Enjoy this photo of Houston Ballet in Symphony in C; you have to read on to see how it fits in to this storyette in a round about post IKE-brained way.

Usually this time of year I am in New York enjoying Fall for Dance at City Center and anything else I can fit in. So, instead of enjoying boat loads of dance and the chirpy rock concert audience at ten bucks a pop, I picked up Ike's wreckage on my front yard and waited (not as long as most of you) for the lights to come back on. And what a year two miss, four, count em, Houston dancers in one night. Houston Ballet's Sara Webb and Connor Walsh performed Balanchine's Tchaikovsky's pas de deux, and Ayman Harper and Mario Zambrano performed Richard Siegal's New 45.

You may remember Harper and Zambrano from Domenic Walsh Dance Theatre's early shows. It may have been DWDT's second show that featured Dream Piles and Bed Fears, or was it Bed Piles and Dream Fears. I remember it was raw, unfinished, somewhat disturbing, incorporated text and Walsh's fabulous dancing. A made a mental note to keep Harper on my radar. He also returned here a few winters back to show some of his own work at Barnevelder.

Zambrano has done work for DWDT and The Met and danced with Walsh in a Dance Salad program. The two of them had quite a chemistry.

There is some talk of Harper returning to his home turf. Stay tuned on that. There was no shortage of fuss over Harper and Zambrano's dancing in the Fall For Dance program.

It would have been fun to be there to cheer for the hometeam. Oh well. I would have felt terrible leaving you all powerless while I strolled around the big apple amusing myself. So I will let other's speak on FFD. Here's Susan Reiter's Dance View Times review and Claudia La Rocco's review is here.

Head to Dance Magazine's editor in chief's blog to get a FFD overview.

Back on the home turf Webb and Walsh were also paired in Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun and in Balanchine's Symphony in C in HB's Classically Modern. Here's the Houston Chronicle review, and The Houston Press. You have two more chances to catch that. I will be doing the dance talks on Friday and twice on Saturday and the wonderful Christina Giannelli will be my guest.

Now back to Symphony in C, that ballet can single-handedly chase away the IKE blues.