DANCE SALAD 2002 Preview

A world of dance on city's doorstep

By Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle

No way was choreographer Jiri Kylian, director of Holland's Nederlands Dans Theater, going to let one of his masterworks be broken up so a piece of it could be imported to Houston.

He had a policy against that practice - at least until he received Nancy Henderek's letter.

Henderek is the Houston-based producer of Dance Salad, an annual smorgasbord of works by leading choreographers and dancers. It will return to the Wortham Theater Center tonight, newly expanded into a minifestival that will continue through Saturday.

Henderek can't remember exactly how she convinced Kylian to allow her to present just part of his Heart's Labyrinth, a lyrical ballet to music by Antonin Dvorak. But she's obviously as persuasive as she is persistent.

"I sure worked hard at it," she said. "I felt people needed to see this piece."

Kylian eventually agreed, on one condition: that it be performed by the Norwegian National Ballet duo for whom he created the chosen pas de deux. That was hardly bad news. Henderek is also importing the original set - a lighted door - to further ensure the dance will be viewed as Kylian intended.

"Every choreographer has a vision for what they want a dance to be (as a whole)," Henderek said. "But that pas de deux says something meaningful on its own."

That, essentially, is Dance Salad's guiding philosophy. Henderek is a world traveler who watches dance everywhere she goes.

Although her budget has increased steadily during the 10 years she's been creating the show, it's modest. So she compiles each year's program almost like she's presenting vacation slides. She presents brief dances in their entirety, but she's more apt to show glimpses of longer dances she considers must-sees.

"How do people know what to strive for if they don't see the masterworks? Dance Salad is about refining vision and reaching deep. It's about exposing people - both artists and audiences," she said.

Henderek likes to play with the flow of her programs. "I try to do things the way they were originally presented, but also present some things in ways they've never been done before," she said. "I look at pieces that in another setting, people might go, `ho hum.' Sometimes if you take something out, it reads more clearly."

Great dancing sends an audience on a kind of journey - one that's mentally, spiritually and kinetically stimulating. Henderek also likes to take people around the world in a more literal sense.

Eight of the nine companies represented in this year's Dance Salad have not danced in Houston. The international roster includes England's Rambert Dance Company, Sweden's Goteborg Ballet, the Norwegian National Ballet and China's Guangdong Modern Dance Company.

Alonzo King's LINES Ballet is coming from San Francisco. Battleworks and PerksMusicDanceTheater are from New York. Tap dancer Roxane Butterfly is from New York and France. Houston Ballet dancers also will perform.

Henderson concentrates on small-scale dances like solos, duets and trios. The largest works, in terms of cast, will be from Guangdong and LINES, which are bringing 12 and 10 dancers, respectively. The programs will vary slightly each night, mixing contemporary ballet and modern dance. The music, too, runs the gamut, from live jazz to classical compositions, electronic scores to ethnic instrumentation.

"It's a real mix of feelings, sentiments and types of dance ," Henderek said. "People can come just one night and see a complete evening, but to see all the pieces, you'll need to come two of the three nights."

Such gatherings - even on this small a scale - are rare outside major monthlong events like the Jacob's Pillow and American Dance festivals.

One Dance Salad had an Asian theme - primarily because Henderek lived in Hong Kong the previous year. This time she had the Passover and Easter holidays in mind.

"The piece that shaped (the lineup) was Chinese choreographer Yunna Long's Linglei (translated as Unusual)," Henderek said. "It has a birdlike gesture that they use in wonderful ways."

She plans to end each night's program with Linglei. "I want to leave people with a feeling of quiet. It has a spiritual mode that's haunting and mysterious, and I found it difficult to imagine any other piece following it."

In addition to the Heart's Labyrinth pas de deux, dancers from the Norwegian National Ballet will perform a pas de deux from Canadian choreographer Jean Grand-Maitre's contemporary ballet Exilium. "They're beautiful dancers - tall, long-legged Norwegians," Henderek said.

Henderek has reshaped a piece of Butterfly's BeauteeZ'n the Beat to squeeze it in. ("Squeeze" can be the operative word with Dance Salad; Henderek tends to pack a lot into a few hours.)

BeauteeZ'n the Beat was originally an evening-length show of tap, hip-hop and Afro-Cuban movement and music by several artists. Butterfly will perform solo here, to live drumming by a percussionist she met through Henderek.

There wasn't an editing problem with an eight-minute solo created last fall by Christopher Bruce. Dance Salad will present the U.S. premiere of Hurricane, to the Bob Dylan song of the same name. Dance audiences here know Bruce's work through Houston Ballet, which performs his Ghost Dances, Sergeant Early's Dream, Cruel Garden and other works. Soloist Paul Liburd of Rambert Dance Company - the troupe Bruce directs in England - is scheduled to perform.

Members of the Goteborg Ballet will dance a pas de deux from William Forsythe's well-known (at least in Europe) Herman Schmerman, with costumes by the late Gianni Versace. They'll also do a pas de quatre from Jacopo Godaru's Digital Secrets and the balcony scene pas de deux from Martino Muller's Romeo and Juliet. The latter is a 2001 production with a stunning, abstract set by Brazil-based artist Eduard Hermans; and the balcony portion made the trip.

"I have a wonderful sponsor who ships things," Henderek said.

Another eye-opener will be 180 Degrees, a piece for four dancers with large Chinese fans. It's by Guangdong choreographer Xing Liang, who has wowed audiences as a dancer. Guangdong, China's first modern dance company, bypassed Houston last year on its first U.S. tour. Henderek provides some consolation, presenting five of the ensemble's dances - the most of any company.

Its musical choices hint at Guangdong's adventurous spirit - including works by American avant-garde composers John Adams and Meredith Monk, synthesized sounds by Hugang Guanglin and Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

The American contingent is led by King, a ballet master whose works are in the repertoires of more than 50 companies worldwide. His 20-year-old touring company will perform The Heart's Natural Inclination, created last year to a score by Leslie Stuck, and Tarab, set to music by Egyptian oud master Hamza El Din.

PerksDanceMusicTheater will dance Iguana. It's by company founder Rebecca Stenn, a former dancer with Pilobolus and Momix. Robert Battle, formerly of Parsons Dance Company, is another of the nation's most promising young dance -makers. Some members of his new company, Battleworks, will perform his Strange Humors to original music by John Mackey.

Henderek also has scheduled a trio from Houston Ballet principal Timothy O'Keefe's Uncommon Valor. "It has a mood, and struck me after 9/11 as being appropriate. He's saying something about war and peace," she said.



Dance Salad performances will be presented at 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 713-227-2787. Patrons who buy tickets to more than one performance will receive a 15 percent discount. Programs are subject to change. For a list of each night's dances, visit

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