Arts / Performing Arts

When Dance Needs Words — ISHIDA Continues to Push the Limits of Contemporary Dance in Houston

Two World Premieres and More at MATCH

BY Dr. Jill Nunes Jensen // 08.05.22

While many artists turn to dance when they feel words cannot adequately express their ideas, Texas choreographer Brett Ishida believes words — her own narratives in fact — are an indispensable part of movement. Unique in the current contemporary dance landscape, in which abstracted themes have long been a signpost of sophistication and modernity, Ishida believes that words and the stories and experiences from which they spring are at the heart of the otherwise silent practice of dancing.

As choreography is semantically the practice of writing the body (graphy equals writing as we may recall from primary introductions to biography and geography) the way in which Ishida approaches dance making is actually long established.

Yet the difference is that Ishida’s work applies traditional methods to contemporary situations relevant to modern audiences. In so doing, Ishida also asks the audience members to conjure images and ideas as they view the dances in much the same way as an author would expect from their readers — with a narrative structure present, but allowing space for artistry and imagination to create the totality of the performance experience.

Ishida created ISHIDA in 2019 as a new world class contemporary dance company based in Houston and featuring established dancers from the global dance scene. Already a sought-after choreographer for her work, Ishida was recently commissioned by venerated ballerina and artistic director of the Washington Ballet Julie Kent to create a ballet for the NEXTsteps Festival, which was held in June. Dance critic Sarah Kaufman writing for The Washington Post deemed Ishida’s piece Home-coming which “tackled a deeply poignant, poetic theme” to be “remarkable.”

_home-coming_ by ISHIDA commissioned by The Washington Ballet ©xmbphotography
“Home-coming,” commissioned by The Washington Ballet, was inspired by the grief of Ishida’s widowed grandmother. (Photo by xmb Photography.)

The works that ISHIDA will bring to Houston’s MATCH stage grapple with similar themes around relationships, communication, history and memory. These ideas are central to the ISHIDA company philosophy that explores archetypal concepts and invites existential questions such as Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? to be plumbed.

All of this happens because of Ishida’s methodical process of writing and translating between artistic genres. Thus, the words she authors become movement, the music she selects is transferred to a written score she devises and the choreography is a result of this interdisciplinary, thoughtful and dialogic process.

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Next weekend’s performance will include two world premieres by ISHIDA “When Shall we Three Meet Again” which embodies a complicated relationship between three sisters, and “I want to hold, darling” a piece derived from historical Spanish practices toward grief, acceptance and comfort.

The program will also include a poignant duet originally performed in Wuppertal by John Wannehag and Stephanie Troyak, plus the Texas premiere of DOMA. DOMA is an upbeat work by Jeremy Galdeano, a French national and former soloist with Les Grands Ballets and Vera Kvarcakova, soloist with the Nationaltheater Mannhein Tanz, who is originally from the Czech Republic.

So with a heightened focus on the interplay between dance and words, and with equally notable irony, No Speaking Left in Me shows Houston a program and choreographer who have quite a bit left to say.

No Speaking Left in Me shows next Friday, August 12 and Saturday, August 13 at 8 pm at MATCH. General tickets run $30 to $60, VIP tickets cost $100. Get more information and tickets here.

Dr. Jill Nunes Jensen is a member of the Dance faculty at Loyola Marymount University. Her research has been published in the journals Dance Chronicle and Theatre Survey, and several books. She has been a guest speaker for the San Francisco Ballet (2018), Duke University (2019) and the University of Maryland (2020). Nunes Jensen’s co-edited publication, The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet (2021) is the first volume to locate and establish contemporary ballet as a moment in dance history.

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