Arts / Performing Arts

When Dance Lingers — Ishida Dance’s Powerful New keepsake Promises to Make You Think Long After Curtain

Brett Ishida Keeps Things Relevant — and Forever Interesting — In Houston

BY Natalie Rouland // 01.09.24

Ishida Dance is presenting keepsake, a collection of visionary and visceral works, this Friday, January 12 and Saturday, January 13 at the Hobby Center. These are works that are sure linger in the mind of the audience long after the curtain closes.

Curated by Ishida Dance artistic director Brett Ishida, keepsake‘s powerful pieces offer meditations on human interconnection that are at once raw and refined, traumatic and tender, energetic and elegiac. Brett Ishida cites her cinematic and classical training as central to her conceptualization of contemporary ballet, and this fusion is evident in the visual fascination and psychological saturation of her choreographic works.

portrait of Brett Ishida by Amitava Sarkar
ISHIDA creative director Brett Ishida (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)

I first met Ishida in June 2022 during the rehearsal of home-coming­, a breathtaking work commissioned by Julie Kent for The Washington Ballet that captivated critics and audiences alike. In conversation, Ishida emphasized the importance of relevance, of creating a work both timely and timeless.

“Can someone watch this 100 years from now and still find it relevant?” she asked.

Exploring universal archetypes through a uniquely-striking choreographic language, Ishida evokes the midcentury masterpieces of New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine, filtered through the sensual chic of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard, who described his work as “a simple film about complex things” (“c’est un film simple sur des choses compliquées”).

Similarly, the seeming simplicity of Ishida’s dance narratives — memory and family are recurring themes — belie the nuanced and beautifully-tangled dynamics of human relationships that run the gamut from sibling rivalry to lost love. In testament to her vision as choreographer and artistic director, the company that Brett Ishida founded in 2019 has received recognition from Dance Magazine as the only company on its latest “25 to Watch” list.

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The bespoke program presented by Ishida Dance will feature world premieres from Brett Ishida alongside works from Swedish choreographer John Wannehag and French choreographer Jérémy Galdeano, who are both rarely seen in the United States.

Wannehag’s If the world was ending would you hold me tight? juxtaposes eschatological urgency with the human need for belonging, while the German techno score references the troupe’s rooting in the European traditions of William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián.

The world premiere of ascendant star Galdeano’s You look strange—you look happy showcases an “idiosyncratic choreographic language,” according to Ishida, that will round out the aesthetic integrity of the evening and reinforce the immersive and custom experience for which Ishida Dance has become known for in Houston and beyond.

Brett Ishida’s own pieces warm my bones and keepsake frame the program and display her signature synthesis of classical texts with cutting-edge choreography, haunting musical scores and cinematically-searing staging.

The first work, warm my bones, presents a provocatively modern take on the classically-cursed brothers Polynices and Eteocles from the Greek tragedy “Seven against Thebes.” Ishida’s alchemic mixture of mood, movement and music from the Rolling Stones provides a transfixing start to the program.

John Wannehag and Juliet Doherty in "among dim shapes" by Ishida Dance (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)
John Wannehag and Juliet Doherty in “among dim shapes” by Ishida Dance (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)

The culminating keepsake explores what may happen to those who have experienced a trauma so great the soul literally leaves the body. The sensitive and of-the-moment rendering of a dissociative fugue state by a trio of dancers replays the patterns of memory, of reliving trauma, through a series of Rodin-inspired pas de deux.

Ishida Dance’s keepsake promises to be memorable evenings of introspection, connection and transformation. Once you open the box, you won’t be able to look away.

Ishida Dance’s keepsake will be performed at  The Hobby Center this Friday, January 12 and Saturday, January 13. For more information and tickets, go here

Author’s note: Natalie Rouland is senior advisor at the Kennan Institute and scholar in residence at The Washington Ballet. She is a professorial lecturer in Russian Literature at George Washington University and has taught at Wellesley College, Miami University and Stanford University.

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