HOUSTON DANCE LOVERS are still talking about last January’s powerhouse performance by ISHIDA Dance Company, the only US company recognized in Dance Magazine’s “25 to watch” for 2023.
Founded in 2019 by Brett Ishida, who splits her time between Austin and Houston, the critically acclaimed company returns to the Hobby Center Jan. 12-13 for keepsake, an evening of poetic narratives and cutting-edge movement featuring keepsake and warm my bones, both world premieres choreographed by Ishida, a world premiere by French choreographer Jeremy Galdeano, and “If the world were ending, would you hold me tight?” by Swedish choreographer John Wannehag.
ISHIDA’s dancers, many of them soloists and principals, come from all over the country, even overseas, with some being local to Austin and Houston’s dance communities. While some of the performers come from the world of classical ballet, others are grounded in contemporary movement and theater. “They’re very diverse in terms of their background, which you don’t typically see in a company,” says Ishida. “In this project, we have one dancer (Juliet Doherty) who has done a lot of film, television and commercial work.”
ISHIDA Dance Company with Juliet Doherty and John Wannehag (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)
Across the range of dancers and personalities is a shared desire to learn and interact with other people, and receptiveness to the benefit of new friendships and collaborations. “That’s a common denominator with all of these artists,” says Ishida. “Their openness, generosity, and kindness.”
Ishida’s “keepsake” is a trio that explores a dissociative fugue state — a temporary condition where a person experiences memory loss due to a traumatic event and often ends up lost in what would otherwise be familiar surroundings. “It’s less about the fugue state and more about why that happened,” says Ishida of keepsake, which features music by the late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. The other world premiere, “warm my bones,” is a men’s duet referencing the Greek tragedy “Seven against Thebes” and the war between the brothers Polynices and Eteocles. For “warm my bones,” Ishida has selected The Rolling Stones song “Moonlight Mile,” perhaps as a reference to the brotherly rivalry between the still-rocking Jagger and Richards.
Growing up in Porterville, Calif., Ishida, a “nerdy, skinny” fourth-generation Japanese American, had plenty of untapped energy, which she channeled into all kinds of movement, with ballet being her favorite. “I was definitely drawn to that fairy tale of the ballerina in the book,” says Ishida. At age five, she would rope her older brother into doing lights for her own productions, complete with costumes and music from a tape cassette player. “I loved to create the whole thing,” laughs Ishida. At age 15, she received a full scholarship to attend the Kirov Academy and would go on to dance professionally and tour with several ballet companies. Years later, the aesthetic beauty of classical ballet, what Ishida refers to as “the lines, the angles, the technique,” are crucial components of her choreography, along with the range of possibilities contemporary movement has to offer. “It comes from the intention and the motivation of the character,” says Ishida. “The movement all has this drive and this emotional thing behind and in it, and it always goes back to what’s happening in the narrative.”
With an underlying emphasis on storytelling and character motivation, Ishida is dedicated to creating work without artistic compromise that for the audience, regardless of their experience with dance, is both relatable and memorable. “I created the company and these works to connect with people,” says Ishida. “I formed this because I wasn’t seeing what we’re doing.”
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