Avant-Garde Dance Troupe Goes Out on a Limb at Archway

THIS WEEKEND, ARCHWAY Gallery continues its series of adventurous post-pandemic programming with two nights of performances by Houston's PDC Works (formerly Psophonia Dance). Take Root is a brand new dance created by the company's artistic director, Sophia Torres, with live music for viola and fixed media by Houston composer Rob Smith.

In these still-uncertain times, with a shaky economy in recovery, and artists, musicians and dancers now returning to the public sphere after months of isolation and unemployment, cross-pollination between artistic disciplines and venues is going to be crucial for the survival of the arts. Take Root is poetic realization and argument for this necessary symbiosis, inspired by nature, but presented indoors.

Throughout the quietest months of quarantine, Torres, like many Houstonians, found herself becoming even more sensitized to the sounds and rhythms of the natural world. The movement in Take Root, which began taking shape in July, is partly inspired by the ways in which trees utilize their roots to communicate with each other, creating a complex, underground "living network" described by Torres as "the secret world beneath the forest floor."

Recent photos of PDC Works dancers feature the company's lithe, graceful dancers deep in a forest, their stretches invoking the twisting, gnarled growth of the surrounding trees. "The choreography for Take Rootdeveloped once we were able to meet in person," says Torres. "It's through the bodies of company that I can bring the vision, the story, forward."

In performance, the dancers will move throughout Archway like pollinators floating from flower to flower (or perhaps invisible signals transmitted between trees), transforming the gallery into an imaginary greenspace. While seating will be provided, the audience is permitted and encouraged to move around the space to take in the dancing from different vantage points. The 4,000-square-foot gallery has semi-enclosed spaces, alcoves and vitrines offering plenty of opportunities for a dancer to disappear then reappear from view, depending on where an audience member is standing or sitting.

In performance, Smith's score for Take Root is played live by violist Nina Bledsoe Knight, her fully scored part complemented by a prerecorded soundscape of sampled sounds of trees and the viola. "The sounds are essentially of water running through the inside of a tree," explains Smith, who began collaborating with Torres and her company back in 2015. "Several scientists have recorded sounds from the inside of trees with special mics they attach to the trunk. I have used those recordings as a guide to create my own version of these sounds."

While Knight will remain mostly stationary during this weekend's performances, Torres is known for creating choreography to include her musicians, thoroughly integrating them into the work, which will no doubt happen as Take Root continues to develop into evening-length program.

Rounding out the program are excerpts from two company works, The Orchid (2013) and Pier (2015), each a tribute to company member Vi Dieu who passed away suddenly in 2020.

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