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Choreographer Jhon Stronks & the Houston Met launch a production pushing the boundaries of dance

Cast members of Still Confronting the Ground
Cast members of Still Confronting the Ground
Photo by R. Garson

In collaboration with the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, local choreographer Jhon R. Stronks presents Still Confronting the Ground at the Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex near downtown. Conceived and directed by Stronks, this dance theater production brings together a cadre of local artists and promises to be a boundary-defying event.

The vision behind Still Confronting the Ground sprang to life from a spring 2009 work developed by Stronks during his residence at the Houston Met. What originally began as an ‘improvisational art happening’ has morphed into an innovative production “in honor of growing up, and what it takes to get there…”

But this is far more than a simple coming of age story told through dance.

Still Confronting the Ground goes far beyond standard dance performances. While it maintains the Met’s integration of ballet with jazz and modern forms of dance, the addition of spoken word and electronic sound is something new. Stronks explains, “I set out to create a work that exemplifies what they do here at the Met and to push the theatrical side. A lot of the repertoire up to this point has been pure dance. We were interested in looking at more.”

Word and Sound
Spoken word plays an important role in the production, with texts taken from various sources in addition to writing by Stronks. Even more prominent is the use of sound by Jeremiah DiMatteo, a Houston-based composer, DJ, and sound designer. DiMatteo notes, “Some of the material is music, voice, or a combination of both. I am using these as primary elements to produce a ‘live remix’. I use a Korg drum machine and sequencer to produce drum patterns and musical lines. I also use hardware/software synthesizers and samplers to produce the sound for the different layers.” This audio component plays a crucial role in the production.

Visual Elements
While sound offers the needed accompaniment to dance, visual elements have not been forgotten. Clair Hummel provides the costume design, while the Barnevelder lobby features works by Donna E. Perkins, notably her pieces inspired by the 2009 production from which this new work originated.

Another element setting this production apart is transparency. Rehearsals have been open to the public all along, and this tradition is to continue at each performance. Dancers will enter the theater in plain sight, interact with audience members, and conduct warm-ups open to viewing. In designing the production, Stronks reflects, “It’s not about audience participation as much as it is about us getting to know our audience from the beginning. I didn’t want us hidden in the back, waiting for the audience to come. I want us to meet the audience before they see what we are about to tell them….”

With an intentional departure from dance production norms, Still Confronting the Ground assembles a creative mix of local talent, bringing an innovative performance to Houston’s East End. At the center of this mix is Stronks, the imaginative force behind this thought-provoking theatrical experience.

Tickets are available online at the Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex website. The production runs January 21 through 24.


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