What’s Next for Houston’s Dance Scene?

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The Houston dance scene will soon be inundated with new opportunities thanks to Marlana Doyle, former artistic director at Houston METdance, who recently stepped down to start her own company. 

“There’s so much that the city has to offer, and I think sometimes people put it off because they think of dance in New York or L.A. or Chicago, but I’m trying to put Houston on the map,”  Doyle says. “I’m trying to really get this thing off the ground and hopefully keep it running for a long time.”

Doyle resigned from METdance in the wake of financial troubles following Hurricane Harvey that caused the organization to lose its home and, ultimately, its dance company. With METdance’s pivot away from performance, Doyle decided to embark upon two new projects: the Houston Contemporary Dance Company, a performance group with resident dancers, and the Institute of Contemporary Dance, a studio and rental space located in Sawyer Heights that will house the company. 

Michelle Smith, founder and executive director of METdance, confirmed to Houstonia that her organization will no longer retain a resident company, focusing instead on dance education and expanding rental opportunities for Houston artists in their new space in the Museum District at 5115 Main Street.  “If Marlana’s starting another contemporary dance company, that’s great—she’ll do a great job,” Smith says. “Our board has decided to go a different direction.”

Houston Contemporary Dance Company will feature many familiar METdance faces who followed Doyle to pursue a mission focused on performance, including dancers Jesus Acosta, Risa D’Souza, Dwain Travis, Elizabeth Sutton, Jordan Willis, and Genene Wallis-McGrath.  

“The mission of the company is just doing art—contemporary dance—for the art lovers in the city and trying to gain new fans,” Doyle explains. “We’re going to be doing a pop-up series starting in the spring where we’ll be in nontraditional spaces, engaging the community and audiences and trying to broaden our scope of who we’re reaching out to and who really likes dance, and making it for everyone.”

HC2, consisting of middle school and high school dance students, will serve as the second company. Doyle says they will be doing festivals, concerts, corporate events, and even the City of Houston’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

Repertory companies such as HCDC, which bring in a variety of artists to create works with multiple voices, are an increasingly rare luxury, according to Genene Wallis-McGrath, who will also serve as Studio and Education Director at the Institute. “This is something really special and really unique,” she says of the new organization. “The company is starting in almost a week now, and within the first three weeks we’re getting two brand new works with two amazing gentleman [choreographers]. That’s something really special.”

The Institute of Contemporary Dance will also serve as a home for community and art spaces, including three studios. The building was originally a tire shop, so while it houses plenty of large, open spaces and high, breathable ceilings, it will need to be heavily renovated before its public opening slated for January 2020 at 1302 Houston Ave Suite #300. 

“What we’re trying to accomplish is a really community-based space,” Wallis-McGrath says. “That includes giving people an affordable way to rent space that is easily accessible. We’re hoping to provide unique and different classes for children and adults and fun and exciting ways to dance, such as workshops and intensives and other experiences on the weekends outside of the traditional dance class.”

Both the company and the Institute will be funded through a combination of FreshArts sponsorships, individual donors, and class revenue. Doyle says she is confident that careful money management and transparency will keep the project sustainable while she continues to search for alternative sources of funding like the Houston Arts Alliance and new donor partnerships.

The Institute will begin holding open classes on October 29 at the MATCH, and prospective students can already sign up through the Institute’s website, Facebook, or Instagram. As far as performances, the company will debut their first season on December 13 at Queensbury Theatre. Additionally, they will have a performance in February at Queensbury and another in April at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

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