When dance needs words — ISHIDA continues to push the boundaries of contemporary dance in Houston

Ohen many artists turn to dance when they feel words cannot adequately express their ideas, Texas-based choreographer Brett Ishida believes that words – her own stories in fact – are an indispensable part of movement. Unique in the current landscape of contemporary dance, in which abstract themes have long been a sign of sophistication and modernity, Ishida believes that the words, stories and experiences from which they arise are central to the otherwise silent practice of dance.

As choreography is semantically the practice of writing the body (graphy is equivalent to writing, as we can recall in the primary introductions to biography and geography), the way in which Ishida approaches the creation of dance has actually been established for a long time.

Yet the difference is that Ishida’s work applies traditional methods to contemporary situations relevant to modern audiences. In doing so, Ishida also asks audience members to conjure up images and ideas of seeing the dances in much the same way an author would expect their readers – with narrative structure present, but leaving room for art and imagination to create the total performance experience.

Ishida established ISHIDA in 2019 as a new world-class contemporary dance company based in Houston and featuring established dancers from the global dance scene. Already a sought-after choreographer for her work, Ishida was recently commissioned by revered ballerina and Washington Ballet Artistic Director Julie Kent to create a ballet for the NEXTsteps festival, held in June. Dance critic Sarah Kaufman writes for The Washington Post considered to be Ishida’s piece Back home which “addressed a deeply poignant and poetic theme” to be “remarkable”.

“Home-coming”, commissioned by the Washington Ballet, was inspired by the grief of Ishida’s widowed grandmother. (Photo by xmb Photography.)

The works that ISHIDA will bring to Houston’s MATCH stage address similar themes around relationships, communication, history and memory. These ideas are at the heart of ISHIDA’s corporate philosophy which explores archetypal concepts and invites existential questions such as Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? to be sealed.

This is all due to Ishida’s methodical process of writing and translating between artistic genres. Thus, the words she writes become movement, the music she selects is transferred to a written score that she designs and the choreography is the result of this interdisciplinary, thoughtful and dialogical process.

Next weekend’s performance will include two world premieres from ISHIDA”When will the three of us meet againwhich embodies a complicated relationship between three sisters, and “I want to hold, darling” a piece derived from historical Spanish practices towards grief, acceptance and comfort.

The program will also include a poignant duet originally performed in Wuppertal by John Wannehag and Stephanie Troyak, as well as the Texas premiere of DOMA. DOMA is a lively work by Jeremy Galdeano, a French national and former soloist of Les Grands Ballets, and Vera Kvarcakova, soloist of the Nationaltheater Mannhein Tanz, originally from the Czech Republic.

So, with a heightened focus on the interplay between dance and words, and with equally remarkable irony, No word left in me shows Houston a program and a choreographer that still have a lot to say.

No word left in me shows next Friday, August 12 and Saturday, August 13 at 8 p.m. at the MATCH. General tickets cost between $30 and $60, VIP tickets cost $100. Get more information and tickets here.

Dr. Jill Nunes Jensen is a member of the dance faculty at Loyola Marymount University. Her research has been published in the journals Dance Chronicle and Theater Survey, as well as in several books. She has been a guest speaker for the San Francisco Ballet (2018), Duke University (2019) and the University of Maryland (2020). Nunes Jensen’s co-edited publication The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Ballet (2021) is the first volume to situate and establish contemporary ballet as a moment in dance history.

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