BWW Blog: Adam Castaneda - The Pilot Dance Project Premieres Jennifer Mabus' REQUIEM
Tomorrow, August 5, 2017, The Pilot Dance Project will present six performances of Jennifer Mabus' REQUIEM, a modern, site-specific dance work set in the Morales Funeral Home, Houston's first Hispanic-owned funeral home. In the historic landmark, the forty-five minute piece will immerse audiences in the communal rituals of grief and mourning. Below, BroadwayWorld guest blogger Adam Castaneda, who performs in REQUIEM and serves as Executive and Artistic Director for The Pilot Dance Project, offers insight into the dance event.
When I first had a conversation with choreographer Jennifer Mabus in late 2016 about producing a show, I knew that the eventual work was going to push the Pilot Dance Project in a direction the company had never gone before. I had reached out to Jennifer because I had seen several of her smaller pieces, and I was touched by the deep emotional content of her dances. The movement was beautiful, yes, but she also demonstrated a heightened sense of empathy for her subject matter. It's the type of dance theater that I'm drawn to and want to produce.
When we had our initial conversation, she introduced me to the idea of creating an immersive dance theater work. As luck would have it, one of my most dedicated patrons, John Virden, is close friends with Christina Morales, CEO of the historic Morales Funeral Home. The Morales family is a pillar of the East End community, and I thought perhaps this venue, rich in personal and communal narratives, might be a good setting for Mabus' work. She immediately jumped at the opportunity.
As a performer in REQUIEM, what I admire most is that the dances are very much about the space itself. I've experienced many site-specific works as an audience member and all too often I feel that these dances are created in the studio and simply inserted into an alternative space. I don't think this is the case with REQUIEM.
For starters, Jennifer not only brought in her own understanding of grief rituals, but also did plenty of external research. Her interest in people, and understanding their stories, inspired a duet I share with Ashley Horn. In honor of Felix and Angela Morales, the duet tells their experience of starting the first Hispanic-owned funeral home in Houston, and how Angela had to learn to embalm bodies to keep the business alive when Felix went to war during World War II. It's going to be performed in the entrance of the parlor towards the beginning of the show, so I read it as Jennifer's invitation to the space, and its history and what this institution has given to the community. I think that's a very generous artistic choice to make.
As a body of work, REQUIEM is about endings and beginnings, and the individual dances evoke different scenarios surrounding grieving. There's a mother-daughter duet, a trio of three sister characters, and a love duet that sees one of the pair slip into the afterlife. Jennifer approached each of these vignettes with a kind, universal sensibility. Even if someone has never lost a close friend or family member, I think they'll be moved by the tenderness of the work, and how rituals of grief, no matter what form they take, actually connect us rather than separate us.
I think the most exciting thing about running a repertory company like the Pilot Dance Project is to see the creation process of each choreographer who comes through the door. Having Jennifer in the studio, and sharing in her work, has been such a pleasure, because very quickly the work took shape. I could see early on that this was going to be a dance work that speaks to many different people on many different levels. I can't wait for everyone to experience Jennifer's work, and the loving insight she's bringing to this treasure of a space.
The Pilot Dance Project is a program of FrenetiCore, a non-profit dance arts organization whose performances combine dance, theater, and visual art. The organization is based out of the Midtown Arts & Theater Complex Houston, and produces work at venues throughout Houston's East End. The 2017 season concludes with the Pilot Dance Project Presents Jaime Fruge's TWENTY-FIVE in November. Learn more about FrenetiCore and The Pilot Dance Project at freneticore.net.
REQUIEM by Jennifer Mabus, stars Adam Castaneda, Lindsay Cortner, Jade Devault, Elaine Fields, Ashley Horn, Kayla Hyde, Eva Jin, Tawnya Kannarr, Cloe Leppard, Donald Sayre, Emily Sayre, and Jennifer Mabus. Performances are at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. 2901 Canal Street. Seating is limited. $16 - $20. artful.ly/store/events/12198.