BWW Interview: Adam Castaneda on FrenetiCore Dance's THE SNOW QUEEN
FrenetiCore's THE SNOW QUEEN
FrenetiCore Dance's THE SNOW QUEEN, directed by Rebecca French, is currently being performed at Frenetic Theatre in Houston. The show is a family friendly dance narrative about friendship and the journey to find true love. The show, which is being funded in part by a City's Initiative Grant from Houston Arts Alliance, opened last weekend (December 4, 5, 6) and will run for three more performances this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, December 10, 11, and 12 at 7:30pm.
The story of the THE SNOW QUEEN, popularized by Disney's FROZEN, is retold through the imagination of dancer and writer Adam Castaneda. I got the opportunity to chat with him recently, and got to hear his thoughts about the show, his career, and about the Houston dance scene.
What is your educational background (formal and/or informal)?
ADAM: I have an MA in American and British Literature from the University of Houston. I also received my BA in English from UH. I started studying dance at Houston Community College, where I danced with the school's Central Dance Ensemble and African Drum & Dance Ensemble. A little over three years ago, I was invited to be an apprentice at FrenetiCore, and I've been with the company ever since.
What would you say are some of your greatest influences artistically in dance or literature?
ADAM: I wrote my Master's thesis on the novels of Willa Cather. She was a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, but far less appreciated. I fell in love with her novels because they were so intensely character-driven and psychologically sophisticated. I was never really a plot-based reader. I prefer to sit with characters and get into their heads; I find fiction fascinating that way, how certain writers can develop a psyche using only words. Among contemporary writers, I'm a fan of Jhumpa Lahiri, Sherman Alexie, and Alice Munroe. Alice Munroe probably writes the most gorgeous short stories published today. As far as dance is concerned, I can't say. I just know that I see a lot of dance and I'm drawn to a very Modern aesthetic, much more than contemporary or jazz. I study traditional West African dance, and dance instructors who know me well say that my movement is influenced by that style. I have a loose spine and my hands are very ornamental. I'm not sure if those qualities are what they're referring to, but that would be my guess.
You've been writing about the dance and arts scene in Houston for some years now. What trends do you see in dance in Houston or what do you see happening in the future? Why?
ADAM: A trend I've noticed is that dance companies are moving away from the whole fall and spring show format of presenting a season, and are creating opportunities for their dancers through non-traditional projects like site-specific works and outreach programming. I really like that idea. It's so expensive to produce a show, and the audience just isn't always there for an evening-length dance program. It's a trend that has yet to reach FrenetiCore, but as Executive Director, it's one that I think needs to be explored. Outside of ballet, there just doesn't seem to be that much interest in narrative dance, but I think that's a good thing. I'm drawn to more abstract dance myself, and I prefer narratives that are loosely tied together. In other words, audience satisfaction isn't dependent on being able to follow a concrete story for the duration of the experience.
How did the decision to produce THE SNOW QUEEN come about?
ADAM: About a year ago, when we were programming this season, we knew we wanted to do a fairy tale for our third full length of the year. It's been a couple of years since we've done a December show, and we've never done a holiday themed show in December. So we wanted it to be a fairy tale or some variation thereof. We applied for and won a City's Initiative Grant from Houston Arts Alliance to produce our very first family holiday show. At that time we didn't know what fairytale we wanted to do. But when I was writing the grant, I remembered THE SNOW QUEEN. Since then, THE SNOW QUEEN has sort of become famous due to Disney's FROZEN. But anyone who has read the original story knows that Disney took bits and pieces of it and made their own variation that doesn't have much to do with the original. One of my focuses in college was European Victorian Literature, and the Victorian era is considered the time of the birth of what we consider Children's Literature. The idea that childhood is somehow sacred was somewhat invented in the Victorian Era. Prior to that, children were considered small people who went to work just like adults did. There was no concept of childhood, children's rights, and the idea that children need to be nurtured and taken care of. So, there was this explosion of children's literature, and that's when all of the major fairy tales were written down and codified. In Germany, you had the Brother's Grimm, and in France you had BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Finally in Denmark, Hans Christian Anderson wrote original literary fairy tales, and THE SNOW QUEEN was one of them. I always thought it was a beautiful story of friendship and then thought it would be fun to take that story and create our own variation with my own spin on it. The story is based on an adaptation I played with in college, and when I was writing the grant I thought it would be a good time to explore that narrative.
Friendship doesn't seem to mean what it did today as it did when this story was written. We have social media and other electronic forms of communication that make friendships impersonal and this seems to create more disconnect in relationships. In these terms, what is the relevance of THE SNOW QUEEN for today's audiences?
ADAM: If you go back to the original, the Snow Queen doesn't really have a huge role in the story. Yes, it's called THE SNOW QUEEN and she kidnaps Gerta's childhood best friend, but we really don't get involved with her as a character. Really, the journey is Gerta's journey as a child through the landscape to get to the Snow Queen, and she meets all of these different people who become her friends. She meets a band of robber maidens, she meets two Magic Women, she meets animal friends, she comes across a flower witch. It's about a sheltered girl who goes out into the world and for the sake of friendship, meets all of these new people, who she then becomes friends with, and by the end other story, she is this fully realized worldly character. Today, finding genuine friendships seems to be a skill set that people are losing because, as you mentioned we have social media and so many electronic ways of communicating- we really don't have a lot of face time with our friends. So, the idea of meeting or encountering people and building a friendship based on chance meeting is something that is sometimes lost. The audience will see this in this production and perhaps it's a chance for audiences to contemplate their own friendships.
THE SNOW QUEEN features work from some great guest artists. What can audiences expect from their work on THE SNOW QUEEN?
ADAM: Heather vonReichbauer is a full-time dance faculty member at Rice University. Heather has a a very strong affinity for character. Her dances really do reflect the thoughts of the characters. The movement vocabulary is shaped by the characters. She does really nice work. Laura Harrell is an MFA graduate from Sam Houston State University, a very prestigious dance school in Texas, and she teaches at Lone Star College and San Jacinto College. Laura Harrell is a true find. She's choreographed about six dances. Each one is gorgeous and beautiful. The movement is not just beautiful to look at, but it's beautiful to perform. As a dancer, that's something that she wants. I'm in several of her dances, and it's just a joy to dance choreography that's challenging and at the same time is beautiful to look at. As a performer, you want to feel strong, you want to look strong, and know the choreography is strong. That's what Laura has done. She's come in and completely revitalized the company, and I hope we get to work with her on future shows. The costume designer is Ashley Horn. She has a long relationship with FreneticCore. She was dancing here ten years ago, before we even had a space for the theatre. She has transitioned into the teaching and designing aspect of the dance world and has designed many costumes. We love having her on board for THE SNOW QUEEN as a designer. The costuming is one of the notable aspects of the production.
What can audiences expect as far as scenic design is concerned? Are you using a more minimalist approach with the SNOW QUEEN?
ADAM: We're definitely keeping it minimal. We've decided to use projections. We're also going to have four giant flats and create the impression of a pop-up storybook. Each flat is stationary. One is a Scandinavian village where Gerta and Kai are from, another is the Snow Queen's palace, another is the enchanted flower, and another has typical arctic terrain with a small hut. These flats feature original artwork by Dave Brown, an artist, art historian, and college instructor at Houston Community College. The flats are beautiful and are so strong that we think people will want to take them home. So, these flats will be up for bid at the end of the run.
What advice do you have for people out there that want to become a dancer? What about a writer?
ADAM: I would tell people to continue working towards whatever goal they've set for themselves. It's hard to be a dancer or a writer, and there's very little opportunities in both fields, and you're probably not going to be paying many bills with either, but if you work long enough and hard enough, you'll get an opportunity somewhere down the line that you can really sink your teeth into. And that opportunity will lead to more opportunities. And there's the element of time as far as dance is concerned. It's a very youth-oriented form of an expression for obvious reasons. The body can only do so much for so long, and if you start late, your experiences are cut by that many years. But you have to just cut your losses and move forward and understand that you dance because you love it, not because it will necessarily lead to a job or performance opportunity. Performing is only one element of dance. I think adults should find a large part of their satisfaction in moving through taking class. If I were to all of a sudden stop performing with FrenetiCore, that doesn't mean I'd stop being a dancer. I'd be in class, taking Modern from my favorite teachers and study West African wherever I could. And I'd be one hundred percent satisfied. I wouldn't be working on shows, but so what? I would still be dancing, which at the end of the day, is what I really want to spend my time doing.
What upcoming projects can we look forward to from you?
ADAM: After THE SNOW QUEEN ends, I'll be performing in Suchu Dance's BEGIN WIDE at MATCH. After that, I don't know. I have an original story I would like to develop at FrenetiCore, but it all depends on funding. Cross your fingers for me. If it happens, I think it will be a good one.
THE SNOW QUEEN
presented by FrenetiCore Dance
FrenetiCore Dance's THE SNOW QUEEN is funded by a City's Initiative Grant from Houston Arts Alliance.
Lauren Burke, Ashley Carfine, Adam Castaneda, Dorianne Castillo, Taylor Foster, Rebecca French, Jaime Garcia, Ladonna Matchett, Holly Moran, Davis Stumberg, Lyric Williams.
Location: Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation Blvd, Houston, TX 77011
Dates: December 4, 5, 6, and December 10, 11, 12
Time: 7:30 p.m. (December 6 matinee at 2 p.m.)
Tickets: $16 presale, $20 at the door, $25 reserved
*Children's tickets: $8 presale, $10 at the door
**December 10 Pay-what-you-can
For tickets and more information please visit www.freneticore.net