14 Jun


It doesn’t take much to get an intelligent and engaging earful from Sara Draper. For me, it took only three questions. As the founder of Dancepatheater, Sara is staging something titled Memories of Spain at the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall for one night only June 20. Everything tells me we haven’t even seen the first – much less the last – of this hyper-ambitious, ongoing project.

1. What is it about Spain, its history and its interwoven cultures that intrigues you so much?

When I returned to college to complete my BA in Anthropology after years of dancing, I wrote a paper on the history of flamenco, which I have always been drawn to.  I kept reading all the way back to the pre-history of Iberia, and I kept coming across insinuations that there was an ancient mysticism of sorts associated with dance on that peninsula that still exists today.  That fascinated me.  The other thing was that I kept coming across terms like “golden age” and “legendary time” referring to part of the hundreds of years of Moorish rule in medieval Andalusia.  

I read about the intercultural scholarly exchanges, the renaissance that occurred in medieval Andalusia that set the stage for the later European renaissance, and the peace among Muslims, Jews and Christians that contrasted greatly with the rest of Europe at that time.  It was a safe haven for many people who were not tolerated elsewhere, and that example of civility, tolerance, and convivencia as the Spanish say, inspires me and, I think, is good for us to know about and remember in today’s world. Plus the vision of all those different languages and styles of music and dance mixed in the same city inspires the imagination!  Cordoba was called “The Jewel of the World” where arts and intellect flourished. 

The exchange of knowledge, culture, and arts in that time period created a great legacy for the western world, and the mix of those cultures led eventually to flamenco, too, which inspires passion, itself.  The flamencos say that el duende (the spirit) moves their singers and dancers, but I think it has touched all of Spanish music, dance and poetry.

2. Most choreographers do a work and then, well, that’s it – they go on and do the next one, often quite different. What are the joys and sorrows of an ongoing project like Al Andalus?

We have a very big ultimate vision for the Al Andalus Project, and we are a very modest size dance company.  The subject is vast.  So tackling one portion of the project at a time…the solos and duets selected for this show, for example…allows me to take time with these dances and really focus on them.  Later we can add more bells and whistles like video projection, etc.  Our first public showing of this project was a workshop sketch of the whole shebang, and it gave us a sense of the big picture.  Now, with the larger idea in mind, we can take small portions of that big picture and fill in the details. 

Meanwhile, cast members grow closer through our small events that reach out to various groups, and I’m able to continue exploring the Modern Andalusian Fusion style developing for this.  One delightful development of this long term project is the deepening sense of connection with Houston’s belly dance, flamenco, and Middle Eastern communities. Also, since this is only one suite in the Memories of Spain concert, I still have time to choreograph a premiere that is a totally different universe from Al Andalus.  So I still get to explore something completely different and new. 

One of the stresses is that dancers come and go from Houston, as do singers and musicians.  Sometimes I become very attached to a cast member, and then the next year they move to another town when I’ve been envisioning them in a certain role.  I have to find a new dancer to perform a role that I’ve envisioned for someone else…but ya know, that’s show biz.  Young performers have to move around and experience life.  It is just not always possible to keep the exact same cast together for years.  Training dancers in the fusion style takes some time, so starting over with new dancers can be a little setback.

The other challenge with doing this a bit at a time over years is patience.  The normal way is to dive into a project, be swallowed up by it, and then enjoy having achieved it and go on to the next.  I’ve had to change my thinking for this project, since doing it all in one chunk was not possible.  I think of this project as part of my lifestyle and part of the company’s identity.  It involves community, cultural exchanges, continuing education, and artistic exploration into the fusion dance style as a way of life.  It’s a different mindset.  I think I’ve finally made peace with that now.

3. What do you find most exciting about the June 20 program?

That’s tough.  I’m excited about our beautiful cast!  I’m excited about the new wonderful costumes for Scenes from Al Andalus and the way the dancers are portraying the characters.  I’m excited that we finally have Isabelle Ganz singing a Sephardic song live during one of the dances, something I’ve envisioned since about 2005.  I’m excited to finally perform The Back with live accompaniment, and to bring El Cerrojo (The Door Latch) back to the stage.  I’m thrilled that we have some authentic flamenco on the program.

But ask any choreographer who’s working on a premiere what they’re most excited about, and they’ll tell you The Premiere.  That’s true for me….I have wanted to combine classical voice with dance in the way I’m exploring it now for years…and I love how it’s turning out!  I just don’t see classical singers staged with dance in the way that I want to see it…this is something I crave, and I’m so excited that we are finally getting to investigate the idea.  Working with Shannon Langman and Timothy Hester on Five Tonadillas with Elementals, along with our dancers Lydia Hance and Joani Trevino, is very exciting!  This is something very new, and I hope to do more of it in the future.


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