The 2nd annual festival of Texas Latinx choreography signals hope for more diversity in dance – and continued recovery from the pandemic

MVMT Dance, choreography by Amberly Altamirano Daniels / Photo by Badshooting Photography

When I interviewed Houston dancer-choreographer Adam Castañeda in March 2021, he was getting ready to launch his inaugural Texas Latino/a/x Contemporary Dance Festival, which in some ways became a statement of resilience.

At that time, Castañeda, who is director of Pilot Dance Project, called the festival a culmination of a year of “trying to survive” and rallying his fellow dance makers, amidst feelings of anger and resentment caused by the loss of performance opportunities and health inequities during COVID-19.

But this year, he says he’s in a much better place.

“Since I last spoke to you, I’ve produced three evening-length dance works, two of which were sold out. Our annual Houston Fringe Festival [produced by Pilot Dance] happened, and now we are gearing up for an even fuller 2022,” said Castañeda.

“The opportunities as a choreographer have just continued to flow with new commissions that I haven’t announced yet. I’m just so grateful,” he said.

Castañeda is now about to present his 2nd annual Texas Latino/a/x Contemporary Dance Festival, March 11 – 13 at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH).

His efforts and resilience have paid off, as seen in the growth of that festival.

Held virtually as a digital dance concert last year, the inaugural edition included 11 works by local Latinx choreographers.

This year, it’s turned into three nights of unique programs with more than 20 works by artists from Houston, Dallas, Denton, and San Antonio, as well as Atlanta – and it’s finally able to be held in person, as COVID rates decline locally following the omicron variant wave.

Alas Dance Company / Photo by Ulisses Rivera

Castañeda says he was “overwhelmed by applications” this year, signaling that Texas artists are eager to get back to making dance and performing it – and having paid opportunities, which his festival has always offered.

“With the funding we have been awarded for our season, including a Festival Grant from the City of Houston through the Houston Arts Alliance, we are paying each choreographer a stipend,” he said. “Dance festivals are nothing new, but it’s still a surprise to find a festival that pays in 2022.”

All of this leads to a positive contribution to the arts ecosystem, says Castañeda, in particular making a needed impact on Latinx choreographers – whose diverse, layered identities have not been fully explored on stage in contemporary dance, but will be centerstage at this festival.

“There are so many intersections when we talk about present-day identity,” said Castañeda.

From LGBTQ+ artists to Indigenous artists to those who embody the crossroads of Indigenous and European heritages, he wants the festival “to dig a little into all of those identities and holistically show how they make up this category of Latino/a/x.”

De La Rosa Dance Company / Photo by Matthew Rood

Castañeda also says he’s excited to spark a local conversation about ableism in dance.

“[Atlanta dancer-choreographer] Mark Travis Rivera works with bodies that have been traditionally considered disabled,” Castañeda said. Rivera is presenting a solo set on a dancer with a limb difference.

“What he’s doing is so important because we really haven’t had this discussion in Texas,” he said. “There are great organizations, like Axis Dance Company, which Mark previously worked for in San Francisco, but we don’t really see dance extended to the disabled here in Houston. It’s going to be significant having him on this year’s program.”

Choreography by Mark Travis Rivera / Photo by Andrew Fassbender

The Houston dance community is “slowly re-emerging” from the pandemic, according to Castañeda.

The expansion of his festival is one sign of that, and he says that new works are being presented more regularly these days, while also acknowledging that the pre-COVID challenges of funding and producing dance still remain.

Mollie Haven Miller is the Executive Director of Dance Source Houston, a dance resource and advocacy nonprofit, and she agrees, adding: “Live dance performance is re-emerging, but it’s a slow process because of how dance works are created. It’s not an on/off switch, as works take months to develop.”

“Companies are strategically creating and presenting work, as they’re used to limited resources even in the best of times, but it’s even more of a challenge right now even as we re-emerge from the omicron surge,” Miller said.

Still, Castañeda is forging ahead with the goal of sustaining an annual presence for his Texas Latino/a/x Contemporary Dance Festival, and he has other big plans.

“We also want to broaden the scope of what we mean by contemporary,” said Castañeda.

“I want to know what folklórico choreographers are doing, what salsa and merengue looks like on a concert stage. I want to see contemporary hip-hop and Latin ballroom in the mix,” he continued. “We’ve already started this conversation, as we have two Aztec dance groups on the roster this year. Latinx is a broad category, and so are our dances. Eventually I’d like the festival to encapsulate all of that diversity.”

Updated March 13, 2022: The word “impairment” has been changed to “difference” to be more inclusive and aligned with disability culture.

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