When Sherese Campbell was getting her feet wet as a young dancer, she remembers feeling ostracized because she came from a different cultural background. Most of her teachers were Eastern Europeans “who didn’t look like me,” Campbell, an African-American, recalls, but they encouraged her to push past the social barriers. In 1994, Campbell founded Houston City Dance hoping to make a difference in how classical dance is perceived culturally.
“I began to notice how this could really change one’s life because it’s such a discipline,” Campbell says. “I began to see children coming to me from the heart of the ghetto who people had given up on, and you begin to see—guess what, they’re not losers.”
Campbell’s Houston City Dance is a studio made up of dancers from various backgrounds with ages ranging from 3 to 63. The company, which typically sticks to more serious work, is having a little fun with its upcoming show, Password Required: A Night at the Cabaret, on December 5 and 6. It shuffles from toe tapping to the boogie-woogie and World War II-era USO dancing. Two other groups, City Dance Ensemble (Houston City Dance’s younger dancers) and 5.Seven (a group named because they’re out of work by five and in the studio by seven), join Houston City Dance Company on stage.
Jaimee Vilela Navarrete, resident choreographer for City Dance and ensemble director for this show, is in her fourteenth season as a dancer with the company. Navarrete says the idea for A Night at the Cabaret came from a routine rehearsal.
“I started playing with some music in class and we loved how it looked and based it on what we thought was really funny,” Navarrete says. “There are a lot of dances that are really thought-provoking, but we wanted to go in a different direction.”
Part of the comedy comes from giving the audience a glimpse into the diva politics of backstage life mixed with some playful sabotage.
“One dancer might think she’s going out to dance, but another dancer has cut up her dress,” Navarrete explains. “Somebody’s chair is stolen or another diva is trying to walk out on stage, but it’s not their turn.”
Live music from Song “Songbyrd” Williamson in between dances also sets this show apart from what the company usually does.
“She really loves soulful music,” Navarrete describes Williamson’s style. “But she’s going to try to align her music with what we’re doing era-wise, more Nina Simone.”
Campbell, who is also a choreographer for the show, says she wanted to tell a story about what dancers were like back in the Gene Kelly-era of dancing. One of her pieces on the program is set to Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Take the A Train.”
“It’s hot,” Campbell tells me. “It’s really hot.”
Both Navarrete and Campbell say it’s the kind of relatable show that will make an audience want to dance too, largely due to the company’s versatility both in style and ethnicity.
“People really like seeing multiculturalism on stage because they feel represented,” Campbell says.
Dec 5 at 7:30; Dec 6 at 2:30. $15. Houston City Dance, 1307 W. Clay St. 713-529-6100. houstoncitydance.com