Dancer Laura Gutierrez

dinner / dance 19
May 19
Good Dog Houston
903 Studewood St

Pairing dinner and a movie has been an established evening pastime since the dawn of Hollywood; more recently, Alamo Drafthouse has popularized with concept of dinner with a movie. The next obvious step, clearly, is dinner with a dance. Lydia Hance, artistic director of Frame Dance Productions, teamed up with chef David Leftwich to create Dinner/Dance 19, a multisensory dance work to be performed May 19 at Good Dog Houston.

Hance happens to be Leftwich’s young daughter’s dance instructor. One day during a dance activity, she asked her students to name vegetables. Leftwich’s daughter named beets, radishes, and kale—quite the sophisticated palate for a three-year-old. “We began talking almost two years ago about the similarities between cooking and choreographing, and I became very excited about how we can explore all of the five senses with this once experience,” says Hance. “The dinner scenario can be quite tense—or wonderful.  There is an expectation of a certain degree of decorum while dining, and those expectations are a potent set-up to be either broken or fulfilled.”

The fusion of choreography and cuisine also marks a change of presentation from Frame Dance’s abstract dance works. Hance is gifted at evoking mood and temperament through movement. 2012’s The Black Space proved an edifying meditation on the act of forgiveness and the darkness that precedes the decision to let go and move forward, while last year’s To the Brim was an beautiful, insightful look at introspection and self-consciousness.

David Leftwich in the apron, Lydia Hance in the blue, and dancers Alex Soares, Danielle Gonzaba, and Ashley Horn

With Dinner/Dance 19, Hance enters narrative dance theater territory; her dancers inhabit specific character roles that are motivated by the parameters of a set scenario. The six characters in Dinner/Dance 19 are all employees of Search Optimizer, a fictitious company that specializes in restaurants and social media. In the dance, Good Dog Houston is a prospective client, with everyone eager to land the account. Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Frame Dance Production without a little audience participation. “Attendees are invited to be as involved as they feel comfortable,” explains Hance. In past shows, such as 2013’s Ecouter, dancers improvised in response to the audience members’ participation.

Lydia Hance

For the culinary half of the experience, Leftwich is planning to create a menu based on locally grown produce. “It will be a vegetarian menu based on quality, seasonality, and availability,” he says. “Each dish will hopefully highlight the bounty of what our local farmers produce and will likely focus on one vegetable, like kohlrabi, carrots, or beets.”

Bringing together dance and dining isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. As Leftwich points out, both can be highly choreographed affairs, with actions taking place in a certain order and in a certain manner. And there’s certainly an art to putting together a well-prepared meal. “I’m hoping for a greater awareness and appreciation for the full process of growing food—the time, the care, the space and the reliance on our earth, to the creativity and movement of preparing it,” says Hance. “The motions of cooking have become mundane to us, but as I’ve been watching and exploring, it is quite beautiful: precise, furious and calm. Small.”

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