PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston June 2023

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(Continued on page 76) Brett Ishida steps on stage at Houston's Asia Society. NOT YOUR REGULAR DANCE TROUPE By Catherine D. Anspon. Photography Amitava Sarkar. W e ' v e b e e n t r a c k i n g the ascendant star of choreographer Brett Ishida ever since she and her company, Ishida Dance, were introduced to us in 2021 by Karen Sumner, former Menil director of advancement, now with the Colorado Ballet. Ishida was intent on taking her then-Austin- based company on the road to perform in Houston, with the goal of having a full-time home here while continuing to present shows in Austin. Coffee chats and discourses over dinner followed, and Ishida shared details of her unique journey in contemporary dance — one that defied many odds. She was reared on a citrus farm in the San Joaquin Valley. "Unlike what we think of California's Silicon Valley or Hollywood, where I grew up was economically poor, working class, and predominately Hispanic," she says. "Agriculture and football reign in the Valley. I was the nerdy, skinny Asian kid that wanted to be a ballerina." She and a friend discovered Balanchine videos on cable TV, then danced to them in an impromptu home studio when they were 11 or 12; this American master still influences both Ishida and her company aesthetic. "Balanchine works are visually beautiful with alluring lines as well as complex patterns," Ishida says. "Like Balanchine, music is extremely important to my choreography because it drives the thread of the narrative." At the age of 15, Ishida left California for a full scholarship at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., followed by study at the iconic School of American Ballet in NYC. A BA in literature from UCLA with emphasis in creative writing and an MA in Montessori Education were part of Ishida's creative detours, as was a stint living in Mykonos. Then came her move to Austin and now Houston. After several pandemic reschedules, we caught Ishida's bold entry last summer at MATCH in the four-part program no speaking left in me. Her intuitive performance that night redefined notions of modern dance; its global cast of dancers melded works by international guest choreographers (Stephanie Troyak and John Wannehag, Jérémy Galdéano and Vera Kvarcáková) with premieres of two Ishida-created works. The audience was mesmerized by the abstract narrative paired with minimalist performances that moved the story forward with emotion and archetypal power. Since then, the company — which was founded in Austin in 2019 — has added a Houston base of operations, scored a Houston Arts Alliance grant for 2023, and was toasted at a cocktail hosted by patron Judy Nyquist as a kickoff for Ishida's upcoming debut at Asia Society Texas Center. All of this momentum arrives when the nonprofit has been anointed with what Ishida calls the equivalent of a James Beard Award for dance: inclusion in Dance Magazine's annual influential "25 to Watch" list for 2023. This honor was no doubt fostered by a recent commission for Ishida to create a work for The Ishida Dance's among dim shapes The company's changeling i want to hold, darling debuted at MATCH, Houston, 2022 Brett Ishida at Asia Society Texas Center 26

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