Members of the PDC Works dance ensemble whose performance ‘Take Root’ celebrates trees.
Photo: Pin Lim
Led by Sophia Torres, PDC Works travels underground in its latest collaboration with University of Houston faculty member and composer Rob Smith.
In a multidisciplinary work entitled “Take Root”, five members of the contemporary dance ensemble, formerly known as Psophonia Dance Company, unite with a trio of professional musicians to examine the complex social network through which trees communicate.
Originally shown as a work in progress at Archway Gallery last fall, an expanded version of the piece will premiere August 25 in the first of three performances that will transform the four-story hall of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design. build an artistic representation of nature’s vast network of fungal connections. The free program — supported in part by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and the New Music USA Organizational Development Fund — will adopt an open format, encouraging patrons and passers-by to roam and experience the piece from all angles.
From relaying signals to sharing resources, the ongoing dialogue unfolding underfoot, a live recording of which accompanies the first section of the 45-minute work, is brought to light through the earthy choreography by Torres, to original music Smith wrote for viola, clarinet and cello. All the while, a massive root sculpture by set designer Keith Epperson will hang above the performance space, recreating the visual environment of the narrative.
When: 6:30 p.m. on August 25 and 26; 7:30 p.m. on August 27
Where: University of Houston Gerald D. Hines Architecture Building, 4200 Elgin St.
Details: Free; pdcworks.com, robsmithcomposer.com
With a shared passion for intertwining their respective disciplines, Torres and Smith began collaborating in 2015, and they have since fostered a symbiotic relationship between their art forms, one resembling the interdependence of trees and even that between the perennial plant and humanity. “Take Root” marks the duo’s third large-scale work, the last of which explored the fate of the bee with the help of AURA, Smith’s contemporary chamber ensemble at the University of Houston.
“We did all kinds of cool collaborations in order to create an experience, not just a concert,” Smith said. “For musicians, it makes us look at music in a different way; you must know him much more intimately. We are all going towards the same goal, but we have our own language and our own ways of interpreting things. By working with these other people, you’re bound to learn a bit of their language, which I think only increases your appreciation and understanding of what you’re all trying to accomplish.
In addition to playing, the musicians – violist Nina Knight, clarinetist Roberto de Guzman and cellist Bing Wei – must have a constant awareness of the dancers, in order to give and receive cues, and in some cases they join even in motion. Given the size restrictions of her instrument, Wei is the most stationary of the three and is located in the middle of the room, representing the heartbeat of the program both physically and musically. Kinetic energy fills the space, as the dancers spin in circles and weave their way through the trio, often breaking into a cannon, in order to keep the conversation flowing from root to root.
“We’re really trying to tell a story here,” said Torres, whose earthy movement style reflects his early training in the Graham Technique and its elements of twitch, release and spiral. “I had been blind, if you will, for years. I didn’t appreciate or acknowledge my own personal connection to the Earth, but when the pandemic hit and I started slowing down, it really heightened my sense of the environment. We need trees. If we don’t have trees we will die, so taking care of our environment is really important.
As part of the “Take Root” performances, the public is also invited to attend two pre-show interviews with local environmental leaders, including Trent Rondot and Marissa Llosa of the Houston Parks Board on Thursday as well as Patti Bonnin, senior naturalist at Houston Arboretum. and Nature Center the next evening.
Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a Houston-based writer.