Review:  Squeeze - Psophonia Dance Company 

Nichelle Strzepek

Barnevelder Theatre

June 26, 2009


All you need is love... right?

Perhaps, but in their new work, Squeeze, which was presented at Barnevelder last weekend, Psophonia Dance Company articulates we are under pressure to "need" a lot more. A big house, more stuff, the latest, greatest, and... a ShamWow? No wait, that's the rug that is being yanked out from under our feet as poor spending habits finally catch up with us.

The show has visual and auditory appeal. Black, white, and red all over, the costuming pops with graphic prints and bright solids. Lighting designer, Jaime Melendez supports this motif with splashes of warm hues, choosing appropriate moments to cast deep shadows with stark white lighting. And the score, featuring everything from Beatles tunes to Soujla Boy and mixed by Jeremiah DiMatteo, is equally playful and fetching.

During portions of Squeeze, co-directors/choreographers Sophia Torres and Sonia Noriega are gently wagging their fingers but in a non-discriminatory way toward themselves, the powers that be, the audience. In a swipe at creditors, the evening's ringmaster/narrator played by Toni Valle, describes the convoluted conditions upon which the audience can secure the return of their money, should they wish to do so following the performance.

But, Squeeze isn't all about finances. There's a smidgen of sensuality as the dancers parade onto and across the stage in a Vegasy opener. And, a touch of technology -- the audience is invited to text or, for the tragically hip, "tweet" during a brief intermission. Also there's a "healthy" dose of paranoia as a few sneezes and the threat of swinish germs undermine the dancers' ability to connect with one another.

These big ideas, however, seem to appear and then fizzle as metaphors. There's the tantalizing proposition that we've been invited to a three-ring circus, but the references disappear by Act II. There is an underutilized set piece shaped like a house. There are tomatoes begging to be squashed that remain untouched until the finale, where they meet their fate without even a squish. Torres and Noriega are tossing concepts at the audience without follow through. By the conclusion, I am not certain if they are commenting or simply caving to a deficit in attention by squeezing this many hot topics into a one-hour show.

Guest artist, Valle, well-known for her own dancing and choreography is more actor than dancer in Squeeze. She delivers convincing monologues, her strong stage presence a plus. The theatrics, however, dominate the production, sometimes eclipsing the choreography. Exceptions include a clever section in which the dancers partner orange bathmats, sliding them from place to place with their hands, feet, and other body parts, as well as the aforementioned sneeze segment. A moment, featuring  dancer Stephanie Beall, also stands out. She is revealed on a stool, pulls an imaginary chord, alters her position in darkness, and is revealed again. It is simple but effective. Torres, herself, is a welcome addition in the small ensemble. She carves broad strokes with her movement, distinctive when she appears as a soloist, but blending well with performers, Scarlett Barnes, Stephanie Beall, Naphtali  Beyleveld, and Tapley Whaley otherwise.

On opening night more than one group of late-arriving patrons was allowed to cross in front of the performers throughout the evening, even with only 5 minutes remaining in the production. This is disappointing because one would hope that on the lips of audience members, as they filter from the theatre, would be the performance itself.
Though Squeeze is inconsistent in shape and direction, it succeeds as an entertaining portrayal of current events. It does not enlighten with answers, nor does it cause deep introspection or questioning. Rather, it holds up a mirror. I recognized the image and walked away nodding.

Nichelle Strzepek is a dance artist, instructor, and writer. She balances her role as a mom with performing and writing about dance education topics at her blog, Nichelle's coverage of local dance news and events also appears at her online portfolio, Nichelle Dances.


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Travesty Dance Group/Houston performs Traffic

at Dance/USA conference in Downtown Houston


Performance in conjunction with the 2009 annual DANCE/USA Conference

Houston, TX – On Friday, June 5, 2009, eleven of the best dance companies in Houston present The Power of Movement. The spectacular, one night-only event brings together Dance of Asian America, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, Hope Stone Dance Company, Houston Ballet, Houston Metropolitan Dance Company Psophonia Dance Company, Revolve Dance Company, Sandra Organ Dance Company, Suchu Dance, Travesty Dance Group, and Urban Souls Dance Company. This unique dance event takes place at 8:00 pm on June 5, 2009 at Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston. Tickets may be purchased by calling 713 227 2787 or by visiting  

The Power of Movement will be held in conjunction with Dance USA’s annual conference to be held in Houston June 3-6. Established in 1982 as the national service organization for the professional dance field, Dance/USA is a membership organization currently serving over 400 ballet, modern, ethnic, jazz, and tap companies, dance service and presenting organizations, individuals, and related organizations. Dance/USA sustains and advances professional dance by addressing the needs, concerns, and interests of dance artists, administrators, and organizations. By providing services and national leadership, Dance/USA enhances the infrastructure for dance creation, education, and performance.

The Power of Movement is generously sponsored by Houston Endowment, City of Houston Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Downtown Alliance, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Discovery Green and Methodist Center for Performing Arts Medicine at The Methodist Hospital.

This performance offers audiences the unique opportunity to view the best of Houston dance, all in one location. Audiences will get a taste of the powerful performances and wide range of genres Houston has to offer.

Dance of Asian America (DAA) will perform Thousand Hands Goddess with choreography by Zhang Ji Gang. DAA has a two-fold mission: to promote and preserve the rich cultural heritage of Chinese dance through authentic and contemporary Chinese dance. DAA also provides young dancers with professional dance training in various dance styles and performance opportunities, developing them into versatile dancers while helping them pursue their future dance endeavors. DAA is the only non-profit organization in Texas dedicated to developing cultural awareness and ethnic preservation through the art of Chinese dance. DAA benefits over 30,000 people each year including low-income families, seniors, people with disabilities, children of all ages and hospitalized patients through three free high caliber shows at Miller Outdoor Theatre and numerous cultural enrichment programs and performances throughout the greater Houston area.

Dominic Walsh, a former principal dancer with Houston Ballet, launched Dominic Walsh Dance Theater in 2002. The company is dedicated to the creation and presentation of innovative contemporary ballet, and its world-class repertoire features works by Walsh and such iconic choreographers as Mauro Bigonzetti, Jiří Kylián and Matthew Bourne. In addition to producing a full season of programs in Houston, the company tours nationally and internationally. Set to music by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, the company will perform an excerpt from Walsh’s
I Napoletani.

Hope Stone Dance Company, a dance and theater ensemble made up of professional dancers & performers, founded in 1997 is an organization with emphasis on presentation of authentic dance, music, theater and continuing arts outreach to children, especially those at risk. It is a not-for-profit arts organization whose goal is to present performance art in some of its varied ways, shapes, and forms at hand and feet, through the vibrant positive message of dance,
music and theater. The company will perform director Jane Weiner’s Companion Planting IV to music by Peter Jones.

Houston Ballet is America's fourth largest ballet company. The professional company was founded in 1969 and has been hailed by The New York Times as "one of the nation's best ballet companies." Under the leadership of artistic director Stanton Welch, the company features 55 dancers and has a $20 million annual budget. Over the last decade, Houston Ballet has toured to London, New York, Moscow, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Montreal and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. With its extensive international touring, Houston Ballet has emerged as one of the city's most effective international ambassadors. At The Power of Movement, Houston Ballet will perform Hans van Manen’s Solo, a tour-de-force for three male dancers, set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Since its founding in 1995, the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company has presented contemporary dance that explodes in movement, color and emotion. The company mixes the most edgy styles of dance and music with the classical into a kaleidoscope of energy all audiences enjoy. Seasoned choreographers such as Robert Battle, Salim Gauwloos and Eddy Ocampo alongside new, young artists like Brock Clawson and Joe Celej enjoy working with this strong and versatile company, creating works that dance aficionados of all levels love to watch. Tidal Intersections, choreographed by Katarzyna Skarpetowska, will be performed by Houston Metropolitan Dance company to music by Philip Glass.

Revolve Dance Company was established in 2004 by the seven owners of NHPA® dance studio as a means to present new works in the community with the intentions of motivation, inspiration, and education in and through the art of dance. Under the direction of Amy Cain and Dawn Dippel, both dancers with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater for three seasons, Revolve has presented several full-length concerts in The Woodlands and Houston, including collaborations with Ad Deum Dance Company of Houston, the Mayan Kingz of Las Vegas, and The Wes Veldink Movement of New York. This ten-member dance company has also performed in such notable Houston events as Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance, Dance Houston, Dance of Asian America, the JCC’s Choreographers X 6 and Triple Focus, and Big Range Dance Festival. Revolve Dance Company is the proud recipient of the 2007 Dance Houston Award. With music by Ani Difranco, this company will perform Philosophy, choreographed by Amy Cain, Dawn Dippel and Wes Veldink.

Founded in 1997 by Houston Ballet’s first African American ballerina, Sandra Organ Dance Company (SODC) is a unique contemporary ballet ensemble utilizing the art to educate, enrich and attract diverse audiences. SODC blends dance, music and the spoken word in a narrative with “dances you can get.” Sandra Organ Solis’s To the Thawing Wind, set to music by Mark O'Connor, Edward Meyer and Metamorphes, will be performed by the company at The Power of Movement. SODC explores the stories of people of color in its annual Black History Month and “Si Se Puede” concerts, and produces James Sewell’s Amahl and the Night Visitors with American Sign Language as its holiday favorite. The company has presented over 135 dance concerts to 35,000 people, in 20 venues, with 25 collaborators.

Called “a kinetic marvel” by the Houston Chronicle, Suchu Dance is a Houston-based company now in its tenth season, lead by founder/artistic director Jennifer Wood and managing director Louie Saletan. A 2002 Rencontres Choreographiques semi-finalist praised by dance writer Molly Glentzer as “the most inventive choreographer working in Houston today,” Wood has conceptualized and mounted 19 original evening-length works and 75 shorter works since 1994. In 2008 Suchu Dance toured to perform on the ‘Inside/Out’ series at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and at Emory University. Suchu Dance will perform an excerpt from the evening-length production entitled How to Absorb the Colorama Format with choreography by Jennifer Wood and set to “Idle Chatter” by Paul Lansky and “Evergreen Vampo” by The High Llamas.

Travesty Dance Group will be performing Traffic, choreographed by Karen Stokes and set to drumming music. Travesty Dance Group was formed in 1997 to produce the creative projects of its founding members, Kimberly Karpanty, Rebecca Malcolm-Naib, and Karen Stokes. The company has home bases in three cities: Houston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. TDG/Houston operates as a season-based company, performing original choreography by Stokes. In the last 12 months, TDG/Houston has performed in the Uniquely Houston Series and Discovery Series at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts, at Buffalo Bayou Arts Festival, at Discovery Green, at Big Range Dance Festival in Houston, with Musiqa at Zilkha Hall, with Aura at the University of Houston, at the Plays & Players Theater in Philadelphia, and at Weathervane Theater in Ohio.

Urban Souls, a Houston based dance company, believes in bridging gaps between the worlds of urban life and dance theater. The company embodies exceptional artistry and a profound sense of spirituality. Urban Souls presents a wide spectrum of multicultural works that are both socially and visually appealing to all audiences. Urban Souls Dance Company is dedicated to the preservation and creation of historical and contemporary dances which celebrate cultural themes that educate, empower, and entertain. USDC is the recipient of The Dance Houston Award (2004), Dance Houston’s Best Artistic Achievement (2005-06) and Best Choreography and Audience Pick (2008). Urban Souls will perform Across the Waters to music from the motion picture soundtrack "Hotel Rwanda" with choreography by Harrison Guy & Walter Hull.

To kick off the Dance USA conference, Houstonians and conference-goers alike can enjoy Dance Houston, Inside Out, a free performance showcasing Houston’s dance community at 7:30 pm on June 3 at Discovery Green. Dance Houston, Inside Out will offer various genres of dance from several Houston dance companies including: Ad Deum Dance Company, Exclamation Dance Company, Houston Ballet II, Houston Metropolitan Too, Koumankele African Dance and Drum Ensemble, Mitsi Dance Company, Soniquete Flamenco Dance Company.




The Times-Picayune Thursday, March 26, 2009

'Sistahood' exhibit returns to its roots


Beaullieu sisters focus on '50s in La.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009
By Linda Dautreuil

There is a buzz about a performance launched late last year in Houston that's making its way to New Orleans this spring. "Memoirs of the Sistahood - Chapter One" is coming home to Louisiana.

The performance is the first in a series of collaborative works between sisters Babette Beaullieu, a sculptor and teacher in the St. Tammany Talented Arts Program in Mandeville; Becky Beaullieu Valls, a performer/ choreographer living in Houston; and independent filmmaker Deborah Schildt of Alaska. "Chapter One" focuses on the female archetypes of 1950s Louisiana and the six Beaullieu sisters: Beth, Becky, Babette, Bonnie, Bitsy and Barbara.

Based on the experiences of growing up in a large Catholic family, the series fuses individual artwork created by the artist-sisters with childhood "sense memories," original music and film. Central to the interactive stage setting is Babette Beaullieu's life-size altar boxes of wood and organic materials representing the complex personality patterns of family.

The sculptures appear onstage to house the dance performers and are exhibited after the performance for audience viewing.

Recognized most recently for her exhibition, "Hidden Spaces: Mixed Media Sculpture" at the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge, Babette Beaullieu is known for her use of found materials to create large-scale three-dimensional sculptures and wall reliefs.

She built the six altar boxes for Chapter One with recycled materials found on the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Windows, doors, wood and architectural details came from torn down buildings and trash piles. Beaullieu notes, "I built a box, not really thinking at first which sister I was trying to represent. Halfway through the construction, I began to sense a specific energy, how it felt to be with that sister. I could hear our conversations. I think of these altar boxes as spiritual totems that are also universal archetypes."

When Chapter One premiered in December 2007 at Diverse Works Art Space in Houston, critics may have expected a sentimental memory play, but the visual and kinetic storytelling drew rave reviews as new material rather than simply reminiscences of the past.

The Contemporary Arts Center will present "Memoirs of the Sistahood, Chapter One," with interactive sculptures by Mandeville visual artist and teacher Babette Beaullieu April 4 at 8 p.m., onstage at 900 Camp St., New Orleans.

Tickets for the general public are $20, $18 for students, and $15 for seniors. For more information, visit

Published on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 1:22 p.m.

Published in The Times-Picayune Thursday, March 26, 2009


reprinted from NeoNumaArts:  


Friday, February 06, 2009


tetris by Toni Leago Valle
By Neil Ellis Orts


When I first moved to Houston 5 years ago, one of the first artists to whom I was drawn was Toni Leago Valle. I met her in Fieldwork, where she was showing work that incorporated storytelling and dance---which was exactly where my head was at the time. I was especially drawn, however, by her choreography. She uses an interesting and often surprising movement vocabulary, especially when partnering with another dancer. There are images from the first piece I saw of hers in Fieldwork that remain in my head, simply because the partnering work surprised and delighted me.

In the intervening years, Toni has become a friend and sometimes collaborator. She hired me as director for her last evening-length work, Cracked (2006), during the last two weeks of rehearsal of which I had the poor judgment to have a "heart event" and have since felt guilty that I wasn't there to play more in the final moments. (Oh, but wait, this isn't about me, is it?) She also worked with me on a short movement piece I made for a Fieldwork showcase (along with another friend and sometimes collaborator, Misha Penton of the new Divergence Vocal Theater).

So, last night, I went to see Toni's latest full-evening show, tetris. I'd seen a lot of photos from the show, had her bring a snippet of it to the neoNuma Arts Holiday Salon back in December, and even wrote a preview piece about it for OutSmart's January issue. So going in, I knew this piece was about a young woman's fractured identity and all the dancers around her were the many voices inside her head---from internal critic to inner child.

What I saw last night was a surprise.

First of all, this is the first piece I've ever from Toni that didn't use text. All the storytelling was accomplished via the movement, music, and news and pop culture video and audio clips from the 1980s. Not relying on text makes for more ambigous storytelling, but that's not a bad thing. In fact, that's the most appealing thing about this show. Back when I was helping Toni on Cracked, one of the things I remember saying to her more than once was, "cut this bit of text---you don't have to explain everything, we get it---or if we don't it's still there and it's not your fault that we don't." By doing away with the text---and I'm speaking of this piece in the context of Toni's larger body of work---it feels like Toni took a big personal risk, to let the storytelling happen or not, according to the audience's ability to look at dance.

But second, and perhaps most important, it works marvelously. Even when I wasn't clear on every dancer's role in the main character's head, I was enthralled. Even when I wasn't syncing up the video to the movement, it was never dull and never looked thrown together. If I wasn't "getting" every moment, I was getting that there was purpose and thought to every moment.

The evening itself is a bit of roller coaster, starting as it does with video of the Challenger crew boarding the shuttle to the tune of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom." I hadn't seen that video in years and it was a sucker punch to the gut, especially how Toni reminded us of how often we saw that explosion, over and over, with stops to point out where it begain and diagrams that gave us nearly second by second explanations of it.

But it's not all doom, as Toni's sense of humor is evident throughout the evening. A highlight of that being a duet wherein each dancer is trying harder than the other to pose for the flashing cameras about them, occasionally pointing out someone out in the audience and motioning "call me." Very funny stuff, expertly played by the dancers.

And speaking of the dancers, I want to mention two in particular. Priscilla Nathan-Murphy was also in Toni's Cracked. She was mesmerizing then and she's no less so now. She is able to fill the theater with her presence and deliver the goods on her movement ability. From her toes to her fingertips, everything is articulated and everything moves with purpose. I have no idea if she thinks so, but when I watch Priscilla dance, I feel like she's aware of every movement she makes. Some dancers get by with occasional tossing off of unfocused movement. Priscilla never lets you see those, if she makes them at all.

Also of amazing stage presence was a dancer making her contemporary dance debut, 9-year-old Bianca Torres-Aponte. I've never seen a child on stage be so focused and in the moment of the performance. When she first appeared, I was drawn by her presence, but then when she actually danced, I realized here is a little girl with no little ability. I half expected her to do mostly pedestrian movement, but Toni gave her some more complex choreography and it was lovely. At her age, any number of interests might come her way before she makes grown-up decicions about her life, but if she's able to maintain the focus she displayed last night, there's little doubt she'll grow up to do well, whatever she does.

Go to Toni's website and see if you can still score tickets for her last two performances. tetris is an evening in the theater well spent.



Toni Leago Valle’s Tetris Excavates, Resonates, and Captivates


by Nichelle Strzepek
February 2, 2009...3:25 pm
reprinted from Nichelle Strzepek website:

From the outset, Toni Leago Valle’s latest work is an interactive experience. Upon taking their seats, the audience may feel a box of popcorn is order as they are treated to movie clips (circa the 1980s) and trivia regarding the production’s ensemble of Houston dancers. It is a device that simultaneously puts viewers at ease and prepares them for their reciprocal role in the performance to come.

Rooted in the psychological theories and concepts of Voice Dialogue, Valle’s first maneuver is to introduce the audience to the Operating Ego. No mincing words here, our subject literally breaks the fourth wall of traditional theater (something that occurs often throughout the work), steps into the audience, shakes some hands, and introduces herself… well, she tries anyway. Unable to complete her sentence and offer her name, it seems our heroine is a bit unsure of who she really is. It is no mystery that the audience is being invited to come along as she discovers her many “selves.”

Creating this cast of inner beings has surely been a personal exploration for Valle. In fact, she embodies The Inner Critic in her own production, first appearing in a dramatic duet with The Operating Ego, played by the uniquely stunning Mechelle Flemming. Viewers are given a taste for each personality as they are introduced and interact with one another. Other than given titles such as The People Pleaser, The Special/Perfect Self, and The Dependent Child, the audience is given few clues as to why the characters act or react the way they do. However, the information is unessential during the parade of personalities, engaging performances, clever and often humorous choreography, and heavy dose of bittersweet nostalgia, which transports and sustains the audience through an enjoyable evening.

There are many moments in the production that deserve note. The entire cast are well-suited for their roles and they all fit together like the gigantic blocks (shaped like tetrominoes in the popular video game, Tetris) that are skillfully utilized as set, platform, shelter, and cage throughout the piece. Catalina Molnari is a stand-out in an athletic and emotional adagio atop a set of these blocks. Jennifer Magill and Joe Modlin ham it up deliciously during an entertaining duet, Corian Ellisor is both dapper and disquieting in his role as The Absence of Love Self, and in a touching duet with Mechelle Flemming which includes sequences of spell-binding gesture, young Bianca Torres-Aponte, who portrays The Vulnerable Child, is simply mesmerizing.

Tetris is a testament to Valle’s ability to create interesting characters and creatively unfold motifs, both lighthearted and solemn, one chapter at a time. In addition to presenting one woman’s journey of self-discovery, she takes the audience through events and experiences of the 1980’s and early 90’s with perhaps less rapid-fire speed than the Billy Joel hit “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (which actually chronicles about 40 years of America’s modern past) but not without a similar pop sensibility. With selections from Violent Femmes, The Cure, The Smiths, and even Donna Summer, the score plays like the soundtrack of someone’s life, if not specifically Valle’s. Gen-Xers will find it hard to resist the small jolt of joy they receive when a fragment of Reality Bites appears on the backdrop during Act II, despite the clip’s weighty subject matter. In fact, although the overall effect is often uplifting, many of the themes in Tetris are far from feel-good fare. Valle asks patrons to once again watch the Challenger spaceship explode as Peter Schilling’s Major Tom plays and the dancers mournfully scan the skies. She encourages a re-visitation of such gloomy events as the deaths of John Lennon and Princess Diana, the OJ Simpson trial, the AIDS epidemic, and the Rodney King beating. Like Prego, “It’s in there.”

In mining her own history, Valle has produced a work that resonates and captivates. Even those too young (or too old) to appreciate what it was like to come of age during the indulgent and somewhat narcissistic era of the 1980’s will be charmed by this romp down Memory Lane. In fact, the commonalities rather than the divisions between generations and between individuals can be found in the tale Valle tells through Tetris. She has invited the audience to join her (and/or “Alex,” The Operating Ego) as she excavates her own experiences but what she uncovers, to the delight of most spectators, is a story shared by all.

Remaining performances of Tetris, playing at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex in Houston, TX are at 8pm February 5-7. For more information or to purchase tickets visit .



Flash Responses by Karen Stokes
Dance in Houston, January 2009

reprinted from Dance Source Houston
to view flash response in its entirety, visit: 

Flash Reponse #2:  “Tetris” by Toni Valle:

If putting the pieces of a psychological profile together intrigues you, you should go see “Tetris” by Toni Valle this week at Barnevelder.  If large-scale theatrical dance is your thing, see “Tetris” this week.   If you are a follower of the considerable talents of our modern dance community, buy a ticket to “Tetris”.  If you like story telling combined with dance – “Tetris” might be of interest.  If you have a thing for symbolism, “Tetris” gives you plenty of that. If you like the pop culture of the 80’s, I really think you might want to “pop” over to see “Tetris”.
Toni Valle is not scared of combining huge concepts, big sets, a sizeable cast, and one small child on stage.  She likes to think epic, putting to use her own personal experiences to expound upon her view of life. Toni has created three evening lengths in her relatively young career as a choreographer.  The first “It’s All Relative” reflected on experiences with family.  The second, “Cracked” reflected on experiences as a young woman. I suspect “Tetris” is a continuation of the autobiographical themes, as Toni investigates psychological pieces that make up the whole of a woman.
On the visual side, large pieces of a 3-D block-puzzle painted with pale squiggles (designed by Tom Boyd of the Houston Ballet) dominate the stage, seemingly symbolizing the parts of the woman (one suspects the autobiographical material here) soon to be danced by a cast of Houston favorites, including long-time Houston dancer and choreographer Priscilla Nathan-Murphy.  (I’ll say no more about Houston favorites, as several dancers come from my own company or I have worked with or I have trained at U of H  . . . I admit prejudices here . . . did I mention Toni was my student at one time?)
Led by Mechelle Flemming as “The Operating Ego,” the cast dances with strength and vigor. The movement is big and peppered with repeating motifs. Swooping “back attitude” turns and slicing leg flings appear throughout the evening, with only passing attention to smaller detailed movement possibilities. These broad-brush strokes serve to stir up the stage, and help the evening to flow at an enjoyable pace, especially in Act I.  A surprise is revealed at the end of Act I when the face of Flemming magically appears on the puzzle pieces, now re-arranged by the dancers in the shape of a box. The symbolism is clear: these pieces represent aspects of the woman; these pieces are parts of self. 
It seems that each of the dancers, including an enchanting performance in Act 2 by budding child dancer Bianca Torres-Aponte, tell the story of a single person of many selves. It is not “Sybil” like, there are no truly psychotic aspects to this person, but it does seem to delve into the concept that a single human houses many selves.  While the psychological trajectory was at times (like the psyche itself) difficult to follow, Valle made the journey easy with entertaining snippets of video footage from old 80’s favorites such as “Pretty in Pink” and “Ghostbusters,” recorded historical narratives of the same time period, a range of pop music, and the constantly changing stage space.  Valle didn’t hesitate to “go there” in the first Act by including a tongue-in-cheek 80’s dance competition couple (Jenny Magill and Joe Modlin), giving the audience a full-on satire of ballroom from said period. As always, Jeremy Choate gives plenty of bangs for your buck with his lighting design, complete with his favored “hazer” look – a diffused mist that softly filters light.  If you haven’t gone yet, you should head on over to Barnevelder to check it out.  “Tetris” is a chance to see one of our best up and coming Houston choreographers developing her vision of dance-theater. And oh, by the way, the upgrades continue at Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex.  The latest terrific improvement is a new seating system, with comfortable chairs and great sight lines. ã Karen Stokes 2009



TETRIS  - Toni Leago Valle

reprinted from Dance Source Houston

by John DeMers


Barnevelder Theatre

In classical dance, great storytelling is often an excuse for dancing well. In many modern works, and especially those of Houston choreographer Toni Leago Valle, dancing well is an excuse for great storytelling.

While Valle’s creations are more than physical enough to qualify as dance, they tend to involve others elements borrowed from pop culture – and, in the case of her earlier, wildly confessional “CRACKED,” a live vocal narration by her and about her. More than a dancer, then, Valle is a storyteller. And the story she seems most committed to telling is either her own journey or, if forced to be more general, the journey of a young woman to maturity in a time and place much like her own.

Tetris, named after the popular ‘80s computer game, seems to be about a woman’s efforts to integrate, to make peace among and make sense of the many often-warring pieces that define her. The story’s trajectory is, in one sense, very simple: a woman comes out at the beginning and wanders blankly through the audience, her only self-expression the unfinished sentence, “My name is…” Almost two hours later, she does much the same thing, only this time smiling and saying confidently “My name is Alex.” OK, so that’s the story. And a fine one to tell it is. After that, however, the only question concerns how well it gets told.

Throughout the evening, and especially during the first act, Valle’s brand of original, physical and bold movement keeps her show entertaining. In fact, she piles considerable amounts of humor into Act I, something we wish she’d remembered for the slower Act II. A whimsical underpinning is supplied by ‘80s hits (Violent Femmes, The Cure, Donna Summer, etc.) pasted together as a score of sorts, and even more so by clips from iconic ‘80s movies like Terminator, Ghostbusters and Pretty in Pink.

These happy, for-some nostalgic notes seem perfectly balanced with the video and sounds bites from darker history, ranging from the Challenger disaster to the murder of John Lennon to the death of Princess Diana to the growth of the AIDS epidemic. At times, the whole thing resembles Edward R. Murrow’s great series about the Depression and World War II, “I Can Hear It now” – which, naturally, became “I Can See It Now” just in time for Murrow’s big switch to television.

Valle appears as a dancer in her own show, spending the evening in a kind of sundress and identifying herself in the program as The Inner Critic. This, like most of the other characters described in the program (The Gatekeeper, The Jungle Energy Self, The Non-Special/Imperfect Self) offer few clear clues to what the heck is going on. Indeed, a dance probably needs to tell the story on its own anyway, without recourse to liner notes. Thus, the evening’s highlights tend to be things that speak through humor, accessibility or their sheer physicality.

In the memorable category, we’d certainly have to mention the witty, crowd-pleaser of a duet performed by Joe Modlin and Jennifer Magill, Lindsey McGill’s Martha Graham-like rant in a red raincoat and the agonized solo set to R. Kelly’s “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” danced with Cirque du Soleil athleticism by Catalina Molnari. Finally, Mechelle Flemming provided an impressive presence as the heroine of the piece, though Valle’s calling her The Operating Ego in the program is indicative of what keeps Tetris from moving us at the level of emotion. Operating Egos can’t really laugh or cry or bleed. Those are things that people do.

The latest Valle evening was well-received by a decent-sized audience in the new, improved Barnevelder Theatre, all a reflection of the support so many dancers and dance groups in Houston express for one another. In the end, feel-good sentimentality may not have been the order of the day. But any well-told story of a woman's struggle to find and understand herself, to hear her own voice and, yes, to speak her own name, needs to be something deeply emotional. In its finest moments, Tetris either is or aspires to be precisely that. – John DeMers

John DeMers has been writing about the arts and a lot of other things for more than 30 years. Today he is the host of the Houston food and wine radio show Delicious Mischief, heard on Radio News 740 KTRH Saturdays at 11 a.m. He is the author of 37 published books, not counting his upcoming mystery novel MARFA SHADOWS.


Houston Modern Luxury Magazine January 2009


Outsmart Magazine January 2009

putting it together
Toni Leago Valle's ‘tetris'

Being a gay dancer has its pros and cons,” says Corian Ellisor. “The field of people I come in contact with are more willing to come out and support dance. With that being said, many people ask what I do, and I am always faced with the stigma of dancing on a poll.”

In tetris, the new dance theater piece created by Toni Leago Valle, UH dance faculty member and Dance Source Houston project manager, people are dancing on blocks—huge, moveable puzzle pieces created by Houston Ballet designer, Tom Boyd. Throughout the evening-length work, a cast of 12 tries to put together all the pieces of a woman's life, using many experiences from Valle's coming of age in the 1980s. “We entered the dating scene after the ‘free love' mind-set, so bisexuality and experimentation was popular during my teens,” Valle says.   “I had many gay friends and even tried a few bisexual relationships. Then—wham!—we were hit with AIDS . . . all of a sudden, intimacy was banned and everyone withdrew from one another.” With a soundtrack from the '80s and '90s, tetris explores the loneliness and fragmentation these mixed messages had on a generation.

Ellisor is only one of four gay dancers in the cast of 12, the others being Brittany Wallis, Joe Modlin, and Alex Abarca, none of whom dance on poles in this production.

“Definitely nothing wrong with that,” Ellisor adds. “I just don't do that.”

Tetris runs January 29, 30, February 5–7, 8pm, Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston. Learn more at — Neil Ellis Orts

Corian Ellisor (supine) is one of four out dancers (from a total of 12) who are part of a new theater dance piece, tetris. The other three are (l–r) Joe Modlin, Alex Abarca, and Brittany Wallis.



December 22, 2008


1043 Stonecrest Drive

Houston, TX 77018

 tel. 713-409-2838




Toni Leago Valle premieres Tetris




Toni Leago Valle is a child of the late 80’s, and her work reflects the ideals of a woman approaching 40 with a history of Madonna, Reaganomics, the Rodney King beatings, and the rise of computer technology. “I can remember getting cable and watching MTV for the first time – when they actually played music videos - we were amazed at how some of the bands looked; not how we envisioned them at all.” With the remaking of 90210 this year, the 80’s are officially back. Valle’s new evening-length dance/theatre concert, Tetris, embodies a reflected look-back at that time period, as filtered through one woman, Alex. Tetris includes a cast of 12 of the best performing modern dance artists Houston has to offer and a puzzle piece set that stands over 5 feet tall, designed by Houston Ballet Set Designer, Tom Boyd. In addition, Houston Ballet Lighting Designer, Christina Giannelli is collaborating with noted lighting designer Jeremy Choate, to create the lighting. Tetris premiers January 29-February 7, 2009, at Barnevelder Theatre, in the heart of Downtown Houston.



Tetris is a dance/theater fusion narrated against the backdrop of the 80-90’s: the despair and isolation of a confused generation as seen through the emergence of techno music and realizations on how the world really operates (sexism DOES exist and homogenous is not always a term about milk). Though set in the 1980’s, Tetris is a response to our current sociological and political environment. Tetris touches on social and political issues, reflections and comparisons of life a decade ago to current issues of today. In familiar themes (Can’t we all just get along?) lies a subtext of fear, a lack of human tolerance and understanding, and a mass inertia that pervades throughout Tetris. As suggested in its title, there is a twist – the entire show takes place in Alex’s mind. “I used to tell people I had dogs because if I didn’t, I’d be talking to myself,” remarks Valle, “I grew up talking all the time, and if no one was around, I was holding a conversation with myself. I envisioned all these people in my head, arguing over a problem. As I got older, I was intrigued by the idea of bringing these people in my head to the stage. I studied Jung, but the archetype theory didn’t ring entirely true for my concept – I wanted real personalities, with their own wants and needs that conflict with one another. The closest thing I could relate to was the movie Sybil, but that wasn’t right either, as I knew that there was something more normal in my idea- not a personality disorder. Last year, I was introduced to Voice Dialoguing.”



Based on the psychological theory of Voice Dialoguing - the premise that a person is not one personality, but many selves, each working separately and together to protect and sustain the individual person, Tetris dives into the recesses of one woman's mind and the many selves that live there. The characters are divided into primary selves – recognized and cherished by Alex, and disowned selves – the parts she does not acknowledge and keeps hidden. As seen through the eyes of Alex, the world is two realities. The outer reality is a theater where everyone knows his role except Alex, who has never seen the script. Her Inner Reality, more “real” than the outer, is her dreams and nightmares, the Inner Critic, and the wall being built around her with gigantic puzzle pieces. -more- Valle uses video and 80-90’s music from The Cure, The Smiths, and others to show how the outside reality invades Alex’s mind. Presidential speeches, news clips, and segments from movies give a glimpse of what it was like growing up in 1985. In one piece, Shuttle, Alex, surrounded by her selves, watches the Space Shuttle Challenger blow up, and the selves react in fear, dancing with chaotic abandon. In How Can I Love?, after listening to the Surgeon General make an address to the nation on AIDS, the selves express a deep sadness and isolation in the new fear of dating. “This piece has a unique message to my generation. We entered the dating scene after the Free Love mind-set, so bisexuality and experimentation were popular during my teens. I grew up in theaters and nightclubs and had many gay friends and even tried a few bisexual relationships. Then- Wham – we were hit with AIDS and no one was sure how it was spread. All of a sudden, intimacy was banned and everyone withdrew from one another. Kissing was no longer ok, even hugging sometimes scared people. I felt abandoned and didn’t know how to reach out to people. This piece dives into those feelings of loneliness and frustration.”



To complete the idea of the puzzle of the mind is the 5 foot set – 10 3-dimensional puzzle pieces that are moved by the dancers onstage to form a cube. Hence, the name, Tetris. Mechelle Flemming stars as the young woman, Alex, and Corian Ellisor as the disowned self out to destroy her. Other cast members include Alex Abarca, Erica Lewis, Jenny Magill, Lindsey McGill, Joe Modlin, Catalina Molnari, Priscilla Nathan-Murphy, Brittany Wallis and newcomer Bianca Torre-Aponte as the Inner Child. Toni Valle play the Inner Critic.



Tetris premiers January 29-February 7, 2009, at Barnevelder Theatre, 2201 Preston, Houston, TX, 77003, in the heart of Downtown Houston. Tickets are $40 Opening Night, with Dinner Included, and $12-15 General/$10 Student. To purchase tickets or for more information, contact Toni Valle at 713/409-2838,, or visit


(High resolution photos available upon request)



Tetris Fact Sheet


WHAT: Toni Leago Valle premieres a new evening-length concert, Tetris.



WHEN: Thursdays - Saturdays, January, 29, 30, February 5-7, 2009, 8PM.



WHERE: Barnevelder Theatre, 2201 Preston, Houston, TX 77003 WHO: Toni Leago Valle



Highlights: A cast of well-known performers including Mechelle Flemming, Corian Ellisor, Alex Abarca, Erica Lewis, Jenny Magill, Lindsey McGill, Joe Modlin, Catalina Molnari, Priscilla Nathan-Murphy, Brittany Wallis and newcomer Bianca Torre-Aponte as the Inner Child. Toni Valle play the Inner Critic.



Ticket Prices: Opening Night - $40 (dinner Included); $12-$15 General Tickets and Information: 713/409-2838 or


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