Q&A: Maggie Lasher of ChinaCat Dance

ChinaCat Founder Maggie Lasher. Photo: Wally James
ChinaCat Founder Maggie Lasher. Photo: Wally James

The founder of ChinaCat Dance talks about fire dancing and her work Nomad, part of this year’s three week-long Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival.

Dallas — The Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival has big things in store for dance enthusiasts this year with its newly expanded timeframe and variety of guest performers. The 12th Annual Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival, co-presented with Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth, features three weekends of dance with three different themes, highlighting 17 adjudicated guest companies/artists alongside five Barefoot Brigade member companies. The festival runs Jan. 10-26, 2013 at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas.

Maggie Lasher, founder of Houston-based ChinaCat Dance and a first-time Barefoot Brigade guest performer, will be presenting her solo Nomad during week one’s program, pertaining to the theme “Dwelling.”

Lasher received an MA in dance from Case Western Reserve University in 2005 and her MFA in dance at Sam Houston State University in 2008. She has danced in works by David Dorfman, Martha Graham and Pascal Rioult and has performed in dance companies in Colorado, Arizona and Texas. Her own company, ChinaCat Dance, has performed in Fort Worth, Huntsville, Houston and San Antonio.

TheaterJones asks Maggie Lasher to discuss her signature fire dancing technique, the inspiration behind her solo Nomad and how she became involved with the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival.

ChinaCat Dance will be performing Jan. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 12 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. (There is a complete schedule at the bottom of this interview.)

TheaterJones: Is this your first time performing at the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival?

Maggie Lasher: Yes!

How did you hear about it?

I always keep my eye out for opportunities, but I actually heard about the Barefoot Brigade from a friend who is with Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth. So, I submitted an application with a description of my piece as well as a video of it. I think you could also submit a work in process, but in my case it was a done piece.

This festival is really unique because it’s three different weekends showcasing three different themes and multiple performers. I haven’t done a festival like this before.

You will be presenting a solo titled Nomad during the first week of the festival. When did you start working on this piece?

"Nomad" solo. Photo: Steve Patlan
“Nomad” solo. Photo: Steve Patlan

This is actually an older piece for me. I first did it in 2008 and I have revisited it a couple of times over the years. I danced it when I first did it, but ever since then somebody else has danced it. I then revisited it in 2009 and again for a show we did in Houston last September. It was around that time that I found out about the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival. They were looking for pieces specific to the theme of dwelling and I was like, “oh my gosh, I had just rebuilt this piece that is specific to this theme.”

Is it challenging to rebuild an older work?

For me it was more about reconnecting with the work so that you’re not just taking it off a video and slapping it on the dancer. When you first create a new work it is like your baby so it’s hard to make cuts and edits. What I like about revisiting pieces like this one is that when you shelf it for a couple of years you then are more opened to making changes and moving it forward.

Before when I redid this piece I always reset it on the same dancer, but I don’t have her available to me now so I am putting it on another dancer. I did have to make some movement changes, but I do try to hone in on the specialty of the dancer I have. My first dancer was super tall, willowy and quite the technician, whereas the dancer I reset it on is much more theatrical and does not have the typical dancer shape. She is also quite the comedian so there is a lot more humor in the piece.

What was your original inspiration for the piece?

It was actually a project I did in grad school. It was a semester-long project where we had to do a 15-minute then a 30-minute solo before cutting it down to 10. The solo was originally about death and about packing up somebody’s room after they die. And that’s where all the boxes came in. So, it literally started with me taking stuff in and out of boxes, but then what everybody responded to was the boxes and how I worked with the boxes. So, I rethought the death theme and decided to focus more on the boxes. I have a real nomadic lifestyle and I have a lot of stuff so the piece became about that. The boxes represent the stuff in your house and how you can change them and reposition them.

What motivated you to start ChinaCat Dance?

ChinaCat Dance. Photo: Mauro Luna
ChinaCat Dance. Photo: Mauro Luna

Well, I have danced all my life and was quite musical theater-driven ’till I decided I wanted to do dance when I was 18. And at that point I was looking to choreographer and create my own work. I wasn’t so interested in the performance side of dance. I got my MFA in dance from Sam Houston State University in 2008 and that’s really when I got ChinaCat going. That Sam Houston connection really gave me the dancers I needed. There were all these Sam Houston State graduates running around that just wanted to dance. I kept the company going when I went to San Antonio, but it really blossomed in Houston. And I believe it has blossomed here because Houston has a lot of dance stuff going on and I just have the right dancers now.

What qualities do you look for in your dancers?

I want really beautiful dancers. I want beautiful technicians and really strong dancers, but they also have to be good actors because a lot of the stuff I do is very theatrical. Personality and how they fit into the group is also important. I actually have a core group and we make the decision together who we are going to bring in. That is really important to me because we all love hanging out, creating work and performing together. We also do a lot of fire performances so they have to be able to work with fire.

Fire dancing. Photo: Lynn Lane
Fire dancing. Photo: Lynn Lane

What is fire dancing?

I learned it from really underground venues and it usually entails spinning fire. I do poi, which is fire on a chain that I can swing around. Some people use staffs or hula hoops. My dancers can’t necessary do what I call the big tricks like the poi, but what I have is these fantastic dancers that I can incorporate into the fire dance. And we have gotten a lot of press from it so, a lot of our big shows center around fire dancing. And I feel like we are filling a void because what I’ve always seen with fire is people who do it more as a street performance. We are trying to take that fire dance and put it into concert dance. So, that’s what we are doing and that’s what people have been responding too.

Keep a look out for more interviews with guest performers from week two’s program “pARTners in crime” Jan. 17-19 and week three’s program “All New Stuff” Jan. 24-26 at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

The Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival schedule is:

Jan. 10-12: Dwelling Jan 10-12

  • Program A:  Thursday Jan 10, 8 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 12, 8 p.m.
    • ChinaCat Dance
    • Hub Dance Collective
    • Images Contemporary Dance Company
    • M2DT (Muscle Memory Dance Theatre)
    • Velocity Dance Co. (Tarrant County College South Campus)
    • Beckles Dancing Company
    • Collective Force Dance Company
    • Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth
    • Feel Good Dance
  • Program B:  Friday, Jan 11 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 12 at 3 p.m.
    • ChinaCat Dance
    • Hub Dance Collective
    • M2DT (Muscle Memory Dance Theatre)
    • Flatlands Dance Theatre  (Lubbock)
    • Beckles Dancing Company
    • Collective Force Dance Company
    • Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth
    • Feel Good Dance

Jan. 17-19: pARTners in Crime

  • Big Rig Dance Collective
  • Sue Collins with music by Denton composer Claudia Howard Queen
  • Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth premieres choreography by company member Courtney Mulcahy in collaboration with Dallas composer/musician Jon David Johnston*
  • Collective Force Dance Company
  • Feel Good Dance
  • Satellite-Dance

Jan. 24-26: All New Stuff

  • Beckles Dancing Company
  • Brazos Dance Collective
  • Christine Bergeron
  • DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group)
  • Eyakkam Dance Company
  • FireWalk Dance
  • GORDONDANCE (TX/IL) – Lonny Joseph Gordon
  • Houston Metropolitan Dance Company
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Tina Mullone (Louisiana/Texas)
  • Jessica Thomas (The Colony)

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