Unique and Determined: ISHIDA Dance brings ‘Mutability’ to the Asia Society and The Long Center

Choreographer Brett Ishida boasts a whirlwind June with performances of her Austin/Houston-based company ISHIDA Dance in “Mutability” on June 7-9 at Asia Society Texas Center in Houston and June 12-14, 2024 at The Long Center in Austin. Ishida will premiere two of her own ballets, Mutability and Green Apples, along with works by two guest choreographers. In addition, her 2022 work home-coming for the Washington Ballet will be part of 10,000 Dreams: A Celebration of Asian Choreography June 18-20 at the Kennedy Center (Washington, DC). ACTX visited with Ishida about the momentum and meaning behind the company.

How do you describe an ISHIDA Dance experience to someone new?

An ISHIDA production is distinct, cinematic, emotional, and relatable. Images are etched into one’s mind and linger. The ISHIDA experience is all at once thought-provoking and emotionally engaging.

I always enjoy the collection of dancers you gather for each show. What are you looking for in a dancer?

The dancers we present are some of the top dancers in the world, but more than that I try to recruit dancers who are willing to experiment, collaborative, hardworking, kind, respectful, and who think for themselves. When the dancers have these qualities, there is a camaraderie and cohesiveness which you can feel and see. The kind of dancer who I am looking for has certain aesthetics pertaining to the technique of classical ballet, because I want to show off the beauty of the human form but can still move in a more contemporary way and communicate our narratives.

How do you select the guest choreographers?

Our guest choreographers have a particular voice and are pushing the boundaries of dance forward in other parts of the world. These choreographers’ works are not typically presented in the US— you’d have to go to Europe or Canada to see them—and we bring them to Texas.

ISHIDA Dance is part of the Austin and Houston dance communities. What have you learned about fitting into these Texas dance ecologies?

Texas has a vibrant dance ecology, and we are essential to that dance community because there is nothing quite like us in Texas. We compliment the major ballet and contemporary dance companies precisely because we don’t fit in.

You often bring your literary background into your creative process. Tell us about the second piece that has a literature source?

My upbringing and specific background has informed my particular framework and the lens from which I create. My mother was a librarian, and my home was full of books. She also volunteered at the Barn Theater (local community theater) doing sets designs, procuring props, costumes, and acting. I spent hours and hours at the Barn watching and observing plays, and then I would create play-like dance productions mirroring the stage on my own—I was a dramaturg and choreographer even as a young child. And from my formal education, my work reflects my studies in ancient tragedy (poetry), literature, and film at UCLA. For my new work, Mutability, there are parallels between the renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami and my work; he is a favorite author of mine and often utilizes magical realism as does my work.

How has ISHIDA Dance evolved since you founded the organization?

Remarkably, we’ve stayed pretty close to our original vision: narrative driven, emotionally connected work with top dancers from around the world in a dance style that is both contemporary but draws beauty from classical ballet with a goal to impact the dancers, the audience, and the community we live in. As a company we started, in part due to the pandemic, with a few, infrequent performances, but now have a clear vision to expand to 4-5 different programs in a full season with continued educational outreach with Title I schools and nonprofit organizations that provide services to physically and intellectually disabled people. Our initial vision has been affirmed and we’re here for the long haul.