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Stories by Alejandra Quinones
Brazos Dance Collective
“[Modern dance] is one of the most aesthetically pleasing ways to create; I like the fact that I don’t actually have to speak to communicate,” says Danielle Brestel, operations director of Brazos Dance Collective.
How did Brazos Dance Collective get started?
“Carisa Armstrong and Christine Bergeron, faculty in the Texas A&M dance program, started Armstrong Bergeron Dance Company about seven years ago. That was the only professional dance company in the Brazos Valley. They were in existence for a little over five years until they chose to transition into Brazos Dance Collective.”
The Brazos Dance Collective is described as an opportunity for creative, skilled and passionate artists to collaborate and share their vision with the community. Though they offer a variety of dance classes, their performances are primarily modern dance. There are six members, and the group will hold auditions for the company in early September.
What is modern dance? How did modern dance begin?
“Modern dance, not to be confused with ‘hip-hop,’ is a form of dance that started as a revolution against ballet. It was originated in the 1930s by a group of Americans that knew there was another way to move and create outside of ballet.”
How is it aesthetically different from ballet?
It’s more free-formed than ballet, which is more rigid and vertical. It utilizes the spine in very flexible ways. In ballet, people tend to defy gravity, where in modern dance, they want to embrace it. For example, the idea of pointe shoes is to make it look like people are floating across the stage. They try to get as far away from the floor as possible to look as though they are almost flying.
Stories by Angelique Gammon / Photos by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III
Arts Council of the Brazos Valley
If you don’t think of access to the arts as a strategic economic policy, there are tangible reasons to reconsider. Just ask Chris Dyer, executive director of the Arts Council of Brazos Valley since April 2010. Value the arts for its fulfilling and life-affirming nature? Absolutely, says Dyer, but beyond the yadda, yadda, yadda happy-making ideals, he’d prefer to see any conversation about the importance of the arts focus on accountability.
“We’ve moved to an assistance role, not just providing funding, to help member organizations market and get their names out,” says Dyer, “and to provide services for underserved segments of the community.”
A big part of the shift has been providing services for schools. “In the short term, we are focusing on our three core programs: Art for Life, for incarcerated and youth on probation with the goal of keeping them out of jail; Reflections of the Special Olympics, providing artistic opportunity for special needs adults and children; and arts for children, both in-house and in school.
“Art absolutely makes a difference in school performance,” says Dyer. “We’ve all heard the studies that show art makes more creative, outside-of-box thinkers.”
As for accountability, Dyer can now point to some seven years of hard data on the success of the Arts for Life program.
Music As Art
Stories by Allison Kendall / Photos by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III
First Sunday Jazz Jam
Live music: it’s more personal, more in your face, more pulse-throbbing than anything your iPod or MP3 player can manage. The Bryan/College Station area has experienced a flood of new live music venues including Luigi’s, Veritas, and Downtown Uncorked. First Sunday Jazz Jam, founded by professional musician Greg Tivis, is everything Bryan/College Station. It’s your grandfather, your father, and your neighbor, even your kids, all coming together to play – and enjoy – great music.
How did the First Sunday Jazz Jam come to be?
Tivis says he noticed the influx of live musician jazz jams to the area, but also noticed that most didn’t see long-term success. “The jazz jams that I’ve seen were a weekly jam, and played mostly modern jazz music,” says Tivis. “Modern jazz has a much smaller audience, and weekly sessions are harder to maintain.”
Tivis once played on the Mississippi Queen where he grew to love the feel and sound of New Orleans jazz and got to work with many older musicians. When he moved to Bryan/College Station, he knew he needed to start a jazz jam with the “NOLA” theme. With the opening of Downtown Uncorked in 2009, Tivis had found the perfect venue.
Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro
With four gourmet food trucks now rolling around Aggieland, it’s appropriate to begin this story with the chef who has driven this culinary art form from its local launch all the way to “America’s Favorite Food Truck.” Chef Tai Lee recently added a second truck to Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro operation when Chef Peter Madden decided to sell his food truck to focus on his casual gourmet restaurant in Downtown Bryan. Chef Tai, who also owns Veritas Wine & Bistro, jumped at the opportunity. As the forefather of the local gourmet food truck movement, Chef Tai talks about his both his second gourmet food truck and his plans for the future.
What are your plans for the second gourmet food truck?
“We are going to have one truck focus more on an $8 to $10 menu that we’ve been running, and the second truck will have more of a $5 to $6 menu. It will be a little more on the casual side.”
The new truck will cater to those looking for quality, well-known foods such as tacos and Angus hamburgers but at a lower price point. “We want to be able to cater to those who say food trucks are supposed to be cheap,” says Chef Tai. “The underserved will now be served. Now we can visit more places and be more fluid between Bryan and College Station.”
How do you feel about competition with new gourmet trucks in this market?
“If there was an apple-to-apple identical menu, then you could hurt yourself,” says Chef Tai. Luckily, all of the local food truck owners are good friends and discuss what type of food they will offer that day so that each menu compliments the other and minimizes overlapping menus. “We don’t have to torpedo each other’s businesses that way,” says Chef Tai. “The market is still small, so it’s not a problem.”
As the innovator of street cuisine in Bryan/College Station, how are your food truck creations related to your restaurant creations?
“It was an extension of Veritas from the start,” says Chef Tai. “We are using the same ingredients that we use in the restaurant minus the fancy china.” Because there are no servers and lower utilities, the same delectable food served at the Veritas is available at a lower price on the truck. “That’s the whole concept – bring the food to people at a more affordable price – bring gourmet to the street level.”
Stories by Allison Kendall / Photos by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III
Chuck Taylor is a poet and professor at Texas A&M University. He has written memoirs and novels but is best known for books of poetry including The One True Cat, Like Li-Po Laughing at the Lonely Moon, and his newest work, At the Heart. In a calm and mellifluous voice, he explains the origins of poetry.
Does poetry struggle with popularity? Taylor says he always asks his students to name one popular musician from 100 years ago. They can not. However, Taylor notes they are familiar with Homer and Shakespeare.“Poetry lasts a long time but doesn’t have huge NOW popularity…I’m not sure why. Maybe this is changing gradually with the electronic media that can preserve a whole performance. There's a lot of poetry on YouTube.”
Red Wasp Film Festival
Story by Alejandra Quinones
The 10th Annual Red Wasp Film Festival will be held October 26-27 in Downtown Bryan and is presented by Brazos Progressives. The Festival is accepting submissions in multiple categories through September 14. Krista May, committee member of the Red Wasp Film Festival, explains what film festivals offer.
Tell us about the history of Red Wasp Film Festival.
“Beginning in 2003, founders Carol and Craig Conlee first held the festival at 7F Lodge in Wellborn. In 2006, Brazos Progressive partnered with the Conlees and the festival moved to Conlee Auctions in Downtown Bryan. The first time it was held at StageCenter was in 2008.”
Red Wasp: It’s a catchy name. How did that come about?
May says the first festivals were held out in Wellborn at 7F Lodge during the spring when red wasps filled the air, pestering a lot of the guests, and Carol Conlee decided to make the pests part of the festival. “She swears that though the wasps are still present in the spring, they don’t bother her any more.”
What is the purpose of the Red Wasp Film Festival?
“The whole reason that it started was because there were people here that were interested in independent film specifically. There are artists that don’t have corporate backing for their films or that just don’t want to have to make any sacrifices for their art, as do many film makers backed by studios. There was a huge demographic of people that were interested in them and the film making technology is so much more accessible now that you don’t need a huge budget to tell your story. This festival gives the film makers a place where they can show their work, for free (there is no submission fee) and where they can get direct feedback from their audience.”
What are the criteria for the films to be chosen for screening?
Story by Alejandra Quinones
Donny Hall: “I’m almost the result of coffee shops and weird stuff you find on the internet.”
“They said that in my sleep I was screaming, ‘I want to do film!’” recalls Donny Hall, a freelance editor and director of photography who lives in Bryan and works nationally on commercials, films and music videos. He had been in Houston working on a video with friends when he shouted from slumber, and 10 years later, it’s safe to say that dream became a reality. Hall’s most recent award came in 2011 contributing effects work for Tyler the Creator’s “Yonkers” video that was nominated for an MTV VMA award. MTV Jams offers a weekly award called “Jam of the Week;” Hall’s work has contributed to 14. His music video collaborations include Drake, Rick Ross and Akon. Hall talks about the industry and why he is based in Bryan instead of Hollywood.
Is there more you want to do aside from create music videos with some of the biggest recording artists out there?
“I had aspirations to be a big director person...and I was trying to, but I had never experienced enough life. I couldn’t convey emotions properly for things I hadn’t experienced. I didn’t understand heartbreak or love or a real understanding of what it really is to make something happen on your own. It’s important to know reality in order to convey it. I feel like I’ve gotten that experience now, and I want to use that to make my way into film. I do still love working on my music videos though.”
What are music videos to you?
“Music videos allow me to collaborate with recording artists and directors to create a world we make together. It’s the synchronization of emotion to music, and when you can you can show things happening to music, I think you can dig into an experience.