Sandra Organ is the founder and Artistic Director of Earthen Vessels/Sandra Organ Dance Company here in Houston. A former soloist with the Houston Ballet, Sandra was their first African-American ballerina. I am most pleased to start an ongoing series of interviews with creative friends by sharing Sandra's answers to my questions about her career in dance.
What does dance mean to you? Dance is such a part of the fabric of my life; I am not sure who I am without it. Dance is the expression of who I am at my best and worst. It has kept me looking young, but feeling older than my age at times! I think it is everywhere choreographed in the creation surrounding us, the natural forces of life, flight and fight...it has been a passion for me, prayer and performance, meditation and movement, a lifestyle and livelihood. It is a privilege, but is a common practice in the cultures of nations...so whether upgraded as art or downgraded as exercise, it is inexplicably bound to the universe, a celebration or reflection of the human spirit.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a dancer? Getting to dance the great canons of the classical ballet world -- all the story ballets ("Nutcracker" "Swan Lake", "Sleeping Beauty") -- plus a wonderful stew of works that are more rooted in the modern experience ("There is a Time"/Jose Limon, "Ghost Dances"/Christopher Bruce, "Company B"/Paul Taylor). But even to get into a classical ballet company, be paid union wages to do the thing I loved...and as a black ballerina! There are still too few of us, however.
And as a choreographer? To have one of my works, "to the thawing wind" (entitled from a Robert Frost poem) performed before a national audience brought to Houston by the dance community. To have made over 80 works in 15 years, many about the experience, contributions and inspiring creations of African Americans in celebration of Black History month.
What are you major sources of inspiration? Other works of art and poetry, architecture and form, stories of people and eras of history...recently, add to that: comedians, games of chance, speeches and moods of a nation. I love it that my inspiration points shift and are seemingly inexhaustible.
What can dance do for young people, whether as participants or audience members? Whether dance is an activity used as exercise, entertainment, in competition or social, I think dance is as good as any form of sports in keeping one fit life long. But one must be exposed to or given opportunities to participate in dance by those who value it. I love it that through Earthen Vessels performances, young audiences can see a dance about Harriet Tubman, maybe even before reading about her in American history! Or getting to know the artwork of John Biggers or the music of Scott Joplin from a ballet, which may peak their interest in someone they may not have been familiar with before they stepped into a theater. Dance can be used as a tool to educate, inspire and move one to a different perspective.
What's next for you? For me to continue presenting new works based on the stories and contributions of people of color is my immediate future. I anticipate utilizing new ways to take dance to the public, so organizing some flash mobs and audience participation opportunities will bring more people to see and do dance, one hopes! Lastly, by using movement as meditation, transformation and healing to those broken by life circumstances. That is something I would very much like to pursue, especially as our society begins to face the human tragedies of trafficking and rescuing it victims from the objectification and abuse of their bodies. I think dance can help transfigure, transport and transition those captive into liberation.
Thank you, Sandra!
photos of Sandra Organ by Andis Applewhite