Gayest & Greatest 2022: Arts Part II
Rivkah French celebrates freedom in Houston’s contemporary dance space.
FAVORITE LOCAL DANCER
If you know Rebecca French from the Houston dance scene beginning in the late ’90s, you probably know about Rivkah French.
But do you know the story behind that new name? Rivkah, who uses they/them pronouns, has siblings who also have cool names. By the time French was born, their mom decided to pull out the Bible and pick the Old Testament name Rebecca. Fast forward to 2019, when French remembered from their teenage years that the Hebrew root of Rebecca is Rivkah.
“When I was young, I never thought I could live up to Rivkah—it was so mysterious, interesting, and exotic,” they recall. “In some ways, changing your name can be inherently queer. Once you step into the tent of queerness and are embraced by all the openness and freedom, you realize that you can do whatever the hell you want to do with your life.”
French’s spirit of passion and freedom is evident in the dozens of original full-length dance and multimedia performances that they created throughout their award-winning 25-year career. French co-founded and directed the nonprofit dance theater FrenetiCore, and was the founder and producer of the Houston Fringe Festival. They also taught movement arts to at-risk children and adults, as well as homeless and incarcerated teens.
Dance wasn’t an interest for French until later in life. “We couldn’t really afford dance classes when I was little,” they recall. “The extent of my dancing before college happened in nightclubs with friends shaking a tail feather at Numbers all night.”
It wasn’t until French’s college years at the University of Houston that they fell in love with dance—and also with a ballerina.
“I knew that dance was hard, but it was so satisfying and rewarding. When I discovered modern dance, it became my passion and I felt completely alive. Once dance scooped me up, it never let me go.”
This year marks the tenth anniversary of French coming out as queer, although they admit they were flirting with queerness in their choreographed work more than 17 years ago.
Today, French remains even more committed to expressing gay love through dance. “Modern dance expresses reality and the human condition in a way that is accessible to real people,” French says. “I don’t identify with sugar-plum fairies, princes, and princesses. It’s nice to delve into such fantasies every now and then, but I want a dance that expresses my life experiences—the joy, pain, and hardships that are brought to life in this beautiful art form and remind us that you are not alone in this life.”
So, what’s next for Rivkah French Choreography? “I can’t stop choreographing. It’s in me, and I love it,” they say. “I told myself that I’m allowed to keep dancing until at least 50.”
That’s just four years away, but during the pandemic they found a creative outlet in Houston’s drag scene. “The theaters were closed, but the bars were open! I got on stage to see what I could do in exploring gender and orientation.”
For now, French’s focus is fundraising for two projects—The Q’astle, a new Fifth Ward performance and dance-studio space; and a dance film that incorporates virtual-reality technology.
“I’m excited about the future, and I want to be part of it,” they conclude.
“The pandemic showed us the importance of connections, and being more present. Virtual reality creates an intimacy that you can’t get in person or experience in a theater.”
Follow Rivkah French on Instagram @rivkahfrenchchoreography.
BEST PERFORMING-ARTS ORGANIZATION
Houston Metropolitan Dance Center
Finalists: Houston Alliance of Latinx Arts, Houston Pride Band, Houston Symphony, Performing Arts Houston, Pride Chorus Houston
BEST COMMUNITY THEATER
The Catastrophic Theatre
Finalists: Art Factory, Classical Theatre Co., Dirt Dogs Theatre Co., The Ensemble Theatre
BEST LOCAL EQUITY THEATER COMPANY
Finalists: Stages, Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS)
FAVORITE REGIONAL EQUITY THEATER
Finalists: Alley Theatre, Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS)
FAVORITE LOCAL FEMALE ACTOR
Finalists: Tamarie Cooper, Mary Hooper, Susan Koozin, Aili Maeve, Amanda Marie Parker
FAVORITE LOCAL MALE ACTOR
Finalists: Doug Atkins, Dylan Godwin, Mark Ivy, Kyle Sturdivant, Abraham Zapata
FAVORITE LOCAL NONBINARY ACTOR
Finalists: Josh Levin, Chess MacElvaine, Robert Straight, T Lavois Thiebaud
BEST DANCE COMPANY
Finalists: Houston Contemporary Dance Co., Open Dance Project, Pilot Dance, Rivkah French Choreography, Urban Souls
FAVORITE LOCAL DANCER
Finalists: Belle Be Damed, Harrison Homer-Guy, Courtney Jones, Kristina Prats, jhon r. stronks
FAVORITE LOCAL FEMALE COMEDIAN
Finalists: Lesley the Comic, Emily Peacock, Dusti Rhodes
FAVORITE LOCAL MALE COMEDIAN
Finalists: Zahid Dewji, Chinedu Ogu, Grady Pruitt
FAVORITE LOCAL NONBINARY COMEDIAN
Finalist: T Lavois Thiebaud
FAVORITE LOCAL LGBTQ MUSICIAN
Finalists: Christie Hein/Christie Alan Music, Sugar Jokio, Trent Lira, Shayna Powers, Uncle Tino
FAVORITE LOCAL FEMALE FINE ARTIST
Finalists: Jan Golden, Rikki Mitman, Kristy Peet,
Heather J. Taylor, Sherry Tseng Hill, Abiola Wabara
FAVORITE LOCAL MALE FINE ARTIST
Finalists: Wood Fancher Anthony, Fabian Echavarri,
Joe Haden, Bogdan Mihai, Hugo Perez
FAVORITE LOCAL NONBINARY FINE ARTIST
Finalists: Urethra Burns, Alex Ramos, Robert L. Straight
FAVORITE LOCAL PAINTER
Wood Fancher Anthony
Finalists: Robin Baker, Katharine Ligon, Edgar Medina, Patrick Palmer, Hugo Perez
FAVORITE LOCAL SCULPTOR
Finalists: Patrick Medrano, Nestor Topchy, Patrick Renner, Robert L. Straight, Ben Woitena
FAVORITE LOCAL VISUAL ARTIST
Finalists: Wood Fancher Anthony, Katharine Ligon, Rikki Mitman, Crystal Murley, Alex Ramos
BEST ART CENTER
MATCH – Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston
Finalists: Art League Houston, Moody Center for the Arts, Silver Street Studios, Winter Street Studios
BEST ART GALLERY
Finalists: Art League Houston, Bogdan Foto Art, Hardy & Nance Studios, RobinWood Art Studio, Taft McWhorter Art, Winter Street Studios
FAVORITE LOCAL MUSEUM
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Finalists: Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Holocaust Museum Houston, Menil Collection, National Museum of Funeral History, Station Museum of Contemporary Art, 1940 Air Terminal Museum
For a full list of winners, go here.
This article appears in the October 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.