Review: Dallas Repertoire Ballet’s The Nutcracker

DASHING DANCE

DRB company member Hannah Morris as Clara in this year's production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Kim Voorhies

DRB company member Hannah Morris as Clara in this year’s production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Kim Voorhies

At the Eisemann Center, Dallas Repertoire Ballet delivers one of the most exuberant and technically spectacular Nutcracker productions of the season.

Richardson — Having seen multiple Nutcracker performances already this season critics sometimes feel like they are on autopilot when sitting in the audience for another show. Ballet companies have to find new ways to freshen up their Nutcracker without deviating too far from the ballet’s renowned origins. Dallas Repertoire Ballet (DRB) managed to accomplish this Friday evening with a fast-paced and choreographically exceptional Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. Artistic Director Megan Willsey-Buckland and choreographers Kathy Willsey and Audrey Rusher Mitts made some bold choices when it came to story development and prominent dance numbers such as Snow and the Waltz of the Flowers that kept the audience, including moi, engaged for the duration of the show.

The dashing pace of the show was set from the get-go. The curtains opened up to reveal the inside of the Stahlbaum’s house where Mr. Stahlbaum, his wife, daughter Clara and son Fitz are preparing for their annual Christmas party. The stage is simply set with a grandfather clock, some chairs and a sofa. The vastness of the space is quickly forgotten as 50 plus children and adults swarm on stage to greet the party hosts. These introductions, which usually take minutes in many productions, took mere seconds in DRB’s version leaving the dancers with more time to show off their bountiful technique, stamina and individual artistry. Clara (Hannah Morris) and her friends excelled in their allegro numbers, performing the repetitive petite jumps and traveling steps with ease. Chaos was avoided with practiced entrances and exits and visually pleasing traveling patterns. The choreographers took a risk by minimizing the grand gesturing that is typical, replacing it with more dance sequences, a decision that in this case worked thanks to the commitment of the adults and younger dancers. The older party goers displayed their intermediate waltzing skills while Morris wowed us multiple times with her far-reaching lines and unrestrained enthusiasm.

The drama of the battle scene was enhanced by the fog machines and the tour de force that is Albert Drake in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Drake’s background with the Bruce Wood Dance Project added dimension to the otherwise typically flat princely character. Drake also did not hold back when it came to the military-precision arm motions and repetitive toe touches to the delights of viewers. Not wanting to waste such a talent, Drake also makes an appearance in the Snow scene with a pas de deux with Morris which, while quite lovely, did take some of the shine away from the Snow Queen (Ashlee Gilchrist) and Bruce Wood Dance Project member Harry Feril as the Snow King. Feril effortlessly manipulated Gilchrist through the various body shapes and over the head lifts that are staple points of this particular scene. While Gilchrist’s upper body appeared stiff during certain lifts, exhaling while executing movement will enrich her performance. Choreographer Megan Willsey-Buckland’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ background shone through the Snow Corps’ sharp arm placements and various movement contagions.

Photo: Kim Voorhies

Photo: Kim Voorhies

The first half’s steady pace and eclectic display of skills continued in the second half of the show. Feril pulled double duty as the Cavalier to Grace Ludwinski’s Sugar Plum Fairy. Ludwinski’s slight frame made it easy for Feril to execute the press up lifts and various running leaps sprinkled throughout the grande pas de deux. Ludwinski proved herself capable of handling the exacting partner work as well as the fast foot work and exploding turn sequences in her solo section. Feril’s low center of gravity added extra excitement to his leaps and tour en l’airs to the knee. Other standouts in the second half include Lynnae Hodges’ wicked fast pirouettes in Spanish Chocolate, Bella Rusli’s unnatural body contortions in Arabian Coffee and the whole cast in the Waltz of the Flowers. The intricate pointe work of the soloists mixed with the various rhythmic patterns of the wreath holders transformed the stage into one big beautiful moving picture.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Review: Dallas Ballet Company, The Nutcracker

Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames Photography

Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames Photography

Holiday Blend

Strong storytelling, elaborate set design and dynamic guest performances are some of the highlights at Dallas Ballet Company’s annual Nutcracker performance in Garland.

Dallas — After 28 seasons Dallas Ballet Company (DBC) Artistic Directors Brent and Judy Klopfenstein know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to their version of The Nutcracker. Intricate set design, light-hearted narratives, cleverly crafted group dances and dynamic individual performances are what audiences have come to expect and DBC didn’t disappoint at Saturday afternoon’s showing of The Nutcracker at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.

Guest Artists April Daly and Miguel Blanco from Joffrey Ballet were magnetic in their roles as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. They both displayed unwavering control as Blanco manipulated Daly through the tricky body rotations and balance holds in the grande pas de deux at the end of the show. Despite his broad frame Blanco was very lighted-footed in his jumps and pulled off his triple pirouette effortlessly. Daly was like watching a shooting star on a clear night. She ricocheted across the floor in a series of pique turns finishing in a flawless arabesque hold. Her breathy exhales and soundless, fast foot work made her a captivating performer to watch.

The show also contained some standout performances by a few DBC members. Lanie Jackson dazzled in her role as the Snow Queen. In addition to exquisite technique, Jackson’s innate musicality gave her the freedom to explore different qualities of movements. One minute her arm placement is razor-sharp and body position exacting and the next her arms are exploding to match her exhale at the top of a soutenu turn into a smooth shoulder lift. Even though Morgan McClinchie (Snow King) could have used more tension in his body while leading Jackson around the stage, his capacity for the press up lifts and backward progressing catches were impressive. McClinchie also got to showcase his clean technique and jumping chops as the lead in the Waltz of the Flowers alongside Isaac Hileman and Christian Otto. Long-limbed and naturally poised, all three young men take after Guest Choreographer Jason Fowler, a former soloist with New York City Ballet and DBC alum. Waltz of the Flowers lead Olivia Mann wowed the audience with her rhythmic breathing patterns, supple feet and unending extensions.

Whereas the Snow Corps were not as springy in their movements as Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score demands and traffic patterns and timing were not always clear at times, The Waltz of the Flowers Corps was the exact opposite. All eight dancers executed the fluttery arm movements and striking pointe work with spunk and synchronized musicality.

Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames Photography

Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames PhotographyGranvi

The opening party scene at the Silberhaus’ house was quick moving, yet predictable with Drosselmeyer’s (Randolph McKee) eccentric showmanship, Clara’s youthful vigor and the adequate performances by the Harlequin and Columbine Doll and Mechanical Solider. Audiences enjoyed the maturity Annie Corley brought to the role of Clara. Her obvious skill and effervescent personality were used throughout the show and not just in the first half. The group dances in the first half were refreshing thanks to the use of props such as fans, baby dolls and swords. The movement itself was rudimentary (i.e. waltz steps, chaines, tendues and traveling chasses), yet it was performed cleanly and concurrently. The battle scene was more playful than menacing with the younger performers portraying the mice and soldiers. The flashing red and white lights on the otherwise dark stage added to the scene’s drama.

The large props present in almost every scene added to the overall fanciful theme, but in some cases they also slowed down the transitions between scenes especially during the second half. The Spanish Chocolate group made up for the drawn-out pause with spirited jumps and saucy skirt flicks. Terrance Martin reprised his role as the Arabian and proved he is still capable of performing the front walkovers and back handsprings that dubs this section a crowd pleaser. Whitney Hester surprised us with her sharp point work and controlled upper body positions as the lead in Chinese Tea. But what really sets DBC’s production apart from others is the skill set of even its youngest dancers. Basic, yet clean movement choices and fun use of props is why the Gingerbread scene remains an audience favorite.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

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Review: LakeCities Ballet Theatre, 2014 Nutcracker

Nutty Glee

Sarah Lane (ABT) and Daniel Ulbricht (NYCB) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in LBT's version of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

Sarah Lane (ABT) and Daniel Ulbricht (NYCB) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in LBT’s version of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

LakeCities Ballet Theatre delights audiences with its whimiscal rendition of The Nutcracker accompanied with live music.

Lewisville — As critics sometimes it seems like we are always looking for the weak links in a performance. So it’s always a pleasant surprise when that task proves difficult, as it did Saturday night at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) 24th annual production of The Nutcracker to a sold-out audience at Marcus High School in Flower Mound. In keeping with its family-focused tradition, LBT’s Nutcracker weaved intricate storytelling with spectacular set designs and fanciful choreography that all audience types could appreciate.

The audience was instantly pulled into the action as the families attending Mayor Silberhaus’ Christmas party entered the scene through the aisles acknowledging us as they passed by. Our eyes were then drawn to the richly-decorated stage where the Silberhaus family (Mayor, Frau, Clara and Fritz) are preparing for the festivities. Artistic Director Kelly Lannin’s quick wit and discerning eye kept the story moving and prevented clutter on stage. Traffic jams were avoided with subtle stage entrances/exits and regimented formations. With so many performers onstage, movement was kept to clean chaines, piques and traveling triplets. The adult couples performed tricky waltz steps and nuanced arm movements with a grace you don’t typically see from these characters. Special Guest Ken Wells (Herr Drosselmeyer) got the audience involved as he almost fell into the orchestra pit while seeking out the Silberhaus’ house. He was more senile than mysterious in his actions which suited the younger audience just fine. The festive atmosphere in the auditorium was heightened by Adron Ming and the Lewisville Lake Symphony’s competent rendering of Pyotr Ilyrich Tchaikovsky’s classic score.

What stood out in the first act was the performers’ commitment to their roles. While Claire (Julie Fenske) and her friends danced a sweet adagio number with their dolls the adults stood in the background gesturing to one another while the maids discreetly drank from the wine glasses and the nanny chased Fritz and his friends. Mayor Silberhaus’ (Chuck Denton) over-the-top facial expressions and spirited gesturing set the bar for the other individuals on stage. However, while the heavily layered petticoats and colorful dresses were authentic of the time period, they also made it difficult to see the young dancers’ feet.

LBT’s battle scene is one of the best in the area. Cheeky mice carrying wounded comrades off in stretchers, Drosselmeyer chasing a mouse with rodent repellant and a diva Rat King (Robert Stewart) requiring a plush couch for his death bed are just a few memorable moments. Newcomer Jack Wolff as the Nutcracker Prince was another pleasant surprise. This 14-year-old from Houston is the whole package. Great flexibility, stamina and a commanding stage presence, Wolff is definitely going places. He and Fenske also made a darling couple.

Julie Fenske and Jack Wolff as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Photo: Nancy Loch

Julie Fenske and Jack Wolff as Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. Photo: Nancy Loch

With extremely supple feet, pliable back and innate body movements it’s hard to believe Mackenna Pieper (Snow Queen) is only 15 years old. The energy exuding from her fingertips in a ponche arabesque and the ease in which she executes a one-arm assisted slow pirouette is not something you expect from one so young. With a trusting partner such as Shannon Beacham the Snow pas de deux processed seamlessly. And while the snowflakes fast pointe work was exacting and exciting it was sometimes overshadowed by the powerful sounds of the orchestra chimes.

Guest Artists Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) breathed new life into the roles of the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier which has previously been performed by ABT’s Julie Kent and Sascha Radetsky. Lane and Ulbricht executed movement with a powerful punch that kept audiences in suspense. Lane’s incredible control and meticulous arm placement made her lines and spins appear unending. Ulbricht is a fireball on stage. His exploding grande jetes are unworldly and his double tour en l’air into a double pirouette down to the knee was perfection.

The other LBT couples in the second half did a commendable job of matching Lane and Ulbricht’s energy and poise. Ali Honchell and Guest Artist Ruben Gerding (Spanish Chocolate) were a whirlwind of petite jumps, spins and assisted lifts. The Arabian dance was everything viewers have come to expect. Beacham contorted Faith Jones into various shapes before slowly rotating her in a circle. Jones’ Gumby-like frame enabled her to pull her extensions behind her head and practically bend her body in half when arching back in Beacham’s arms. Andre Harrington once again displayed his acrobatic prowess in a number of back handsprings and forward tucks as the Russian Baba. The Chinese were sassy and forceful with their pointe work while Mother Ginger (George Redford) and the Polichinelles were lighthearted as they danced rudimentary steps in soft shoes.

The Walt of the Flowers coupled delicate pointe work with continuously shifting patterns and lively performances by three pairs; Julia Tiller and Beacham, Michelle Lawyer and Blaine Quine and Honchell and Gerding. The group’s movements appeared blurry at some points due to the red lighting reflecting off their pink costumes, but that can be adjusted. The overall effect was still dreamy and ornamental.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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2014 Nutcracker Nuttiness

Carolyn Judson as the Sugarplum Fairy in Texas Ballet Theater's The Nutcracker. Photo: Ellen Appel

Carolyn Judson as the Sugarplum Fairy in Texas Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker. Photo: Ellen Appel

No matter where you live there is a Nutcracker performance waiting for you. Here’s a list of North Texas Nuts, plus other holiday dance.

From the big-budget dance companies such as Texas Ballet Theater and Moscow Ballet to the smaller, community-based companies, there is an enchanting Nutcracker performance for everyone to see. For those of you living North of Dallas there is the Allen Civic Ballet, Festival Ballet of North Central Texas in Denton and LakeCities Ballet Theatre in Lewisville. For audiences in the Richardson and Plano area the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts is hosting multiple Nutcracker performances the next two months, including Chamberlain Performing Arts, Dallas Repertoire Ballet and Tuzer Ballet. For Garland residents there is Dallas Ballet Company’s annual production at the Granville Arts Center and for Irving patrons Ballet Ensembles of Texas’ showing of the holiday classic at the Irving Arts Center. If you prefer live music, check out LakeCities Ballet Theatre, Allen Civic Ballet and Collin County Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker productions. For those looking for something a little different there’s 8&1 Dance Company’s In The Spirit and Ballet Concerto’s Holiday Special.

Full list and ticket information below:

Nov. 21-22

Ballet Frontier of Texas presents The Nutcracker with choreography by Chung-Lin Tseng at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. Tickets $40-50. Call 817.689.7310 or visitwww.balletfrontier.org

Nov. 22-23

Moscow Ballet return to Dallas with its rendition of The Great Russian Nutcracker at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium. Tickets $28-88. Call 800.745.3000 or visit www.tickmaster.com

Nov. 22

Colleyville Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker for one-night only at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. Tickets $35-40 Call 972.744.4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Nov. 26

The Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano screen Getting to The Nutcracker, a documentary about what it takes to produce a production of the Nut, at 2 p.m. in both locations. www.angelikafilmcenter.com

Nov. 28-30

Chamberlain Performing Arts annual showing of The Nutcracker featuring New York City Ballet Principal’s Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. Tickets $12-100. Call 972.744.4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Nov. 28-Dec. 27

Texas Ballet Theater takes the stage with Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker, with the same extravagant sets and effects that we saw last year. Call 877.828.9200 or visit http://www.texasballettheater.org

  • Nov. 28-Dec.7 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House
  • Dec. 12-27 at Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth
  • The Nutty Nutcracker is Dec. 19 at Bass Performance Hall

    LBT dancers in the snow scene section of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

    LBT dancers in the snow scene section of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

Nov. 29-30

LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s annual production of The Nutcracker features live music from Lewisville Lake Symphony and guest artists Sarah Lane of American Ballet Theater and Daniel Ulbricht of New York City Ballet. Tickets: $20-45. Call 972.317.7987 or visitwww.lakecitiesballet.org

Dec. 5-7

Dallas Ballet Company celebrates its 28th annual performance of The Nutcracker featuring guest artists April Daly and Miguel Blanco from Joffrey Ballet at the Granville Arts Center in Garland, TX. Tickets: $23-24. Call 972.205.2790 or visit www.garlandarts.com

Dec. 6-7

North Central Civic Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. Tickets: $30. Visit www.nutcrackertickets.com

Dec. 6-7

Ballet Ensemble of Texas presents the holiday classic with guest artist Dallas Blagg and Gabriela Gonzalez from Tulsa Ballet at the Irving Arts Center. Tickets: $25-30. Call 972.252.2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 6-7

Rowlett Dance Academy presents its version of The Nutcracker at Garland High School. Tickets $10. Call 972.475.8269 or visit www.rowlettdanceacademy.com

Dec. 6-7

Royale Ballet Dance Academy offering of The Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. Call 972.744.4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

DRB company member Megan Schonberg and guest artist Jamel White as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavailer. Photo: Courtesy of DRB

DRB company member Megan Schonberg and guest artist Jamel White as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavailer. Photo: Courtesy of DRB

Dec. 12-14

Dallas Repertoire Ballet brings its rendition of the beloved holiday tale to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. Tickets: $15-50. Call 972.744.4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 13-14

Festival Ballet of North Central Texas showing of The Nutcracker at Texas Woman’s University, Margo Jones Performance Hall in Denton, TX. Tickets: $11-36. Call 940.891.0830 or visit www.festivalballet.net

Dec. 20-21

Tuzer Ballet presents The Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. Tickets: $15-50. Call 972.744.4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 20-21

The Allen Civic Ballet presents its annual production of the holiday favorite with live musical accompaniment by the Allen Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. Allen High School Performing Arts Center in Allen TX. Tickets: $15-30. Visitwww.allencivicballet.org/nutcracker

Dec. 22-23

Colin County Ballet Theatre’s annual production of The Nutcracker features live music from Plano Symphony Orchestra at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. Tickets: $32-52. Call 972.744.4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Other Holiday Dance

Dec. 5-7

Denton City Contemporary Ballet presents A Gift for Emma at Krum High School Performance Center in Krum, TX. Tickets: $12-18. Visit www.dentondance.com

Dec. 7

8&1 Dance Company’s annual In The Spirit holiday celebration at the Quixotic Word in Dallas. Visitwww.8and1dance.com

Dec. 12

Ballet Concerto presents its annual A Holiday Special, with school performances at 10:30a.m. and 12:15p.m., and public performances at 7p.m. at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. Tickets: $5-20. Call 817.738.7915 or visitwww.balletconcerto.com

This list was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

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Q&A: Choreographer Brian Brooks

Photo: Erin Baiano

Photo: Erin Baiano

Choreographer Brian Brooks on his movement language, penchant for speed and the Dallas debut of his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, presented by TITAS.

Dallas — Many successful choreographers’ careers have started with a simple question. For Brian Brooks it was how to convey the emotions and experiences of running a marathon through the use of movement. By investigating the elements of running such as pace, duration and the feelings of inspiration and achievement commonly associated with the activity, Brooks has created a movement language that is fast-paced, compelling and uniquely human.

Originally from Hingham, Mass., Brooks moved to New York City in 1994. He started his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, in 2002, which has performed in venues throughout the United States, South Korea and Europe. While this is the company’s first time in Dallas (presented by TITAS), it is not their first show in Texas. The company has performed in Austin and San Antonio during previous seasons. The company has also enjoyed repeat engagements at Dance Theater Workshop, Wesleyan University, North Carolina State University, SUMMERDANCE Santa Barbara and Alfred University.

As a dancer Brooks has performed with choreographers Eun-Me Ahn, Christopher Williams and Elizabeth Streb for whom he has also worked as a rehearsal coach and technique instructor. His most recent honor was an award from the National Dance Project supporting the development and performance tour of his work, BIG CITY (2012). Brooks has been on the Dance Department faculty of both Princeton University and Rutgers University-Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has also been an Adjunct Associate Professor of Dance at Barnard College of Columbia University and a guest artist at the University of Maryland, Illinois State University and Rutgers University, among others.

TheaterJones asks Brian Brooks about his distinct movement style, the creation of his signature solo, I’m Going To Explode, and the diverse program he has put together for his company’s first appearance in Dallas. The Brian Brooks Moving Company makes it Dallas debut Nov. 21-22 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, part of TITAS’ 2014-15 season.

TheaterJones: How are you feeling about your company’s Dallas debut this weekend?

Brian Brooks: I am really excited to bring our show to Dallas. We have performed in San Antonio and Austin. Not exactly Dallas, but my artistic work in Texas has started growing and I can’t wait to present to audiences here in town. I have a group of eight dancers that I am bringing with me and two of them are actually Booker T. Washington HSPVA alums. I have these two performing in some of my newest dance works so it will be a nice homecoming for them.

What would you say distinguishes your work from other New York-based contemporary choreographers?

One of the things I am distinctly known for in contemporary dance circles is speed. We have five different pieces on the program and they are some of my favorites. Two are newer pieces, but most of them have been performed at different venues around the country.  I think the variety and the breadth of the works in this collection is exciting and one of the things that stands out is my penchant for fast-paced movement. Three of the works are larger company works and I make very complex partnering sequences in them. The dancers’ joke that they can’t rehearse any of the material without everyone in the company there because they rely so heavily on interacting, touching, grabbing, catching, pushing, pulling into all the other company members several times a second. Without all the bodies there you can’t really practice the material. So, there’s an intricacy in my group work and a speed to it that is very distinct. I am also very interested in trying to expose effort in dance. So, rather than mask it I created an aesthetic that really pronounces the effort. I think it brings the effort and the intent of all the performers to your focus.

Do these qualities reflect your own personality?

I think I’m a fast-moving kind of guy. I like to have many projects, like many of us do, going on at one time. I also like being very active. You know, I struggled for years in both my classical and modern dance training with the question of what dance really means. For me, part of it is just my personality and I think the show represents the many different aspects of my interests and my being. I have also dedicated my life to creating dances that I find compelling and the things that keep my attention often are moving very quickly. So, I create work that moves at rapid fire speed to keep your attention and to move through movement at a pace that is similar to the wings of a hummingbird or the speed of an Amtrak train. It’s like the poetics of movement I suppose. Part of it is who I am, but a lot of it is also trying to craft movement situations that are compelling within themselves and then it provides meaning from that. There’s a lot of metaphors in my work. There’s a lot of visual imagery. It’s not story driven, but it definitely is interpersonal. It’s about community and the kinetic and physical relationships that we experience all the time.

Your solo, I’m Going To Explode, has been a signature piece in your repertoire for many years. What makes the work so appealing to mass audiences?

I do occasionally call it my signature solo because I have had it now for seven years. This is the longest I have done a piece so far and I am the only one who has performed it. I actually made it in this tiny little space in New York. This was just a really introspective, creative period for me. I usually focus my attention on my company so, it was unusual for me to focus my time on a solo. It was a turning point for me as a choreographer and over the last seven years it has become a work that people automatically associate with me.

I had a costume designer that I have worked with before create the suit that I wear. Like most of my pieces I started with the choreography and then went back and read the piece. Once I grasped the physics and physicality of what’s going on than I constructed these movement sequences that resemble a tidal wave of motion. Then I match the movement with different music and find ways to heighten the different themes that are coming through. Regarding the solo, it is quite convulsive and violent and then I paired with a song that is hilarious. The contrast of those two things together lightened the piece and made it really self-aware and tongue in cheek. And I feel the suit really humanized the work.

You have been performing your solo for seven years. How has time affected the way you perform the piece?

I like aging. Every time I perform the solo it’s like revisiting this physical practice that is similar to going to yoga. I am still doing the same positions and the same breathing pattern, but through this process I can reflect on what has changed in my body over the years. And the more time passes the more interesting that piece becomes to me. I have had offers from people who want to buy it, but I am not ready to give it to anyone just yet. I still have a lot of mileage left.

How do you balance your role as choreographer and performer?

A lot has changed within the last three years of my career. I am working full time as a choreographer now and touring most of the year. That change has been really astounding to me. But this is the time that I have also been having more trouble being in the work and making the work. So, in this show I perform two pieces. One is my solo and the other is the duet excerpt from my work Motor. I am very dedicated to performing. Doing something very deep and personal like my solo and having that be a work that people are interested in seeing is really reaffirming to me. It made me realize where to keep my focus when making new work.

Tell me about the newer works in the program, Division and Torrent?

You will be some of the first audiences to see these new works and I am very excited about presenting them. These pieces came out of intense work with the dancers over a period of months where we felt like we discovered a movement language. The form you will see in my pieces pulls a lot of influences together. You might see hints of line, shape, form and interaction that may remind you of other choreographers, but they kind of come-and-go and get bent as they need to be. Intricacy and partnerships are at the fore-front of these pieces. The teamwork is unbelievable. I have a nice group of dances right now and it’s special to watch them getting better at working together.

Division and Torrent share some similarities such as the way I make groups dependent on one another. So, the construction of the group works follow that co-dependency and cause and effect mentality. There’s also no traditional gender spilt in my work. In a lot of these pieces I have the women partnering the women and the men partnering the men so the action shifts your understanding of the relationship.

Torrent is to Max Richter’s recomposed score of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. You can’t recognize the Four Seasons in the piece. He used it as source material and literally cut it all up and selected which parts he wanted to use. So, the phrases and melodies are cut down and used very intelligently. It’s for the eight dancers in the company and it closes the show. It’s very fluid and momentous. It really sweeps you away. Division has an original score by Jerome Begin that is very different from Torrent. It’s not melodic at all. He’s taken the sound recording of the movement in the dance and has added in keys and chords. He has really orchestrated physical action. I feel that the variety in the program allows you to keep looking at things differently as the evening goes.

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

 

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Preview: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s NICE

Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson

Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group prepares for the premiere of its new evening-length dance-theatre work, NICE, at the Wyly Theatre as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Dallas — “I bet you thrift shop real well,” one dancer says as he walks past me in the small, intimate space on the sixth floor of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District Tuesday evening. Before I can react another dancer passes by pausing to look me up and down before stating, “Wow, you look so comfy in those clothes.” The performers’ overly sweet demeanor paired with Paul Slavens’ reminder to be nice in his Mr. Rogers voice takes the sting out of the back-handed compliment I just received, making me laugh instead.

Danielle Georgiou then has the group stop and run through the section again while the tech crew adjusts lighting cues, music volumes and mike stand placement. The 11 dancers that make upDanielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) stand patiently on the outskirts of four ceiling-to-floor panels of white paper that add some dimension to the otherwise sparse room. This time around the dancers walking past comment on my striped top and an invisible audience member’s shoes. Meanwhile, Georgiou and her crew, including musician Slavens, conceptual artist Justin Locklear, set and lighting designer Lori Honeycutt, stage manager Liz Metelsky and light board operator Kayla Anderson quickly address any issues and give the Okay for the dancers to move on.

Georgiou’s new work NICE, running Nov. 13-23 as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s new Elevator Project, toes the line on what individuals and society consider to be nice behavior through the use of etiquette verbiage, poignant movement choices and audience participation. (Read more about the Elevator Project in our story here.)

The work is divided into various situations (i.e. the wild girl scene, mob scene and debutante ball) depicting what society deems nice behavior with respect to women. Georgiou cleverly blends traditions and stereotypes such as coming out parties and 1950s’ housewives etiquette with today’s more loose manners to produce an effect that is both disturbing and amusing. In between these sections the performers take turns reading from an etiquette book or reciting lines while executing purpose-driven movement reflecting their words. This includes jerky gestures and sequential whole body movement that parallels the ebb and flow of the speaker’s voice.  For example, one performer chooses to sing his lines while another recites his in a British accent.

Georgiou, who writes a monthly column for TheaterJones, also uses traditional dances like the waltz and polka to depict a time when women were cherished and protected. The four couples glide around the space with ease and end in tender embraces. The other side of this coin is addressed when two female dancers enter in their bras and underwear and begin flinging their bodies onto the ground and frantically try to escape the arms of their male keepers to no avail. The darker scenes involve the men whistling and catcalling at the ladies and the women yelling at the men to pay to attention to them. Georgiou’s movement choices in these parts are pretty risqué, but have been crafted to serve a purpose and therefore come across more edgy. The men roving their hands down the whole length of their female counterpart, basically demeaning the female body, would have lost some of its meaning if done in overabundance. What makes Georgiou’s work so collective is her ability to edit herself and therefore push her audience to its limits without turning them away.

This preview was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

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Review: SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Concert 2014

Dancin' Man. Photo: Sharen Bradford

Dancin’ Man. Photo: Sharen Bradford

Intricate lighting, Illusions and props take center stage at this year’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Dance Concert.

Dallas — Light played a pivotal role, literally and metaphorically, at this year’s Fall Dance Concert presented by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The Bob Hope Theatre on the SMU Campus was packed Friday night for the preimere of Christopher Dolder’s Handle as well as works by Bob Fosse, Adam Hougland and Alex Sanchez.

In past viewings The Meadows Dance Ensemble has proved itself to be a versatile and resilient group of dancers with a high level of professionalism. The pieces chosen for this year’s program challenged the dancers to take on multiple roles from lighting and prop mover to singer and hat trickster. This generation of dancers must know about all aspects of the performance and these students are well on their way.

The program opens with Dolder’s kaleidoscopic work Handle with music by Andhim, Eduardo Castillo, Fabricio Cavero, Farfan Herman Hupfeld, Moby, Thomas Newman and Avro Part. Through special lighting techniques, video projection, costuming and permeable walls, Dolder takes the public’s perception of what dance should look like and flips it on its head. One faceless dancer in a white body suit performs a series of wavy, bird-like movements before appearing to freeze in mid-air and being absorbed into one of the two 10-foot-tall permeable walls (one black and one white). On the white wall, two dancers covered head-to-toe in black emerge from the wall and perform a horizontal duet consisting of high upper back arches and gentle push and pull movements before disconnecting themselves from their tethers.

The piece climaxes during the dogfight where four couples take turns whipping and tugging at one another aided by the handles sewn into their costumes. The movement is grounded and concaved, evidence of Dolder’s extensive knowledge of Graham technique. This is also the first time we see the dancers’ faces and we are able to see them as humans versus objects. Even with all the added elements, the piece has a clear beginning, middle and end with the take away message being to handle each other and our environment with care.

Choreographer Christopher Dolder's new work Handle. Photo: Robert Hart.

Choreographer Christopher Dolder’s new work Handle. Photo: Robert Hart.

Hougland’s To the Fore also incorporates unique lighting techniques, but in this piece it’s the dancers controlling the light. Four work lights attached to long extension cords capture the four female dancers as they explode onto the stage in a series of quick bourree steps, saute jumps and turns on pointe. As the dancers approach their light it is suddenly pulled away, placing them in shadow. Four men appear and trail the light along their partner’s body as they bend and contort into different shapes. While the extension cords were intended to be props in their own right, obstacles around which dancers had to maneuver, at times they distracted from the dancers’ athletic quality of movement.

Hougland displays his talent for narratives in his second piece Cigarettes, set to different versions of the song “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” by Patsy Cline, Pickin’ On, Georgette Dee & Terry Truck, Smokers Die Younger and k.d. lang. The story describes a woman’s encounter with three different men and the affect she has on them. Kelsey Rohr was exquisite in this role. Her matured body awareness enables her to move easily from luxurious back stretches and weightless leaps to frantic gesturing and leaded walks. On this night, Zachery Biel, Christopher Dorsey and Dexter Green displayed their prowess in a series of acrobatic moves and tricky lifts with Rohr.

The evening closes with Alex Sanchez’s homage to Bob Fosse. The work is split into three sections that represent different periods of accomplishment in his life. Fosse’s admiration for Fred Astaire is evident through the white socks with back shoes and slacks, wide-rim hats and tight arm movements in Dancin’ Man. No big jumps or multiple pirouettes, just clean, staccato hat tricks and rhythmic walking. The loss of a hat did break the Illusion for a moment and brings up the question whether a dancer should ever retrieve a lost prop or just keep on going. In this instance they went with the lather.

Reid Conlon, Hope Endrenyi and Reid Frye did a commendable job in Fosse’s classic “Steam Heat.” Dressed in black suits and bowler hats, the trio nailed the Fosse shoulder isolations and turned-in foot work. The hat flips and traveling knee spins were big crowd pleasures. The men shone in the final section with their elongated runs, knee bobs and shimmies to the upbeat notes of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” While the angels’ balletic movements in between the sections don’t seem to add much to the work, the image of the hat bathed in a single spotlight at the very beginning is certainly arresting. Having everyone lip-sync the peppy show tunes also adds more authenticity to the piece.

This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Get A Grip

Choreographer Christopher Dolder's new work Handle premieres at this year's Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert. Photo: Robert Hart.

Choreographer Christopher Dolder’s new work Handle premieres at this year’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert. Photo: Robert Hart.

Christopher Dolder’s new work Handle challenges how audiences perceive dance using multi-media elements at this year’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert.

Dallas — “Release the hounds,” Choreographer Christopher Dolder announces. Three pairs of dancers  double check their nylon body harnesses one more time before taking their positions, one partner on all fours and the others standing over them, holding on to one of the handles sewn into the  costume. It’s the quintessential image of a man and his dog preparing for the hunt. When the music starts the dancers charge at one another in a primitive manner. The handles on the dancers’ costumes enable them to toss and tug at one another freely, intensifying their aggressive state. During this section two 10-foot-tall permeable walls (one white and one black) will move in and out changing the framing of the space. The walls also happen to be interactive. Before the dog fight there is a dancer standing on top of the white wall and another standing in front of the black wall. They are both tethered to the walls giving them a wider range of movement. In another section two dancers emerge out of the white wall and perform a horizontal duet. “I play a lot with dimensionality here,” Dolder says, “The light will hit the dancers in a way where their shadows will be reflected above them hopefully creating this 3D-like effect.”

This is just a prelude to what Dolder has in store for audiences with his new work Handle, part of this year’sSouthern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert, Nov. 5-9 in the Bob Hope Theatre of the Owens Arts Center on the SMU campus. Through the use of video projection, motion sensing, permeable walls and costuming, Dolder challenges our perceptions of what dance should be. His expansive knowledge of lighting and video projection techniques creates an environment where nothing is as it appears and will have the audience continuously asking what, how and why. “I don’t mind people’s confusion. I want them asking these questions throughout the piece. And if I laid everything out correctly then they will understand the meaning at the end.”

Dolder is a former soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company and has spent the last 15 years choreographing and performing with his wife and their company, Westwick/Dolder Dance Theater. He has spent the last five years teaching modern, dance kinesiology, composition and dance for camera at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. He is also a fellow in the Center for Creative Computation at SMU where he is designing and developing a 3D interactive computer software program for teaching dance kinesiology. Dolder’s Graham background is prevalent throughout the work, but especially in the dog fight section mentioned earlier. Graham technique requires a strong core and a low center of gravity, enabling dancers to change directions and body positions quickly and regularly. “The dancers wouldn’t be able to do this section if they didn’t already have a strong understanding of Graham technique.”

Dolder describes Handle as a cautionary tale. The piece looks at how people handle certain situations, objects and environments. The hound dance, for example, depicts man’s aggressive handling of animals and/or any creature they feel are inferior to them. In the opening section a man dances with a suitcase on wheels to the song “As Time Goes By.” His handling of the suitcase alters from gentle caresses and slow glides to forceful shoves that send the suitcase spinning out of control. Our perception of the suitcase as just an object is shattered when it starts sprouting human arms and legs. Our senses are further manipulated by the fact the entire section is done in silhouette.

When it was time to review the fish section Dolder moved rehearsal to one of the smaller stages in the Owens Arts Center where the two permeable walls reside. These 10-foot tall solid structures consist of three levels wrapped from top to bottom in layers of elastic bands. These bands allow the dancers to slide their hands in and out of the material quickly and easily. By the end of the section the dancers are revealing half their bodies from different parts of the wall, leaving the audience in constant suspense.

Handle concludes with a Cirque du Soleil-esque group number incorporating all the elements used throughout the piece from videos and still projections to aerial and tethered movements. Dolder draws my attention the fact this will be the first time we see any color other than black and white being used in the work. “The backdrop will be in bluish hues and the dancers are wearing black, sliver and blue unitards signifying that we are approaching reality.” Prepare to have your mind blown.

The Meadows School of the Arts 2014 Fall Dance Concert takes place Nov. 5-9 and also features Adam Hougland’sTo the Fore and Cigarettes and Alex Sanchez’s Dancin’ Man, an homage to Bob Fosse.

This piece was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

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Classy Menagerie

Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Avant Chamber Ballet goes wild with its newest character-driven work, Carnival of Animals, at the Eisemann this weekend.

Richardson — The smell of sweat is pungent in the room where Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) is rehearsing for its fall performance, Carnival of Animals, at Park Cities Dance Studio in Dallas. Staggered around the room are about 12 dancers stretching, chatting and checking their pointe shoes. Everyone is attired in colorful leotards and snug-fitting bottoms with their hair swept up into secure buns. When ACB Artistic Director Katie Puder says, “Ok, guys let’s run through the show,” the dancers rise and take their places. It’s obvious these dancers mean business and it’s not just about having fun. “These are professional dancers,” Puder says. “Everyone has either graduated from a college dance program or danced with a professional company. Some of the girls and I danced together at Metropolitan Classical Ballet.”

Having known many of the dancers for many years’ works to Puder’s advantage especially when it comes to the company’s newest character-driven work, Carnival of Animals, set to the Saint-Saëns suite The Carnival of the Animals. The ballet has two performances this weekend at the Eisemann Center for the Arts in Richardson.

Carnival of Animals is set up like a circus show with the dancers portraying the various animals. Each dancer shares similar traits with her animal adding humor to the otherwise classical number. Sarah Grace Austin is the ferocious lion; her movement a mix of slow, elongated walks and explosive jetes. She and her lion tamer (Tagir Galimov) play a flirty game of cat and mouse before one of them is finally tricked into jumping through a hoop. As the cuckoo Kirsten Conrad bourrées rapidly across the room with her arms fluttering and executes a number of entrechats,soubersauts and royales with boundless energy. Natalie Anton’s elegant zebra is depicted through a series of prancing steps and traveling spins.  And, of course, Yulia Illina is the quintessential peacock with her majestic lines and slow, controlled body movements.

Most of the animals perform solo acts while others, including the fish, elephants and birds, perform in pairs or small groups. Then everyone comes together for the big finale. Here Puder plays with contingent movements and weaving jumping passes. Her George Balanchine roots come through the dancers’ body positions and linear formations, but the tricky point work and constant directional changes are all Puder. “I’ve always had a short attention span. I have to keep changing things up so I don’t get bored watching the piece. I am not a fan of posing. I like it when everyone on stage, including the corps, is always moving.”

Watching Puder’s movement is like watching an expert work a Rubik’s cube. The speed and exactness of the steps keeps viewers in suspense, but if the steps aren’t executed correctly the end product won’t come out right. Puder understands this and its one of the reasons she no longer performs with the company. “I just couldn’t wear all those different hats. With ballet especially it’s hard to check spacing and alignment when you are also dancing. This way I can really focus on the details.” During rehearsal Puder would sometimes call out a correction in the middle of a section, but more often than not she’s waits till the end of said section. The dancers and Puder are so in tune with one another that they usually know what she is going to say before she says it. With the show only days away the corrections are minor such as where the height of an arm should be or if the hips should be more croise. It’s these little details that elevates a ballet from good to great.

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Review: Ballet Fete, Collin County Ballet Theatre

Guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood perform a Pas De Deux from Sylvia. Photo: Fermaint Photography.

Guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood perform a Pas De Deux from Sylvia.
Photo: Fermaint Photography.

Collin County Ballet Theatre effectively hits on every part of the ballet spectrum with the help of some local talent in Balle Fete Esprit de Danse.

Richardson — From classical and romantic to contemporary and avant garde, Collin County Ballet Theatre’sBallet Fete Esprit de Danse had something for everyone to enjoy at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts last weekend. To accomplish such a feat CCBT Directors Kirt and Linda Hathaway called upon some local dance companies for assistance, including Ballet Frontier of Texas, Epiphany DanceArts and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet as well as guest artists Yuliia Ilina, Michele Gifford, Harry Feril and Ronnie Underwood. What could have been an unbalanced collaboration was instead an exciting display of varying balletic forms and individual artistry with a couple of standout moments from CCBT’s own pre-professional company members.

The show opened with Kirt Hathaway’s Simple Symphony which had its premiere in 1982 with Lexington Ballet. Like the title states, this piece was very simple, from the pointe work to the formation changes, but by no means boring. The rudimentary steps (bourrées, changements, jetes) were done with exacting precision and uniformity. The six dancers skimmed across the floor with their triplets and bourrees as they weaved through one another. While the dancers point work was not always in sync, they paid meticulous care to their upper body positioning. Ilina and Feril’s pas e deux was a lesson in partner proficiency and artistic expression. Ilina’s wicked extensions and technical poignancy was complemented by Feril’s undeniable strength and innate ability to anticipate his partner’s needs. They never missed a hand connection and Feril handled the tricky press up lifts with ease.

Next up was August Bournonville’s (1805-1879) Reel performed by Ballet Frontier of Texas to music by Lovenskold. Dressed in white tops, plaid kilts, black knee socks and character or jazz shoes, this 31-person ensemble performed a fast-paced Scottish jig that featured rhythmic stomping, quick partner exchanges and continuous formation changes. Bournonville was not into flashy jumps or overheated gestures and he preferred accenting the downbeat in the music; the dancers took to Bournonville’s demi-character style with a vigor that left the audience breathless by the end.

Epiphany DanceArts piece, Rebirth, fused classical ballet technique with the expressive gesturing and wide arcing movement that we have come to expect from the group. The 12 dancers, dressed in various black tops and bottoms, executed a number of leg tilts, side reaches and back lunges as they continuously ran diagonally across the stage. A mashup of Beethoven and One Republic’s “5 Secrets” covered by The Piano Guys only heightened the sense of urgency in the dancers’ movements.

The most surprising work of the evening came from Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. Choreographed by Victoria TranShades draws from the mythological idea that ghosts or spirits of the dead reside in the shadows of the underworld, according to the program notes. The movement is inspired by butoh, a form of avant garde performance art that arose in Japan in 1959. Adorned in flimsy white dresses and pale-painted faces or painted bodies as in David Sanders case, the dancers moved stiffly around stage as if in a trance, stopping intermittently to convulse or lackadaisically sway side to side. Their body shapes were disjointed (broken wrist and turn-in feet) and everything was done in a slow manner to the unsettling hum of Tibetan singing bowls.

The second half showcased the more traditional side of ballet with CCBT’s Mendelssohn, Longing for Spring and Le Corsaire Divertissement as well as the Snow scene from The Nutcracker performed by Ballet Frontier of Texas andSylvia Pas de Deux choreographed by Paul Mejia and performed by guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood (Oklahoma City Ballet). Gifford’s strengths came forth in her flexible spine and dynamic leaps and turns. Underwood surprised us all with his technical grace and exquisitely soft landings despite his broader frame.

It was hard to take your eyes off CCBT company member Kade Cummings in Mendelssohn and Le Corsaire Divertissement. He has come a long way over the last two years. Gone is the cheeky Fitz (The Nutcracker) character and in his place a more disciplined dancer. He oozed grace and confidence. His far-reaching lines, precision turns and effortless jumps set him apart from the other dancers. CCBT member Emily Dunaway displayed great emotional depth with her solo in Ilina’s Longing for Spring. Her conviction could be seen from her tense fingertips down to her punctuated pointe work.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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