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.

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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.

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Q&A: Choreographer Donald Byrd

Spectrum Dance Theater's Donald Byrd. Photo: DL Artists

Spectrum Dance Theater’s Donald Byrd. Photo: DL Artists

Dallas — With a dance career spanning more than four decades, half of which he spent running Donald Byrd/The Group, as well as receiving international frame for the Harlem Nutcracker (1996) and a Tony nomination for his choreography in Broadway’s The Color Purple (2005), it’s no wonder Donald Byrd is hailed as one of today’s leading contemporary choreographers.

Byrd’s extensive résumé also includes performing with modern dance great Twyla Tharp and creating more than 100 modern and contemporary works for his own group as well as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Philadanco, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet and Dance Theater of Harlem. Outside the dance sphere he has worked with some of the most well-known theater and opera companies in the U.S., including The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, San Francisco Opera and Seattle Opera.

Byrd ran Donald Byrd/The Group from 1978-2002 before taking over as artistic director for Seattle-based Spectrum Dance Theater in 2002. Under Byrd’s leadership, Spectrum Dance Theater has embarked on an exhilarating transformation that has attracted world class dancers and has produced some of the most avant-garde works in contemporary dance today, according to the organization’s website.

Spectrum Dance Theater + Donald Byrd will make its Dallas debut Sept. 27 at the Winspear Opera House as part of TITAS’ 2014-15 season. The company will present Byrd’s piece LOVE (2012), an evening-length work that studies the complex landscapes of intimate relationships set to Benjamin Britten’sCello Suites and performed by world-renowned cellist Wendy Sutter.

TheaterJones asks Donald Byrd about the Seattle dance scene, the challenges facing young choreographers today and what audiences can expect when Spectrum Dance Theater takes the stage in Dallas this weekend.

TheaterJones: How are you feeling about Spectrum Dance Theater’s upcoming Dallas debut?

Donald Byrd: I am more excited than anything else. I’m curious to see how audiences in other places respond to the work. I think the only nervousness I may have about it is that because the community may not have any history with the company previously the work might challenge them in ways that are unexpected. However, with that being said I have to rely on the expertise and knowledge of the presenter which is TITAS and Charles Santos. He knows the audience and he believes that what we are bringing will be something that audiences there will respond too.

The company will be performing your evening-length work LOVE. The public’s view on love has been largely influenced by television and movies. How do you wish to change our perspective with this piece?

This piece in particular is not so much about changing our perception of love. The piece is very abstract in a lot of ways. So, it is evocative in terms of the way it expresses ideas about love and is not provocative in that way. It’s really about the audience being able to construct, in a very subtle way for themselves, a narrative based on the abstraction of movement and the visual relationships of the people on stage.

Watching your work you have this way of pushing your dancers to new emotional depths. How do you help them accomplish this during the rehearsal process?

Photo: Natt Watters

Photo: Natt Watters

I work with dancers the same way I would with an actor. I think of the movement as being text and so often my comments and directions to the dancers would be similar to what I might say to an actor. For example, I might say I don’t understand why you are doing what you’re doing. Why are you putting your arms around her? Why do you move away from her? Even though the movement is abstract in some cases there are kind of gestural elements that ground the movement. I push the dancers to create a relationship with the people that they are onstage with given what the context of the piece is. With a piece like LOVE I might ask a dancer, alright, how much are you in love with this person or do they love you more than you love them? So, when they reach for you, are you welcoming that reach or are you indifferent to it? Or, do you move away, and why are you moving away? I think those kinds of human behavioral things communicate to the audience. And even though some audiences say they don’t understand dance, I think they can understand these human behaviors and so the piece makes sense to them.

Do you keep up with the New York dance scene and what your colleagues are doing?

Because of my schedule I have to be selective about what I see. Usually I try to see the work of my friends or somebody’s work that I haven’t seen in a long time and I want to catch up on what they are doing. It’s just the challenges of the day-to-day of operating a dance company that makes it almost prohibitive to have time to go see anything else. And that’s true even in Seattle.

Whose work has you seen recently?

This summer the Ailey Company was performing a new work by Robert Moses, and I hadn’t seen his work in at least 10 years so, I flew to New York and went straight to the theater from the airport to catch his piece. When Kyle Abraham was here in Seattle I made a point of going to see his work. I saw his work a couple of years ago in New York and I was really impressed with him so, I wanted to check in on his development and where he was going. There are also a couple of people working at New York City Ballet right now that I am really curious about, but I am not in New York enough to be able to see them.

Did you have a previous relationship with Spectrum before you took over as artistic director?

No, I didn’t. I had a relationship with Pacific Northwest Ballet and I was actually here in Seattle 12 years ago when the former artistic director, Dale Merrill, announced that he was resigning. I was setting a piece for Pacific Northwest Ballet when another choreographer, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, approached me and said I should think about applying for the job. I was planning on closing my company in New York, but I still liked the idea of running a dance company and she encouraged me to talk to Spectrum about it. Part of the appeal here in Seattle for me was I wanted to see how I could contribute to the building of an audience for contemporary dance in Seattle. I was also interested in the education programs attached to Spectrum. There are a lot a thing I have learned over the years of running my company in New York in terms of things you can do in the community and the impact you can have on the community that I wanted to share with Spectrum. For example, part of Spectrum’s mission is to educate the community about dance as an art form, but also as a social civic instrument. Those kinds of ideas are thrilling to me.

You did an interview with the Seattle Times in 2005 in which you had this to say about the Seattle dance sphere: ‘Seattle presents a lot of challenges for me. The biggest one is the nature of the dance scene, the fact that there is no real modern dance audience per se. And it is very frustrating that we’ve received national funding to build up the company but have been unable to develop a solid local donor base.’

Do you still view the Seattle dance community in this way?

I do not! Since that time I know I have been able to create a donor base here that’s really good and actually we have been very dependent on them this past week. We now have major donors that we can count on who make multiple gifts to us each year. That has taken a lot of work and I think part of that was helping people understand the new identity and brand of Spectrum as it transitioned from what it was before I came and after. So, as people began to understand that and got excited about it they started to come on and give donations. And thank you reminding me about that because that reminds me to be grateful and also that the work we have been doing has been paying off.

What’s the biggest challenge young choreographers’ face today?

I think there are several big challenges for them. The first one being, and this is an old song, there is increasingly more competition for fewer dollars. Another challenge, and I think this is always true, is creating infrastructures and mechanisms that can support them for the long term to be able to do their work. I would like to see more young artists become lifers in the art form and not stop when things start getting hard. Another challenge, and this one is more internal, is remembering that they are artists and being engaged and not question what that means to be an artist. In the not-for profit and dance art world there are two parts: the business part (figuring out how to make a living) and then there’s the career part (figuring out how to sustain yourself over time). But ultimately it is about the art. There are some young makers of dance that are very good at the business side of it and others who are good at the career, but I would like to stress that they all should know themselves and create for themselves a way of looking at it that says, is my work getting better? Am I becoming on a daily basis the artist that I desire to be? I think that question is sometimes difficult for young artists to ask because they are so overwhelmed by the economic challenges in the world today.

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More to Come

Bruce Wood's fan favorite LOVETT. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image.

Bruce Wood’s fan favorite LOVETT. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image.

The Bruce Wood Dance Project’s newly appointed Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh talks about preserving Wood’s legacy and the company’s performance of Lovett + MORE this weekend in Dallas.

Dallas — Since the unexpected passing of choreographer Bruce Wood in May of this year the North Texas dance community has been wondering about the status of the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP), which Wood reinvigorated in 2011 at the urging of arts patron Gayle Halperin. The Fort Worth native started his second company four years after he disbanded his first, Bruce Wood Dance Company, due to financial issues. Since returning to the dance scene three years ago Wood has created six critically acclaimed and original works, including Happy Feet(2011), I’m My Brother’s Keeper (2012) and Love, B (2014). Wood’s chorography is most recognized for its emotional undercurrents, rich imagery and wide range of subject matters.

“Working with Bruce really was magic,” says veteran Bruce Wood dancer Kimi Nikaidoh. “It’s so rare for a dancer to find a choreographer who perfectly fits them and that’s what Bruce was to me. I was never disappointed by what he produced.”

BWDP followers will be thrilled to know that the BWDP will continue to operate and perform for the foreseeable future under the artistic direction of Nikaidoh. “After the June performance Gayle took me to coffee and asked if I would be willing to step in as acting artistic director. I really didn’t have to think about it. Bruce was a close friend and I will always want to honor his legacy and cherish his memory and his work was worth reorganizing my life to come back and help out.”

Nikaidoh was fortunate enough to work with Wood during the early years of the Bruce Wood Dance Company before moving to New York to have ankle surgery and to continue her dance training. She was working with Dwight Rhoden and Complexions Contemporary Ballet when Wood asked her to join the Bruce Wood Dance Project in Dallas. “He told me that he was starting a project and he needed me to dance. I was going through a tough time just then and being able to return home and dance for Bruce was a truly healing experience for me.”BWDP_Bruce profile-2

In addition to his dancers Wood also had a hand in shaping the dance culture in North Texas. “He made it possible for talented dancers, production people and costume designers who needed and wanted to be here in North Texas to stay here. There were so many people in the Bruce Wood Dance Company who could have danced elsewhere, but who wanted to stay in the region due to family ties and because of how unusually good Bruce’s work was.” Nikaidoh adds that this is just one piece of Wood’s legacy that the company would like to continue offering to the community. “Per Bruce’s request we are in the process of archiving his work. We haven’t come up with a total yet, but there are certainly more than 80 masterpiece ballets and that is plenty to offer to dancers and audiences.”

The BWDP also wants to foster the growth of up and coming choreographers who prioritize the same things in art and in dance that Wood did. “We really want these groups to not only preserve and produce his ballets, but also continue fostering his line of thinking in new and upcoming artists.” This ties into Nikaidoh’s long-term goals for the company which includes exposing audiences outside the local regions to Wood’s aesthetic. “Ultimately, I would like to see Bruce’s ballets reach a level of exposure through the BWDP that helps directors of other companies around the country see the work and purchase the ballets.” Something that Wood was not interested in doing when he was in charge. “Bruce was not as interested in impressing people as he was in impacting them. And he wasn’t as interested in selling himself as a lot of other choreographers are. So, with the support of the company, board and his family I would like to work on getting these ballet’s sent out to people who will do them well and just so that more people can see his choreography.”

North Texans will get a chance to experience his choreography this weekend, Sept. 13-14, with the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s presentation of Lovett + MORE at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The program includes Being(1998); fan favorite Lovett (2000), set to Lyle Lovett music; and Piazzolla de Prisa (2001) which will be accompanied by the Dallas Chamber Symphony.

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Review: Funky Fresh, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

In its second-season opener, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance showcases its expanded movement vocabulary and comedic flair in three very different premieres.

Fort Worth — Anyone who has seen Joshua L. Peugh’s work knows that he is not the type of choreographer that takes himself too seriously. And thank goodness for that, for Peugh’s topsy-turvy choreography and unique sense of humor has been a most welcomed addition to the North Texas dance scene. A fact that was reinforced this past weekend with three packed performances of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s second season opener,Beautiful Knuckleheads, at the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center that led the company to add an additional fourth show on Saturday afternoon.

The program opened with Chad El-Khoury’s Words In Motion. El-Khoury’s slower, more simplistic movement choices were a nice change of pace from Peugh’s multi-layered movements. Dressed in jeans and tanks in hues of cream, blue, green and red, the six dancers remained stationary for the first section while exploring their range of motion side-to-side and up-and-down in the form of hand stands, tilts, and upper body extensions. The dancers’ clean lines and moments of stillness gave the audience the impression that they were actually spelling out words with their bodies. As the dancers began moving around the stage they added in a few dynamic surprises such as a double coupe turn into a leg extension or gliding backwards across the stage on all fours. The tranquil movement was accompanied by the unyielding beat of Hunter Long’s “Without Any Considerable Proportion.”

Intensely alluring and pleasantly dark, Nucleus depicted the various ways energy affects individuals and groups. Inspired by solar panels, choreographer Mike Esperanza used geometric patterns, action and reaction modes of motion, continuous physical connections and special lighting to emulate the sun’s energy. Clad in basic white, the five dancers ran, rolled, gyrated, and manipulated one another through a series of primal gestures and partnering skills. Esperanza’s graphic design background added dimension to the piece and was most effective in the section where Salvatore Bonilla shined a flashlight on Kelsey Rohr as she erotically lip-synced to Nina Simone’s version of “I Put a Spell On You.”

Esperanza also embraced the bareness of the performance space by having the dancers slide up and down the stage left wall while performing a series of isolated body movements reminiscent of those seen in a nightclub. This particular section was a testament to how an individual’s energy, while not necessarily pretty in this case, can still be mesmerizing. The opposite is also true which was beautifully showcased by Dexter Green and Steffani Lopez as they melted into each other’s arms and began slow dancing near the end of the number.

The performance concluded with Peugh’s ’80s pop-inspired piece, Beautiful Knuckleheads. Dancing to the catchy tunes of “Kiss On My List,” “Maneater,” “Sara Smile” and “Private Eyes” by Hall and Oates, Peugh combined ‘80s moves (step touches, pelvis pulses and body rolls) with his own quick-witted and contorted style (loose limb jumps, knee-bruising floor work and comical gesturing) for a fresh and funky performance. During “Kiss On My List” the dancers freeze and kiss their closed fists as they stare down the audience. Peugh was in his element bopping his head, caressing his body and nuzzling Emily Bernet during “Maneater.” His partnering section with Green featured counter-balance holds and quirky flips, dips and spins, all signatures of Peugh’s. His comedic timing is also gaining strength, which was evident throughout the work from the ladies’ Jane Fonda leg lifts in “Maneater” to the group’s open-mouthed facial expressions in “Private Eyes.”

This show was a defining moment for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The company has accomplished in one season what many established North Texas companies have been trying to do for years, and that is reaching a younger audience base. This can be attributed to DCCD’s strong presence on social media and young group of dancers, but it’s more likely due to Peugh’s eccentric personality and fresh ideas that just naturally appeal to a younger crowd. The biggest challenge for the company moving forward is going to be finding a larger venue for its future performances.

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At The Core

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

New York-based choreographer Mike Esperanza discusses working with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA on his new work NUCLEUS, part of the company’s Fall Series in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth — Inspiration can hit anywhere at any time. For New York-based Choreographer Mike Esperanza it happened one day while out for a walk when he took notice of the solar panels on people’s rooftops. “I started thinking about the panel’s ability to capture and store the sun’s energy and how this could be translated into movement.” Who knew this idea would evolve into Nucleus, a 25-minute piece that uses geometric patterns, full-body movement, special lighting and projections to illustrate the sun’s energy. “I wanted to use elements like the projector and stage lighting to portray the sun in a way that wasn’t so obvious like putting the dancers in yellow costumes. The piece also doesn’t follow a typical storyline. It’s follows more of a timeframe.”

To bring Nucleus to life Esperanza needed a group of dancers willing to challenge themselves mentally and physically, and who could also think and dance as one. He found what he was looking for with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA (DCCD). Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Esperanza had met previously at a dance festival and really hit it off. So, when Peugh was looking for guest choreographers to come in and create pieces for DCCD’s Fall Series at the Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth, Esperanza was at the top of the list. “Like I always say, I am drawn to people who are curious and love to move,” Peugh says.

Along with running BARE Dance Company in New York, Esperanza also has experience in graphic design, and his approach to visual construction has captivated audiences across the county. His work has been commissioned by many university dance programs, including Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, and UNLV, among others. Esperanza’s choreography has also made numerous appearances in regional and national galas at the American College Dance Festival. In 2005, Esperanza was awarded the Dance: Creation for Performance grant presented by Dance/USA and the Irvine Foundation.

Esperanza recently finished his two-week residency with DCCD and I saw their final rehearsal at Preston Center Dance on a hot Friday afternoon. The atmosphere inside the rehearsal room was professional, yet friendly as Emily Bernet, Salvatore Bonilla, Zac Hammer, Steffani Lopez and Kelsey Rohr stretched and chatted with Esperanza, Peugh and myself. But when it came time to run the piece the dancers quickly shifted into performance mode. Their eyes became focused and breathing steadied as their bodies awaited the first chord in the music.

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

On DCCD’s Tumblr page Bernet shares her experience working with Esperanza. “He moves quickly, following a constant stream of inspiration. As he creates he keeps us involved, following his every weight shift and direction change. The piece incorporates a range of dynamics, and Mike is helping us discover how to make the energy of the work build and fall like a wave, bringing the images together into one idea.”

She adds, “His residency has provided us with an opportunity to continue our artistic growth, and as always, has been a lot of fun. Mike’s creativity has challenged me to move in new ways and brought us closer as a company.”

Esperanza credits his use of imagery and improvisation in the rehearsal process for helping the dancers connect to his vision. “I asked them to think about the energy they give off when they walk into a room for the first time. This is the energy I want to see while they are moving through the space. The dancers really responded to this visual.” Along with emulating the sun’s energy, the group also plays around with the idea of transferring energy. This is reflected in Esperanza’s exploration of motion using action and reaction and continuous physical connections. For example, in one section of the piece the group runs in a repetitive counter clockwise direction. After the second rotation they add a stomp which picks up intensity as they go. As the circling continues the dancers connect with one another via a hand on the shoulder, hip to hip or, in a surprising shift of energy, reversing their runs only to be captured in the arms of the person behind them. “Staying connected mentally to the others throughout the whole piece has been the biggest challenge,” says DCCD newcomer Zac Hammer. “If one person’s energy is slightly off it affects the whole group.”

On the last day with the group Esperanza says he is pleased with how the piece is looking. “I had a great time working with these dancers. They caught on quickly and were opened to trying new things.” This includes a section where the group executes handstands and B-boy movements against a stage left wall while simultaneously gyrating and lip-syncing. It’s not exactly pretty, but very hypnotic. 

» Nucleus will premiere alongside Peugh’s Beautiful Knuckleheads and Chadi El-Khoury’s Words in Motion at Dark Circles Contemporary’s Fall Series, Sept 4-6, at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth.

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Dallas DanceFest Profile: Indique Dance Company

Indique Dance Company. Photo: Courtesy

Indique Dance Company. Photo: Courtesy

Indique Dance Company co-founder Sarita Venkatraman talks about the city’s growing Indian dance community and partaking in the reinvigorated Dallas DanceFest this weekend.

Dallas — From far away the Dallas dancescape appears to consist mostly of ballet and modern dance companies, but if you look closer there are also several cultural dance groups pushing their way to the forefront, including classical Indian dance group Indique Dance Company. Formed in 2008 by Sarita Venkatraman, Shalini Varghese, Latha Shrivasta, Anu Sury, Kruti Patel, Bhuvana Venkatraman and Shilpi Mehta, Indique Dance Company fuses Indian classical, folk and modern dance styles with contemporary themes to create an enjoyable and enlightening cultural experience.

And through its collaboration with the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation (ICHF), the company has had the chance to perform in some of the most popular venues in the Dallas Arts Districts, including Klyde Warren Park, the Crow Collection of Asian Art and Dallas City Performance Hall. “We are so thankful for all the opportunities Dallas has provided for Indique,” Venkatraman says. “Over the last six years we have been welcomed by both Indian and non-Indian audiences which has just been incredible.”

For Venkatraman dance has always been a calling. “Growing up in India my Dad was really into Indian classical music so I was exposed to the arts at a very young age. I joined a dance school in Mumbai at the age of 10 and have been dancing ever since.” Under the tutelage of Guru Shri Mani, Venkatraman began her Bharatanatyam dance training and after a couple of years moved on to learn Kathak from Smt. Guru Asha Joglekar. “In Sanskrit, guru means teacher and becoming a teacher is more of a calling than a profession. A teacher guides a student towards a margam or path. Some students choose to perform an Arangetram, also known as ascending the stage, which should not be considered a graduation performance but rather a beginning.”

Even moving to Dallas in 1995 to work on her doctorate in Physics at the University of Texas at Dallas couldn’t deter Venkatraman from continuing her Bharatanatyam training. Taking a friend’s suggestion Venkatraman went to take class at Arathi School of Dance where she met Guru Smt. Revathi Satyu. “My Guru Revathi Satyu is an amazing individual. As a guru she has taught me to love and appreciate the art not just as a student but also as a teacher. She is extremely patient, always smiling and most importantly always willing to share the art wholeheartedly.” Venkatraman has been teaching at Arathi for several years and her students have performed throughout the DFW area.

Venkatraman adds that if it wasn’t for Satyu Dallas audiences would know very little about Indian dance and the Indian culture. “Revathi is a pioneer in bringing the art of Bharatanatyam to Dallas. She started the Arathi School of Dance in Dallas in 1980 and has graduated over a 100 students. She has been responsible for spreading the awareness of Indian classical dance among Indian and non-Indian audiences. Through workshops, presentations and performances she continues to touch more and more people in the DFW metroplex.”

Photo: Courtesy

Photo: Courtesy

Since its conception, Indique Dance Company has presented several productions, including RootsMaa: The Many faces of Motherhood and Jeeva:  Synergy in Nature. The company will present a dance from Jeeva: Synergy in Nature called Thillana at the inaugural Dallas DanceFest happening this weekend at DCPH. The three-day event is being put on by the Dance Council of North Texas. Choreographed by Shalini Varghese and Bhuvana Venkatraman with music by Indian Rock band AGAM, Thillana features quick foot work, complex rhythms and intricate body poses. “Thillana is a classical Indian dance that has no storytelling. It’s a very happy, brisk dance that involves a lot of complex foot work and body movements.”

And while Dallas DanceFest will be the first time for many local dance companies to perform in the two-year-old City Performance Hall, that is not the case for Indique Dance Company who just performed there two weeks ago. “The DCPH is one of our favorite in-door performance spaces. The intimate setting is something we really enjoy. It makes it easier for us to have a conversation with the audience.”

» Indique Dance Company will perform at the Friday night showcase, 8 p.m. Aug. 29, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The other companies performing Friday are: Dallas Ballet Company, Ewert & Company, Rhythmic Souls, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

» Companies performing Saturday are: Chamberlain Performing Arts, Chado Danse, Houston METdance, Avant Chamber Ballet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Rep I and II companies, Tarrant County College Movers Unlimited, Mejia Ballet International, Bruce Wood Dance Project

» The Dance Council Honors are Sunday at 2 p.m., honoring Nita Braun, Ann Briggs-Cutaia and Joe Cutaia, Buster Cooper, Dylis Croman, Suzie Jary and Beth Wortley, with performances by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Bruce Wood Dance Project and 2014 Dance Council Scholarship Recipients.

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Dallas DanceFest Profile: Ewert & Company

Ewert & Company members Rebekah Caffey and Lela Bell. Photo: Sharen Bradford

Ewert & Company members Rebekah Caffey and Lela Bell. Photo: Sharen Bradford

Artistic Director Anna Marie Ewert-Pittman on building her company, Ewert & Company, and performing at the inaugural Dallas DanceFest.

Dallas — Like many dance companies across North Texas, Ewert & Company was created out of Artistic Director Anna Marie Ewert-Pittman’s need to express herself. “I wanted to do something different than what I was doing,” Ewert-Pittman says. “And I wanted more of a voice in the work.” At the time she was a member of Dancers’ Unlimited Repertory Company in Dallas. When Dancers’ Unlimited disbanded in the early ’90s Ewert-Pittman saw it as an opportunity to start making her own work, and in 2000 Ewert & Company was formed.

Over the last 15 years Ewert & Company has built up an electric repertory that critics have called dramatic, witty and original. But finding her choreographic voice didn’t happen overnight. “I would say my movement choices were more Graham-based in the beginning. I think after I got my MFA I was able to step outside my little box and expand my artistry.”

Ewert-Pittman holds a BFA in Dance Performance from Southern Methodist University and a MFA in Performing Arts-Dance from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She currently teaches for Brookhaven College and Tarrant County College as well as for the Dallas Youth Repertory Project which holds classes at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The piece Ewert & Company will be presenting at the Dallas City Performance Hall (PCDH) as part of the inaugural Dallas DanceFest is Ewert-Pittman’s Not So Carefully Kept (2012). The work features music by Henry Purcell and is performed by company members Haylee Barganier, Lela Bell and Rebekah Caffey. “Many of my dancers I know from my days at Dancers’ Unlimited.” The piece also features excerpts from the book The Velveteen Rabbit read by James Mio, rearranged. “Not So Carefully Kept deals a lot with remembrance and loss. It’s a pretty layered piece that I think everyone will be able to relate to in some way.”

Anna Marie Ewert-Pittman. Photo: Sharen Bradford

Anna Marie Ewert-Pittman. Photo: Sharen Bradford

While discussing her creative process Ewert-Pittman admits that she doesn’t follow a particular format each time she starts a new project. “Sometimes I start the process with the music and sometimes I don’t. I really like listening to opera and soulful music, but whether I use it or not really depends on the subject matter.” The one constant she says is the time she spends researching the subject before going into the studio to explore.

Ewert-Pittman considers herself a team player when it comes to supporting other up-and-coming dance companies in the area. “I have had a few emerging companies reach out to me for advice. I try to help as best I can and if not then I direct them to someone I think can help them.”

» Ewert & Company will perform Not So Carefully Kept at the Friday night showcase, 8 p.m. Aug. 29, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The other companies performing Friday are: Dallas Ballet Company, Indique Dance Company, Rhythmic Souls, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

» Companies performing Saturday are: Chamberlain Performing Arts, Chado Danse, Houston METdance, Avant Chamber Ballet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Rep I and II companies, Tarrant County College Movers Unlimited, Mejia Ballet International, Bruce Wood Dance Project

» The Dance Council Honors are Sunday at 2 p.m., honoring Nita Braun, Ann Briggs-Cutaia and Joe Cutaia, Buster Cooper, Dylis Croman, Suzy Jary and Beth Wortley, with performances by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Bruce Wood Dance Project and 2014 Dance Council Scholarship Recipients.

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Breeding Ground

Alice Alyse teaching ballet in TWU studios. Photo: Annabelle Chen

Alice Alyse teaching ballet in TWU studios. Photo: Annabelle Chen

The Joffrey Ballet School’s second annual Dallas summer intensive at Texas Woman’s University in Denton continues the JBS tradition of modling young dancers.

Denton — While many ballet schools across the country are seeing a drop in their summer program numbers, the New York-based Joffrey Ballet School (JBS) has seen its enrollment rise and its programs expand over the last decade. And while founder Robert Joffrey’s teaching philosophy remains at the forefront of the school’s mission statement, its recent success would not be possible without some critical changes over the past decade.

The JBS was founded in 1953 by Joffrey and Gerald Arpino and has been known for the past 50 years as one of the premiere training institution for dancers in America. “Joffrey was always an innovator,” says Alice Alyse, a master teacher and artistic director of JBS’s summer programs in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Dallas. “He loved doing contemporary movement on pointe shoes long before it was the norm. He was also a strong believer in creating well-rounded dancers. The JBS is truly a breeding ground for well-trained dancers.”

But the school hit a devastating bump in 2007 with the passing of its long reigning Executive Director Edith D’Addario. By the time of D’Addario’s death the school’s enrollment was way down and its financials were a mess. The JBS was close to shutting its doors when Chris D’Addario (Edith’s grandson) and Lee Merwin stepped in. Together they cleaned house and JBS is thriving once again. For more background, read “The Fall and Rise of the Joffrey Ballet School” in Dance Teacher magazine June 2014 issue.

The JBS also brought on Alyse who, over the last 5 years, has expanded the school’s summer programs to other parts of the U.S. including Los Angeles and Dallas. “I never pictured myself as a director. JBS came to me and was very patient with me as I learned the ropes.” To date JBS holds summer programs in seven cities and two international programs in Florence and Moscow.

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Alyse began studying ballet at the age of 5. Her family moved to Miami when she was 11. She joined Miami City Ballet at 16 before graduating from New World School of the Arts. Alyse went on to dance with Sarasota Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. In addition to her role as Artistic Director of Joffrey West, South and Southwest, Alyse also executes many auditions for the JBS nationwide and internationally. She conducted the first Hong Kong and Singapore auditions in 2012.

Photo: Annabelle Chen

Photo: Annabelle Chen

The JBS’s Dallas summer program is already in progress (July 28 – August 15) at Texas Woman’s University (TWU) in Denton, TX. “We used TWU’s facilities last year and had a great experience. The studios and theater are wonderful and the dance department and administration have been very supportive.”

Students will spend three weeks immersing themselves in a variety of dance styles, including classical, contemporary ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop, Bollywood and even tradition Chinese dance. In addition to Alyse, the faculty also include Chris Coates, master hip-hop and jazz teacher, and Mecca Vazie Andrews, the artistic director of Los Angeles-based The MOVEMENT movement. Classes are capped at approximately 15-25 students so, there is plenty of individualized attention. In terms of the dancers, Alyse says she is surprised at the number of students who are actually from the Dallas area. “There’s not as many international dancers here as we usually see in other cities. And the dancers here are really in love with the contemporary style.”

Through her experiences as a dancer, teacher and artistic director Alyse has seen firsthand how the ballet culture in the U.S. is changing. “Today’s ballet dancers have to be way more versatile and open-minded. When I started out you were labeled either a ballet, modern or commercial dancer. Today those styles are all mixing together.” Alyse attributes the blurring of these lines to today’s heavy competition, market demands and a dancer’s need to prolong her career. “A ballet dancer typically retires between the ages of 32-36, but if they are trained in other styles such as modern they could join another company and extend their dance life a few more years or even decades.”

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Q&A: Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Dancing With The Stars

Maksim and Karina. Photo: Courtesy

Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff in Ballroom With A Twist. Photo: Courtesy

The professional Ballroom dancer on winning Season 18 of Dancing With The Stars and his upcoming performance in Ballroom With A Twist at the Music Hall at Fair Park.

Dallas — Widely known as the Bad Boy of the Ballroom, Maksim Chmerkovskiy waltzed his way into America’s heart during Season 2 of ABC’s Dancing With The Stars. Since then he has come close to winning the mirror ball trophy four times before finally accomplishing the fete this year (Season 18) with 2014 Sochi Olympic Gold Medalist Meryl Davis. But Chmerkovskiy’s love of dance started long before the formation of DWTS.

Born in 1980 in Odessa, Ukraine, Chmerkovskiy began dance classes at the age of 4. During his teenage years his family immigrated to the U.S. and Chmerkovskiy got serious about his dance career. He is the founder of Rising Stars Academy, a studio focused on the youth and their pursuit of Ballroom dance, and is also the co-founder of Dance With Me Dance Studios. He choreographed the Wynn Las Vegas water-based show Le Reveand has also performed in the Broadway show Burn the Floor. He joined the cast of DWTS in 2006.

Dallas audiences can see Chmerkovskiy in addition to dance celebrities Cheryl Burke, Karina Smirnoff and Tony Dovolani when Ballroom With a Twist comes to the Music Hall at Fair Park July 19 for two showings. Also performing is So You Think You Can Dance finalists Jenna Johnson (Season 11), Legacy (Season 6), Randi Lynn Strong (Season 5) and Johnathan Platero (Season 5) along with American Idol finalists Von Smith (Season 8) and Haley Scarnato (Season 6).

TheaterJones asks Maksim Chmerkovskiy about choreographing for television, winning the mirror ball trophy and what audiences can expect to see during Ballroom With A Twist.

TheaterJones: Besides receiving the mirror ball trophy, what does winning Season of DWTS mean to you?

Maksim Chmerkovskiy: It means everything to me! I have been with the show for about 8 years and every season has been a wonderful experience in different ways. This season with Meryl was a completely different experience from the rest. Meryl is such a hard-working and dedicated woman who pushed me to do my very best and I did not want to let her or my fans down.

How did you get involved with Ballroom With A Twist?

I agreed to a few shows to be able to meet the people who have supported and voted for Meryl and I throughout this past season of DWTS, as well as my fans that have been there for me throughout the years. It is a way for me to give back to my fans and let them know how much I appreciate them.

How would you describe the production? Is it DWTS on tour?

Ballroom With A Twist is filled with amazing performances, fun music and an outstanding cast that is perfect for the entire family.

What dance styles can audiences expect to see?

People can expect to see classic Ballroom along with Ballroom mixed with Contemporary and Hip-Hop like styles.

Do you have a favorite Ballroom or Latin dance?

Dancing is my passion and each and every dance I perform has something different to it, whether it’s emotional or physical. A lot depends on whom I am dancing with as well.

What sort of impact has DWTS had on Ballroom dance in the U.S.?

I think DWTS has allowed America to appreciate and fall in love with the act of dance beyond just Ballroom.

What advice do you have for young dancers who want to dance on television one day?

The best advice I can give is to follow your heart. Work hard and love what you do, that’s what is most important.

Outside of DWTS, what do you enjoy doing?

Outside of DWTS I spent a lot time working on my dance studios, Dance With Me, which now has five locations throughout New York/New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut. I also love giving back and helping others. I work with a charity called Childhelp which helps victims of child abuse and neglect. I also love spending time with my family. They’re everything to me!

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