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.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Posted in Local Dance News, People and Places, Performance Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Posted in Local Dance News, People and Places, Performance Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Posted in Local Dance News, People and Places, Published | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Local Dance News, People and Places, Published | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Posted in Local Dance News, Published | Leave a comment

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.”

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

Posted in Local Dance News, People and Places, Published | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

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

 

Posted in People and Places, Published | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Q&A: Choreographer Shen Wei

Shen Wei's Near the Terrace. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Shen Wei’s Near the Terrace. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Choreographer Shen Wei on his creative process, honesty in movement and his company’s upcoming performance at the Winspear.

Dallas — Painter. Visual Artist. Dancer. Choreographer. But the title Shen Wei cherishes the most is that of “human being.” “I am a human being who loves art,” he says. His humility and honesty is embedded in all his work which has been mesmerizing audiences around the world since starting Shen Wei Dance Arts (SWDA) in 2000. Wei will be bringing his vibrant imagination and exquisite movement quality to Dallas on June 19 at the Winspear Opera House, ending TITAS’ season on a very high note.

The evening will feature two of Wei’s earlier works: Map (2005) and Near the Terrace (2001). With music by Steve Reich, Map explores a range of movement principles, including rotation, bouncing, internal isolation, internal circular movement and internal individual movement. On the other end of the spectrum is Near the Terrace with its slow controlled movements inspired by a series of paintings by Belgian artist Paul Delvaux. An exhibition of Wei’s own paintings is also on display at the Crow Collection of Asian Art from through Sept. 29.

Born to a couple of Chinese Opera professionals in China’s Hunan province, Wei was trained from youth in Chinese Opera performance, traditional ink painting and calligraphy. He was a performer with the Hunan State Xian Opera Company from 1984 to 1989. He also studied Western visual art which lead him to modern dance. In 1991 he co-founded the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first of its kind in China. Wei moved to New York City in 1995 to study with the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab and founded Shen Wei Dance Arts 5 years later. To date SWDA has performed in 138 cities in 28 countries and on four continents.

Wei has commissioned works for American Dance Festival, Het Muziektheater Amsterdam, Lincoln Center Festival, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Hong Kong’s New Vision Arts Festival, to name a few. He has also earned numerous accolades, including a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship (2007), the U.S. Artists Fellow award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. He also choreographed the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. In 2010, he was a named a winner of the Meadows Prize at Southern Methodist University, where he worked with the dance students.

TheaterJones caught up with Shen Wei to talk about his creative process, blending Eastern and Western dance styles and what audiences can expect at his Dallas performance.

TheaterJones: You have many titles: choreographer, dancer, painter, director. What do you see yourself as?

Shen Wei: I think it’s a human being who loves art. That’s it.

Is painting your first passion?

I have loved painting since I was a little boy. I remember being at home by myself painting at 5 or 6 years old. No one really taught me how to paint. And that has been non-stop up till now. I feel that painting is one of those things I will do no matter where my life takes me.

What inspired you to start dancing?

Like painting I started dancing as a young boy. It fits my personality. In China I was born in the year of monkey which means one who likes to be really active and physical. I do have that monkey side in me. I like to express myself through physical movement. I am naturally coordinated and can learn things fast physically. I never thought many years later I would still be doing the two things that I love.

What motivated you to move to the U.S. in 1995?

There comes a point in your life when you hunger for more learning and more exposure. As an artist and human being I wanted to grow more and I knew I could do that in New York City. I wanted to discover everything I didn’t know and to grow more.

How was it adapting to New York City and the Western dance culture?

Before I came to the U.S. I spent many years studying modern dance and the Western culture through visual and performing arts, but you can only learn so much from books and teachers. It’s so different when you are living it. It took me many years to really understand the roots of Western culture and New York City.

Was it always in the cards to start your own company?

I never planned to start a company or to be a choreographer in the U.S. In some ways you think things just suddenly change. But in other ways it’s because you are concentrating so hard on doing well for yourself and educating yourself that things just happen naturally. Being a freelance artist in the city in not easy. But somehow things changed and my work developed to a certain place where people started welcoming it.

What is it about your work that makes it so relatable to mass audiences?

Photo: Stephanie Berger

Photo: Stephanie Berger

I think it’s my focus, passion and research. I only do one or two projects a year. I do this because I want to be reliving the work I am doing which means I do spend a lot adjusting everything and conducting my research. I never do two projects at one time. This way I have nothing distracting me from my work.  My traveling, education and childhood has also helped me understand the sensitivities of both Eastern and Western cultures. This has made me who I am today. My travels have lead me to communicate with many different people and that helps me to grow and appreciate the different cultures and human beings. So, my work may in some ways relates to people on a spiritual level, but it’s hard to say. I am just trying to touch you by communicating honestly through movement.

Can you tell me about the process you went through when creating Map and Near the Terrace?

Both pieces are earlier works and were built in different periods of my life. So, if you experience the whole evening you will see how modern dance can be so different and unique in its own ways. Map is more active, musical and abstract. It’s about discovering new ways of moving and what happens to our movement when universal elements such as gravity are introduced. Near the Terrace showcases the human form and touches more on the spiritual side of human nature. It’s a slower, more visually appealing number.

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

 

Posted in People and Places, Published | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dance Council of North Texas Announces 2014 Honorees

Dylis Croman. Photo courtesy DCNT

Dylis Croman. Photo courtesy DCNT

The Dance Council of North Texas recognizes the accomplishments of Nita Braun, Suzie Jary, Beth Wortley, Joe Cutaia and Ann Briggs-Cutaia, Dylis Croman and Buster Cooper.

Dallas — Every year the Dance Council of North Texas selects five individuals whose excellence in education, performance and community support for dance have greatly impacted the art form in North Texas. While the mission of the Dance Council Honors hasn’t changed, attendees are in for a few surprises at this year’s event. For the first time the Dance Council Honors will take place at Dallas City Performance Hall on Aug. 31, 2014, and will coincide with the inaugural Dallas DanceFest which runs Aug. 29-31. The Dance Council Honors has previously been held at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. The event begins with a reception followed by the presentation of awards and includes performances by 2014 DCNT scholarship recipients and professional companies.

“That Dallas Black Dance Theatre opened its doors to the annual Dance Council Honors was a wonderful gift,” says Honors Chairperson Janice LaPointe-Crump. However, “each year people had to be turned away because of the limited amount of seating. With more capacity and better sight lines the City Performance Hall is truly a contemporary, yet elegant environment. And becoming part of the Dallas DanceFest closes the space between our youthful scholarship recipients, professionals at the height of their careers and the presentation of the Honor awards to those who have preserved and excelled throughout their professional lives.”

Buster Cooper. Photo courtesy DCNT

Buster Cooper. Photo courtesy DCNT

The DCNT will also be honoring Dallas tap icon Buster Cooper, who passed away in March, with the final Texas Tap Legend Award. The award has been renamed the Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award. This year’s Dance Council Honorees are:

Nita Braun – Mary McLarry Bywaters Award for Lifetime Achievement

Nita Braun’s teaching career spanned nearly 35 years, 25 of which were spent running Nita Braun’s Talent Workshop in Farmers Branch. Braun’s passion for dance also extended beyond her studio. For many years she served as a Secretary and a Vice President of the Dallas Dance Council, working to expand the audience for dance in Dallas through education, outreach, and performance. In 1946 she married Philip Henry Braun, a chemical engineer and World War II veteran. Together they raised four children – Cathie, Mary, Lisa, and Griff – and were married for 56 years, until Phil’s death in 2003. Braun passed away in January 2012 at the age of 85.

Suzie Jary – Mary Warner Award for Service to Dance

For more than 20 years Suzie Jary LCSW, TEP has been providing psychotherapy and counseling in the areas of addiction, mental health, grief and loss and career development. She graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work, CUNY, in New York, and trained and worked in New York City before relocating to Fort Worth, TX. Jary is a recognized specialist in the issues faced by performing and creative artists. She has spoken internationally and domestically about artists’ career development and career transition issues. She was profiled in The New York TimesWall Street Journal, and New York Daily News for her work with Career Transition for Dancers, a national not-for-profit organization. As Client Services Consultant for the organization she travels nationwide presenting action-based career development workshops for professional dance companies, college dance major programs and dance conservatories. Jary’s background is as a professional musical theatre dancer having performed in Europe, in national tours and on Broadway.

Beth Wortley – Larry White Dance Educator Award

Growing up in Dallas, Beth Wortley studied classical ballet with Nikita Talin. She also has training in jazz and modern dance. Wortley received a BFA in Theater from University of Texas at Austin and a MFA in dance from Southern Methodist University in 1973. After graduation she served as Artistic Director of Ballet of Dallas for 5 years before moving to Boston where she taught ballet at Tufts University and Boston University. Wortley returned to Dallas in 1989 and was soon hired as Director of the Dance Department for the Hockaday School. In 2008 she was named the Chair of the Performing Arts Department. Outside of her Hockaday responsibilities, Beth has been directing, choreographing and acting in productions for the Rotunda Theater for the last 50 years. She has choreographed countless musicals for other local theaters and high schools throughout the Metroplex. Wortley also was a pioneer for Liturgical dance at First United Methodist Church Dallas.

Buster Cooper – Texas Tap Legend Award

Leonard “Buster” Cooper started dance lessons at the age of 10. At 17 he attended a workshop in Chicago where he was asked to stand in for Gene Kelly’s brother, Fred. His career as a dancer and teacher flourished from there. He was drafted for WWII in 1942 and afterward spent his summers dancing in Chicago and New York. Cooper moved to Dallas in 1951 to head up one of Fred Astaire’s dance locations. A year later he left the company and opened his own studio. For 52 years he owned and operated The Buster Cooper School of Dance and for more than 30 years served as the head of dance at Hockaday School. Scores of his alumni went on to dance in production at the Dallas Summer Musicals and on Broadway in shows, including The Music ManThe Pajama GameWest Side StoryA Chorus Line and Cats. Cooper passed away in March 2013 at the age of 90.

Joe Cutaia and Ann Briggs-Cutaia – Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award

Texas native Joe Cutaia has studied dance in Dallas, New York and Chicago. His professional experiences include the Broadway national touring companies of Little Me with Donald O’Connor, George M with Ken Berry and Hello Dolly with Carol Channing. As an actor, Cutaia studied with Adam Roarke at the Film Labs at Las Colinas, Lou Diamond Phillips and the DSM Musical Theatre School. He also has worked for the Dallas Children’s Theatre and has appeared in various television commercials. Cutaia is an active member of the Dance Council of North Texas and for the past several years has been a committee chairman of the National Tap Dance Day celebration in Dallas. He and his wife Ann are members of three Dallas ballroom dance clubs having presided as presidents for one group and are currently holding the position of President-Elect for another. They are also the owners of The Chaplin Cotillions LLC, and travel around the state of Texas conducting etiquette and ballroom classes for students in grades 2 through 9.

Ann Briggs-Cutaia studied dance in Dallas, TX with Texie Waterman and Buster Cooper. Briggs holds a BFA in dance from Southern Methodist University. She danced professionally as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and has appeared in various commercials, television shows and movies in the United States and Japan. Briggs also holds a Masters of Science in Counseling and is certified by the Texas State Board for Educator Certification as an instructor of dance and speech as well as a school counselor.

Dylis Croman – Natalie Skelton Award for Artistic Excellence

Dallas native Dylis Croman is best known  for her success on Broadway in shows, including Sweet Charity,FosseA Chorus LineApplauseOklahoma! and presently Chicago. A quintessential ballerina, Croman once danced with the renowned FeldBallets/NY (now Ballet Tech Company) before becoming Ann Reinking’s assistant and eventually a Fosse aficionado and legacy keeper, then launching her triumphant career on Broadway. Croman trained in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with Laura Price, Dana Davis Bailey, Dian Clough West, and TuzerBallet. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before moving to New York. This year Croman was the guest star for DCNT’s Dance Planet 18 festival.

Tickets for the 2014 Dance Council Honors will be available beginning August 1. Visit www.thedancecouncil.org for more information.

This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Posted in Local Dance News, Published | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Timeless Tale

Carolyn Judson in TBT's Swan Lake. Photo: Steven Visneau

Carolyn Judson in TBT’s Swan Lake. Photo: Steven Visneau

Fort Worth — Many critics would say they have a love/hate relationship with the ballet Swan Lake. Hate because we have seen it re-done and over-done so many times. Love because when executed correctly we can find ourselves at a loss for words. These conflicting views might have something to do with the ballet’s own fractured history. The Swan Lake we know today derives from the production choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s composition and premiered in St. Petersburg in 1895.

What many might not know is that Tchaikovsky actually composed the score in the mid-1870s and that the first production of Swan Lake was performed on stage in Moscow under the title The Lake of the Swans. It also may come as a surprise to some that the original version was a product of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre before it was revived in St. Petersburg. Petipa and Ivanov also had different ideas when it came the ballet’s choreography due to their dissimilar dance backgrounds; Petipa with his Italian and Parisian influences and Ivanov with his Imperial Russian influences. Their contrasting styles helped create one of the most challenging and coveted roles in ballet: Odette/Odile.

Swan Lake tells the story of the beautiful Odette who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer and only love can break the spell. The sorcerer plays a trick on the prince so that he falls in love with the imposter black swan thus dooming Odette. Instead of spending an eternity as a swan Odette chooses to kill herself and once the prince realizes what he has done he decides to die with her. Not exactly the happily-ever-after audiences might expect.

It’s definitely a risk for Texas Ballet Theater to close its season with such an infamous ballet, but if dress rehearsal on Thursday was any indication audiences are in for a well-balanced performance. The opening party scene in the woods started off a little rocky, but quickly gained momentum. At first, the dancers’ pantomiming felt a bit forced and Principal Dancer Lucas Priolo’s stage entrance lacked energy. But as the scene progressed the dancers began to lose themselves in the movement and story thanks in part to the live accompaniment provided by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra—the first time TBT has has live orchestra accompaniment since 2008.

The two female soloists in the party scene displayed beautiful control and amazing fortitude as they seamlessly executed multiple entrechat trois and echappe jumps into a slow arabesque hold. Simon Wexler upped the ante with his mind-blowing jumps and technical dexterity. He attacks all his movement with such vigor that viewers are just waiting for him to fall out of a turn or fumble a landing. He does neither of these things.

Priolo’s movement becomes more fluid and texturized when he dances with Carolyn Judson (Odette/Odile) during the lake scene. His quiet charm, stoic lines and breezy partnering skills are only a few of the qualities audiences are going to miss when he retires after this performance season. With her long lines, winged feet and angelic face, Judson is the quintessential swan princess. But don’t let her willowy frame and divine adagio work fool you. As soon as the tempo picks up she begins fluttering her arms frantically as she aggressively bourrees across the floor.

The corps of swans also has the difficult task of executing every head tilt, wrist flick and body angle in complete unison and at a quick-moving pace. If one dancer’s leg is a little higher than the others the whole illusion of the dance is scattered. This part of the ballet is so well-known because of its uniformity. The corps accomplishes this by breathing together as a group, giving off a tranquil vibe even as they are moving quickly in and out of formations while performing tricky foot work.

The return to live music will be talked about just as much as the dancing. The orchestra had to be cut because of financial difficulties at the start of the recession, but appears to slowly be making a comeback. In the 2014-15 season, TBT will have two productions with the FWSOThe Sleeping Beauty and The Merry Widow.

Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Swan Lake runs May 30-June 1, 2014 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Posted in Local Dance News, People and Places, Published | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment