2014 Nutcracker Nuttiness

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

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

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

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

Full list and ticket information below:

Nov. 21-22

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

Nov. 22-23

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

Nov. 22

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

Nov. 26

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

Nov. 28-30

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

Nov. 28-Dec. 27

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

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

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

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

Nov. 29-30

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

Dec. 5-7

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

Dec. 6-7

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

Dec. 6-7

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

Dec. 6-7

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

Dec. 6-7

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

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

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

Dec. 12-14

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

Dec. 13-14

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

Dec. 20-21

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

Dec. 20-21

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

Dec. 22-23

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

Other Holiday Dance

Dec. 5-7

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

Dec. 7

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

Dec. 12

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

This list was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

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Q&A: Choreographer Brian Brooks

Photo: Erin Baiano

Photo: Erin Baiano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do these qualities reflect your own personality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you balance your role as choreographer and performer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Preview: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s NICE

Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson

Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson

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

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

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

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

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

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

This preview was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

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Review: SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Concert 2014

Dancin' Man. Photo: Sharen Bradford

Dancin’ Man. Photo: Sharen Bradford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Get A Grip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

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Classy Menagerie

Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Photo: Brian Guilliaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Review: Ballet Fete, Collin County Ballet Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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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.

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

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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.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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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.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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