Q&A: Sossy Mechanics

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Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan in Trick Boxing. Photo: Ed Bock

Richardson — If you are looking for something out of the ordinary to do this weekend, then check out Sossy MechanicsTrick Boxing: Swingin’ in the Ring, Feb. 11-14, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. In this 80-minute show, husband and wife team Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan bring the aesthetic of classic 1930’s movie musicals to the stage with four puppets playing 16 different characters, rapid-fire dialogue, physical comedy and beautiful ballroom dance sequences reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Sossy Mechanics is a dance theater company based out of Minneapolis that combines the vast performance talent and wild imaginations of Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan. Since forming the company in 2000, Sossy Mechanics has developed a devoted public following and their show Trick Boxing has garnered critical acclaim in various cities across the U.S. and abroad, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edinburgh, Prague, London, Vancouver, Seattle and New York City. Sossy Mechanics made its Dallas debut at WaterTower Theatre’s 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival where Trick Boxing was well received by both audiences and critics.

 

Sostek and McClellan met while performing with the percussive dance theater company Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum in Minneapolis. Over the years Sostek has parlayed his background in various dance forms, his life long experience with comedy and fascination with verbal and physical into a successful career in the arts as a writer, director, choreographer, performer and teacher. He is a recipient of a 2014 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, a 2005 Sage Award for performance and the 2010 MN Bride Magazine award for Best Dance Instructor.

McClellan’s first professional dance job had her portraying a water molecule at a sewage treatment facility for a site-specific choreographer in Minneapolis. Her other performance credits include Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, Shapiro & Smith Dance and Black Label Movement. Since joining forces with Sostek in 2000 she had added writing, acting and choreography to her repertoire. In 2003 McClellan was awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship in Dance and was named Artist of the Year in 2012 by City Pages (Minneapolis).

TheaterJones askes Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan about combining their backgrounds in dance, theater, acting, writing and puppetry to produce Trick Boxing, the challenges of putting together a show as unique as this one and the different styles of puppetry.

TheaterJones: How were you two introduced to the performing arts?

Megan McClellan: Our backgrounds are vast. Brian was brought into the arts at a young age through his parents. His mother was a talented dancer and his father was a talented actor, director and stage manager in New York. He was always interested in acting and theater, but it wasn’t until college when he started taking dance much more seriously, which then lead him to becoming a ballroom dance instructor and getting into tap dance.

Brian Sostek: I graduated from college with a degree in English, and afterward I moved to Minneapolis where I started auditioning for different things. I quickly found that I didn’t really like the audition pieces so, I started writing my own audition pieces and getting work based on those. And one thing lead to another and I started writing longer, more involved character pieces and started performing them around town. So, long before I was working as a legitimate actor I was sort of working in the fringe of what was then called the performance art world.

McClellan: My backstory is that I am one of four girls and a brother, and all the girls were put into dance at a very early age. I strictly danced up until the first time we put this show together. I consider myself the type of dancer who always believed that I am an actor while on stage. I was more a strict tap, jazz and ballet dancer who then got her modern dance education from the University of Minnesota. I later ended up in a tap and percussive dance company, and that is where Brian and I met. I have also choreographed for a lot of musical theater, but I do not have a strong singing voice so I was never really pulled into the theatrical side until Brian took me there.

Is this showing of Trick Boxing the same one you presented at the Out of The Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre in 2014?

Sostek: The full production has changed since 2014. We rewrote the show and changed the beginning for a premiere in St. Paul, Minnesota at the beginning of 2015. We have revised the show various times over its lifetime. The history of the show starts back in 2002 when we premiered a 50-minute version at a local fringe festival. It was very successful so the following year we took it on the road and did the Canadian circuit and the Edinburgh Fringe for a month, and by that point we had rewritten it a little bit. We periodically make adjustments and because it’s our show and it’s just the two of us sometimes we make adjustments minutes before going on stage. We put the show on the shelf for about five years while we were having kids and working with other companies in Minneapolis.

In 2010 we decided to get back to doing our own work and got into the New York International Fringe Festival and got some really nice press from the New York Times. From there we did another major rewrite to take Trick Boxingfrom an hour long show to an hour and a half with an intermission. The main reason we do rewrites is to improve the story and include choreography that we felt was missing from the show. The beginning of last year we still felt there was something lacking in the story structure and the choreography so, we added a new beginning and a couple other changes within the show that really flushed out some of the characters.

Was it hard coming up with choreography that you could perform while delivering dialogue through multiple characters?

Sostek: What we do is actually a lot easier than performing in musicals because in musicals the singing takes a lot more vocal control. We sometimes call our show a dance-ical because instead of bursting into song we burst into dance, and then most of the dialogue happens between dances. We also do a lot of movement sequences that are more text-based.

McClellan: One of the elements in the story is that my character Bella teaches two different characters in the show how to be better boxers by teaching them how to swing dance, and she does all this through a simple, reinventing of the Patty Cake nursey rhythm. There are all sorts of speaking and dancing elements in the story, but when it comes to the dance sequences these are more silent movie moments.

Sostek: And all the dances in the show are organic to the show’s cosmology. In other words it’s not like we go off on a tangent and say “OK, now these two characters are going to dance.” They’re dancing either because they are moving in a stylized way as in boxing or training to box or because one of the characters is a dancer and she is dancing with the other characters. In that way we really tried to make every movement piece real to the world of the story.

Does Trick Boxing personify the type of work you both envisioned of doing when you started Sossy Mechanics?

McClellan: The message within the show really personifies who we are as artists. We like to make work with positive elements. We spent a lot of time working in the concert dance world and Brian also spent a lot of writing for dance and so, we walk the line between theater and dance a lot. One of the main things we consider ourselves to be is storytellers. And we use dance, theater and puppetry to tell a story. We are not likely to make our pieces abstract. Working in the concert world the choreographers who have touched us the most are the ones who create work from their hearts instead of their heads and personal demons. We like to create positive work. We also make work about love and that is the other most important component about our work.

Brian, how did you get into puppetry and where does one go to learn these skills?

Sostek: When we started this show I had done rudimentary puppetry on my own because I have always been fascinated with it. Since the first time we created the show I have worked quite a bit at the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis which has fantastic puppetry. They bring in puppet artists from around the world to create, design, build and teach the different styles of puppetry. Everything from giant five-person operated puppets like we see in Alice in Wonderland to the shadow puppets in Peter Pan. Minneapolis and St. Paul have a really great driving puppetry design, performance and education environment. There are also more puppet theaters that are offering puppetry classes. There’s a company out of Chicago called Manual Cinema which has a developed a whole new style of puppetry that uses overhead projectors and drawing and shadows. If people are looking for training I think they need to start with the puppet theaters. Just like dance has many different styles such as postmodern, modern, tap or jazz, it is the same with puppetry. There are many different styles of puppetry so is it hard to say how do you study puppetry. You kind of have to just immerse yourself in the culture and go from there.

What style of puppetry do you use in the show?

Sostek: The style of the show is very simple. It’s called ludicrous puppetry because without giving much away it involved some silly prop objects that we threw together including a beanie baby. And the power of it does not so much come from the technique of puppetry. I have become a much better puppeteer since creating the show, but we haven’t changed the puppetry in the show to match my skills so, the magic is really about how the audience’s imagination is being engaged. One of the things we set out to do was rely on the audience’s imagination. We have no set other than some scrims in the background and our props consist of an old steamer trunk. It’s really minimal in terms of script. We use our bodies, light design and sound design to tell the story. By the time we get to the puppetry in the show the idea is that people are along for the ride and they’re playing the game so, we have people cheering for these absurd looking puppets. It’s crazy!

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

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Review: Dallas Youth Ballet’s Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular

Dallas Youth Ballet channels The Rockettes in its highly entertaining Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall.

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Dallas Youth Ballet in Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — While most pre-professional dance companies in the area are focusing solely on their balletic form during this time of year the Dallas Youth Ballet, comprised of students at Park Cities Dance (PCD) and The Dallas Conservatory, is honing a wide range of skills from acting and singing to Broadway, contemporary and ballet dance stylings, which the company efficiently and enthusiastically put on display at its seventh annual Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall on Sunday.

The Rockettes-inspired dances and festive Christmas caroling in the first half were a welcomed reprieve from the multiple Nutcrackerproductions currently being offered across Dallas-Fort Worth. Choreographer and PCD Artistic Director Jacqueline Porter and her band of Santas, soldiers, elves, ballerinas and candy canes set the pace for the show with a fun and flashy opening number entitled A Rockefeller Christmas. Dressed in sparkly red dresses edged with white faux fur and donning black character shoes, the 10 Santa dancers did a commendable job of channeling the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes with their regimented formations, clean upper body lines and clear foot work as they mined classic tap moves, including time steps, drawbacks and Shirley Temples (also known as Broadways). Audiences actually felt like they were at Rockefeller Center thanks to a vibrant backdrop Porter was able to rent, thus completing the overall effect of a New York Christmas.

The acoustics in the Dallas City Performance Hall did a nice job of picking up the Dallas Conservatory’s Children’s Singing Ensemble sweet harmonies and distinct enunciation as they charmed audiences with some fun holiday ditties, including “The Man with the Bag,” “All I Want for Christmas” and “White Christmas.” Music Director Lynn Ambrose also incorporated some basic tap steps in “The Man with the Bag” and cutesy gesturing in “All I Want for Christmas.” Student Allyson Guba also showed dynamic range and stage presence as she sang a hauntingly beautiful version of “Christmas Lullaby.”

In “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the 10 dancers’ showcased an abundance of shakes, shimmies and sass so as to not be outdone by the song’s energetic pace and bold musical accents. In today’s dance world where tricks and flexibility are taking priority over strength building and technical foundation work, audiences were pleased to see simple jazz walks, sharp flicks and kicks and a variety of beveled foot poses scattered throughout the routine.

In Cool Yule 10 dancers performed an exuberant 42nd Street-inspired number complete with shimmery dresses and character taps and featuring classic tap steps, including running flappes, wings, drawbacks and time steps. And while slightly darker than the other numbers with its aggressive contemporary movements and relentless running patterns, Clair Culin’s Pursuit kept inside the Christmas genre with a fast-tempo instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells.”

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Choreographers Porter, Culin, Haylee Bargainer and Olga Pavlova had the daunting task of blending multiple skills levels into the second half of the show, which started with Act 2 of The Nutcracker where Clara enters the Sugar Plum Palace and ended with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Rachel Rohrich) and Cavalier’s (Arron Scott, American Ballet Theatre) grand pas de deux. Bargainer accomplished this feat with simple tendues, plies, and epaulement arm gestures for the itty bitty dancers in the Spanish, Arabian and Chinese corp roles. The result was a darling mass of clumsy cuteness adorned with sparkly costumes and tiaras.

The Snowflakes’ movement in the opening number of the second half lacked some of the bounciness and rhythmic nuances typically associated with this dance segment, but the dancers made up for this with some lovely cascading arms gestures and interweaving pathways and alternating circular formation changes. And while her pointe work came across clunky at times, particularly in the landings of her jumps, Julie Shilling did display impressive musical timing and technical fortitude in her consecutive pique and chaine turns in her Snow Queen solo.

Kali Kleiman’s nimble feet and angelic features made her an ideal choice for the role of Clara. Her natural grace and childlike giddiness showed through her fluttering bourrées and springy petit jumps and jete leaps.

The Arabian, Russian and Chinese variations were clean, yet not as choreographically imaginative as some of the other dances in the show. Margot Tortolani (age 14) did an admirable job as the Dew Drop Fairy, drawing out the musical phrases with slow descending arms in her tour jetes and travelling balances as well as her leg lines inarabesque. The flower corp, including company members Claira Russell, Dani Van Creveld, Eden Ryder, Emma Odom, Michelle Arriaga, Summer Sexton, Taylor Waller and Shilling executed some of the most challenging technique of the night with multiple turning sequences and constantly changing epaulement positions to complement their crisp pointe work.

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The biggest surprise of the night was 14-year-old Rohrich’s professional-quality interpretation of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Rochrich’s airy arm movements and punctuating pointe work were enhanced by Scott’s trusting presence and strong hand holds in the partnering sections. And while Rohrich could have used her breath more to release some tension in the shoulders, she stayed rhythmically invested in the movement even after her music cut out during her solo.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

 

 

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Review: Nutcracker, Ballet Ensemble of Texas

Ballet Ensemble of Texas enchants audiences with its wonderfully musical and technically creative version of The Nutcracker in Irving.

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Masumi Yoshimoto and Brett Young as the Snow Queen and King. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Irving — Of the multiple pre-professional Nutcrackers I’ve been able to see this season, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) annual production of the holiday classic, which they performed at the Irving Arts Center last Saturday night, contained some of the most complex and inventive choreography thus far, particularly in the cultural dances in Act II. BET Director Allan Kinzie and his choreographic team, including company advisor Lisa Slagle, Tammie Reinsch and Allison D’Auteuil Whitfield did a commendable job of showcasing the company’s ever-growing technical proficiency, athletic fortitude and personal expressiveness through creative dance sequences jam packed with fast pointe work, intricate petit jumping sequences with changing epaulement and visually exciting movement contagions and formation changes. Add in the vibrant décor, jewel-encrusted costuming and some exuberant performances from local guest artists from Texas Ballet Theater (TBT), and BET has another successful Nutcracker production to add to their books.

There were some minor discrepancies between the first and second half of the show. Act I started on a slower note with some timing issues and fluctuating energy levels in the children’s dances in the party scene, but the show gained momentum during the battle scene and ended with a spectacular snow scene featuring BET company member Masumi Yoshimoto  and TBT’s Brett Young in the coveted Snow Queen and King roles. The choreographers prevented overcrowding in the party scene with well-planned traffic patterns and minimal stage props. This in turn gave the well-played adult guests more room to waltz and the children more space to chasse around in a giant circle. And while occasionally musically out of sync during the adagio doll dance, viewers couldn’t miss the young girls’ beautiful presentation of the foot before each pique step and their high releves in the bourrees and soutenu turns.

Sheridan Guerin and Kinzie were both steadfast in their roles as Clara and Drosselmeyer. A former dancer with the Boston Ballet, Kinzie captivated audiences with his grandfatherly mannerisms and musical awareness when presenting Clara with her Nutcracker doll. Guerin drew us in with her angelic demeanor, but she held our attention with her clean lines and super-flexible feet, which were most pronounced when she executed an arabesque hold or bourrée step. One of the sweetest moments in the party scene came when Guerin and Kinzie fed off each other’s energy in one of the partner dances.

Yoshimoto and Young handled the complicated choreography in the Snow pas de deux with dignity and boundless energy. The movement showcased their expert facility and amazing body control through numerous assistedpirouettes, sustained arabesque balances, opposing body angles and no more than five press up lifts and shoulder sits. There were a few instances where the couple’s movement felt rushed especially in some of the assisted turns, but both dancers quickly adjusted their tempos to stay in time with Tchaikovsky’s driving score. The 16 snowflakes perfectly captured the nuances in the music with their springy footwork and sequential arm movements as well as their creative use of space and opposing rhythms.

The second half of the show was more consistent in terms of technique and performance quality and featured some exceptional dancing from certain company members and TBT guest artists Paige Nyman and Paul Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier.

Raquel Gamboa, Lisette Hotz, Hannah Menchu and Melynda Phillips performed the musical fan flicks and sharp leg lifts in the Spanish variation in perfect unison while Ryan Nemmers executed a series of double pirouettes and touren l’airs. The young men of BET which included Joseph Dang, Michael Fass, Nemmers, Adam Phillips and Akihiro Yoshimoto showed off their athletic dexterity and genuine charm in the widely popular Russian piece with multiple toe touches, double knee jumps and round houses. And while Helena Cerny and Phillips struggled with some of the hand holds and foot placements in the Dewdrop Fairy pas de deux, the couple pushed through to deliver some stunning moving pictures. Soloists Jordan Carter, Ana Denton, Menchu and Juliana Yu are proving themselves worthy of future leading roles with their exacting pointe work and beautifully controlled body positions in the Waltz of the Flowers.

BET is also the only pre-professional company that includes the Hungarian dance in its Nutcracker production. The repetitive rhythmic foot stomping and staccato arm placements were quite simple, but the steadily building tempo added a layer of anticipation of which none of the other dances could match.

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Paige Nyman and Paul Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Photo: Cathy Vanover

The stars of the night were Nyman and Adams in the grand pas de deux. Both dancers are rising through the ranks of Texas Ballet Theater and have shown steady improvement both technically and artistically speaking over the last year. The couple executed the tricky counterbalance holds and multiple reverse promenades throughout the piece without a stumble. Adams pushed his stamina to the limit with consecutive turning jetes, double tours to the knee and multiple front and back cabrioles while Nyman performed the delicate pointe work and fast-paced fouette turns at the end with swan-like poise.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Preview: Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration

Avant Chamber Ballet gets into the holiday spirit with Nutcracker: Short and Suite at Dallas City Performance Hall this Thursday.

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Photo: Mark Kitaoka

Dallas — Audiences disappointed in the fact Texas Ballet Theater will not be bringing its Nutcracker production to the Winspear Opera House this season can find some solace in Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) equally skillful, yet a little less traditional take on the holiday classic this Thursday at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Boasting a 35-minute running time, ACB’s Nutcracker: Short and Suite features some of our favorite dance segments from the second half of the beloved production, including Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Chinese Tea, the Marzipans, Russian Trepak, Candy Canes, Waltz of the Flowers and the grand pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. And with live accompaniment provided by Bishop Arts Brass and Saule Garcia on piano there is really no other Nutcracker production like this one being offered in North Texas.

With her long, lethal legs, regal stature and precise point work, Yulia Ilina seems designed to play the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. During last week’s rehearsal at Park Cities Dance in Dallas I looked on as Ilina and Artistic Director Katie Cooper make some tiny changes to her solo in order to keep everything musical according to Cooper. This phrase becomes Cooper’s mantra when she is giving notes in between each dance section. In Ilina’s case it means taking out the little arabesque half turn before a bourrée or adjusting the timing of arm gesture to more closely match the nuances in Tchaikovsky’s well known score. Cooper also tweaks Ilina’s epaulementplacement in certain spots to draw more attention to her lines. Cooper puts Eugene Barnes and Ilina’s endurance levels to the test with two rock solid press up lifts in the grand pas de deux, with the last one ending in a fish bowl dip with Ilina’s legs wrapped around Barnes’ middle. Newcomer Barnes demonstrated great strength and extension in his rotating jete series and sautés while veteran Ilina hit every move in her part, including the 16 downstage progressing fouettes, with melodic fervor and refined execution.

From here on out it was one technically enchanting and visually exciting dance after another. Most choreographers have a hard time working with odd numbers, particularly trios, but Cooper is always finding new ways for the dancers to interact with one another and her signature circling patterns and linked arm movements were present in both the Spanish Chocolate and Marzipan numbers. Madelaine Boyce and Kaitlyn McDermitt showcased their amazing stamina and unbreakable form in their roles as Chinese Tea and Trepak while Megan Van Horn will mesmerize viewers with her fluid body isolations and lingering floor splits in the Arabian dance.

Cooper breathes new life into the Waltz of the Flowers ensemble piece with dynamic crisscrossing jete passes, petitallegro jumps incorporating multiple beats and directional changes with epaulement as well as brain teasing formation changes. The section where all ten dancers morph from a circle into a star-shape that they then rotated clockwise while performing quick-moving waltz steps was particularly impressive. The group’s meticulous timing and Juliann McAloon’s zealous fouette turns near the end are also sure to leave you feeling breathless.

The evening will also include Cooper’s Sleigh Ride which is comprised of shorter dances performed to Chris Coletti’s Bach’s Bells and instrumental versions of classic holiday songs, including “O Tannenbaum,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child Is This” and, of course, “Sleigh Ride.”

» Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration takes place Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. at Dallas City Performance Hall. Tickets are available at www.ticketdfw.com

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Review: Nutcracker, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

LakeCities Ballet Theatre offer up a visual feast of vibrant dancing and stellar guest artists in honor of its 25th production of The Nutcracker.

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LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s 25th annual presentation of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

Flower Mound — With stunning sets, exquisite dancing and live musical accompaniment provided by the Lewisville Lake Symphony, it’s no wonder LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) annual production of the Nutcracker is one of the top items on people’s to do list every holiday season. This year’s Nutcracker performance was especially festive as it not only marked the company’s 25th anniversary of the holiday classic but was also the first time LBT sold out both showings at Marcus High School in Flower Mound this past weekend. This Nutcracker production also marks a transitional year for the company as many of its senior members graduated last spring, including Sydney Greene, Ali Honchell and Mackenna Pieper, giving members the opportunity to set up to the plate.

For those needing a refresher, the Nutcracker ballet is divided into two acts. The first includes a large party scene where our heroine Clara receives a Nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. When Clara goes to sleep that night she dreams of a battle between the Rat King and her Nutcracker Prince and also the Kingdom of Sweets where couple’s from different nationalities, including Russia, China and Spain perform for the reigning couple. After the climactic Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier pas de deux, Clara returns to her bed where she awakens from this wondrous dream.

Sarah Lane and Daniel Ulbricht in the grand pas de deux in The Nutcracker at LakeCities Ballet Theatre. Photo: Nancy Loch

In LBT’s version, audiences are immediately pulled into the story as families heading to the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party marched down the aisles and up onto the stage. Former English National Ballet dancer Kenn Wells (Herr Drosselmeyer) keeps the audience connected as he gestures to us to help him find the location of the party. Artistic Director Kelly Lannin’s fine eye for details, imaginative choreography and quirky sense of humor are on display throughout the party scene from the inventive adult and children dance sequences to Wells’ well-timed practical jokes and Mayor Silberhaus’ (Chuck Denton) over-the-top facial expressions especially after he ingests one too many holiday spirits. Not everyone may have noticed, but Denton also smoothly orchestrated almost every transition in the party scene from the lighting of the tree and the puppet show to the presentation of the Ballerina and Cadet dolls. Madeline Hanly and guest artist Ruben Gerding perfectly captured the doll’s unyielding forms with their pursed lips, angular arm gestures and jerky upper body movements.

Carly Greene shone in the role of Clara. Her natural grace and infectious personality were enhanced by her poignant pointe work and passionate character portrayal. Unlike other productions where Clara does very little after the first half, Lannin gives Greene many opportunities to flex her technical muscles throughout the show, much to the viewers delight. The only instance I am on the fence about is Lannin’s decision to feature Greene and guest artist Jack Wolff (Nutcracker Prince) at the beginning of the Snow Scene, a spot that is typically reserved for the Snow Queen and King pas de deux. Don’t misunderstand, Greene and Wolff nailed every singlearabesque hold, assisted pirouette and various sustained body movements, but their performance just couldn’t match up to the exciting lifts and complex pointe work that Mackenna Pieper and Shannon Beacham have perfected over the years in their roles of Snow Queen and King. Pieper, who graduated last year, has left some hard shoes to fill and it will be interesting to see who rises to the challenge. Adult member Faith Jones’ super long legs and penchant for beautifully controlled movements would fit the role nicely as would Carley Denton’s commanding stage presence and regal posturing.

The cast carried the party vibe over into the second half with more lively and technically brilliant performances by both LBT company members and special guests Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Denton was fun and flirty as the lead of the Spanish dancers, deftly guiding the rest of the corp, including Chloe Davis, Ashleigh Eaton, Kelsey Rhinehelder and Mikaela Seale through a series of rhythmic hands claps and fast foot work. Jones and Beacham displayed amazing control and dexterity in the Arabian dance especially when Jones bent backwards and held onto her foot while Beacham rotated her in a circle. Guest Artist Andre Harrington got the audience up and cheering with his consecutive back handsprings, while a surprise appearance by former Dallas Cowboys player Isaiah Stanback in the role of Mother Ginger sporting a Cowboys jersey and helmet on top of the large colorful skirt housing eight tiny dancers had the audience in stitches.

Lane and Ulbricht were sublime in the grand pas de deux at the end of the show. They executed the controlledpromenades, ponche arabesques and shifting epaulement phrases in a calm and fluid manner. Lane’s breathy exhales during her multiple pirouettes and various jumping sequences made her moves appear bigger and bolder. Ulbricht’s incredible artistry and athleticism are well known in the ballet world. He eats up the space with his gravity defying jetes and barely makes a sound when he drops to his knee after performing consecutive tours en l’air.

Lannin and her team should be proud of the whimsical and welcoming Nutcracker production they have diligently fostered over the last 25 years. I’m looking forward to seeing how the younger dancers progress into the ballet’s more challenging roles in the coming years.

This review was originally posted  on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Review: Chamberlain Performing Arts’ Nutcracker

Chamberlain Performing Arts delivers strong technique and spectacular guest artists at the company’s 31st Nutcracker production this weekend.

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Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in Chamberlain’s Nutcracker. Photo Ryan Williams

Richardson — Oh, the weather outside was definitely frightful last Friday evening, but the mood inside the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts was festive as audiences eagerly took their seats for the Chamberlain Performing Arts’ (CPA) 31st showing of The Nutcracker. What sets this company’s Nutcracker apart from other productions in the area is Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain and her team’s minimalist, yet effective approach to the stage design and movement choices, thus turning the typically cumbersome party scene into an exciting dance narrative filled with nonstop action and clean choreography.

The simple set design in the party scene, which included a handful of gifts, a large grandfather clock, a couch and a chair enabled the audience to focus more on the children and adult dances as well as the subplots taking place around the room. Choreographers Chamberlain, Richard Condon, Lynne Short and Catherine Turocy combined rudimentary ballet steps i.e. chasses, balances, relieve plie and bourrees with various regimented formation changes and even some boy/girl partnering walks in the children’s dances, creating an effect that was both clean and captivating. By intermingling the adults and children into one waltz section, the choreographers successfully kept the energy and storyline moving at a chipper pace.

Katherine Patterson (Clara) perfectly captured a child’s innocence and wonder when it comes to Christmas with her endless energy and shining stage presence. And while Patterson had a tendency to cut her movements short, when she did complete her line in an arabesque hold or sous-sus in fifth, it rivaled the lines of the older company members. With more time and training she will be a force to be reckoned with in coming years. Clara’s friends (Madison Cox, Emily DeMotte, Annika Haynes and Mary Rose Vining) displayed beautiful musicality and body control in their petit adagio section, which featured alternating leg extensions and arm placements and deliberatepique steps, all the while holding baby dolls. Guest artist Joshua Coleman really played to the younger audience members in his role as Herr Drosselmeyer with his over-the-top facial expressions and well-executed magical illusions, which included an impressive disappearing act.

CPA Senior Company Member Bethany Greenho did a commendable job as the Snow Queen. Even her sometimes stiff back arches and locked hip joints in her battements couldn’t take away from her swan-like arms and nimble pointe work nor the way she fearlessly went for the pas de deux’s momentous lifts.  Dallas native Travis Morrison, who performed with the Colorado Ballet from 2006 to 2012, inspired Greenho’s confidence with his unwavering strength and razor-sharp focus during the lifts and tricky counterbalance body positions spread throughout the dance. The snowflake dance lacked some of the elasticity demanded by Tchaikovsky’s score, which falls more on the choreographer’s shoulders than the dancers as the movement in the section catered toward more gliding steps and sustained body positions rather than constant spritely jumps and steps. The hand-held fan-like props with tiny snowballs attached at the ends drew attention to the dancers’ strong body lines and made for a memorable ending to the first half of the show.

The second half in which Clara and her Prince entered the land of sweets gave the whole company the opportunity to show off their artistic growth and technical versatility and also featured some amazing performances by special guests, including Harry Feril (Bruce Wood Dance Project) in the Arabian section and Tiler Peck (New York City Ballet) and Tyler Angle (New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Peck and Angle’s chemistry was undeniable as they executed the complex reverse promenades into a ponche arabesque and the multiple over-the-head lifts including the dynamic fish bowl dip at the end with expressive abandonment. Their luminous auras and technical finesse portrayed at the end of each move, especially after the lightening-quick seven assisted pirouettes into a sustained back arch, is not something that can be taught. Their magnetism as a couple didn’t fade in their solo sections, which featured impressive jumps and controlled landings by Angle and bold lines and unwavering confidence from Tiler in the infamous diagonal chaine, pique turn combination in time to the changing rhythm of the music.

Lisa Hess Jones’ clever choreography in the second half played to each group’s specific skill level from the synchronized walking patterns of the itty bitty angels and the simple soft shoe work of the intermediate bakers and bon bon’s to the more technically advanced pointe work of the marzipans and the Waltz of the Flowers. The end result was one of the most well-rehearsed and lively second acts of the Nutcracker I have had the pleasure to see this season.

Senior dancer Luke Yee wowed audiences with multiple toes touches in the Chinese dance as well as in the Russian dance where he performed alongside Southern Methodist University dance major Alex Druzbanski. Henry Feril showed off his modern background with his hinged-back body layouts and swooping arm movements before assisting Katherine Lambert in a number of shoulder lifts and body dips in the Arabian section. Greenho, Breanna Mitchell, Raquel Dominguez, Aidan Leslie and Serena Press enthralled viewers with their beautiful lyricism and solid pointe work while playing their flutes in the marzipan dance. The whole senior company returned for the Waltz of the Flowers in which they effortlessly captured the nuances in the music with their constant weight shifts on pointe and dynamic crisscrossing jumping sequences. Definitely, a Nutcracker worth seeing again next season!

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Review: The Show About Men, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group picks apart some age-old male stereotypes using song and dance and a balance of darkness and humor in The Show About Men.

The Show About Men from DGDG. Photo: DeAndre Upshaw

Dallas — Man up! Real men Shave! Don’t be a D***! A Barbie is not a boy’s toy!

These are a just a few of the societal catchphrases that Danielle Georgiou and her troupe of artistically gifted performers addressed head on in the reprisal of The Show About Men at the Performance Hall at Eastfield College on Friday evening. After receiving rave reviews at the Festival of Independent Theatres in Dallas last summer,Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) decided to bring the show back for this limited engagement and with a few production enhancements including two new songs and additional cast members Ruben Carrazana and Nick Leos who fit right in to this wacky boy’s club.

If you have seen any of Georgiou’s work in the last couple of years, including Dirty Filthy Diamonds and NICE, then you know that you aren’t going to just sit and watch passively from the audience. No, you are going to experience the show right alongside the performers thanks to Georgiou’s artistic philosophy which includes immersing the audience into the environment she and the performers have created, while expressing through dance and theater topics that many may find otherwise unapproachable. The Show About Men doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

Throughout the performance, the men relate stories based on their personal experiences, which range from sexuality, complex relationships with other males (fathers/friends/sons), responsibilities of providing for families or being in positions of authority and permission to be vulnerable, in need of love and to be afraid. These personal stories help make the show more accessible and prevent viewers from passing their own judgments as we were completely captivated by the individuals’ words and body language.

The Show About Men from DGDG. Photo: DeAndre Upshaw

Fear is the motivator in the opening segment as William Acker, Colby Calhoun, Ruben Carrazana, Matthew Clark, Curtis Green, Gabriel King and Nick Leos (sadly DGDG conceptual designer Justin Locklear was unable to perform) repeatedly slapp their thighs, chests and heads while chanting phrases like “Fear! Fear of myself! Fear of rejection! Fear of saying the wrong things!” The phrases are shouted with drill sergeant-intensity and are accompanied with militant walking steps and tense posturing. The mood invoked by their minimal clothing (boxers and thermal tank tops, a.k.a. “wife-beaters”), aggressive gesturing and frantic shouting is at first intimidating. But Georgiou and Locklear once again work their magic and right before the tension becomes too overwhelming the performers suddenly yell “bugs!” and start trembling, releasing the built-up tension in the room.

Georgiou also manipulates the venue to aid in her mission to include the audience into the action. The 30 or so audience members were escorted onstage and behind the red curtain where a gritty bar scene awaited us complete with dingy lighting, a variety of mismatched tables and chairs, a long bar to one side, lone chairs and a piano on the other as well as a large hand-written sign welcoming viewers to Dick’s All Night Bar & Karaoke.

As the less-than-90-minute production unfolded the bar was transformed into a sanctuary of sorts for the seven male performers, allowing them to speak freely about what it means to be a man. In a very candid group conversation the men shouted out their answers to the age old question: what makes a man a man? Answers varied from rational to ridiculous such as when a suggestion that men were “handy around the house” turned into “handsy” as Leos groped himself, and some answers were contradictory, such as that men are both knowledgeable and stupid. The conservation ended with a randy song and dance number that had the men performing numerous pelvic thrusts and booty shakes while colorfully describing the male sex organ to a tune resembling The Hokey Pokey, composed by Trey Pendergrass and Locklear.

Another lighthearted group number had the performers standing up against makeshift urinals discussing the deficiencies of men’s restrooms relative to women’s restrooms which ended in the group singing about a “gender neutral bathroom in the sky.” Carrazana’s magnetic personality and awkward coming-of-age stories regarding asking a girl out and proudly sporting a so-called moustache at age 12 also had the audience in stitches. And as the only female in the show, Kayla Anderson did a beautiful job of portraying the various roles women play in a man’s life, including those of wife, mother, friend and lover.

But not every experience ends on a jovial note. While Calhoun serenades us about how he never thought of being a man “until you told me so,” King and Green execute a series of push-and-pull partnering exchanges featuring concaved torso movements, high chest arcs and body dips. Green’s journey to manhood involves joining the army, and he didn’t miss the irony of being a gay soldier in the “don’t ask don’t tell” days who would ultimately win the manly solider of the year award. The other performers’ subtle marching steps and pivot turns are done in contingent and round out Green’s tale. King speaks about how he felt like a man after his first physical argument with his father, depicted visually by two performers in the background.

Every artist strives to influence a person’s perception pertaining to a certain topic or theme, but sometimes they miss the mark. Still, DGDG succeeds in altering the audiences’ perception of what society deems to be manly behavior by reminding us, through Pendergrass’ monologue near the end, that we are all human and therefore should be allowed to express all the emotions that come with that privilege freely and without judgment.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Get Crackin’

Get into the holiday spirit with any one of these Nutcracker productions, from the traditional to Nearly Naked, offer across Dallas-Fort Worth. Plus a list of other holiday dance.

tbt

The Nutcracker from Texas Ballet Theate. Photo: Steven Visneau

It’s that time of year again! In between all the shopping, decorating and baking you have planned this holiday season make sure you set some time aside to check out one of the numerous Nutcracker productions being offered by many of the professional and pre-professional dance companies across Dallas-Fort Worth. For audiences west of the DFW Airport, Texas Ballet Theater will be running Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker for multiple weekends at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Additionally, Ballet Frontier of Texas and North Central Civic Ballet will be presenting their annual Nutcracker performances at Will Rogers Auditorium.

For residents north of Dallas there are myriad Nutcrackers to choose from, including versions by LakeCities Ballet Theatre in Lewisville, Festival Ballet of North Central Texas in Denton, and Allen Civic Ballet in Allen. The Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, will soon be bursting with holiday cheer when Chamberlain Performing Arts, Dallas Repertoire Ballet, Royale Ballet Dance Academy, Tuzer Ballet and Collin County Ballet Theatre bring their Nutcracker productions here beginning Thanksgiving weekend and continuing till Christmas. The Irving Arts Center is another popular venue for local Nutcracker productions, including versions by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, International Ballet Theater and Momentum Dance Company. And in Dallas the Moscow Ballet returns to McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University with its rendition of The Great Russian Nutcracker, featuring new costumes and set designs.

You can even hear Tchaikovsky’s full Nutcracker played by the Dallas Symphony, without dancers, if you’re so inclined.

And if you are in need of a change this season, check out any number of the holiday dance shows being offered, including Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration at Dallas City Performance Hall; Epiphany DanceArts Tis the Season at the Eisemann; Texas Ballet Theater’s The Nutty Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall; and even a burlesque show in Dallas aptly named Nearly Naked Nutcracker. A full list of all the Nutcrackers and holiday productions in the area can be found below.

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Sarah Lane (ABT) and Daniel Ulbricht (NYCB) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in LBT’s 2014 version of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

Nov. 20-21 Ballet Frontier of Texas presents The Nutcracker with choreography by Chung-Lin Tseng at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. $40-$50. Call 817-689-7310 or visit www.balletfrontier.org

Nov. 20-22 Moscow Ballet return to Dallas with its rendition of The Great Russian Nutcracker at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium. This year’s production features new costumes for Act I by designer Arthur Oliver and two new backdrops by Academy Award Nominee Carl Sprague. $28-$88. Call 800-745-3000 or visit www.tickmaster.com

Nov. 27-29 Chamberlain Performing Arts annual showing of The Nutcracker featuring New York City Ballet Principal’s Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $15-$100. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Nov. 27-29 Momentum Dance Company brings the holiday tale to life with choreography by Jacquelyn Ralls Forcher at the Irving Arts Center. $15-$25. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Nov. 28-29 LakeCities Ballet Theatre celebrates its 25th annual production of The Nutcracker which features live music from Lewisville Lake Symphony and guest artists Sarah Lane of American Ballet Theater and Daniel Ulbricht of New York City Ballet. $20-$45. Call 972-317-7987 or visitwww.lakecitiesballet.org

Dec. 4-6 Dallas Ballet Company presents The Nutcracker featuring guest artists April Daly and Miguel Blanco from Joffrey Ballet at the Granville Arts Center in Garland. $23-$24. Call 972-205-2790 or visit www.garlandarts.com

Dec. 5 Local dancers Harry Feril (Bruce Wood Dance Project) and Yulia Ilina (Avant Chamber Ballet) join theInternational Ballet Theater for its production of The Nutcracker Sweet at the Irving Arts Center. $28-$38. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 5-6 Ballet Ensemble of Texas, under the direction of Joffrey alum Lisa Slagle, presents the holiday classic at the Irving Arts Center. $25-$30. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 5-6 Rowlett Dance Academy presents its 14th annual production of The Nutcracker at Garland High School. $10. Call 972-475-8269 or visit www.rowlettdanceacademy.com

Dec. 5-6 Royale Ballet Dance Academy offering of The Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $20-$25. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 5-6 North Central Civic Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. $30. Visit www.nutcrackertickets.com

Dec. 5-10 New York City Ballet brings George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to the big screen in various movies across the DFW Metroplex. $16-$18 Adult. Visit www.fathomevent.com 

Dec. 11-27 Texas Ballet Theater takes the stage with Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Call 877-828-9200 or visit www.texasballettheater.org

Dec. 11-13 Dallas Repertoire Ballet brings its rendition of the beloved holiday tale to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $22-$42. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 12 Colleyville Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker for one-night only at the Irving Arts Center. $25-$30. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 12-13 Festival Ballet of North Central Texas showing of The Nutcracker at Texas Woman’s University, Margo Jones Performance Hall in Denton. $11-$36. Call 940.891.0830 or visit www.festivalballet.net

Dec. 19-20 Tuzer Ballet presents The Nutcracker with guest artists Rie Ichikawa (Boston Ballet) and Zack Grubbs (Cincinnati Ballet) at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $15-$50. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 19-20 The Allen Civic Ballet presents its annual production of the holiday classic with live musical accompaniment by the Allen Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra at the Allen High School Performing Arts Center in Allen. $15-$25. Visit www.allencivicballet.org/nutracker

Dec. 19 The Art Ballet Academy presents The Nutcracker at Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield. $16. Visit www.abacademy.com

Dec. 22-23 Collin 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. $22-$77. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

 

OTHER HOLIDAY DANCE

(including non-traditional takes on The Nutcracker)

Nov. 19 Avant Chamber Ballet returns to White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake with its holiday production of Nutcracker: Short and Suite. This one-act Nutcracker presented by Apex Arts League includes new choreography by Katie Cooper and music by Tchaikovsky. $15-$20. Call 800-481-8914 or visit www.apex-arts.org

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Avant Chamber Ballet will present Holiday Celebration. Photo: Mark Kitaoka

Nov. 27-29 The Dallas Symphony Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s complete The Nutcracker (no dancers), and featuring the Children’s Chorus of Collin County, at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas. Call 214-692-0203 or visit www.mydso.com

Nov. 27-Dec. 27 MBS Productions presents its annual hit The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents a Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker, in which a church has to do a last minute substitution of its dancers for The Nutcracker, at the Addison Theatre Centre’s Studio Theatre. $29. Call 214-477-4942 or visit www.mbsproductions.net

Dec. 6 8&1 Dance Company closes its third season with In The Spirit, featuring live music and heart-warming chorography at the Quixotic Word in Dallas. Visit www.8and1dance.com 

Dec. 6 Dallas Youth Ballet presents a Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall with special guest Arron Scott from American Ballet Theatre. $20-$75. Visitwww.parkcitiesstudios.com

Dec. 10 Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday celebration at Dallas City Performance Hall incudes Katie Cooper’s Sleigh Ride and Nutcracker: Short and Suite. $20-$30. Visit www.ticketdfw.com

Dec. 11-12 Bruce Wood Dance Project presents a Christmas Cabaret benefit with Broadway stars Aaron Lazar, Liz Callaway and Joseph Thalken, at the BWDP Studio, 3630 Harry Hines Boulevard, Suite 36, Dallas. $350-$1,000. Call 214-428-2263 or visit www.brucewooddance.org

Dec. 12 Ballet Concerto presents its annual A Holiday Special at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. The program includes Winter Wonderland, The Princess and the Magical Christmas Star, O Holy Night and A Cool Yule. $8 for daytime performances and $12-$25 for the evening performance. Call 817-738-7915 or visit www.balletconcerto.com

Dec. 12 Contemporary Ballet Dallas offers their spin on Charles Dickens’ classic tale with Boogie Woogie Christmas Carol at McFarlin Memorial Auditorium on the Southern Methodist University campus. $18-$30. Visitwww.contemporaryballetdallas.com

Dec. 18 Texas Ballet Theater brings The Nutty Nutcracker, its PG-13 spoof of The Nutcracker, to Bass Performance Hall for one night only. $40-250. Call 877.828.9200 or visit www.texasballettheater.org

Dec. 18-19 Epiphany DanceArts celebrates the holiday season with its production of Tis the Season at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $17-$27. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 19 Broads & Panties presents Nearly Naked Nutcracker: A Burlesque Ballet featuring aerial performances, circus arts, ballet and burlesque at Trees in Deep Ellum. $20-$44. Visit www.treesdallas.com

Dec. 19-20 Denton City Contemporary Ballet presents A Gift for Emma at Margo Jones Performance Hall at Texas Woman’s University, Denton. $15-25. Call 940-383-2623 or visit www.dentoncitycontemporary.org

Dec. 19-20 ImPULSE Dance Project celebrates the season with Snow at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater. Program includes works by Artistic Director Anastasia Waters and company members Krista Langford and Kristin Daniels. $17. Visit www.impusedanceproject.org

This list was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice Series

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The ladies of Dallas Black Dance Theatre strut their stuff in Margo Sappington’s Step Out of Love, part of the company’s Director’s Choice Series.

Dallas — Just when you think you have seen everything in Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) movement arsenal the company comes out with something bigger and bolder. Last season DBDT soared to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial work What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus at its Spring Celebration Series. This year the ladies of DBDT are getting down and physical in Margo Sappington’s hard-hitting, jazz funk piece, Step Out of Love, part of the company’s annual Director’s Choice Series, Nov.6-8, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District.

A Texas native, Sappington began her professional dance career when she joined the Joffrey Ballet at the age of 17 and her choreographic career at the age of 21. In the U.S. her choeography has been used by companies such as Joffrey Ballet (New York/Chicago), Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Ballet Jazz de Montreal. In 1975 Sappington was nominated for a Tony Award for her work on the play Where’s Charley? and in 2005 received a Lifetime Achievement Award for choreography from the Joffrey.

Sappington is most well-known for using popular music on the concert stage, including songs by Prince, William Shatner, Indigo Girls and Carlos Santana. Her opera credits include Live from the San Francisco Opera, La GiocondaSamson and Delilah and Aida. On Broadway, she was the dance captain in the original Promises, Promises and has choreographed revivals of Pal JoeyOh! Calcutta! and Where’s Charley?

Originally set on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 1987,Step Out of Love follows five women who don’t know each other, but are sharing the same story, which in this case is a bad break up. Each dancer’s story is told through various solos that then morph into duets and trios and eventually into a climactic group section. When asked about the structuring of the work Sappington explains, “The piece begins with each woman in her own thoughts, and as the piece progresses they realize that they are sharing an experience, each in her own way, at the same time. By the end of the piece they are all in the same place at the same time, all five of them in step with one another.”

Sappington’s use of classic jazz techniques in the work, including Fosse and Luigi are a welcome reprieve from the typical contemporary moves that are currently dominating the dance industry. Head whips and staccato hand gestures are paired with continuous leg lifts, hip swirls and foot flicks. Sappington repeats many of the same arm gestures, leg kicks and body poses throughout the piece, but she layers them with directional, level and speed changes to keep the movement from feeling redundant. The dancers’ varying emotional triggers also help keep the movement fresh and interesting. “It is important for each woman to internalize her thoughts and then show them through the movement. The movements are designed to help this process for each character.”

For example, Alyssa Harrington showcases her uncertainty about the break-up through a series of soft and hard body shapes and various controlled leg extensions. Michelle Herbert’s anger is palpable in her explosive barrel turns, sudden falls to the ground and aggressive hand gestures, including claps, flicks and jabs. Hana Delong and McKinley Willis (who was standing in for Jasmine White-Killins) let out their frustration with large traveling steps, frantic arms swings and sudden stop action moments. Unlike the others, Kayah Franklin appears to be the one initiating the break up as is evident through her dismissive body language and the sly smirk on her face.

Stephen Forsyth’s rock score by the same name adds more tension to the dance’s already heated tone and draws attention to the many gestural quirks in the choreography. When asked if this was intentional Sappington says, “The movement reflects not just the sentiment of the song, but also the abrasiveness of the music. Stephen used construction tools as part of his instrumentation such as drills and electric saws to give a dense and agitated quality to some of the instruments.”

Sappington says the complex movement sequences and the speed in which they are performed was a challenge for the dancers during the rehearsal process, but she is pleased with how quickly they embodied the movement and their characters. “We had a very short rehearsal period and the women were very focused and used every minute to absorb all the details.” Sappington adds, “Being a small group they know how to dance together and help and encourage each other, which creates a wonderful working atmosphere.”

Audiences can see Sappington’s Step Out of Love along with Alvin Ailey dancer Hope Boykin’s in·ter·pret, Christopher L. Huggins’ Night Run and Talley Beatty’s A Rag, A Bone, and A Hank of Hair at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 6-8, at the Wyly Theatre.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Review: LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Dracula

This was the first ballet I brought my daughter to and she did great. She is 2 1/2 and sat through the whole first half. The second half was a little scary so my husband took her into the lobby. I recommend this show for anyone with little kids.

Photo: Nancy Loch

Photo: Nancy Loch

LakeCities Ballet Theatre sucks audiences in with brilliant dancing and dramatic special effects at its 10th annual Le Ballet de Dracula in Lewisville.

Lewisville — After a decade, it’s natural for a ballet to start to lose some of its luster. But that’s not the case with LakeCities Ballet Theatre‘s Halloween spook-tacular, Le Ballet de Dracula, which played to a sold-out crowd for the troupe’s 10th-anniversary show on Saturday at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theatre.

Having seen this production many times before, I can honestly say the ballet gets visually and technically stronger every year thanks to Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin’s fine choreographic detailing and continous production enhancements, including set designs, costuming and special effects that always seem to bring audiences to the edge of their seats.

The show’s popularity can also be attributed to Tom Rutherford’s well-conceived narrative and creative mash-up of characters including Ratcliff (the quirky sidekick), weolas (batlike creatures) and a dozen vampire brides.

Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, LBT’s version illustrates the love triangle between Aurelia, Marius and Dracula in two well-balanced acts. In the first half the villagers, gypsies and Romanians all come together to celebrate the engagement of Aurelia (Carley Denton) and Marius (guest artist Steven Loch of Pacific Northwest Ballet).

The company members demonstrated great animation and agility in the specialized group dances, which featured various movement styles, including soft-shoe ballet, pointe, jazz, modern and even some folk dance. The Romanian dancers’ rhythmic foot stomps and traveling shuffle steps were accompanied by simple arm gestures and crisp formation changes.

The gypsies, led by Denise Clarkston, used an array of hip isolations and open-armed twirling phrases to depict their rebellious nature. Aurelia’s friends (Chloe Davis, Kristina Lorelli, Carly Greene, Julie Fenske, Madeline Hanly and Julia Tiller) proved why LBT is one of the most sought after pre-professional ballet companies in the Dallas area with their exacting pointe work, beautiful musicality and commanding stage presence.

One of the newer additions to the show was a musically enchanting pas de deux with company member Michelle Lawyer and guest artist Dan Westfield pf Ballet Frontier of Texas. Lawyer’s lithe frame and nimble point work balanced out Westfield’s wider frame and explosive jump sequences.

In the partnering sections each pulled from the other’s strengths and suddenly Lawyer’s sautés were as high as Westfield’s, and his arms placement and fourth lunges were just as soft as Lawyer’s. The exchanging of the tambourine throughout the pas de duex was perfectly timed and added a new musical layer to the dance.

Carley Denton’s role as Aurelia was well-earned. Her flexibility and stamina has improved over the last year, demonstrated through her various sustained body positions and lightning-quick pique turns. She has also found the key to releasing the tension in her shoulders with the help of certain breathing techniques.

Steven Loch continues to breathe new life into the role of Marius with his limitless energy and technical fortitude. The couple’s pas de deux was a lovely display of unending lines and counterbalance poses topped with Denton’s six continuous pirouettes into a luxurious body dip at the end.

The maypole dance that Lannin incorporated about six years ago remains one of the highlights of the first half. In this scene 12 dancers frolicked around a 15-foot pole, creating an intricate weaving pattern with the brightly colored streamers they carried. Rhythmic clapping accompanied the dancers’ spritely skips and gallop steps.

The mood changed drastically when Dracula (Shannon Beacham) and his minion Ratcliff (Asia Waters) arrived to lure Aurelia away from her family and Marius. Over the years Beacham has perfected the role of Dracula, from his menacing walks and nuanced cape flicks to the overly dramatic facial expressions.

Smoke machines and special lighting techniques succeeded in creating the illusion of Dracula appearing out of thin air. The dim lighting, ominous music and ghostly appearance of Dracula’s brides in the second half evenly matched the dancers’ loose, hanging arms, soundless bourrees across the floor and vacant expressions.

Julia Tiller (Marcela) set the tone at the beginning of the scene with her solid pointe work and expansive arm-gesturing. The fight scene between Loch and Beacham started off spotty with some lengthy pauses between their physical exchanges, but they quickly found their rhythm. Mindful of the young ones in the audience, the really heavy moments were lightened by Waters’ constant wandering and clumsy interactions with the brides.

Wildly creative, meticulously produced and cleverly choreographed, LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Le Ballet de Dracula is sure to continue entertaining audiences for the next 10 years.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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