Dallas DanceFest Profile: Dallas Black Dance Theatre II

Photo: Sharen Bradford, The Dancing Image

Photo: Sharen Bradford, The Dancing Image

Dallas Black Dance Theatre II pushes itself physically and emotionally in Artistic Director Nycole Ray’s Opaque, part of DanceFest 2015 this weekend.

Dallas — Starting out as a student-driven secondary company formed in 2000 by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (DBDT II) has flourished into a high caliber performance troupe made up of eight young and hungry semi-professionals from all over the place. This year’s troupe alone includes dancers from Washington, D.C., Chicago, Mexico and Jamaica. Every dancer has a unique story of how they became involved with DBDT II that they readily shared with me when I stopped by Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) main studio last Thursday to watch them prepare for the upcoming Dallas DanceFest.

Surprisingly only one company member comes from the Dallas Black Dance Academy while everyone else came in contact with DBDT through college workshops, summer intensives, tours in New York City and the International Association of Blacks in Dance conferences. Artistic Director Nycole Ray points out that these dancers are here voluntarily, working tirelessly toward the goal of one day moving up to the main company. “DBDT II is really the training company for DBDT,” Ray says. “Last year six out of the 12 main company members came from the second company.” Ray adds that this has always been Ms. Williams’ vision for DBDT II. “When I took over the second company six years ago Ms. Williams told me she wanted the group to have the same technical excellence and strength as the main company such that audiences wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two.”

With that goal in mind Ray is constantly challenging the dancers by introducing them to a variety of movement styles and choreographers, including Christopher L. Huggins, Bruce Wood, Ray Mercer, Dianne Grigsby, Cleo Parker Robinson and DBDT company member Richard A. Freeman, Jr. DBDT II’s touring schedule has included stops in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Virginia and Arkansas. Internationally the company has travelled to Ireland, South Africa, Austria and Peru, just to name a few. Ray says the company is very excited to add Mexico and Chile to their touring schedule this year.

When it comes to her own choreography Ray says she likes to challenge the dancers physically and emotionally, which comes across in abundance in her aptly titled work Opaque. “The piece is about things not always being transparent no matter how much you want them to be. The thought process stems from a person and not so happy feelings, which then evolved into something that made me feel good and positive.” You get a sense of this optimism through the dancers’ lifted upper bodies, unyielding trust in one another and purposeful use of each dancer’s (male and female) long, black skirts. “The skirts purposely cover the dancers’ feet to create this illusion that they are floating while also reflecting on the theme of transparency and what you can’t see.” The skirts are not just for ambiance. The dancers use them throughout the work as extensions of their bodies, links to one another in one section where they unravel across the stage and even for extra resistance in the partnering sequences. The effect is dramatic, yet not overdone.

» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Dallas DanceFest Q&A: LaQuet Sharnell Pringle

LaQuet-HeadshotThe Austin-based choreographer on landing roles in the The Lion King and Memphis on Broadway, the future of classical jazz dance and performing at Dallas DanceFest.

Dallas — Dallas native LaQuet Sharnell Pringle was bit by the Broadway bug at the age of six after seeingThe Wiz National Tour in Chicago. An avid singer, Pringle performed in her first musical, The Velveteen Rabbit, at Bowman Middle school at age 12. Pringle went on to attend Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) where she studied ballet, modern, African and compositional studies as a member of the Advanced Repertory company. She also studied jazz, lyrical, tap, hip-hop and contemporary at The Dallas Powerhouse of Dance and The Centre for Dance, and participated in many local dance events, including the Dance Council of North Texas’ Dance Planet Festival and the Dallas Morning News Festival. Pringle was studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts when she landed her first Broadway gig in Sweet Charity.

Pringle is currently an adjunct professor in the Musical Theater Department at Texas State University. She also teaches at Ballet Austin and Tru Dance Project and is the founder of Fearless Young Artists, an organization devoted to providing extensive creative arts education to diverse youth who are interested in careers in the arts. Her dance career has come full circle this year as she was the headliner for Dance Planet 19 last April and will be performing at the second annual Dallas DanceFest, this coming weekend. Pringle will be performing Friday evening alongside Austin-based artists Amy Morrow and AJ Garcia-Rameau.

TheaterJones talked to LaQuet Sharnell Pringle about navigating through the Broadway industry, where jazz technique fits in today’s contemporary-driven world and what she has in store for audiences at Dallas DanceFest.

TheaterJones: How did you hear about Dallas DanceFest?

Pringle: I was most familiar with the festival of dance when it was called the Dallas Morning News Festival. Back then it was done in the [Annette Strauss] Artist Square. With the amazing new additions to Arts District, I was speaking with Gayle Halperin at Dance Planet 19 who informed me of the new name and vision.

What will you be showcasing at the Festival?

I will be premiering one part of a three-part piece that explores the masks worn when in my romantic relationships, my relationship to the business of show and reactions I have felt towards both. This piece has been cathartic and edifying experience for me. I have learned so much through the many re-writes of my text and through the choreography. I hope that audiences will experience this piece as a type of mirror I am currently looking at to better understand and grow from as I begin a new journey.

What was the auditioning process like for The Lion King andMemphis?

These shows could not be more different. The Lion King was a show that was already up and running. So, coming in the creative team knew exactly what they were looking for. Thank goodness for my modern dance training at Booker T. because the audition quickly weeded out the dancers without modern technique and acting abilities.

For Memphis, the process was a tad more relaxed in that they were looking for someone in particular while also not knowing what they were looking for. I am thankful that I was the right height, talent and person to work with the male dancer they were most looking to pair me with. For Memphis our choreographer looked for great jazz technique paired with character attachment to the movement quickly. I’d say the biggest difference was that with The Lion King I was breaking into the industry and with Memphis I was in “the biz” and aware enough to see the many moving pieces around me.

You were the headliner for Dance Planet 19 last year. What did you take away from that experience?

I mostly took away humility and openness to experience something greater than myself. Dallas in general is an incredible city to nurture incredible talents. Dance Planet 19 brings every young artist and parent into one place where we all grew, laughed, danced and sweated together. It was an incredible weekend of community.

What motivated you to start Fearless Young Artists?

Even as I began to perform professionally, I always had a leg in the studio—to teach and to learn. I began to realize the significant impact my teachers had on my development.  They were professionals. They knew what it meant to be on stage, and more importantly get on stage.  I saw that there were so many kids that didn’t have access to the level of talent some have to learn from. FYA was born to create a place where the student could both watch the professionals from the audience then learn from them in class. As I continue to build FYA Workshops and Intensives around the country the DFW area will be first on the schedule and map. FYA will also offer scholarships to those young artists in need.

There is a lot of talk in the industry about how jazz technique is being overshadowed by contemporary in the classroom. As a jazz instructor what is your take on this? Where do you think jazz fits in today’s contemporary-obsessed world?

Technique across the board is being replaced by contemporary and center combos. Somewhere along the line we began to teach our young artists about having enough likability to be on T.V shows. Many have stopped teaching marketability and the ability to be a chameleon as dancers and artists. It is now okay to microwave an artist rather than growing and nurturing young artists. Technique, whether it be ballet, jazz or modern or tap or hip hop, requires years of practice and it doesn’t seem to me that the focus is on where the dancer will be 15 or 20 years from now. The great educators and studio owners within the arts have this ability to teach slow and steady wins the race while also enforcing a passion to express, from their individual perspectives, where the technique can take you within choreography.

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

» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.

»  Tickets for both events are available through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone 214-871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St., Dallas, TX 75201. For more information, go towww.dallasdancefest.org


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Dallas DanceFest Profile: AJ Garcia-Rameau

Courtesy of AJ Garcia-Rameau

Courtesy of AJ Garcia-Rameau

The Austin-based dancer on building a freelance career and making her first appearance in Dallas at the second annual Dallas DanceFest.

Dallas — A newcomer to the Dallas dance scene,Ashley (AJ) Garcia-Rameau says she is looking forward to the numerous career building opportunities awaiting her at Dallas DanceFest, most importantly forging new relationships with fellow participants and accessing a broader audience base. “I am excited to network and see the other companies perform,” Garcia-Rameau says. “There is a very nice line-up of artists this year and a lot of whom I have never seen dance. My biggest take away is to learn about other dancers and companies and their choreography.” As to what Garcia-Rameau would like audiences to take away from her performance she says, “The piece I will be presenting is simple, yet strong and will hopefully encourage an emotional response and maybe encourage viewers to go see more kinds of dance.”

The piece, called Inevitable Displacement, is a three-minute solo excerpt from a larger work choreographed by Gina Lewis, which features simple, nude costuming and Lester Horton-inspired movements. In the solo Garcia-Rameau travels from upstage left to downstage right with just one bag while incorporating movement that represents the passage from the past to the future. “It’s inevitable that you’re going to be displaced from your original location,” Garcia-Rameau says about the work’s theme. “The lighting helps demonstrate this point by disappearing behind the dancer once the previous step is achieved. And it’s nice how Gina put it together because it is kind of anguish-y, but also exciting because this person is looking to the future while also being nostalgic about the past.”

The contemporary ballet style of the piece comes naturally to Garcia-Rameau whose dance training includes the Houston Academy of Dance, Exclamation Dance Company, The Alvin Ailey School, Complexions Contemporary Dance Company and Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. She joined the Austin Classical Ballet Company and BHumn Dance Company while attending the University of Texas where she earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a Dance Minor with a focus on advanced ballet. After graduating in 2011, Garcia-Rameau spent three years doing freelance work with artists and dance companies in Philadelphia and Michigan before returning back to Austin this spring.

Garcia-Rameau notes that the Austin dancescape has changed some since the last time she lived here and says she is encouraged by what she sees happening. “Since coming back I have noticed there are a bunch of really good freelance dancers and they have formed this group called Austin Community Ballet. Basically, we get together a couple times a week and give each other class and it has been fun, challenging and a great way to network. What’s also promising is the hunger I see in the dance community here now as opposed to what it was before I left where it was just stagnating. It’s nice to see that things are growing in Austin and more people are getting interested in the arts.”

Garcia-Rameau will be presenting Inevitable Displacement during Friday evening’s program which also includes performances by Austin-based choreographers Amy Morrow (Bell House Arts) and LaQuet Sharnell Pringle.

This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.

»  Tickets for both events are available through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone 214-871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St., Dallas, TX 75201. For more information, go to www.dallasdancefest.org/

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Dallas DanceFest 2015 Profile: Amy Diane Morrow

Morrow's Carry On. Photo: Martin Perez

Morrow’s Carry On. Photo: Martin Perez

The Austin-based choreographer on her quest for cultivating home grown art and collaborating with Oklahoma’s Bell House Arts in this year’s Dallas DanceFest.

Dallas — Amy Diane Morrow is no stranger to the Dallas dance scene. In addition to having taught classes at Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University and Texas Woman’s University, Morrow is also frequently in town teaching Gaga workshops, a movement language developed by Ohad Naharin of the Batsheva Dance Company. And last March Morrow made a big splash at Avant Chamber Ballet’s inaugural Women’s Choreography Project with her new piece, String Theory. Morrow fans will get another chance to see her work at the second annual Dallas DanceFest which takes place Sept. 4-6 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Morrow will be presenting her trio Carry On, which she is doing in collaboration with Owasso, Oklahoma-based The Bell House Arts, Inc. (BHA).

Morrow describes Carry On as an autobiographical portrait that focuses on the weight of relationships and the distance within relationships as it pertains to family and friends. “At the heart of it Carry On is an autobiographical portrait that became a study on this portrait in relationship to two people, three people and a group of 20 people,” Morrow says. “I have restaged it several times on several different groups and now it has distilled back to a trio.” The piece also touches on the physical and emotional baggage we carry around with us.

Morrow says Carry On is also a reflection of her travels and the amount of stuff people try to carry through airport security. “Every time you go through TSA it is a reminder of the things that we carry and how stuffed and over packed we are. It got me thinking about how these things are somehow tied to security, memory, people and places.”

Amy Diane Morrow. Photo: Rino Pizzi

Amy Diane Morrow. Photo: Rino Pizzi

Morrow sees herself as a connector of people and places. After years of splitting her time between Texas and Tel Aviv, Israel, Morrow now resides in Austin where she will be joining the staff at the University of Texas’ Department of Theatre and Dance. The city is also home to her latest project, the TBXS Toolbox Series, which provides specialized workshops for creative artists to hone skills for their personal practice and expand their professional market. “I still travel and do residencies a lot, but my effort is really to bring the international collaborations, opportunities and experiences that I’ve had to my home state because I really believe in home grown art and building the local community from grass roots.” So far, TBXS has hosted seven workshops and has featured guest artists, including ARCOS Dance, Kira Blazek, Manuel Vignoulle and Jesse Zaritt.

While in Tulsa this past summer Morrow met BHA Founder Rachel Bruce Johnson and their collaboration and friendship grew from there. Morrow says, “The Bell House has become a really great umbrella for freelance artists to collaborate with Rachel. It’s her mission to provide these teaching and performance collaborative opportunities, and she is doing it.” Since joining BHA, Morrow has performed at the Fringe Fest Summer Stage in Tulsa, the Tulsa Ballet Studio K Series and will be a part of Dallas DanceFest 2015. Morrow notes that with the current shift in the industry away from traditional dance companies to more independent projects and opportunities, it’s no surprise that the number of these non-profit arts cooperatives has been growing throughout the region. “This is a big conversation I am having right now with others in the Austin dance community. Nowadays to be sustainable and to be able to keep putting out work you really need an alliance or collective to help you, and Rachel is doing that in her own way with BHA.”

Morrow is also a big advocate of dance festivals. In fact she first met her mentor Ohad Naharin while working at the American Dance Festival. “Festivals are where you network and grow, and it’s where the magic happens. The word festival is becoming to mean an efficient organization that provides the maximum amount of opportunities for the maximum amount of people. It’s really an umbrella for the artists and the community, and it’s definitely needed.” Morrow adds, “I think that festivals in the south and specifically in Texas will continue to grow over the years and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.

This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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The second annual Dallas DanceFest promises more variety and exceptional dancing from individuals and groups throughout the region.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA) founder Joshua L. Peugh and company dancer Alex Karigan Farrior in Critics of the Morning Song. Photo Robert Hart

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA) founder Joshua L. Peugh and company dancer Alex Karigan Farrior in Critics of the Morning Song. Photo Robert Hart

Dallas – The perception of dance in Dallas has changed dramatically over the last five years largely due to the development of the Dallas Arts District; the rise in the number of professional dance companies based in the city; the restructuring of veteran dance groups like Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and the creation of local dance festivals, including Rhythm In Fusion Festival (RIFF) and Dallas DanceFest (DDF). All of these factors are helping to transform Dallas into a grand destination for dance. Keeping this in mind the Dance Council of North Texas (DCNT), in partnership with the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, is planning to deliver more vitality, diversity and excellence in dance with the second annual DDF which takes place September 4-6, 2015 at Dallas City Performance Hall. This prestigious event features performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and concludes Sunday afternoon with the Dance Council Honors.

The impact of the festival isn’t just felt around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex but across the region as well. Houston-based METdance (formerly Houston Metropolitan Dance Company), an original participant in the Dallas Morning News Festival, was disappointed when that festival disbanded in 2004 as it had looked forward to performing for Dallas audiences. But artistic director Marlana Doyle says, “We were grateful to be a part of DDF last year and had the thrill of enjoying the Dallas audiences and arts community in such an amazing venue once again. METdance appreciates the efforts of the Dallas Dance Council and looks forward to celebrating the arts in Texas.”

Kimi Nikaidoh, artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance Project here in Dallas, adds, Given the all-consuming nature of running an arts organization, it’s impossible to see what all of the many other groups in the area are accomplishing. Dallas DanceFest brings us all out of our respective “workshops” and gives us the chance to be inspired and challenged by each other.”

Curated by top dance professionals Lauren Anderson, Fred Darsow, Bridget L. Moore and Catherine Turocy, DDF 2015 will feature 19 exceptional artists and companies from all across the region including – Houston, Austin, Oklahoma, Alabama, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Audiences can expect each performance to be a unique and thrilling display of dance styles including – classical ballet, modern, tap, hip-hop, traditional Indian dance and Ballet Folklorico. The programs will also feature performances by well-known and beloved Dallas institutions such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Bruce Wood Dance Project along with some new names including the Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers.

“It was incredible to see such a tremendous response to DDF 2014,” says DCNT President Kirt Hathaway. “The Dance Council made the decision to re-implement this wonderful dance event after it had sat idle for so many years. With the inclusion of the Dance Council Honors, DDF has immediately become one of DCNT’s marquis events. Producing such a wonderful weekend of dance would not have been possible if the organization had not experienced such growth over the past several years. It truly shows that there is a great commitment by the board and staff to support dance in North Texas and beyond. This year promises to be even more exciting.”

This year’s participants include:

Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX) – Formed in May 2001 under the leadership of Lisa Slagle, the company’s goal is to present quality ballet performances for the local communities and to provide advanced ballet students with the opportunity to prepare for a career in dance. It is the official company of the Ballet Academy of Texas.

Bell House Arts, Inc. (Owasso, OK) – Founded by Rachel Bruce Johnson, The Bell House is a collaborative dance and art cooperative dedicated to creating opportunity for artistic exchange. At The Bell House, we are interested in the collaboration of ideas, people and movement language that challenge the status quo and conventional ways of making art by elevating art as a process. Its fosters meeting points for artistic connection between people rather than elevating the art as product in order to activate the transformative nature of movement that can be experienced both in the practice, performance and witness of dance.

Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) Repertory Dance Company I & II (Dallas, TX) – BTWHSPVA is “the cradle of the Dallas Arts District.” In 2015, the school was awarded the Texas Commission of the Arts Medal of Honor for exemplary training in Arts Education. The department’s philosophy is to provide a broad dance education that challenges the students artistically, intellectually and physically and to prepare qualified students for collegiate and professional careers in dance and related professions.

Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Bruce Wood Dance Project (Dallas, TX) – BWDP was launched in 2011 to champion the vision, leadership and artistry of nationally acclaimed Texan dance-maker Bruce Wood. BWDP picked up where the successful Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company left off. Under Wood’s direction the company produced six word premieres and a TITAS Presents Commission for Command Performance Gala. Currently in its fifth season the company is now under the direction of Kimi Nikaidoh after Wood’s passing in May 2014.

Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX) – Established in 1984 by Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain as a student ensemble dedicated to providing students a stepping stone to professional dance careers. Chamberlain is dedicated to serving North Texas and the surrounding community by providing professional quality performances and outstanding outreach programs. The company takes great pride in the ongoing efforts to expand its cultural diversity through performance collaborations.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Dallas, TX) – Founded in 1976 by Ann Williams, DBDT consists of 12 full-time dancers performing a mixed repertory of modern, jazz, ethnic and spiritual works by nationally and internationally recognized choreographers. Over the years the company has grown from a community-based, semi-professional organization to a fully-professional dance company that is renowned in the U.S. and is noted for its rich cultural diversity, history of inclusion and high-level of artistic excellence in contemporary modern dance and educational programs

Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (Dallas, TX) – This semi-professional company created by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams in 2000 consists of eight aspiring artists from around the nation. Under the guidance of Nycole Ray, DBDT II provides an opportunity for young artists to develop their dance skills while serving the Dallas/Fort Worth community and touring across the nation. Going into its 16th season performing works by recognized and emerging artists, DBDT II performs a diversified repertoire of modern, jazz, African, lyrical and spiritual works.

Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers (Irving, TX) – Founded in 2009, DCRB is a high-energy co-ed hip hop dance team and drum corps. Lead by Jenny Durbin Smith DCRB brings an innovative, unique and exciting element to the Cowboys legendary game-day entertainment line-up. The dance teams dynamic routines feature breakdancing and hip hop-based movement requiring both strong musicality and level of dance ability. Presented by Miller Lite, DCRB was conceptualized under the direction of Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President of Brand Management Charlotte Anderson and is the first and only entertainment concept of its kind in the National Football League.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (Dallas, TX) – Originally formed in Seoul, South Korea by Joshua L. Peugh and Cho Hyun Sang, Peugh started the USA branch of the company in 2013 bridging the gap between East and West. DCCD is dedicated to bringing the progressive work of international choreographers and dancers to a worldwide audience. It strives to educate the public on the power of movement in communicating ideas.

AJ Garcia-Rameau (Austin, TX) -AJ Garcia-Rameau is an independent contemporary ballerina based  in Austin. AJ trained at Houston Academy of Dance and Austin School of Classical Ballet. She received additional training under scholarship with Alvin Ailey School, Joffrey Jazz/Contemporary and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. AJ earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and Dance minor from the University of Texas. She has performed with Exclamation Dance Company, Austin Classical Ballet and BHumm Dance Company.

Pictured: Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble

Pictured: Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble

Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble (Houston, TX) – The ensemble is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, and is led by Artistic Director Amy Blake. This ensemble was designed for the dancer seeking collaboration with exemplary worldwide professionals in the industry to help them obtain greater levels of achievement in the arts through classical training in ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary. The ensemble provides dancers with a positive working environment and opportunities for master classes, private coaching, YAGP participation and multiple international showcases and performance venues.

METdance (Houston, TX) – Founded in 1995, Houston Metropolitan Dance Center Inc. strives to educate and revitalize a passion for dance through the finest instruction and performance. Under the direction of Marlana Doyle MET Dance Company has performed throughout the United States in dozens of theaters receiving high acclaim, performing works by some of the most influential and talented choreographers of our time. The company is the sister organization to the MET Dance Center.
Mosaic Dance Project of Dallas (Dallas, TX) – Created in 2014 by Giovanna Godinez Prado, Mosaic Dance Project’s mission is to create, educate and inspire individuals that desire to grow not only as dancers, but as artists as well, along with our cultural and ethical awareness and values.

Natyananda: Joy of Dance (Birmingham, AL) – Founded in 1978 by Sheila Rubin, Natyananda performs both traditional and original choreographic works in the classical Bharatanatyam style of Southern India. Through student, professional and guest artist presentations Natyananda promotes understanding of universal artistic and cultural themes while showcasing the rich and unique heritage of Alabama’s Asian Indian-American community.

NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D. Photo: Lynn Lane

NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D. Photo: Lynn Lane

NobleMotion Dance (Houston, TX) – NMD was co-founded by Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble in 2009. Over the last five years it has distinguished itself as one of Houston’s most important dance companies. NMD brings a fresh perspective to their community with its mission of integrating technology and dance, and is a Resident Incubator at the Houston Arts Alliance and is currently on the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) touring roster.

LaQuet Sharnel Pringle DDF 2015 commissioned premiere (Austin, TX) – A Booker T Washington HSPVA alum, Pringle attending the North Carolina School of the Arts before making her Broadway debut in 2005 in Sweet Charity with Christina Applegate and Dennis O’Hare. She has also performed in productions of The Lion King and Memphis. Today, Pringle is an adjunct professor at Texas State University teaching Jazz Dance in the Musical Theater Department. She is also the artistic director and founder of Fearless Young Artists (FYA) and was the headliner of Dance Planet 19.

Rhythmic Souls (Dallas, TX) – This small company if wicked fierce rhythm tapper is captivating local audiences with their unique blend of style, charisma, innovative choreography and rapid-fire footwork. The company is on the cutting-edge of dance choreography with cross-genre repertoire that infuses rhythm tap dance with body percussion, sand dancing, contemporary movement, flamenco, swing dance and anything else that might lend itself to their rhythmic percussion. The company strives to bring the spirit of tap dance back to the stage and continue the legacy of an American art form.

Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts Dance Division (Dallas, TX) – The SMU Division of Dance offers both conservatory dance instruction and a liberal arts education. The dance program develops disciplined, versatile artists through professional training in ballet, modern and jazz techniques as well as theory. Undergraduates can earn a B.F.A. in Dance Performance or a minor in Dance Performance. Students perform masterworks of the great choreographers of the 20th century as well as works by contemporary masters.

Texas Ballet Theater School (Fort Worth, TX) – Training the next generation of dancers and arts patrons is the mission of TBT Schools. Starting with the very young, we nurture aspiring artists to discover their greatest potential and to develop a love of movement, a passion for creativity and an appreciation for the beauty and athleticism of classical dance.

Tickets for DDF 2015 available August 1 through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone (214) 871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201.

More information about the festival is available at www.DallasDanceFest.org.

This feature was originally seen in the Aug.-Oct. 2015 issue of DANCE! North Texas which is published by The Dance Council of North Texas.

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Gayle Halperin: Nurturing Dance

Gayle Halperin’s latest endeavor opens new doors for the Dallas dance community. Literally.

BWDP rehearsing in the company's new space in the Dallas Design District. Photo: Sharon Bradford - The Dancing Image

BWDP rehearsing in its new space in the Dallas Design District. Photo: Sharon Bradford – The Dancing Image

Dallas – Bruce Wood Dance Project. TITAS. Dallas DanceFest. Dance Planet. These are just a few of the high profile dance organizations and events that Dallas arts patron Gayle Halperin has helped cultivate. Last year alone, Halperin steered the committee for the inaugural Dallas DanceFest while also continuing on with the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) fourth season after the loss of its founder a few weeks prior to the company’s June performance. Halperin’s drive and intuition when it comes to the needs of the local dance community led to her being featured in TheaterJones’ first Forward Thinker Series in December 2014. Halperin’s most recent contribution to the dance community not only gives BWDP a stable home, but also provides dance groups in the area with a more affordable option when looking for rehearsal and performance space.

“My dream has always been to have a rehearsal space that transforms into a minimal black box theater that can be used for small studio performances,” Halperin says. “I like a space that can only fit about 80 to 100 people and has minimal lighting and good sound, but without all the fancy trimmings.”

Halperin is turning this dream into a reality with the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery. Located at the corner of Howell St. and Levee St. in the Design District, the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery occupies approximately 6,000 square feet of the 12,000-square-foot white brick building. Right now BWDP is only using half of the space while the other half is being finished. The second space only became available for lease this past winter. Halperin says she hopes to have the company rehearsing in the second space, which is 400 feet bigger, by the end of the summer. BWDP’s current space features sprung flooring, high ceilings, a break area and plenty of natural light. “We ended up going with this location because it had high ceilings, no poles and didn’t need a lot of finishing up. We saw a lot of spaces, and it was quite difficult to find a space that only needed minimal repair. We were fortunate to find this corner property in the Design District.”

Photo: Robert Hart

Photo: Robert Hart

The process of finding a rehearsal space started more than a year ago, Halperin says, when Wood decided he wanted the company to start rehearsing during the day, Monday through Friday. “We always knew that if the company was going to go anywhere that it needed its own space. So, last year when Bruce announced that the company wasn’t going to rehearse in the evenings anymore I made that commitment to him to find a place for the company to rehearse.” She adds, “Bruce always said that’s how he worked when he had the Bruce Wood Dance Company. You have to work every day in order for the company to develop a cohesive style and to be challenged to become stronger.”

The company didn’t move into the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery till July 2014; one month after Wood’s passing. And even through Halperin’s name is on the lease she says the whole project has been a huge team effort. She credits BWDP’s Administrative Assistant Rebecca Butler for finding the space and board treasurer Danny Curry for masterminding the construction of the sprung flooring. “This was leap of faith, but Bruce made a huge impact on me so it’s all worth it.”

This article originally appeared in the Aug.-Oct. 2015 issue of DANCE! North Texas which is published by The Dance Council of North Texas.

Also check out the feature I did on BWDP Company Member Albert Drake who made his choreographic debut with Whispers in the company’s 5 Years performance in June.

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Review: 8&1 Dance Company, Exchange Street

Sarah Beal Photography.

Khalid Beard, head trainer at Title Boxing Club in Uptown in Exchange Street. Sarah Beal Photography.

8&1 Dance Company enthralls audiences with its full-length dance drama Exchange Street, which highlights the parallels between dance and boxing.

Plano — Outside of boxing the term heavyweight refers to a person of great influence or importance. Watching 8&1 Dance Company receive a standing ovation after the presentation of the company’s full-length dance dramaExchange Street Saturday evening at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano, it’s safe to say that 8&1’s Artistic Director Jill S. Rucci has earned her title of a dance heavyweight in Dallas. Drawing inspiration from personal experiences, all Rucci’s work over the past five years has radiated an authenticity that appeals to audiences on a primitive level. Add in her vast knowledge of producing and directing and an eclectic group of dancers and artists well-versed in all forms of dance and performance art and you have the makings for a dance company unlike any other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Staying true to form 8&1 Dance Company’s latest production, Exchange Street, was inspired by Rucci’s grandfather and pays homage to the sport of boxing in the 1960s. Written and choreographed by Rucci,Exchange Street follows boxer Barry “The Bull” Leonard (Khalid Beard) on his rise to the top as well as his struggles to find a balance between boxing and his home life with his girlfriend (Hannah Fozkos). Rucci’s genius music choices, which include James Brown, Dean Martin, Simon & Garfunkel, Kenny Rogers and Dorothy Moore, not only reflected the time period, but also contained lyrics that directly tied into the characters’ narratives. Rucci’s movement choices seamlessly blended popular social dances such as the mashed potato, shimmy and twist into the mainly jazz-driven choreography. Costume Designer Sherri Fozkos and hair and make-up’s Kendra Hibbs and Jessica Scharff completed the image with beehive hairdos, floral dresses, form-fitted capris, suspenders, bright scarves and newsboy caps.

Sarah Beal Photography

Sarah Beal Photography

Company members Lauren Daniels, Kendra Hibbs, McKenzie Rollinson, Shelby Stanley, Pat White and Tesla Wolfe opened the show with a vivacious Fosse-inspired jazz number to Louis Armstrong’s Cabaret. Dressed all in black with black fishnets and character shoes, the six performers executed Fosse’s signature hips swivels, shoulder isolations and wrist flicks with rigor and poise. Rucci layered these moves with subtle head tilts, stop and go action and explosive leaps which matched the varying rhythms of Armstrong’s trumpet playing. While the dance was exciting and inviting, there was another scene that would have packed a stronger punch as the show’s opener.

Sitting on a bench on a dimly lit stage, the audience was glued to The Bull (Beard) as he methodically taped up his hands and slid on his boxing gloves before standing up and shadowboxing. As the head trainer at Title Boxing Club in Uptown and a trained fighter, there was nothing artificial about the way Beard moved. Every little detail from the number of times he wrapped the tape around his wrists to the unconscious way he scratched his head and thumbed his nose came across natural and uncensored. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” added complexity and intensity to the scene without detracting from the simplistic beauty of watching Beard navigate through his routine.

After his workout at the gym The Bull headed to a local bar where he would meet his soon-to-be girlfriend Fozkos. While they were getting to know each other, Rucci used this time to highlight the company’s proficiency in other dance styles outside of modern, including jazz, musical theater and swing dance. While not always together, the ladies showcased unwavering control and playful musicality in a sultry group number to “Man’s World” by James Brown. The whole cast let loose during Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got That Swing” with dancers Trent Hyman and Stanley stealing the show with a swing duet full of continuous twists, spins, lifts and flips garnering generous applause from the audience. As the night came to an end narrator Avery D. Wilson walked out to give us a status update on the couple and teased us with some foreshadowing on the second half. Wilson’s charming smile and suave aire immediately put the audience at ease while his silky, yet punctuated manner of speaking had us hanging on his every word.

Sarah Beal Photography

Sarah Beal Photography

The men dominated the second half, which also included the highly anticipated fight between The Bull and Terrell “Lights Out” Lopez (trained boxer Brian Lacy). Leading up to the fight The Bull struggled to find a balance between boxing and spending time with Fozkos, which the couple acted out to Kenny Rogers’ “Don’t Fall in Lovewith a Dreamer.” Fozkos vented her frustration with the situation by writing a letter as a recording of her voice transcribed it aloud. The letter writing then led her to perform a technically clean and passionate contemporary solo to Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue.” While slightly over conceptualized, the scene was still one of the most touching moments in the show. Before the fight dancers Ruben Benitez, Chad Geiger, Trent Hyman and Nick Leos let it rip with a series of barrel turns, leg jumps and traveling grapevines in what can only be called an exuberant display of stamina and swag.

Rucci did an admirable transforming the theater into a real life boxing match with the help of dim lighting, a pseudo boxing ring prop and boxing official Johnny Carrasco who played the role of referee. Beard and Lacy didn’t hold anything back in the ring. Like dance, the pair’s boxing moves had a pulse that changed tempo when the two moved toward and away from one another. There was also a graceful quality to the way their feet shifted back and forth. The two art forms finally came together when five of the dancers whose faces were obscured by white hoodies, started punching, ducking and drop and rolling to Gnarls Barkley’s aptly chosen song, Run. Perhaps this dance would have been taken to the next level if Beard and Lacy had joined in the mayhem instead of freezing when the dancers came out. Or if the fighters were boxing to music instead of in silence. But as it was, the audience ate it up, shouting out encouragements like “Let’s go Bull” and “Hit him with a left!”

Talk about a knockout.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Loud Whispers

Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image..

Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

Albert Drake makes his choreographic debut with his work Whispers, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s upcoming performance marking the company’s fifth anniversary.

Dallas — After watching Albert Drake rehearse his first piece for the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) Monday afternoon at the company’s studio in the Design District it struck me that Dallas is now not only a breeding ground for uniquely qualified dancers, but also choreographers. Drake has made a name for himself in the North Texas dance community as a founding member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project as well as for his work outside the company, including teaching at Park Cities Dance and Southern Methodist University where he received his BFA in dance performance from the Meadows School of the Arts.

As a dancer, Drake is known for his explosive movement quality and innate lyricism and it was nice to see these traits represented in his first chorographic endeavor, Whispers, part of BWDP’s 5 Years performance June 19-20 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The work follows eight dancers, including Drake and BWDP’s Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh, as they search for the meaning of happiness. Starting with an R&B vibe and then shifting into a fast-paced piano phrase, the 20-minute piece is broken up into various duets, trios and group sections depicting the various relationships among the dancers.

“I wanted to play with relationships that weren’t necessarily just about love,” Drake says. “There is a duet toward the end of the third section that has more of a protective quality to it and has this feeling of you and me against the world. And there are other duets and trios that more about trust and support.”

The blind support Drake talks about allows the couple to transfer their weight back and forth without qualm as they glide across the floor. Their momentum never stops even as the female slides into a split and is pulled through her partner’s legs into a steadfast fourth position relevé. The trios are dotted with dynamic leaps, wicked fast turns and buoyant floor work. A composed backward walking phrase is used multiple times, but the dancers’ changing directions keep viewers on their toes.

“I don’t like predictability,” Drake says, as he explains his penchant for the unexpected. This also makes for some exciting transition changes, such as when the dancers sprint out of the wings or get picked up one by one as a dancer runs by. And in one exuberant section all the dancers dash across the stage leaving a lone dancer to execute a controlled headstand into a series of one-footed balances performed in silence. “Creating transitions is difficult because they have to flow and take the audience on a journey without taking them in and out. As a choreographer you have to find a way to keep the audience involved and keep the whole thing circular.”

Kimi in Whispers, part of the BWDP's Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

Kimi Nikaidoh in Whispers, part of the BWDP’s Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

The cast is a mix of company veterans including Harry Feril and Nikaidoh and newcomers such as Eric Coudron and David Escoto. While the group danced seamlessly together Drake says it did take some time for everyone to adjust to the creative process. “The first week it was just about making sure everyone was present because, for some of the newer dancers, they haven’t gotten a lot of chances to work in the creative process. A lot of dancers get drawn into a repertory company where you learn old works over and over. In the creation process you have to be patient, moldable and willing to let go.” Drake admits that was a struggle, but once everyone got into it he says they were able to absorb the movement without prejudice and some good stuff came out of it.

It’s easy to spot Wood’s influences in Drake’s choreography. After all, Drake spent more than half his career training with the notable North Texas choreographer who passed away suddenly last year. “I adopted him early on as the mentor I wanted to be around and learn from. His previous dancers adored the man and followed him religiously and I see why. So, he invested in me and I invested in him and it was a great relationship.”

Wood’s quirky foot work, deliberate gesturing and emotional pull are seen throughout Drake’s piece, but most poignantly in the opening section where the four females each perform a gestural phrase of movement that slowly builds in intensity.

“His principles are a part of me so it wasn’t challenging to stay within his realm of movement. The hard part was moving away from it and standing out and not necessary being a replica of him. Now, I didn’t try to stray away from them, but I did want to take his principles and use them in a different context.” Wood also had the unique ability of connecting with audiences on a deeply emotional level, something Drake hopes to accomplish with Whispers. “I don’t want the physicality or the prettiness of the piece to determine how people feel. My main purpose of this piece is to keep people emotionally involved.”

The concert will also feature the Dallas premieres of Wood’s Requiem and Polyester Dreams.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Q&A: Adam Sklute, Ballet West

Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley

Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley

Ballet West’s Artistic Director on participating in the reality series Breaking Pointe and what the company has in store for its first Dallas performance.

Dallas — As in any other industry, rising competition and the ever-changing economy have forced ballet companies across the nation to step outside the box when it comes to broadening their audience base and exposing more people to the art form. So when Ballet West’s Artistic Director Adam Sklute heard that BBC Worldwide Productions was looking for a ballet company to be the focus for a new reality series he jumped at the opportunity. After several interviews and screen tests Ballet West was chosen to star in the CW’s reality series Breaking Pointe, which premiered in 2012. Even though the show only lasted for two seasons, Ballet West is still feeling the impact with sold out shows and an expansive touring schedule.

The Salt Lake City-based company was formed in 1963 by Willam Christensen and is currently run by former Joffrey dancer Adam Sklute. At age 17 Sklute began training with the Oakland Ballet and San Francisco Ballet schools. He was one of the last two artists hand-picked by Robert Joffrey and spent 23 years with the Joffrey Ballet before joining Ballet West in 2007. During his time as a dancer Sklute got to perform leading roles in works by Gerald Arpino, Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Agnes DeMille and Robert Joffrey, to name a few. In addition to Breaking Pointe, Sklute’s other TV credits include The Joffrey Ballet’s Dance in America filmings of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Arpino’s production of Billboards as well as Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. In 2003 he assisted with and appeared in Robert Altman’s The Company and in 2012 appeared in The Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of Dance, a documentary chronicling the history of The Joffrey Ballet.

Since joining Ballet West Sklute has expanded the company repertoire and visibility through numerous world premieres, increased touring and greater focus on the Ballet West Academy. Over the last eight years Ballet West has presented more than 55 world/Utah premieres. The company has performed works by historical choreographers, including Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine and Michel Fokine as well as contemporary masters such as Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp. Sklute also oversees Ballet West’s Academy and is a guest teacher and coach for dance programs and workshops around the world.

Dallas audiences will get to see Ballet West in all its classical glory when they come to the Winspear Opera House May 29-30, closing TITAS’ 2014-15 season. The company’s diverse program will include George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) by William Forsythe and Jodie Gates’ Mercurial Landscapes (2013).

TheaterJones asks Adam Sklute about the changes he has made to Ballet West, bringing dance to larger audiences through reality T.V. and some of his fond memories working with Robert Joffrey.

TheaterJones: You have such a long rich history with the Joffrey Ballet. What convinced you to move to Salt Lake City and join Ballet West?

Adam Sklute: I had been with the Joffrey Ballet for 23 years starting as a dancer and eventually moving to the position of associate director. The company was going through a transition in 2006-07 where one of the founders, Gerald Arpino, was moving to the position of emeritus and they were going to do an international search for a new artistic director. I was told I would be in the running and I was very interested in the position, but I was also curious to see my market value would be outside of Joffrey. So, when I received a request to apply for Ballet West I thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out my market value. I went through the interview process and was asked to fly out to meet and work with the dancers and the staff, and while I was there I feel in love with the city and the company. I just thought that this was a place where I could really make a difference and I could be really happy living. In that moment my whole perspective changed and I knew it was time for a change and I have never regretted it.

Looking back over the last eight years are you satisfied with what you have been able to accomplish with the company?

Going in I knew I was joining a company that had a great legacy and history itself. I mean it was founded by one of the pioneers of American dance, Willam Christensen, and following him as artistic director was Bruce Marks, Sir John Hart from the Royal Ballet and Swedish dancer Jonas Kåge. And all of them had brought a unique and individual stamp to the company. I am a perpetual student so I enjoyed learning and understanding the company that I was going to be a part of and was going to lead artistically.

I set some very strong goals about what I wanted to do in terms of repertoire and expansion and I worked very hard to get them moved forward. On the other hand, you have to kind of move with the tide. I mean things would happen. Opportunities would come up and changes would occur. My goodness the economy fell out from beneath us just as I was hired. The best laid plans are always there to be modified and changed. What I would like to attempt to be is very much a forward thinker and an intense planner for the future, but then be able to move with the tide and go where its obvious things are happening. With that said I have been very proud of the accomplishments of Ballet West over the last eight years and yes, not a little surprised about some of it, and then also quite gratified.

How does Ballet West’s classical style differ from other ballet companies in the U.S.?

I like to use a poetic phrase to explain our dancers, which is they are as tall and dramatic as the Rocky Mountain region that we represent. What I mean by that is first of all I love long-limbed dancers and very linear kind of looks. What people are going to see is that very lengthy and expansive type of movement that comes from these long-limbed dancers. And even the shorter dancers have that same sort of length and expansion because that’s how we move and it’s how we dance. But on top of that we have a great deal of intensity and theatricality and the dancers understand who they are on the stage. They have a stage presence and the knowledge of how to captivate an audience. So, I think what’s special about us is that we are once a very linear company, but we are also a theatrical company and all that mixed together I think creates a very beautiful and unique look and style.

Do the three pieces on the program, Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) and Mercurial Landscapes (2013), clearly capture the company’s versatility and unique style?

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling

Absolutely, and I have to say Charles Santos was a big part of the decision making process for the programming because he really knows his Dallas audience and he also wanted to represent us in our best light. And I appreciated that tremendously. So yes, the program does show off so many of the facets of what we have done and in a number of ways what I have done since I have been here with Ballet West.

How did you get involved with the reality series Breaking Pointe?

How it came together was BBC Worldwide Productions had been experimenting and shopping around this idea for a reality Television show all about ballet for several years. They had gone to a lot of companies that were bigger than ours who either said no they didn’t want to do it or said yes, but in the end they couldn’t work it out with all their company members and union rules. We were on a long list of companies that they were interviewing and they also wanted us to do a screen test where they would come and spend a week with us filming as many classes, rehearsals, meetings and social gatherings as possible. And also interview all of the dancers interested in being part of the show. We did that and they put together a promo for our company and shopped it around to the networks and the CW picked it up. Now, we were very specific about contracts and time such as when they could film us and when they couldn’t. Each individual had control over what they were allowing people to film and what not to. For instance, I said I was not going to have any cameras in my home. With that said, yes, what you are seeing is the real us and yes, every single situation that happened was real. What you have to remember is that how it is presented on the screen had a lot to do with how pieces were edited together.

When it came to the dance scenes in the show did you have a hand in the editing process?

So, what I was able to do was say “you can film this, but you can’t film that.” I wasn’t there in the editing room so I had to trust BBC a great deal. BBC told me they had two members of the Royal Ballet who would be viewing all of dance scenes in the editing process and would not let any less than desirable dancing go onto the screen. The thing that I can say is for a myriad of reasons we never had as much dancing in there as I wanted. A lot of that had to do with the various trusts and foundations for the choreography that we worked with who either did not want that much of it shown or who were charging a lot of money for that shot. And that also went for the music that we used in the show.

Are you happy with the way you and the company were portrayed on the show?

All of the drama and everything else aside, what I know is that every clip of the dancing came out good. Ultimately, the company showed itself well as a group of dancers and we showed the world the highest caliber of dancing. So, even if the show was based more on the drama stuff what was always there was the quality of the dancing. And I know it sounds cliché, but we also had loftier aspirations than just what the show could do for Ballet West. We felt like we were doing something for the world of dance and for ballet in general. We did not do this show for the thousands of people that know and love ballet. We did this show for the millions of people who know nothing about ballet.

Can you talk about some of your favorite moments working with Robert Joffrey?

By the age of 19 I was a professional dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. I was in class one day when Robert Joffrey showed up and invited me to one of his personal workshops in San Antonio, Texas. He said I needed to go to this and work with him personally. He would give these three hour technique classes and they were the most amazing things I have ever experienced in my life. I had never met anyone who was so meticulous, so detailed orientated and yet so inspiring. I never felt like the details were bogging me down. He hired me after very little study.

Robert Joffrey also had a quirky sense of humor. When he hired me he said to me “Adam, I am going to hire you for my company against my better judgment.” And I said OK what does that mean and he said that “you are smart so I know you are going to succeed. Now you just have to learn how to dance.” He knew that’s how I needed to be spoken too. I am not one for a lot of ego stroking. I respond better to a challenge. And he was right. I had the right proportions for ballet and could do the movements, but it didn’t look like anything because I had no sense of technique. And I spent my entire dance career learning and understanding technique. Like how to stand in fifth position and how to create lines. But Robert Joffrey saw that in me and that was a huge inspiration for me.

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

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Colliding Worlds, Texas Ballet Theater

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

Texas Ballet Theater is revving up for Jonathan Watkins’ new work Crash, part of this year’s Artistic Director’s  Choice performance in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth — For most people the word “crash” brings up images of cars, buses, planes and trains. But for British choreographer Jonathan Watkins the word has a broader subtext and is the focus of his new work Crash, part ofTexas Ballet Theater’s Artistic Director’s Choice performance in Fort Worth this weekend. In this piece Watkins takes on various personal, technological and political crashes which are represented through solo, duet and large group numbers in this 25-minute circular tale that features original music by Dallas-based composer Ryan Cockerham and costumes by Austin-based Kari Perkins, who also did the costuming for Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film Boyhood.

In addition to these elements, Watkins uses abstract and neo-classical movements to shape the different situations and mindsets that he has laid out for us. “What I did is set up these different scenarios throughout the work that follow a similar pattern,” Watkins says. “There is a buildup of energy, a crash, and then the dancers have to collect the pieces and hopefully build a better foundation.

“And after the crash we need space to analyze and build the strength to help us deal with the crash going forward,” he explains further. “For this part I wanted the dancers to have a more pensive quality of movement.”

Watkins is an up-and-coming British choreographer who won the Kenneth MacMillan Choreography Competition at the Royal Ballet School when he was just 16 years old. He danced with the Royal Ballet for 10 years before leaving the company in 2013 to pursue his career as a freelance choreographer and director. Watkins made his international debut at the New York Choreographic Institute in 2008 with his workNow, set on New York City Ballet. His other international commissions include Eventual Progress for Russia’s Ekaterinburg Ballet Theatre in 2013 and Present Process for Ballet Manila, Philippines in 2014. His other choreographic credits include Beyond Prejudice and Free Falling created for The Curve Foundation, Abstract Balance with East London Dance and Together Alone for Ballet Black. Watkins also created his first short dance film called Route 67 in 2011. After Fort Worth, he heads back to Britain to work on a premiere evening-length work based on George Orwell’s 1984.

The pensive section Watkins mentioned earlier is at minute 19 of the dance and is what the company was working on when I sat in rehearsal a few weeks ago. For the next hour and a half the group learned four counts of eight of slow moving, forward progressing arm gestures and leg extensions. A deliberate button push with the right finger initiates the sequence and is followed with a half attitude turn into a side stretch. This leads into another leg whip and arm reach all executed in the same unhurried fashion. He then has the dancers retrograde the phrase so they end up in the same horizontal line they started in. I found out later from Watkins that the only preconceived movement was the button push. Everything else grew organically.

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

“I don’t always work like this, but in this case I wanted to do it with them and experience the choreography together,” he says. “Going in I was confident in the concept of moving slowly. I also knew I wanted to layer and experiment with the movement and that sort of detailing is best to be done then and there.”

These experiments included having two groups of 12 dancers stand in a straight line and begin the phrase on different counts. In some cases it was every four counts and in others it was every two counts. He then had the dancers clump together and move out and around each other creating this illusion of a living organism. Even without knowing the outcome, the dancers quickly adapted to each situation and problem-solved any traffic pattern issues as they moved. As a viewer I got to see the movement morph from a linear kind of tame visual into a cascade of complex shapes and bright pops of movement.

Throughout rehearsal Watkins uses different words, sounds and sometimes melodies to help the dancers align themselves with the pensive quality of the movement. “Shift it, step it, breathe it,” he says during one run through. Another time he mixes together words and sounds such as “Hwa, hwa, melt up, shift down, step to it, emphasize bah.” When I asked Watkins about his use of sounds instead of counts he says he will use whatever means necessary to communicate his intention to the dancers.

“Trust and communication are very important. Energy and being positive is what works for me because I don’t want people to dance through fear,” he says. “And, if I have to shout and sing to get my point across then I have no hang ups about doing it.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Watkins was still performing professionally so he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end. “You just have to respect the other person and embrace the dancers.” The same rule applies when working with composers, costumers and other members of production team.

When it came to putting together his team for this project Watkins decided to experiment locally with composer Ryan Cockerham and costume designer Kari Perkins, who has costumed seven Linklater films, including his breakout Dazed & Confused. He found Cockerham’s name on the Royal College of Music alumni list and it just so happened he was based in Dallas and had some previous ballet composition experience. “I like serendipity and so when it happens I just go with it. I then started looking for a costumer in the area and I came across Kari who did the costumes for the movie Boyhood.”

For the music Watkins wanted a lot of melodic and rhythmic themes with some soundscape elements mixed in. He describes the costumes as an everyday look, but with lots of fractured layers on top. “And underneath resembles bare bones which represents the clean slate after the crash and before the cycle starts again.”

Artistic Director’s Choice opens with Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, followed by Crash, and closes with Balanchine’s Rubies.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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