Outside The Lines

Texas Ballet Theater expands its stylistic range in Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders, part of the company’s First Looks Series in Dallas this weekend.


Texas Ballet Theater rehearsing Val Caniparoli’s Without Borders. Photo: Ellen Appel

It’s not a coincidence that Texas Ballet Theater principal dancer’s Leticia Oliveira and Carl Coomer look like a pair of figure skaters just skimming the floor in a series of petite traveling lifts in American choreographer Val Caniparoli’s new work, Without Borders. “A lot of what I do has been inspired by ice skating or classical ballet or by working with African dance consultants in Lambarena and that has stuck with me over the years,” Caniparoli says.

Originally from Renton, Washington, Caniparoli opted for a professional dance career after studying music and theater at Washington State University. He received a Ford Foundation Scholarship in 1972 that allowed him to attend San Francisco Ballet School. He performed with San Francisco Opera Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet in 1973. He became resident choreographer there, and later with Tulsa Ballet. Today, Caniparoli is one of the most sought after American choreographers in the United States and abroad, having set works on more than 35 dance companies, including the Joffrey Ballet. Caniparoli has also choreographed for many notable Opera houses in the U.S., including Chicago Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Photo: Courtesy of Val Caniparoli

Caniparoli’s musical background plays a pivotal role in his creative process and is one of the most appealing aspects of his work. “I have studied music and theater all my life and fell into ballet when I was 20 so, it’s natural for me to create movement that is being dictated by the music.” I saw this firsthand back in September when I sat in one of his rehearsals with Coomer and Oliveira and later the full company for his piece Without Borders, which will have its world premiere at TBT’s First Looks Series May 6-8 in Dallas and May 27-29 in Fort Worth.

Most of the critiques Caniparoli gave to Coomer and Oliveira during rehearsal pertained to their musical timing and movement quality. “You have to fill out every count of the music,” Caniparoli tells the couple on one adagio section. “You also have to be very specific when counting the eights. This is a fast eight counts that moves into a slower tempo.” This last note was in reference to a particularly tricky lift where Oliveira coiled around Coomer’s upper body coming to a stop with her hips settled into the crease of his neck before slowly sliding down his body. Caniparoli switched places a few times with Coomer and Oliveira in order to help them get the right feel of the movement, which he illustrated with subtle head and arm gestures as well as slight weight changes during lifts. I found out later from Caniparoli that it is not unusual for him to get up and demonstrate certain choreography and partnering skills with the dancers he is working with. “I like to be very hands on with the dancers because as a dancer myself I liked working with choreographers who did allow the dancers to have a voice in the process. I learned early on that if you respect the dancers then they will respect you back.”

The music Caniparoli has chosen for the piece, a blend of tracks from Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’s 2013 album entitled A Playlist Without Borders, features a number of ethnic sounds, including African, Irish and Arabic and was also inspiration for the name of the work. “I wanted music with a lot of variety that would then be reflected in the movement as well as the costuming and lighting.” While the work doesn’t follow a particular theme, Caniparoli says he did use the musical explanations included in the CD, which described how the composers felt about each piece of music, as a basis for the choreography and inspiration for the dancers’ personal performances. “You don’t have to understand what my intentions were to enjoy this piece. I just want people to love the dancers, music, costuming, lighting and such, and not get too wrapped up in finding the meaning in everything.”

He continues, “I was just so inspired by Yo-Yo Ma’s ability to connect with all these traditional ethnic instruments and combine them in a unique East meets West way in these ensemble tracks. Whereas Lambarena focused more on war and unrest in other countries, in Without Borders I am trying to connect countries through music in a very uplifting and positive way.”

You can experience the music and movement of Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders for yourself when Texas Ballet Theater performs it at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend as part of the company’s First Looks Series. The program also includes Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries and the company’s premiere of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. TBT will repeat the program at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth later this month.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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This Woman’s Work


Avant Chamber Ballet presents Woman’s Choreography Project. Photo: Mark Kitaoka 

Avant Chamber Ballet’s second annual Women’s Choreography Project features more dynamic works by international female choreographers and live music.

Richardson — If there is a need in the Dallas dance community especially if it pertains to ballet, then you can bet that Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) Artistic Director Katie Cooper is already looking for a way to fill it. After all, Cooper started her company three years ago because she saw a need for more live music at local classical ballet performances. “When we started ACB no other professional dance companies were using live music in DFW and we are still the only ones who always have live music at every show,” Cooper says. “Musicality and the connection between the dancers, music and choreography to me is inseparable.”

So, when Cooper noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies seasonal programs, she knew she had to do something about it. And that is how the Women’s Choreography Project came into being in 2015. “I know firsthand how hard it is to get commissions in such a male-dominated field. One of the reasons I started my own company was to give myself opportunities to create my own work and to also work with the dancers I wanted to work with. I wanted to try and give other female choreographers the same opportunities, which is why I started the Women’s Choreography Project.”

Last year’s inaugural event at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson featured the members of ACB in five diverse works produced by well-known regional choreographers, including Amy Diane Morrow, Elizabeth Gillapsy, Emily Hunter as well as two pieces by Cooper. Most of the pieces alternated between neo-classical and contemporary dance styles with the exception of Morrow’s String Theory, which had the dancers manipulating various strings stretched halfway across the stage.

Photo: Avant Chamber Ballet. Shauna Davis, left, and Janie Richards

This year Cooper says audiences can expect even more variety at the second annual Women’s Choreography Project which takes place May 7-8 at the Eismann Center. The program for this year’s event features two new classical works by Cooper, a musically inspired pointe piece by Canadian choreographer Janie Richards and a retrospective modern-based piece by New York choreographer Shauna Davis. While all four works are vastly different in terms of concept, costuming, music and movement style, what Cooper believes ties them all together is the choreographers’ fine attention to detail and the dancers’ technical execution of the steps in each work. All the works will be accompanied by live music under the guidance of ACB Musical Director David Cooper.

Shauna Davis is no stranger to the Dallas dance scene. She is a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts and also spent a season with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, which also happened to be the same year the company performed Joshua L. Peugh’s jjigae at ACB’s fall dance concert in 2013. “That was the first time I had seen her dance and she was just really magnetic on stage. She has such a gregarious, outgoing and open personality and I think that you can really see that in her process. She brings a lot out of her dancers and makes them feel really comfortable, which is important because her piece is a little more modern, which is not many of the dancers’ primary style.” Davis’ piece, Untitled, set to Schubert’s trio op.100 features five dancers and focuses on the idea of technology and how it impacts our self-worth in this modern age, which she depicts on stage with the use of mirrors. “She has a very distinct idea behind what she is doing and uses a more modern vocabulary to describe the feelings and emotions the dancers are dealing with, which is quite different from Janie’s work which is more inspired by the music.”

During the selection process Canadian choreographer Janie Richards immediately caught Cooper’s attention with her very thorough application, which included an eight-page PowerPoint presentation highlighting every detail of the piece from costuming and lighting, and even a choreographic layout of the almost 20-minute work. Cooper describes Richards’ L’inverno as a very intense, intricate and high energy contemporary pointe piece set to Vivaldi’s Winter. “Her intent is to capture the crispness, brightness and hard edges of winter, but also then the melting of winter and the coming of spring. It’s a really cool piece with a lot of technically challenging material.”

Rounding out the program is Cooper’s full-length version of Harlequinade composed by Riccard Drigo and a solo Cooper created for company member Emily Dixon called Piros set to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. “I knew we were going to do Harlequinade way before I saw anyone else’s pieces. I knew if I was going to commission new work it was not going to be a traditional tutu classical ballet. Harlequinade is just really fun and cute, and it showcases some of the dancers really well.” And as for working with Dixon on Piros, Cooper says, “I just love working with Emily. She is a beautiful person inside and out and that really comes across in her dancing. She lives for these moments on stage, so I knew she would be able to hold an audience for six minutes.”

You can check out these new commissioned works by Katie Cooper, Shauna Davis and Janie Richards when Avant Chamber Ballet presents the Women’s Choreography Project May 7-8 at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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Bench Strength

Beckles Dancing Company demonstrates steady artistic growth and maturity in the company’s annual spring performance simply titled 21.

Photo: Beckles. Beckles Dancing Company

Dallas — Simple body lines. Subtle musicality. Intense emotional connections. These were the common threads that elevated Beckles Dancing Company’s spring show, 21, at the South Dallas Cultural Center last Friday evening. While there were some noticeable discrepancies among the works on the program mainly pertaining to the content and context or lack thereof in some of the pieces, it was an improvement from last year’s show which was a less consistent mix compared to this year’s more cohesive blend of professional and student-based choreography.

A few of the works that didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of concept and content, with content also pertaining to facial expressivity, were Loris Anthony Beckles’ group pieces Magical and Whispering Wolf as well as his solo Clifton-Bainbridge-Park set on long-time company member Tina Mullone. In Magical, dancers Lacy Brent, RoseMarie Sanders, Amaya Scoggins, Kaleb Smith, Angel Sparks and Taylor Townsend executed the Afro-Caribbean movements, including hip swirls, shoulder rolls and rhythmic foot stomping, with a natural ease and uniformity that comes from years of training and dancing together. And while the lively spirit of the dance was not reflected in the dancers’ expressions, which remained stoic throughout, the dancers fully embodied the steady drumming in Betty Carter’s composition with their playful gesturing (i.e. head bobs and open-close hand pulses) and deep leg lunges with swooping arms.

The dancers’ facial performances were also lagging in Beckles’ Whispering Wolf, but the dancers redeemed themselves with their competent technique, which featured rudimentary ballet steps layered with constantly changing arm movements and directional changes as well as luscious Graham torso contractions and weighted walks. One of things audiences can appreciate about Beckles’ choreography is that it never feels rushed. For him it’s about the journey, which is why when Mullone performed a series of simple plie tendues with proper epaulement in Clifton-Bainbridge-Park, viewers felt like they were seeing these well-known ballet steps for the first time. If the solo was meant to be ironic then the passive expression Mullone wore as Sam Cook crooned Nat King Cole’s I Love You For Sentimental Reasons was a clever choreographic choice.

Photo: Beckles Dancing Company

Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, Alma Alvarado, Kyndall Ash, Kaleb Smith and Jacqueline Rea (members of Espie’s After School “Character Counts” Dance Company) did a phenomenal job of capturing the anxiety and urgency in Gonzalez’s Washed in the Blood with some dynamic movement choices and intense facial expressions. And while the lack of transitions between certain tricks (i.e. cartwheels to the knee, stag leaps, backward shoulder rolls and side leg tilts) minimized their shock value, the dancers’ intensity, both physical and emotional, stayed true throughout.

The other student piece on the program, Layla Brent’sStages, featured edgy pointe work and exciting partnering skills and a well-rounded structure. Both couples (Layla Brent and Jared Smith and guest artists Erin Brothers and Kade Cummings) displayed amazing control and technical fortitude throughout the fast-paced piece. Later on Layla Brent and Smith showed great stylistic diversity when they nailed the sustained movements and luxurious body contortions in Andre R George’s Du Lahka. When I saw these two dancers perform the piece at last season’s show I was enraptured with the couple’s beautiful lines and intricate counter balance poses. This time around I knew what to expect movement wise which gave me and others more opportunity to relish in the beautiful love story driving the movement.

Another highlight of the night was Beckles’ Benchmarks. Broken into five sections, the work featured a variety of dance styles from ballet and modern to African improvisation at the end, as well as various moods that were represented through the dancer’s bodies and the different colored fabrics the dancers peeled off the ever present bench. Beckles cleverly incorporated the bench in every section of the work by having it act as a physical support and in one section a barrier for the performers. In the first section Lela Bell Wesley and Mullone used the bench to accentuate their reactions to one another such as when Wesley bent Mullone backwards over the bench. Lacy Brent used the bench as a home base during her more balletic solo, while Sanders used the bench as barrier as she slowly revealed different body parts. The African dance jam at the end was engaging and gave each company member a moment to shine.

>>This review was originally posted on www.TheaterJones.com.


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Dancing in Tongues

Fabio Liberti works with DCC on Here Is Not There. Photo: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance explores movement through text in Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti’s Here Is Not There, part of the company’s Spring Series in Fort Worth.
Fort Worth — The number of new works being produced in the area by international emerging artists continues to climb as Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti gets ready to make his U.S. debut with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) this weekend. His new work, Here Is Not There, explores the underlying meaning behind different individual’s responses to the question “how are you,” as well as our constant struggle to find balance in our lives, which the dancers depict through a variety of modern and contemporary movements and individual monologues based off past memories. “The question ‘how are you’ refers to those moments when out past and present meet and how we feel when we are trying to find balance between our past and present lives,” Liberti says. “I have always been interested in the combination of text and dance, so it was a natural choice for me to use both in this piece for DCCD. They are a talented group of dancers and it has been great experience working with them.”

The text-driven work features six dancers (DCCD Company Members David Cross, Chadi El-Khoury, Alex Karigan Farrior, Sarah Hammonds, Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Kelsey Rohr) and includes minimal music by Marguerite Monnot and Nancy Sinatra. Liberti’s Here Is Not There will premiere at DCCD’s annual Spring Series, April 29-May 1, at the Erma Lowe Hall Studio Theatre on the Texas Christian University Campus in Fort Worth. The program also includes Peugh’s prom-inspired version of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which the company premiered at Dallas City Performance Hall in March.

Since graduating the Codarts-Rotterdam Dance Academy in Italy, Liberti has performed professionally with Conny Hanssen Danst in Holland, Stadttheater Hildesheim in Germany, Stadttheater Saint Gallen in Switzerland, AIEP-Ariella Vidach in Italy and most recently with Danish Dance Theatre in Denmark. He received third place at the Copenhagen International Choreography competition in 2013 and received the Critics’ Award at the Hannover International Choreography competition in Germany. It was at the Hannover competition where Liberti meet Peugh backstage and their artistic friendship only blossomed from there.

Watching DCCD rehearse Liberti’s Here Is Not There at Southern Methodist University back in January, it was easy to see what drew these two curious minds to one another. Liberti and Peugh both have similar movement tendencies such as expansive gesturing, heavy tailbone traveling steps and the use of unlikely body parts like the stomach or elbow to connect with one another, as well as a knack for finding humor in even the most intense situations. Authenticity also plays an important role in both choreographers’ creative processes. “I am always searching for authenticity in my movement,” Liberti says. “So, I add in what I like, but I also keep in the personality of the person I am working with and what feels good to them when it comes to the choreography.” In Here Is Not There, Liberti accomplishes this feat by assigning each dancer a composition task to which he later adds more layers too himself. He also sent out a questionnaire to the dancers prior to arriving in Dallas which Liberti used as the foundation for the text in the work. The responses, which Liberti says could be answered truthfully or not, became poignant monologues reflecting on specific moments and memories from each dancer’s past and present.

While the idea of combining movement and spoken word is not uncommon in the modern dance world, this is the first time DCCD is exploring this particular avenue. When asked about the challenges of moving and talking at the same time company member Hammonds says, “It was definitely a learning experience as I am not the best at memorizing text. Kelsey and I spent a lot of time working on the text we have to say together. We had to sit down and break down which words we were going to emphasize and which ones we weren’t.” The section Hammonds is referring to is what the group calls the twin section where Hammonds and Rohr reflect on the various questions twins get asked such as do you finish each other sentences and do you even like each other in a sing song cadence while Cross and El-Khoury slink, roll and army crawl across the floor decked out in matching striped tops. “The challenge for us was to execute the phrasing without thinking about what is coming next while also keeping pace with the text, but not relying on it for movement cues,” Cross says.

>>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

>>Also check out my preview of Josh Peugh’s Rite of Spring.


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Q&A: Jonathon Young, Electric Company Theatre

The ensemble of Betroffenheit. Photo: Wendy D Photography

The director of Electric Company Theatre on working with Choreographer Crystal Pite to explore the effects of PTSD in Kidd Pivot’s Betroffenheit, presented by  TITAS at Dallas City Performance Hall.


Dallas — Audiences are in for something different when TITAS presents two of Canada’s most groundbreaking performing arts companies, Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre, in a one-of-a-kind dance theatre experience this Thursday and Friday evening at Dallas City Performance Hall. The name of the work, Betroffenheit,is a German word that describes the shock or bewilderment that often follows in the wake of a violent or distressing event. In English it is loosely translated to mean “shock” or “a loss for words.” By combining text, design, story and dance, renowned choreographer Crystal Pite and Electric Company Theatre Artistic Director Jonathon Young hope to heighten the emotional state of their audiences as it pertains to the troubling aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The 120-minute work also features strobe-like effects, non-toxic theatrical haze, adult themes and coarse language.

Crystal Pite is a Canadian choreographer best known for her keen wit, brazen movement choices and theatrical flair. A former company member of Ballet British Columbia and William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, Pite made her choreographic debut in 1990, and since then has created more than 40 works for dance companies all around the globe, including Nederlands Dans Theatre, The National Ballet of Canada and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, to name a few. Pite is associate choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theatre I and Associate Dance Artist of Canada’s National Arts Centre. She was also appointed associate artist at Sadler’s Wells in London in 2013. Since 2002 her dance troupe, Kidd Pivot, has been racking up critical acclaim both nationally and internationally with its unique blending of classical and contemporary movements, breathtaking physicality and strong theatrical sensibility.

Jonathon Young is a Canadian actor best known for his role of Nikola Tesla on the SyFy show Sanctuary. His other acting credits include The Fog, Eureka and Stargate Atlantis. He is a graduate of the Studio 58 theatre school at Langara College and is a multiple Jessie Richardson Theatre Award Winner. Young is currently the artistic director of the Vancouver-based Electric Company Theatre, which he formed alongside fellow theatre school peers Kim Collier, David Hudgins and Kevin Kerr in 1996. What started out as a creative outlet for these young actors, directors and playwrights has quickly grown into one of Canada’s leading creators of live theatre. Over the last two decades Electric Company Theatre has created 21 original productions, including BetroffenheitTear the Curtain!, No Exit, Studies in Motion, Brilliant! and the feature film The Score. The Company has toured throughout Canada, to the U.S. and the U.K., and is also the co-founder of Progress Lab 1422, a 6,000-square-foot theatre creation space in Vancouver.

TheaterJones asks Jonathon Young about the evolving performing arts scene in Vancouver, coming up with the concept for Betroffenheit and bringing all the visual and technical elements together with the help of Crystal Pite.

Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian

TheaterJones: What does Betroffenheit mean? How did you come up with the concept for the production?

Jonathon Young: I found the word in a book called “Then We Act” by American Theatre Artist Anne Bogart. Betroffenheit is a German word that describes a state of being in the wake of a traumatic event.  In English we say “shock” or “speechless” or “being at a loss for words.” In Anne Bogart’s definition of the word she said it’s “a fertile and palpable silence….where language ceases and only the limits of language can be taken in.” So, on one level the word describes a tension between speech and action, which seemed perfect for a dance/theatre hybrid. Also, because there is no equivalent word in English, because it doesn’t translate, it seemed a very good title for a show about PTSD. It’s a big, mysterious word; bewildering and foreign, and that’s one of the troubling aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder: people who suffer from it feel “outside” life, they become cut off from others, it feels foreign and it’s very hard to describe to others what’s happening. I’ve never had it though, this is all from my research.

Can Dallas audiences expect to be taken on a more sensory or emotional journey during the production?

I would hope that the show would provide both a sensory and emotional experience for audience members. It is a personal and human story with thrilling technical elements.

All art forms struggle to find a balance between artistic expression and general accessibility. Do you think you and Pite found that balance in Betroffenheit? Can you give me a couple of examples?

Audiences who have seen the show so far seem to be “getting it” if that’s what you mean. It’s communicating a very specific story and yet, because it relies heavily on the more abstract expression of pure dance, there is plenty of room for interpretation. We’ve tried to stage the bewildering experience of PTSD, which involves something called “re-experiencing” (basically flashbacks that come without warning and seem very real). We’ve attempted to disorder the narrative structure in the same way that trauma can disorder reality. All this to say that there are some passages of Betroffenheit where an audience member who is expecting a very linear experience might feel lost or confused. But I suspect much of our audience is coming prepared to see a work of contemporary dance, and thus, isn’t going to be looking for a traditional scripted narrative.

Have you worked with Crystal Pite on previous projects? What makes her and her dancers such a good fit for this production?

I have worked with Crystal twice before. Electric Company hired her to do choreography for a play and a feature film that had dance sequences. This is the first time we’ve made something from scratch together. The Kidd Pivot dancers are not only rock star contemporary dancers, they’re also really good actors. I’m in awe of them all. I’d trust them with my life.

How did you and Pite go about blending the story, text, theatrics and movement in the show? Did you have any say when it came to Pite’s choreographic choices and vice versa?

Crystal and I just started talking. I sent her some writing that depicted a kind of dramatic zone disordered by an event in the past. She asked questions, responded with images, thought about design ideas and various characters, and then asked a bunch more questions. I would go away and write some more. Sometimes dialogue, sometimes stage directions that described specific action. We wanted to create a world where language and physicality were two essential halves of one whole. I started recording dialogues I’d written very early on and Crystal started using those recordings as a kind of music for the dancers to move to.  We worked together every step of the way to find the right balance between text, design, story and dance. She collaborated on all the writing and there is even one scene written by her. The choreography is all Crystal, but we talked endlessly about the overall shape and structure, the progression of events. It was probably the most thrilling and daunting collaborations of my career. The material is quite dark, but the process was often quite joyful.

The ensemble of Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian

How would you describe the movement inBetroffenheit? Pedestrian? Modern-based? Athletic? Lyrical?

There’s contemporary dance, salsa, tap dancing, clown, soft shoe numbers, slapstick routines, puppetry… and then some straight up acting too.

What led you along with Kim Collier, David Hudgins and Kevin Kerr to form the Electric Company Theatre?

We got out of theatre school in Vancouver in the mid 90’s and had some very specific ideas about what we thought theatre could be, and I guess we felt like we weren’t seeing it being done anywhere, so we decided to do it ourselves. We were young and brimming with energy and ideas, and also the four of us had really different skill sets so together we were able to carve something out of nothing. I really learned to write from Kevin and David. Kim became a director by doing it. We just made it up as we went along. And I guess in many ways we still are.

How competitive is the performing arts scene in Vancouver today?

It’s a relatively small city, so there isn’t a whole bunch of opportunity for actors and directors and designers. A handful of companies to work for, and no real commercial scene to speak of, but there is a strong indie scene and the city still has that kind of DIY spirit that produces a really eclectic, smart, outlandish brand of theatre.

How has the performing arts scene in Vancouver evolved since starting Electric Company Theatre in 1996?

The city is constantly growing and changing. There’s many, many extraordinary artists living here working in visual arts and music and there’s a strong film and television industry. We have a thriving Shakespeare Festival, a fantastic annual performing arts Festival called PUSH that brings in shows from all over the world, and a great annual dance series called Dance House. It’s a cool place to live and produce work, but I also feel that it’s so important to leave, go elsewhere and see what other people are up to.

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

>> For more background on the evolution of dance theatre, check out Danielle Georgiou’s most recent Sixth Position column.

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Review: Cinderella, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

LakeCities Ballet Theatre wraps up another successful season with its new full-length version of Cinderella in Lewisville.


Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

Lewisville — LakeCities Ballet Theatre had much to celebrate this past weekend. Not only did the company deliver clean technique and convincing character portrayals in its first full-length production of Cinderella at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater last Saturday night, but the beautifully crafted and choreographed ballet also marked a milestone for the company with three sold out performances. The credit for such an achievement has to go to LBT Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin and her multi-talented team, including Choreographers Shannon Beacham, Shanon Tate, Deborah Weaver and Art Director Tom Rutherford.

While Lannin, Beacham, Tate and Weaver each brought their own unique flavor to the choreography they created for Cinderella (i.e. Lannin’s brain teasing allegro combinations, Beacham’s playful musicality and Weaver’s slower, more controlled movement choices), their dance segments followed a consistent thread that allowed the production to flow smoothly between various settings and characters throughout the course of story. Tom Rutherford’s incredible stage design which featured three-dimensional sets, colorful textured backdrops, dynamic mood lighting and one very large sparkly white carriage also succeeded in transporting audiences to a different time and place where mythical creatures reside and dreams really do come true. Kudos must also be given to Carla Mowery whose eye for color and detailing produced some of the most exquisite and well-blended costuming I have seen all year from a pre-professional dance company.

Photo: Nancy Loch Photography. LBT presents Cinderella.

LBT’s retelling of Cinderella contains elements from both the Disney film version and the original ballet which premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1945 with choreography by Rostislav Zakharov and music by Sergei Prokofiev. LBT’s story begins with the passing of Cinderella’s mother depicted in two live action snapshots; one where young Cinderella (Morgan Holloway) embraces her parents (Grace Croxton and Chuck Denton) and the other showing Cinderella and her father mourning over her mother’s grave. While this scene did provide audiences some background information, for those more familiar with the ballet the story really took off once we entered Cinderella’s house. Here we encountered an older Cinderella who is basically now a servant in her own home after her evil stepmother and two wicked stepsisters moved in.

LBT Senior Company Member Madeline Hanly was an obvious choice to play Cinderella, with her fair looks, supple feet and willowy frame. But she proved early on in Act I that she also possesses the technical and theatrical skills necessary to pull off a leading role in a full length ballet. It also helped that her body was more attuned to her character’s quieter nature. Hanly’s feet hardly made a sound as she executed a series of pas de chats and tour jetes in her attempt to get noticed by the ballet master who has come to prepare the girls for the royal ball. Her consistent follow-through with every movement and breathy exhales led to some very picturesque moments throughout the show.

Viewers familiar with LBT’s advanced skillset and technical fortitude might have been a bit disappointed in the lack of dancing in the first two scenes. But what the scenes lacked in complicated choreography Carley Denton and Mikaela Seale made up for with their over-the-top facial expression and clumsy antics in their roles of the wicked stepsisters. The stepsisters’ love/hate relationship was plainly showcased through the duo’s linked hands during a series of bourrées followed immediately by a pushing match. Even while shoving each other back and forth Denton and Seale still remembered their technique and kept their movements sharp and robust.

The dancing steadily increased in the third scene as Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Michelle Lawyer) introduced her to the four seasonal fairies (Kelsey Rhinehelder, Faith Jones, Julia Tiller and Chloe Davis) and their woodland friends (members of LBT 2 and Ballet Conservatory’s pre-professional and children’s ballet programs.) Lawyer’s signature punctuated footwork and expressive upper body movements made her the ideal choice for the role of fairy godmother. Among the soloists Tiller gave the strongest performance with high octane jumping passes and solid fouette turns while Davis came in a close second with her beautiful body positions and endless chaine turns. Rhinehelder and Jones’ both struggled with finding their center throughout their solos, but still pulled off solid performances. The highlight of the first half was the fairy group variation led by Lawyer. Even though it was over much too quickly the variation was rhythmically exciting and performed in perfect unison.

LBT-FairyGodmotherMichelle Lawyer

LBT Company Member Michelle Lawyer as the fairy godmother. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

The second act contained even more dance sequences, including the highly anticipated pas de deux between the prince (guest artist Ruben Gerding) and Cinderella (Hanly). Weaver challenged the dancers with a series of complex hand holds that had Gerding constantly moving Hanly in different directions while she seamlessly transitioned from one sustained body position to the next. Most notably when Hanly reached forward into a ponche arabesque as Gerding simultaneously rotated her body counter-clockwise. The couple’s various press up shoulder lifts and counterbalance poses were equally impressive.

The final scene in which the prince finds Cinderella by having each woman in her family try on the missing glass slipper lacked some of the theatrical content we saw in the first half, but still managed to tie up all the loose ends in the story. Cinderella and the prince’s reunion felt a little rushed and the fairy godmother’s blessing of the couple at the end was somewhat anticlimactic. A big finale number or another duet between Cinderella and the prince could be the solution for the next time the company performs the production. And audiences are already anticipating the company’s next showing.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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All Dolled Up


Coppelia at Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Photo: Cathy Vanover Photography

Ballet Ensemble of Texas gets ready to present George Skibine’s Coppelia at the Irving Arts Center this weekend.

Irving — Watching Ballet Ensemble of Texas (BET) as they prepared for their upcoming performance of Coppéliaat the Irving Arts Center this past weekend it was easy to see why BET is one of the most sought after pre-professional companies for young, aspiring dancers in the Metroplex. In addition to the company’s expansive dance curriculum, which includes rigorous training in classical, contemporary, modern and jazz techniques, the dancers are also being schooled in technical continuity and precision as well as artistic self-expression and character portrayal. These are the skillsets audiences have to come to expect from the company, and they were the main focus of criticism during last Saturday’s four hour Coppelia rehearsal at the Ballet Academy of Texas studio in Coppell.

“Hit your fifth,” rehearsal director Thom Clower calls out to Masumi Yoshimoto (Swanilda) during one of her many petite allegro jumping sequences in Act I. “More luxurious with the expression,” he says later as Yoshimoto executes a series of side bend stretches on pointe. “Feel the dilemma,” he shouts to Aldrin Vendt (Franz) as he tries to decipher his true feelings between his fiancée Swanilda and the mysterious girl in the window named Coppelia. Clower’s vibrant personality and positive teaching methods were well-received by the dancers as was evident through the razor sharp focus and high energy levels everyone maintained throughout rehearsal.

Photo: Cathy Vanover Photography. Coppelia at Ballet Ensemble of Texas

For those needing a refresher, Coppélia (1870) is a romantic comedy ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon with music by Leo Delibes. Most modern day productions are derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa and typically feature only two of the ballet’s three acts. Based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann entitled The Sandman, the ballet follows heroine Swanilda as she tries to win back her fiancée Franz who has fallen in love with a girl named Coppelia who is actually a  doll owned by the mysterious Doctor Coppelius. Franz gets caught sneaking into Doctor Coppelius’ workshop and Swanilda comes to his rescue by deceiving the doctor into believing that she is his doll come to life. In the final act Swanilda makes amends with the doctor and a wedding celebrates ensures for Franz and Swanilda.

BET will be performing George Skibine’s version of Coppélia, which includes all three acts. Skibine was a former director of the Paris Opera Ballet and also the founder of Dallas Ballet along with his wife Marjorie Tallchief (sister of Maria Tallchief). Clower and BET Artistic Director Allan Kinzie both danced professionally under Skibine’s direction and guidance. Coppélia isn’t the first work of Skibine’s that Clower has restaged for BET. Two seasons ago he reworked Skibine’s The Firebird on the company which was warmly received by both audiences and critics.

Clower’s strong rapport with the company makes for a very productive and positive environment for the dancers to work in. “He is just so easy to work with,” Yoshimoto says. “He is so fun and engaging and we really feed off his positive energy.” When asked about the notes she was giving during and after the first act Yoshimoto just smiles and says she doesn’t take the criticism personally. “I take the notes as new ways to help me grow as a dancer.”

I first saw Yoshimoto perform three years ago when she nailed the role of the Dew Drop Fairy in BET’s annual Nutcracker production. And while her technique and performance quality have grown over the years, the one thing that has remained the same is her ability to deliver technically consistent performances no matter what the part. In this case Yoshimoto’s unique abilities are well suited to the role of Swanilda. Her infectious stage presence and innate lyricism showed during the many gestural phrases in the first half as well as the less technical and more reactionary moments, such as when Swanilda catches Franz flirting with Coppelia and later when Franz calls off their engagement in front of the entire town.

Another dancer who has shown immense growth over the last couple of years is BET alum Aldrin Vendt. Gone are his boyish looks and leaner musculature and in their place a more toned and confidant leading man. His technique and body control has also improved, which he proved with his cleaner lines and sounder take offs and landings during his double tours and entrechats.

During a break in rehearsal I was surprised when Yoshimoto mentioned this was her first time playing a lead in a full-length ballet. She says the most challenging part of playing a lead in a full length ballet has been memorizing all of the choreography as well as building her stamina to keep up with all the dancing she is doing. When asked what she likes most about playing Swanilda Yoshimoto took a moment before replying, “I enjoy all the dancing and acting I get to do as well as all the playful pantomime my character gets to do.” Laughing a little she adds, “I see myself as a more reversed person so, it’s always fun when I get the chance to step outside myself and become someone completely different.”

Audiences will get two chances to see Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ presentation of Coppelia when it comes to the Irving Arts Center March 25-26.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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Movement Therapy

The local Dance for Parkinson’s Disease troupe prepares for its first public performance in collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art’s Jackson Pollock exhibition.


Misty Owens leads a class at the Dallas Museum of Art for the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program. Photo: Courtesy of Dance for PD.

Dallas — Dance educator Misty Owens has devoted most of her career to discovering fun and creative ways for people with mental and physical disabilities to get involved in the art of dance. Her first experience working with adults with disabilities was with Joanie Carlisle’s dance troupe, Buen Viaje, in New Mexico where Owens also earned her B.F.A in dance at the University of New Mexico.

“I was literally in the classroom with them every week learning how to work with people with cerebral palsy and Down syndrome and anything in between,” Owens says.

This experience would later come in handy when Owens started teaching at the New York-based Mark Morris Dance Group where the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) program was founded back in 2001.

“Mark Morris had just started his dance company in 2001 when Olie Westheimer, the founder of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group, approached him about classes for members of the group. The classes consisted of six people and were taught once a month by Mark Morris dancers John Heginbotham and David Leventhal. I was invited to teach a few months later when they began holding the classes on a more weekly basis and that was the beginning of this program building.”

Currently in its 15th year, the Dance for PD program offers specialized dance classes to people with Parkinson’s, their families, friends and care partners in six locations around New York City and through their network affiliates in more than 100 communities in 13 countries around the world.

Photo: Courtesy Dance for PD.

Dallas is lucky to be among one of these 100 communities thanks to Owens, who took the initiative and reached out to the Dallas Area Parkinsonism Society after moving back home in 2010. “It took a little while to get people following the program, but I started Jan. 4, 2011, with my first class and I had about nine students,” she says. “We would meet once a week at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas and over the summer we changed to twice a week because of the demand. And since August 2010, the Dallas program is the only one in the nation that consistently meets twice a week.”

Through the use of imagery and storytelling Owens is able to get her students to open their minds up to new ways of moving no matter how well their bodies are working. “The essence of dance is joy and there is nobody on the planet who dances that doesn’t experience some sort of release while doing it. For someone with a movement disorder 99.9 percent of their day is about navigating symptoms, but when they step into my class they become this entity who can be anything from a bird soaring to the swimmer Esther Williams. Using the imagination and creativity to immerse ourselves in an alternate world, which for me is the vocabulary of dance, that sort of possibility about an unknown discovery has so much potential.”

Owens has been wanting her students to perform for a while, and they get will their chance this Friday thanks to an artistic collaboration with the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) facilitated by Amanda Blake, the DMA interim director of education and head of family, access and school experiences. The performance concludes a four-month long pilot program in which members of the local Dance for PD and Movement Disorders classes were brought into the DMA for gallery discussions followed by interactive dance and movement workshops.

“Amanda Blake has been an absolute champion and the creative force behind inviting me to come to the museum and do this access program with my Dance for PD students. Together we crafted out a four-month venture for people with Parkinson’s to come into the museum and experience a completely new world.” She adds, “One of the reasons many of my students agreed to perform was because they actually felt more liberated, and safe and free to express themselves in a completely new context in the DMA.”

About 19 Dance for PD students (some standing and some seated) ranging in ages from mid 50’s to early 90’s will perform a new piece choreographed by Owens and inspired by works of art in the Jackson Pollock: Blind Spotsexhibition which runs at the DMA through March 20. “The piece is comprised of three sections of movement and each section is inspired by different parts of the Jackson Pollock exhibition.” She adds, “And before that we are presenting an excerpt from the Mark Morris piece Falling Down Stairs from The Bourree Project. The entire performance is probably about 35 minutes long, but it’s their first venture into performing and I am excited to see what happens at the final presentation.”

The Dance for PD students of Dallas will take the stage for the first time in Mark Morris’ Falling Down Stairs and an original work by Owens at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19 at the DMA.

» More information about the event can be found at www.dma.org. And more information regarding the Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program is available at www.danceforparkinsons.org.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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Higher Ground

Dallas Black Dance Theatre pushes itself to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial ballet The Parts They Left Out, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series.


Alyssa Harrington and Claude Alexander III in the Jamal Story dance The Parts They Left Out. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Dallas — Expectations were high as a small group of us gathered at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s main studio back in December to watch the company perform segments from Jamal Story’s new aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, a continuation of his duet What to Say? Notes on Echo and Narcissus, which the company performed at its Spring Celebration in May 2015. Looking around the space I had a feeling Story was going to surpass my aerial expectations when I saw three different apparatuses suspended from the ceiling versus just one last year.

Positioned upstage, stage right was a swing with a wooden seat where company member Sean J. Smith was testing his balance as he shifted from a standing to a seated position. Two long strips of red fabric were hanging unattended downstage, stage left while a familiar white hammock made of silk was situated in the center of the room. In an interview with Story the day before I learned that each aerial apparatus plays a significant role in his retelling of three well known Greek myths. “In this rendition I deal with Echo/Narcissus, Orpheus/Eurydice and Hades/Persephone, and all three of those duet relationships in a much bigger context.” He adds, “I knew there was no way I could tell all three stories with just the hammock so I added in two more. One of the new apparatuses is a swing made out of silk that will serve as a throne for Hades and the other is two strains of red silk that will serve as the pathway in and out of the underworld for Eurydice and Orpheus.”

Photo: Courtesy of Jamal Story

The preview began with a section from the underworld where Hades (Smith) remained perched on the swing while company member Kayah Franklin (Persephone) frantically tried to escape from his clutches. Smith’s movement on the swing was minimal, slight weight changes and body movements, which was in direct contrast to Franklin’s off-centered body lines and compulsive foot work. Story’s jazz and modern background showed through the dancers various body swings, back arches and pelvic tilts.

Audiences are going to be blown away when they see what Story has created with the two long red silks in Orpheus and Eurydice’s duet. As the music built two dancers manipulated the material around themselves while pulling the silks across the stage creating an incline, which Hana Delong than began to climb, strategically weaving and wrapping her body in the material as she made her way to the top where Keon K. Nickie was waiting for her. You don’t even realize Delong is prepping herself for aerial trick until she lets go of the material, unraveling to the ground in a heart-stopping death drop. It’s moments such as this one that emphasize Story’s uniqueness as an aerial artist. For him, it’s not about showcasing the build up to the tricks, it’s about creating smooth and cohesive transitions throughout the work.

“Most aerial work focuses on the ta-da moment and what I want to do, and what I did in the first duet is to eliminate the ta-da moment by creating a context for why the person does whatever he or she does. It is extremely difficult because in an ordinary apparatus circus presentation you’re just doing the tricks for the ta-da effect. I’m not interested in that here.” He continues, “So now I have to think about why she does that wrap and the drop and what does that have to do with the story we are telling. As long as I stay focused on what I am trying to do, then it works out.”

When it came time to teach certain aerial skills to the company members using the three different apparatuses Story says the challenge this time was the fact he didn’t have a lot of time to workshop the material on the actual silks. But he says this challenge was balanced out by the fact he was creating the movement on the dancers unlike the Echo and Narcissus duet that was created on him, which he later transferred to DBDT. And speaking of the duet, audiences will be excited to hear that Claude Alexander III and Alyssa Harrington will be reprising their roles as Narcissus and Echo in this continuation.

The couple has put the extra time they have been given to work on the duet to good use which was evident through their clean and confident handling of the material and more pronounced emotional connection with one another during this rehearsal. In the continuation audiences will get to see more of the couple’s backstory that eventually leads to their climatic duet. “What I am doing this time around is creating material with the other Greek characters that give Echo and Narcissus their context. What you saw last season is a duet about a stunning individual who would eventually fall in love with his own reflection thanks to a curse put on him by one of the gods. And this particular person happens to be pined after by a person who doesn’t have the ability to make her own words. What I am trying to give you in this ballet is the back story to how Echo got into this position.” He continues, “And not just that story, but also the development of these other Greek myths including Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre will present Jamal Story’s aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, at this season’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 19-21, at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee & Charles Wyly Theatre. The program also includes the world premiere of former Alvin Ailey dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance and Bridget L. Moore’s new work Unearthed.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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Q&A: Sossy Mechanics

sossy mechanics

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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