Q&A: Michael “Mikel” Rosemann, Red Bull Flying Bach

The Flying Steps crew member on the hip-hop culture in Europe and blending breakdancing with classical music in Red Bull Flying Bach, which stops in Dallas this weekend.

Michael “Mikel” Rosemann. Photo: Dirki Mathesius

Dallas — What happens when classical music collides with urban culture? Well, you’re about to find out when the four-time world champion B-Boy crew, The Flying Steps, flip into town Jan. 14-16 with Red Bull Flying Bach at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas. Since its debut at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie in 2010, Red Bull Flying Bach has delighted more than 400,000 people in 31 countries around the world. This year marks the show’s first U.S. tour, which kicked off in San Francisco last May.

Created by Artistic Directors Vartan Bassil and Christoph Hagel, Red Bull Flying Bach is a one-of-a-kind innovative adaption of Johannes Sebastian Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, which breaks down the barriers between high society and urban culture using a combination of hip-hop dance styles and contemporary movement. The show features The Flying Steps, a Berlin-based B-Boy crew founded in 1993 by Bassil and Kadir “Amigo” Memis that currently houses some of the best break dancers in the world. For example, crew member Benny Kimoto was the first B-Boy to present multiple air twists in a row and holds the Headspin World Record (60 rotations). Crew member Gengis Ademoski aka Lil’ Ceng has been recognized as one of the best power move dancers in the world. And let’s not forget about Bassil whose knack for exciting stage shows and choreography is what ultimately brought the crew and Red Bull Flying Bach to fruition.

The crew also includes native Berliner Michael “Mikel” Rosemann whose breakdancing career started in 1991 with a youth center dance workshop. Rosemann has been a member of The Flying Steps since Red Bull Flying Bach hit the stage for the first time, and until 2014 he has danced in every single show. Today, Rosemann is the co-manager of the Flying Steps Academy in Berlin and also teaches local workshops during tour stops.

TheaterJones asks Rosemann about his introduction to breakdancing, learning to move to classical music in Red Bull Flying Bach and The Flying Steps role in the international hip-hop community.

The Flying Steps in Red Bull Flying Bach

TheaterJones: How were you introduced to breakdancing?

Michael “Mikel” Rosemann: It’s different for all our dancers. For example, I grew up in a big family. I was the youngest of two brothers and two sisters. All day, my brothers listened and watched MTV so, I grew up with hip-hop music. I started practicing alone in my living room and it was great. One day, a friend of mine shared information about a break dance workshop. I was burning with desire so, I learned the basics in six weeks. From the moment I came in contact with break dancing I knew this is what I wanted to do.

How did Vartan Bassil and Christoph Hagel come up with the narrative of the show?

Vartan Bassil, the founder of The Flying Steps, came up with the idea to combine classical music with break dancing. At the time, no one knew a lot about classical music. Vartan then met Conductor Christoph Hagel who had developed several crossover projects. Vartan invited Christoph to one of the shows and two weeks later he came up with the idea of combining The Flying Steps with Johannes Sebastian Bach and Red Bull Flying Bach was born.

What drew Bassil to Johannes Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier?

It was important for The Flying Steps to bring the hip-hop culture into this project. The challenge was for the music producers to translate Bach for a contemporary audience, but in the end it sounds perfect.

Can you tell me about the hip-hop styles we will see in the show?

We incorporate several different dance styles, including top rocking, footworks, power moves, popping, locking and house.

Why did the choreographers decide to incorporate contemporary dance into the show?

It was important for The Flying Steps to showcase classical dance in a new way. In contemporary dance they break the rules to find new ways to move.

What is the most challenging aspect of dancing to classical music?

The biggest challenge was to understand the music of Johannes Sebastian Bach. We weren’t use to listening to this type of music. Certain types of music fuel the power of our dance routines. However, initially we didn’t understand how to interpret this music into dance. Christoph Hagel had to explain the music note by note before we could successfully dance to it.

Are most of the dancers in The Flying Steps crew self-taught? If not, where did they learn their skills?

Yes. Almost everyone in The Flying Steps was initially self-taught. We then came in contact with other dancers and learned from each other. But in the end it is important to bring your personality into your moves and dance style. This is what makes being a B-Boy so great.

What role does The Flying Steps play in the international hip-hop dance scene?

Founded in 1993, The Flying Steps have become a force in the international dance scene. The Steps are four-time break dance world champions. We’ve taken part in numerous international shows and with the creation of Red Bull Flying Bach have revolutionized break dancing by being the first to show the artfulness of this dance style and by similarly appealing to all age groups.

What are the job opportunities for break dancers like in Europe?

In Europe, break dancing has become very popular. In 2007, The Flying Steps Academy opened in Berlin to teach the next generation of professional dancers. Today, it is the largest urban dance school in Germany with students from all over the world.

What’s next for The Flying Steps?

This is a good question. We are now conducting two large simultaneous tours. The Red Bull Flying Bach and Red Bull Flying illusion tour which premiered in Berlin in 2014. With both productions The Flying Steps have excited hundreds of thousands of live audiences worldwide. We are already working on new ideas. It’s too early to talk about them, but new shows are on the horizon.

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

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Q&A: Tapper Anthony Morigerato

The Man with the fast feet on the resurgence of tap dance in America, choreographing for So You Think You Can Dance and participating in the third annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival this weekend. 

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Anthony Morigerato. Photo: Shiloh Creek Photography

This weekend approximately 200 tappers from more than 20 states as well as Canada and Mexico will converge at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District for the third annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF). The event, which is produced by local tap instructor Malana Murphy and runs Jan. 13-16, offers attendees a slew of training, networking and performing opportunities all in one inspiring setting. Tappers will have the opportunity to participate in numerous master classes focused on technique, tap history and music theory in addition to a cutting contest, tap jam, solo showcase and the popular RIFF faculty concert, this year called TAPN2Tap, which for the first time will also feature youth groups from across the nation, including Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New Jersey and Washington D.C.

RIFF’s 2017 faculty roster is its largest to date with 20 guest artists from across the U.S. and even abroad, including Canada, Cuba and Brazil. The line-up includes Chloe Arnold (Syncopated Ladies), Anthony Morigerato (Emmy nominated choreographer, Season 12 So You Think You Can Dance), Max Pollak (originator of RumbaTap), Derick Grant (original company member of Bring In ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk) and Dianne “Lady Di” Walker (artistic advisor to the Tap Program at Jacob’s Pillow), just to name a few.

One of the returning faces this year is New York City-based Choreographer Anthony Morigerato. Morigerato trained at Marymount Manhattan College where he performed modern and ballet works by Robert Battle, Elizabeth Higgins, Jiri Kylian, Katie Langan, David Parsons and William Soleu. As a performer he has been a soloist and member of Michael Minery’s Tapaholics and is the lead tap dancer and choreographer for the musical group Matt and Anthony. Morigerato has also performed on stages all over the world and on T.V. shows, including the Tony Danza Show and NBC’s America’s Got Talent. He is also the executive director and choreographer for AM Productions.

His popularity has skyrocketed over the last two years thanks to his guest choreographer spots on So You Think You Dance, one of which earned him an Emmy nod in 2016. (Watch the video here.) He has also served as an adjudicator and master teacher for dance organizations, competitions, theater schools and dance studios throughout the nation since 1999. Today, Morigerato continues to travel the nation performing, teaching and choreographing.

TheaterJones.com connected with Anthony Morigerato last week to discuss his distinctive tap style, the changing job market, choreographing for SYTYCD and participating in RIFF.

Anthony Morigerato. Photo: Operation Tap

TheaterJones: How would you describe your tap style?

Anthony Morigerato: I don’t know that I am an objective enough source to speak about my own tap style. How I perceive what I do is probably very different from how an audience member perceives my work. What I can say is that I am super inspired by tap dancers and artists generally of all kind. As a small child I grew up watching Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, The Nicholas Brothers, Eleanor Powell, Ginger Rogers and such. As I got older I began to appreciate the hoofers and rhythm tap dancers of the subsequent generations, including The Condos Brothers, Jimmy Slyde, Baby Laurence, Sammy Davis Jr., Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. I am also a trained dancer in modern dance, ballet and jazz. So my style, if you will, is a collection of these influences, intentioned in various moments by a multitude/variety of artistic forces.

What role does your formal dance training play in your choreography?

I went to school at Marymount Manhattan College and studied composition [choreography]. Aside from formal dance training, I have also had formal compositional training. Being a tap dancer this was huge for me as a large part of our form is rooted in an improvisational tradition. As a performer I improvise. As a choreographer you are employing different skills so it was important for me to learn and develop on those skills.

What do you like students to take away from your classes?

I like for students to take away from my classes how much I love tap dance and how much I want to see them succeed in the form. I also want the students to feel challenged physically, technically, musically and spiritually in my classes. I want them leaving with at least one thing that stumped them that they have to go home and work on and possibly some advice that they will employ throughout their lives as artists.

How did you get involved with So You Think You Can Dance? How has that experience impacted your career?

I got involved with SYTYCD as a consequence of the saying, “being in the right place at the right time.” I performed as a guest in a show in LA that the producers of SYTYCD attended. It just so happened that a month later they had decided to make a concerted effort to bring tap dance to this format for the first time and they said, “hey let’s call that guy who we just saw perform last month.” A stroke of good fortune and timing.

Choreographing for SYTYCD has been a great opportunity for me to show tap dance in a mass media setting and exposing audience members to the form who would have other wise not had the opportunity maybe to see tap dance. The format is challenging and difficult to make tap read well in and I welcome the challenge and approach the opportunity with great relish.

What do you get out of participating in tap festivals such as RIFF?

I get the opportunity to work with aspiring tap dancers and shape their perceptions of the form. That in and of itself is thrilling and important work. Education and passion for a life’s work are tenants as a human being I believe in deeply. RIFF gives me the opportunity to express myself in action in both of these tenants.

You also taught at last year’s RIFF event. What do you think of the talent here in Dallas? What advice do you have for tappers looking to break into television and film? 

I think that Dallas and many areas of Texas and many areas of the country for that matter have some of the brightest prospects and serious talent our form has right now. Great teachers in this area coupled with interest from the students in the form has made for tap dance to feel truly energized. RIFF is a microcosm in this area of a phenomenon that is going on in tap dance all over the world. That is really cool!

For young dancers I would say to them work on your technique, work on your form, work on your musicality and have a point of view as an artist. If you are looking only to be famous or be on T.V. chances are you will never even receive the opportunity to do so. Focus on being an amazing artist, a humble human being who people enjoy being around and have a tremendous work ethic. If you excel in these areas the opportunities you seek will begin to present themselves. Also remember the road is not linear, it twists, detours, splits and is long. Let the road take you to unexpected places, you will find new opportunities and new people that will change your life as an artist and as a person truly for your betterment. Use every opportunity to grow and you will be a satisfied person and artist!

How has the job market for tappers in particular changed since you started out? Is there more variety?

I think that tap is making a comeback in Broadway shows, on TV and in other performance environments such as Vegas and others. However, I would say that tap dancers have to develop skills in many areas as producers, teachers, writers, film makers, etc. Creating your own opportunities and vehicles to work is a huge part of this business.

Where would you like to see the art form go in the next five years?

I don’t like attempting predicting the future, but I would like to see an environment in which tap dance has equal funding, institutional support, media coverage and opportunities that all other dance forms enjoy. My life’s work is in attempting to make this a reality for subsequent generations of tap dancers.

>> You can check out the full schedule for RIFF 2017 at http://www.rhythminfusion.com

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

 

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The Nutcracker: Collin County Ballet Theatre

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Collin County Ballet Theatre Presents The Nurcracker. Photo: Fermaint Photography

This year’s Nutcracker season concludes with Collin County Ballet Theatre’s spirited version featuring stunning guest artists and live music at the Eisemann Center.

Richardson — With more than 15 professional and pre-professional The Nutcracker productions running from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year, ballet company directors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have to continuously find new ways to up their production value if they want to stand out from the rest of the Nut pack. For some ballet companies this means tweaking choreography, storylines and stage setup while for others it means adding live music and big names from local and national dance companies to draw in the crowds, which is exactly what Collin County Ballet Theatre (CCBT) does with its Nutcracker production. While the promise of live music and notable guest performers is what initially got me to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts last Tuesday evening, it was the budding technical range and intuitive musicality displayed by the Senior Company (Brittany Chambers, Emily Dunaway, Aurelia Han, Lauren Huynh, Abigail Linnabary, Marissa Storey and Carissa Weaver) as well as Junior Company Member Alisa Ishikawa’s luminous performance as Clara that puts CCBT’s Nutcracker production in a class of its own.

For those unfamiliar with the 19th century holiday ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, here is a quick synopsis: The story begins at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party where family and friends have gathered to eat, drink, dance and exchange gifts. Herr Drosselmeyer arrives late and entertains the children with magic tricks before handing out toys to everyone, including a nutcracker doll for young Clara. After Clara falls asleep she dreams of her nutcracker doll coming to live and battling an army of mice led by the Rat King. Once the Rat King is defeated the Nutcracker Prince escorts Clara through the Land of Snow and across the Lemonade Sea to the Kingdom of the Sweets where couples from different nations are waiting to dance for her, including the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Most Nutcracker productions have the cast enter the stage during the musical introduction at the beginning, but CCBT Director’s Kirt and Linda Hathaway cleverly chose to leave the stage blank and just let the audience soak in the crisp, pervasive sounds of the Plano Symphony Orchestra (PSO) led by Hector Guzman. Nothing beats live music at a dance performance. It adds new depth and excitement to a dancer’s performance, which we clearly saw in the Merlitons and The Waltz of the Flowers variations as well as the Grand Pas de Deux with the Cuban Prima Ballerina Adiarys Almeida (Melian Izotov Dec. 22) and World Ballet Competition Gold Medalist Taras Domitro (Shea Johnson Dec. 22).

The Hathaway’s kept the movement in the party scene simple with repetitive combinations that included waltz steps, pas de chats, glissades, piques and detournes, which the adults and children cleanly executed while also changing directions and group formations. Timing was off here and there and movement appeared fuzzy at times, but the performers continued to garner strength and confidence as the scene progressed. Alisa Ishikawa (Clara) was a guiding light for the younger dancers on stage. She confidently led the children across the stage in a number of skipping and running passes. She also exuded youthful vigor and technical brilliance in her solo moments which showcased her supple pointe work and graceful arms. Additionally, Ishikawa had some endearing moments with Kirt Hathaway (Drosselmeyer) who charmed audiences with his gleeful expressions and dynamic gesturing.

Once Clara is asleep chaos ensued in the form of tiny dancers dressed up as mice. They scurried around the stage as dancers dressed in red and white solider uniforms tried to coral them with their militant arm movements and clipped marching steps. The battle scene was where CCBT’s Resident Company began to shine. Jamie Thompson (former member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre) was a ball of controlled energy with his multiple jumps and grand battements, and Lauren Gonzales (CCBT instructor and choreographer) was the most agile Rat King I have seen all season with her head whacking leg extensions and multiple fouette turns.

The momentum in the battle scene carried over into the snow scene thanks to the striking violins offset by a brass counter melody that the dancing snowflakes then paralleled with their springy yet sometimes heavy footwork and fluttery arm movements. CCBT Resident Company Member Ashton Leonard’s rigid spine kept her from filling out some of the poignant musical notes in the Snow Pas de Deux, but she countered that with beautiful control during the adagio sections and a fearless approach to the numerous lifts. Guest Artist Shea Johnson continues to work on his technical control and onstage chemistry, which was evident in his tight landings and the confident way he led Leonard through the intricate partnering skills.

The second act contained even more exuberant dance sequences, standout instrumentals by PSO and exquisite performances from individual CCBT company members and guest performers. The dim lighting at the start of the Lemonade Sea section prohibited us from seeing the pretty green hues of the Sea Maidens and Sea Sprites costuming as well as most of Carissa Weaver’s Sea Queen choreography, but the lights did brighten up as we were welcomed into the Kingdom of the Sweets by a dozen cute cherubs.

The variations in the second half were hit or miss. While Brittany Chambers, Marissa Storey and Adrian Aguirre (CCBT Resident Company) had the tendency to rush at times, the trio did handle the playful shifts from staccato to sequential movement in the Spanish dance with polished ease. A stumble earlier in the act threw Emily Dunaway off her game in the Arabian duo, but kudos to her for maintaining the slow, hypnotic feel of the music with her unhurried back arches and leg extensions aided by Michael Stone (CCBT Resident Company). Katelyn Benhardt and Sophie Ludwig were not always in unison during the Chinese variation, but they attacked the nuances in the fast-paced number with exacting pointe work and endless energy.

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Photo: Fermaint Photography

Aurelia Han, Lauren Huynh and Abigail Linnabary did not miss a beat or, in this case, a ballonne (a step in which the dancer springs into the air extending one leg to the front, side or back) in the Merlitons variation, while Reid Frye (CCBT Resident Company) wowed viewers with his acrobatic skills as the Trepak. Linnabary, Huynh and Weaver also embodied the ethereal qualities of the lead fairies in the Waltz of the Flowers with their flickering foot work, graceful arm positions and subtle musicality.

The highlight of the evening was the Grand Pas de Deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy (Adiarys Almeida) and her Cavalier (Taras Domitro). Almedia was the epitome of a prima ballerina with her technical fortitude, amazing body control and musical maturity. It appeared as if her body was the source of the music as she twirled, leaped and fluttered across the stage. Domitro also entranced the audience with his tender handling of Almedia during the various dips and balances in the partnering sections as well as his explosive leaps and quadruple pirouettes.

<< This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Q&A: Randi “Rascal” Fleckenstine

The B-Girl on joining The Beat Freaks and performing the role of The Mouse King in The Hip Hop Nutcracker this Friday at the Eisemann Center.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker comes to the Eisemann Center. Photo: United Palace of Cultural Arts

Richardson — A Mouse King that spins on his head! A female Drosselmeyer! And a DJ playing Tchaikovsky with added scratches and hip hop beats! This is not your traditional Nutcracker production and I, for one, am excited to see how choreographer Jennifer Weber and her crew of poppers, lockers and breakers have taken this classic 19th century ballet and flipped it on its head to fit today’s culture in The Hip Hop Nutcracker, which comes to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts this Friday night as part of a 23-city tour.

The all-star cast includes Ann Sylvia Clark (performed with Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams), Josue Figueroa (Step Up film franchise), Liliana Frias (So You Think You Can Dance season 12), Illjaz Jusufi (worked with Nicki Minaj and David Guetta) and Beat Freak crew member and The Hip Hop Nutcracker’s assistant choreographer Randi “Rascal” Fleckenstine, just to name a few.

Fleckenstine was a sophomore at the University of Colorado when she discovered her passion for hip-hop and more specifically breakdancing. She would watch a crew train at night at the college rec center and it wasn’t long before she would become a member of Streetstylez. Over the years she has broadened her hip-hop vocabulary to also include funk styles and choreo hip-hop. She has toured Japan as a cast member of The Battle 2015, performed at music festivals such as Rock N’ Rio and Coachella and has danced with numerous artists. In May 2015 she was asked to join the powerful female crew The Beat Freaks. She is also the co-creator of The Dance Fight, a dance event based in L.A.

TheaterJones chatted with Fleckenstine about choreographing to classical music, the various hip-hop styles we will see in the show and what it’s like being a member of The Beat Freaks.

Photo: United Palace of Cultural Arts

TheaterJones: How did you get involved with The Hip Hop Nutcracker?

Randi “Rascal” Fleckenstine: I actually auditioned maybe six months ago for a different job with the choreographer Jennifer Weber at the Music Center in Los Angeles. We did The Firebird, which is another classical ballet, but we did another twist on it where six of us were in a foundation doing all sorts of hip-hop styles like breaking, popping and locking. I met Jen through that job and then she held auditions again in L.A. to recast The Hip Hop Nutcracker this year and she asked a couple of us to audition, and after the audition she asked me assist the actual choreographing of the show.

Have you ever choreographed to music from a classical ballet before this?

This is my first time choreographing anything to classical music, but it has been a really great challenge for me. The music doesn’t feel different than hip-hop, but the counts are different and the way the music is laid out is different so, it’s a lot harder to catch everything. And in hip-hop we are used to very consistent beats in the background and classical music just doesn’t have that. It goes all over the place. It was challenge, but also a lot of fun, and some new movement came out of it which was inspired by a mix of hip-hop and classical music.

What was the choreographic process like for you and Jen?

Jen and I met a week prior to rehearsals to get some things prepped and make some choreography that we would then teach the dancers, including certain duets and certain group choreography. But then other duets we waited till we got into the building with the other dancers so we could workshop it. And, almost anytime you see someone dancing singularly it’s freestyle and that is one hundred percent them. So, the cast really makes the show and everyone has a hand in building their characters and what their mini storyline is within the bigger storyline.

Are we going to see some familiar characters from the classical Nutcracker in the hip-hop version?

Oh Yeah! There’s Maria-Clara, The Nutcracker Prince, the soldiers and the mice scene where I play the Mouse King and Drosselmeyer who actually plays a huge role in our Nutcracker. So, rather than just being in the beginning our Drosselmeyer is kind of the narrator throughout the whole play. Then we also add some twists such as Maria-Clara’s Mom and Dad, who participate throughout the show.

What styles of hip-hop will we see in the show?

Sure! I am a B-Girl which is a breakdancer. That’s the style I focus on and that is everything you see down on the floor and power moves where we’re spinning on our backs or heads or our hands. That is my main style, but you will also see a lot of popping and locking in the show. Popping is the hits like the robot or waving and locking is a really funky like happy dance with a lot of finger points and claps. You will also see some club styles like house, which includes whacking and voguing. There’s all these different elements in the show but breaking and popping are probably the two most prevalent in the show.

There will also be a DJ on stage with you during the entire show. How does he impact your performance?

That’s really fun for us. With hip-hop music, we are used to either live music or a DJ that’s mixing and watching the crowd and getting the vibe and playing what you’re going to get excited about. He is playing the classical music but you can hear him scratch, which is when he scratches the record, or mix or there are a couple of times he adds an actual hip-hop beat into some of the classical music and we get to play with that. We also have a live violinist on stage and watching him and the DJ interact is really fun as well.

How is it working with such a diverse group of dancers?

I think the beautiful thing about our cast is that we all have different backgrounds, we speak different languages, grew up in different areas and countries and do different styles of dance and yet we mesh really well together. I mean, some people did start with classical and grew up in a dance studio and others started at a recreation center or in a friend’s garage, but we all respect each other and the artists that we are and we have gotten along great. It’s really a mini-family!

The Hip Hop Nutcracker comes to the Eisemann Center on Friday. Photo: United Palace of Cultural Arts

Have you seen a change in the number of females in the realm of hip-hop since you started out a few years ago?

I think in the industry there is a good mix of men and women, but in hip-hop that can get a little different and then in breaking there’s far more men than women. I think shows like America’s Best Dance Crew, So You Think You Can Dance and Jennifer Lopez’s new World of Dance that come out and highlight strong females are hopefully reaching out to a bigger audience and inspiring some of the younger girls to join in. It can get a little intimidating when you get to a practice, battle or jam and it’s all men. So, I have seen a shift in maybe not the generation just below me, but the one below that as the different hip-hop styles are being taught at studios more often, thus making it more accessible to people. This show in particular, a lot of the leads are strong females and hopefully that will inspire some of the younger girls to really jump in and not feel intimidated.

You joined the all-female dance crew The Beat Freaks in 2015. Is it empowering performing with a crew with such a strong following?

That has honestly been one of the highlights of my dance life. Before I even moved to L.A. I loved them and told my friends that I wanted to be a Beat Freak. So, when I got out there I first met Bonita Lovett at a battle and she took me to just start training and hanging out with the crew. They haven’t added anyone to their crew in five years, and they have only added three others since the formation of the crew. Knowing this fact, in the beginning I was just happy to be around them so, when they asked me to join them I was both surprised and excited.

How does the crew come up with its choreography?

When you are in a room with 10 women with a lot of dance background and a lot of creative opinions, the choreographic process is going to be a huge collaborative effort and it does take a while because you are trying many different things and hearing out everyone’s thoughts. With that said the level of respect for everyone is very high and everyone’s knowledge of dance is so high that you’re never going to get a bad opinion. It’s more like weeding through all the good ones and seeing what you can fit in a three-minute piece. The process is a lot of fun and even though it is more time consuming I feel like we end up with a product that is bigger and better than any one of us could have made.

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

<< And also check out Mark Lowry’s feature and interview with choreographer Jennifer Weber in the Star-Telegram 

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Preview: Bruce Wood Dance Project SIX performance

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Kimi Nikaidoh andShane Pennington. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

 

Bruce Wood Dance Project demonstrates the healing power of dance in Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh’s new work Bloom, part of the company’s SIX performance this weekend.

Dallas – Bruce Wood was known for making dances that touched viewers in very real ways. He created dances about human nature, the good the bad and the ugly. So, it comes as no surprise that long-time Bruce Wood dancer Kimi Nikaidoh would draw from her own personal experiences to aid in the creation of her new work Bloom, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s SIX performance Nov. 11-12 at Dallas City Performance Hall.

The work, which focuses on the healing and reclaiming of hope through recovery in a number of poignant solos, duets and trios, was inspired by the emotional rollercoaster Nikaidoh experienced during the lowest points in her life – in particular the passing of her brother and her broken engagement. “This piece is about broken people and the people who are willing to use their own emotional resources to help them heal,” Nikaidoh says. “For me, it wasn’t the people who told me everything would be ok that really helped, but those people who came in and just did life with me every single day. I chose the title Bloom because that word symbolizes what is possible after the healing is done.”

Nikaidoh explains that the work takes place in a room and the individuals coming in are there to help heal those already in the space from whatever tragic event has lead them there. With that said the piece not only challenges the dancers technically, but emotionally as well. Instead of the stoic expressions commonly associated with modern dance the eight dancers in the piece express a number of conflicting emotions, including anger, frustration, sadness, acceptance and hope, which when combined with Nikaidoh’s lovely musical phrasing and unexpected movement choices, tells a story everyone can relate too.

To help bring her vision to fruition, Nikaidoh enlisted the talents of Dallas-based visual artist and AURORA co-founder Shane Pennington. Pennington was a recipient of the New Dallas Nine award from D Magazine and has exhibited internationally at the Paddington Contemporary Gallery in Sydney, Australia and at Sur la Montagne in Berlin.

Not wanting to give too much away, Nikaidoh says Pennington’s contributions have included a stage design and film that present the illusion the dancers and audience are in an actual room. She does share with me one of her favorite projections which is a floor to ceiling window that overlooks a city scene. “We really wanted to make you feel like you’re looking out this window from inside the room.”

When asked what the hardest part of this process has been, Nikaidoh paused for beat before saying it has been figuring out when to rely on the dancers’ strengths and when to test them movement wise. “Bruce was good at knowing when to use our strengths and when to push us. In the past I have changed movement that felt unnatural to the dancers, but in this piece I kept some of the unnatural movements anyways because I want the dancers to always be growing.” One example of this unnatural movement occurs after the dancers perform a series of winding body movements in one direction and then have to reverse the entire phrase without losing their momentum.

 

The choreography is mostly comprised of non-stop spiraling floor work and traveling movement, staccato arm gestures, collapsed body positions and naturally evolving partnering skills. When I commented that the dancers make the complicated partnering sections of this piece look effortless Nikaidoh says, “That’s because the partnering in this piece was very much a collaborative effort between me and the dancers. I would ask the dancers where they wanted to go next with the movement, which is something Bruce would always ask us in rehearsal.” This explains why the partnering sections come across as one continuous line of thought instead of a bunch of static shapes and choppy transitions. One example is when Emily Perry crawls through the legs of Albert Drake who proceeds to grab her ankles as he executes a forward roll landing on his back, which sets him up to catch Perry as she falls backwards. Another example is when Brock James Henderson spins Joy Atkins Bollinger around in small circles as she opens herself up into a starfish shape with her feet just skimming the floor.

You can see Bloom along with Bruce Wood’s classic No Sea To Sail In and Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s new work Klezmer Rodeo at the company’s SIX performance at the Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend.

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

 

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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.

TBT-WithoutBorders

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

ACB-Womens

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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