Preview: Interpretations, Dallas Black Dance Theatre

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Sean J. Smith. Photo: DBDT

Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates 40 years through video clips, audio recordings and dance in Sean J. Smith’s Interpretations, part of DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series.

Dallas — “This is just magical! I had never been in a theater before…!” As Ms. Ann Williams reflects in a pre-recorded interview about her first visit to the opera and seeing dance for the first time, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) Company Member Claude Alexander III leisurely makes his way to the center of the large rehearsal space, which occupies most of the second floor of DBDT’s home on Ann Williams Way in downtown Dallas. As Ms. Williams’ voice fades, it is replaced with the bright and powerful sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet in Birth of the Blues, which Alexander emulates through his explosive jumps, smooth leg circles and cutting arm movements.

A dance hall vibe ensues as the rest of DBDT’s main company enters and exits from different parts of the stage sometimes singularly and other times in pairs or trios while performing a lush variety of jazz, ballet and contemporary moves in the first section of DBDT’s Company Member Sean J. Smith’s newest work, Interpretations. The approximately 30-minute work tells the story of the company’s 40-year legacy using dance, video clips and audio recordings that feature DBDT alums and faculty members, including Deena Chavoya-Ellis, Darrell Cleveland, Nycole Ray, Kathleen Sanders, DeMarcus Williams and Melissa M. Young, just to name a few. The piece also features music by Smooth Jazz All Stars, Les Miserables Brass Band, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sarah Vaughan and Chris Botti.

In addition to acting as the thread tying all seven dance sections together, the audio recordings also serve as a reference point for each dance break. For example, prior to the second section Ms. Williams talks about the company’s early days and its founding members. As the audio is playing Hana Delong, Kayah Franklin, Alyssa Harrington, Jasmine White-Killins and McKinley Willis enter with a black folding chair. The dancers proceed to lean, stand and droop across the chairs, and as the ladies move circularly from chair to chair you get this feeling of time passing which is intensified when the men join in. The choreography in this section flows seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with a couple Fosse-inspired moves thrown in for some added zing, including head bobs, shoulder shimmies with elbows close to the body and walks with tilted hips.

“I use a multitude of styles, not just one,” Smith says about his movement choices for Interpretations. I have a couple sections that are jazz orientated, but also contemporary. I also incorporate some fast foot work and some adagio movement that celebrates DBDT’s diversity, which I don’t think I could’ve done by sticking to just one style.”

Smith has a diverse dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and contemporary techniques. His dance idols include Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Michael Jackson. He has trained at many well-known dance institutions such as Toronto Dance Theatre, Ballet Creole and The Ailey School before joining DBDT in 2010. Over the last six years Smith has performed featured roles in works by Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle and Jamal Story. As a choreographer he has produced 11 works for the last seven Black on Black performances and created his first full-length piece entitled Monologues for the company in 2013.

When Ms. Williams approached Smith about making a piece showcasing the evolution of DBDT for its 40th anniversary season Smith says he was honored to work on a project of this magnitude. “I am appreciative to Ms. Williams for giving me this opportunity. Anyone can go to the website and read our history, so the challenge is how do I make this material more engaging and interesting. To me we are not Dallas Black Dance Museum. We are Dallas Black Dance Theatre and so it is important to make this a special experience as you get all this wonderful information from the last 40 years.”

DBDT will also perform …And Now Marvin this weekend. Photo: Enrica Tseng

When asked about the meaning behind the title Interpretations, Smith says it speaks to the true nature of being a member of a repertory dance company. “Interpretations is an important title because that is what we do as dancers; we interpret. We have a 40-year history of diverse and challenging repertory that spans many different genres and we as dancers have the responsibility to maintain the integrity of the work. So, the idea is when you step on stage the steps are the same, but the person conveying the message will always change as every body and spirit carries with it a different set of experiences that they will convey through the choreography.”

As the piece comes to a conclusion in a rip roaring big band number featuring the men performing a series of leaps, turns and slides while holding on to canes that they periodically extend out as if passing the baton to the next generation of DBDT dancers, a female voice suddenly cuts through the noise. She says something along the lines of “This is what I have been waiting for! I am in awe of the company now!” The finale, which features the entire company dancing in unison for the first time throughout the whole work, gives us a glimpse into DBDT’s future and will hopefully leave you feeling uplifted and inspired.

The premiere of Interpretations was made possible in part by an award from the MidAmerica Arts Alliance. You can experience the work for yourself during Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 17-19, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. The program also includes an excerpt of Bruce Wood’s Smoke (2001), Asadata Dafora’s Awassa Astrige/Ostrich (1934), Darryl Sneed’s …And Now Marvin (1995), and Wood’s solo The Edge of My Life…So Far (2010) performed by DBDT: Encore! Artistic Director Nycole Ray.

In other DBDT news, next week in Austin the company will receive a Texas Medal of the Arts award in Arts Education.

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

 

 

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Preview: Alice in Wonderland, Avant Chamber Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet puts its classical technique and acting skills on trial in Alice in Wonderland at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend.

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The 2014 production of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — One by one the eight dancers place their hands on the waist of the person in front of them as they step into a wide second position. After a slight pause, the group slinks off stage as one using small, synchronized steps. If you are familiar with the characters in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which follows a girl named Alice after she tumbles through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures than you can probably tell that the eight dancers are personifying Absolem, the Hookah-smoking caterpillar.

It was clever of Artistic Director Katie Cooper to use multiple dancers to depict the caterpillar in Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) presentation of Alice in Wonderland which comes to Dallas City Performance Hall Feb. 11-12. Not only do the dancers get to show off their exemplary adagio skills, including sustained balances, graceful arm placements and fluid movement transitions, but the human-made caterpillar also gives Cooper the opportunity to play around with the dancers’ musical timing, something that Cooper is well known for along with her meticulous attention to technical details and imaginative use of space and movement patterns.

A prime example of Cooper’s artistic attributes can be found in the Flower dance, which resembles the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker both in costuming and the dancers’ fluid movement quality. But unlike most traditional ballets Cooper doesn’t like to use the corps as stage ornaments; instead she prefers to have them moving on the sides of the stage at all times. She also likes to feature the corps in in various geometric traveling patterns and opposite movement sequences that pay homage to Cooper’s Balanchine roots.

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Cooper’s balletic interpretation of the classic children’s tale sticks close to the original story with Alice chasing the White Rabbit into Wonderland where she encounters a host of eccentric beings, including Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and of course the Queen of Hearts, who sentences Alice to death after she insults the Queen during a game of croquet. Cooper puts her own spin on the story with the addition of a human-made caterpillar, dancing mushrooms, a tea party gone haywire and a Greek chorus representing jurors in the trial scene.

While Cooper says little has changed choreographically since ACB first presented Alice in Wonderland back in 2014, she points out that viewers will notice substantial changes in both the venue and cast size. “Dallas City Performance Hall is quite bigger than Bank of America Theater in the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts,” Cooper says. “This allows us to have larger casts and do a few effects and stagings the way I really wanted to do last time, but there just wasn’t enough space.” She adds, “The Company has also grown so there will be more professional dancers and children in the show this time around.”

Today, ACB has more than 15 company members from all across the U.S., including California, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Texas and Virginia as well as a few international members hailing from Russia, Ukraine and Japan. The production also feature 60 young dancers from studios across the Metroplex, including Park Cities Dance, Mejia Ballet and Legacy Dance Center.

Company members Madelaine Boyce and Yulia Ilina will reprise their lead roles as young Alice and the Queen of Hearts, which not only suit their physical appearances, Cooper says, but also their individual personalities and technical tendencies. “Physically Madelaine looks like the almost perfect Disney Alice, but I also choreographed it just for her so it is very suited for her. And I can’t picture anyone else doing the Queen as well as Yulia Ilina. She is tall and long limbed so she literally towers over Alice. But Yulia is also a great comedian and actor, which might surprise you if you’ve only seen her in tradition ballerina roles.”

I got to see Boyce in action when I sat in ACB’s rehearsal of Alice in Wonderland at Park Cities Dance in Dallas last week. (Ilina was unable to attend this rehearsal). Boyce was very quiet and focused as she stretched her limbs before practice. Even the way she adjusted her hair and tightened her ballet skirt was accomplished in a calm lyrical manner. Cooper has wisely chosen movement phrases for Boyce that complement these individual traits, including long, sustained reaches, smooth shifts in epaulement, complex foot work and thoughtful gesturing.

Like the rest of the company Boyce also exhibits an excellent ear for music, a skill Cooper put to the test in rehearsal by switching out the musical recording for one with a slightly faster tempo. Boyce barely blinked an eye before speeding up her turns and battements to match the new tempo. The score is written by Chase Dobson (now Mikayla Dobson) and features the piano and strings, and will be performed live by members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Brad Cawyer.

Working on this ballet has also given Cooper the opportunity to reflect on her own artistic growth and that of her dancers over the last three years. “When we did Alice the first time I spent almost half a year on it. I still have my big binder of all the steps I wrote out and meticulously planned. At this point, I trust my own ability and creativity more. I don’t go into each rehearsal for a new ballet with quite so much structure.” She adds, “My dancers have also grown tremendously. At a small company like ours everyone has opportunities in casting that are sometimes few and far between in large groups. That can push you as a dancer in a very good way.”

Avant Chamber Ballet presents Alice in Wonderland Feb. 11-12 at Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.

<< This preview was originally posted on Theaterjones.com.

 

 

 

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Preview: War Flower, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

Hive Minded

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group uses movement, text and original music to depict the democratic nature of honeybees in the new work War Flower at the Bath House Cultural Center.

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War Flower from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. Photo: Steven Visneau

Dallas — “Unsettling” was the first word that came to mind as I watched Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) rehearse War Flower, Georgiou’s latest theatrical dance work, which explores the inner workings of animal societies such as honeybees for insights into the human condition, at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas last Friday evening. The heavy electronic beat Donovan Jones plays in the beginning helps set the pace for performer Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso’s passion-filled monologue, which starts with the line “The bees came in the summer of two thousand and whatever.”

Dressed in a modest, floor-length cream dress with a wreath of flowers on top her head, Jasso moves purposely around the minimally adorned space (strips of artificial grass, white plastic chairs and a whole wall decorated in vines with “The Hive” spelled out in twinkling lights) as she tells the story of man’s creation using verses from the Bible. She finishes up by saying “welcome home,” which was the cue for the other 15 performers, all dressed in soft, floral-printed tops and dresses, to come in running and screaming like cavemen. The primitive movement, i.e. concaved shapes, heavy tailbones, rolling and crawling around on all fours, is right in Georgiou’s wheelhouse, along with theatrics, videography and soundscape.

War Flower from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. Photo: Steven Visneau

War Flower is Georgiou’s grandest production to date with a cast of 19, including Georgiou, sound specialist Donovan Jones, conceptual designer Justin Locklear and lighting designer Lori Honeycutt, and also features a number of moving parts, including live music, video and small machinery. When asked about the large cast Georgiou says, “I wanted a large cast for the work to help visually build the idea of a community and demonstrate the rituals acts in the piece.” As for performing in her own work, something she hasn’t done in the last couple of years, Georgiou says that was a natural decision.

“When I started working on movement for War Flower in February of 2016 for the faculty dance concert at Eastfield College, I was working with a cast of four dancers, and I slowly began to find myself in the piece with them. Then when it became time to bring in the full cast for the premiere production it just made sense to remain a part of the show. As a dancer I was intimately connected with the work and I almost couldn’t take myself away from it.”

Back to the rehearsal. After the caveman dance, Dallas actor, director and playwright Ruben Carrazana steps forward and begins explaining the finer points of being a honeybee, including the fact that they live to die, to newcomer Vinay Naik. And similar to how Virgil leads Dante through the nine circles of hell, Carrazana then leads Naik through the social and political hierarchy of honeybees while also touching on some of the most controversial human belief systems in the U.S., including Catholicism, Scientology and the Democratic Parties.

Georgiou is known for tackling controversial topics such as sexuality and gender roles in ironic and poignant ways and War Flower appears to be no different in this aspect. Her clever use of metaphors and pop culture references allow viewers to enjoy the show even when their politics don’t align. For example, the text she uses in the show includes sections from The Bible, The Federalist Papers, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense as well as lyrics from popular Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj songs. Her decision to center the piece around the lifecycle of honeybees stems from her readings of Honeybee Democracy by animal behaviorist Thomas D. Seeley. Part of the book synopsis reads, “Honeybees make decisions collectively and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building.”

Georgiou describes these tenets through a series of repetitive movement phrases that are executed singularly and collectively while someone is reciting text or performing a ritualistic action such as administering the Kool-Aid to a new cult member. There is also a scene where Carrazana asks Naik a list of yes or no questions in a rapid fire manner while Georgiou checks Naik’s body for signs of stress. This scene is eerily similar to the auditing sessions I recently saw on Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which Georgiou did confirm later was her inspiration for the section. She also told me that she got the list of questions from a personality test for Scientologists and a questionnaire that determines your political party, both of which she found online.

Most of the movement in War Flower is simplistic in nature – a lot of pedestrian walking and gesturing, pivoting body isolations and loose hips – but when performed in unison by the group easily captures the essence of the hive mind mentality. Georgiou explains, “For me, the hive mind mentality occurs when a group of people come to the same thought at the same time. Or when people act in unison without any foresight, communication or practice. It’s something instinctual and real. It’s a raw response; a decision made from the heart and gut, not the head.”

She continues, “It’s the group mind at work and that’s what really interested me. How we can make decisions in our hive without ever talking or without ever really knowing each other. It’s both terrifying and enticing. How we act in unison with our social groups, our friend groups, our families, without ever really being aware of where the initial inspiration came from.”

War Flower runs Jan 19-21 and 26-28, at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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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.

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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

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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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