Q&A: Katie Puder of Avant Chamber Ballet

ACB Dancer Michele Gifford. Photo: Edwin Watson Photography
ACB Dancer Michele Gifford. Photo: Edwin Watson Photography

Katie Puder, artistic director of Avant Chamber Ballet, on reconnecting ballet with live music and the company’s Fall Dance Concert at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts.

In a city growing with dance troupes, it takes guts and vision to enter this competitive marketplace. Luckily, Katie Puder has both. Puder started Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) last year with the help of David Cooper, principal French horn with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Their mission is to bring dance and chamber music back together for audiences throughout the DFW area. ACB opens its sophomore season with its Fall Dance Concert Oct. 12, 2013 at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts.

The program includes the Pas De Deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s The American, Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan solo performed by Yulia IIina and Puder’s own Italian Suite. The evening ends with the world premiere of Puder’s work, Exactly Woven, set to Shostakovich’s Piano Trio. And for the first time ACB will host a guest company, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance.

Katie Puder began her ballet training with the Wichita Falls Ballet Theater before moving to Forth Worth at the age of 13. She continued her training through Fort Worth-Dallas Ballet and spent her summers at Boston Ballet or working privately with Paul Mejia and Maria Terezia Balogh. At 17 she joined the Metropolitan Classical Ballet of Fort Worth and Arlington.

As a choreographer Puder has made eight one-act ballets for ACB and has collaborated in three full-length original ballets for Plano Metropolitan Ballet. For the past six years she has been teaching Pilates all over the world as well as at Powerhouse Yoga & Pilates Studio in Colleyville, TX, where she is also studio manager. Since its inception ACB has premiered eight new works, including a piece with a commissioned score by their now resident composer, Chase Dobson.

TheaterJones asks Katie Puder about the benefits of working with live accompaniment, the challenges associated with being a young company in Dallas and what we can expect at Avant Chamber Ballet’s Fall Dance Concert.

TheaterJones: This will be your first time hosting a guest company. What made you chose Dark Circles Contemporary Ballet?

I have seen Josh Peugh’s work for the Bruce Wood Dance Project and we met earlier this year at Park Cities Dance. We kind of started our companies around the same time so it just felt natural to bounce ideas off we each other and help each other out. I really like what Josh does and I feel like it’s more of a representation of contemporary modern works that you would see in places outside of Texas. I had lived in Europe for a while and his choreography reminded me of some of the stuff I had seen abroad.

What changes did you see in the Dallas dance community after you returned home?

Well, it was sad to see that my company Metropolitan Classical Ballet had shut down. There seemed to be more, smaller contemporary companies and not as much classical ballet. And even through ACB does a lot of neo-classical, slightly contemporary ballet we are still a company made up of ballet dancers. I also noticed that live music was missing at performances. And just walking around the Arts District today I feel that the community is a lot more supportive than it was five years ago.

Did you always want to start your own company?

It came out of the desire of wanting to choreograph more and to do more choreography on professional dancers. I knew a lot of freelance dancers including dancers from Metropolitan Classical Ballet which had closed down and it just all came together very organically.

Did you know David Cooper prior to starting the company?

Yes, I did. I had met David more than two years ago when he was just starting out with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. When I returned home from Europe I was going to a lot of his performances and just got really inspired listening to so much good live music. The first thing we did together was just a piece for three dancers with David and a pianist at the Plano Dance Festival. We had a really great response to the performance so we almost immediately decided to do a June performance. That was our first show as a company.

New dance companies are constantly popping up in Dallas. What was your strategy for making it through your first year?

Well, I am really picky about the dancers I use. I really want dancers that have professional company experience. My dancers have been with companies such as Ballet Austin, Sarasota Ballet and Texas Ballet Theater. And using live music I think has brought a really different audience to our shows that you wouldn’t necessarily get at just a dance performance. To me, you get more of a complete show when you have top solo musicians and also high-level professional dancing. And I think there is always room for more great dancing in DFW, but I don’t really think we need to compete with each other as companies.

How did you put together the program for the company’s Fall Dance Concert?

ACB Dancer Kayla Giard. Photo: Edwin Watson Photography
ACB Dancer Kayla Giard. Photo: Edwin Watson Photography

I knew I really wanted Dark Circles Contemporary Dance to perform a piece. And one of our dancers, Michele Gifford, knows Christopher Wheeldon quite well and it’s kind of a dream to have something of his on our program and I hope that continues. At our last show I was listening to a bunch of music with our pianist and that is when I heard Shostakovich’s Piano Trio. I immediately loved it and had to do choreography to it. And knowing that we were hiring a cello for this performance we wanted our Russian ballerina Yulia IIina to do Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan. The company will also be performing my work Italian Suite which we did one year ago and people really seemed to enjoy it.

What challenges do you run into when hiring musicians?

The only issue for us sometimes is finding a performance date that doesn’t conflict with when the Dallas Symphony is performing.

Do you see a change in the dancers’ performance level when using live music?

Yes! Only once have we done something without a musician there and it was at last year’s Dance for the Planet. That was the first time I’ve seen my choreography with the company done without live music and it hit me how much is missing when you don’t have live music. I know for me it’s a whole different feeling when you have a musician on stage. They’re a live person playing something different every single time. So, as a dancer you have to be able to react to the music a little bit more. You can’t just go on autopilot. Live music just creates a more expressive performance and more of an interpretation of the music which is really the focus of my choreography. It’s not so much about bringing out an emotion or telling a story, but just an interpretation of the music that you are hearing. So, for the work that I do the music really is important. Without live music I think you would be missing quite a bit.

What is your three-to-five year plan for Avant Chamber Ballet?

Looking forward I would really like to continue performing more often and be able to produce more than one show at a time at the Eisemann. I want to keep the company kind of small (ACB has 15 dancers currently) and flexible and made up of really strong dancers. I’d like to explore touring locally and maybe expanding into doing a holiday show in the future. I’d also like to collaborate with more musical groups in the future. We are doing some small things with the Dallas Symphony this year including their Halloween program and kids concerts in the spring.

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

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