What Lies Beneath: Preview of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Women’s Choreography Project

ACB company member Emily Dixon Alba.  Photo: Rhilee Photography

Avant Chamber Ballet reaches new emotional depths in Kimi Nikaidoh’s latest work, The Face of Water, part of the company’s Women’s Choreography Project this weekend.

Dallas — If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching Kimi Nikaidoh’s choreography it is that she likes to take you on a journey either musically, emotionally or narratively speaking. Her first work, Find Me (2015), for Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) was a beautiful tribute to Wood’s aesthetic and evoked warm, happy feelings. Her second work, Bloom (2016), was more introspective and carried the theme of healing and recovery with more of a straight forward narrative. In Nikaidoh’s newest work, The Face of Water, she uses a range of emotions and the highs and lows within the music to drive the movement home.

“So, the piece doesn’t follow a narrative, but is more about an emotional journey,” Nikaidoh says. “In the music there are these beautiful moments that feel to me like new beginnings. I’m talking about these long, stretched out notes that felt like one thing has finished and a new thing is starting. In the music I hear a lot of activity, turmoil and what I started to frame in my head as work, and then what follows these sections are these sweeter, longer notes of hope and new beginnings.”

Watching Avant Chamber Ballet rehearse The Face of Water at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas last week I was surprised by the amount of ballet vocabulary and other classical elements Nikaidoh chose to use in the piece. But really I shouldn’t be surprised, since a ballerina was all Nikaidoh wanted to be until injuries and the advice of others lead her to audition for the Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) when she was 18. Leading up to this Nikaidoh had trained with Tanju and Patricia Tuzer, Canada’s National Ballet School, the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theater.

Nikaidoh danced with BWDC until 2004 when she moved to New York to have ankle surgery and earn a degree in neuroscience from Columbia University. During this time she also continued to perform with various groups, including Bruce Wood Dance, Thang Dao Dance Company, Columbia Ballet Collaborative and Emery LeCrone Dance. Nikaidoh also toured nationally and internationally with Complexions Contemporary Dance. After Wood’s death in 2014 Nikaidoh decided to return home and eventually took over the reins of BWD.

The Face of Water is one of two new works ACB will present as part of its Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), April 21-22, at Moody Performance Hall. The other work is Day Vignettes by former Ballet Austin dancer Michelle Thompson Ulerich with new music by composer Catherine Davis. ACB’s entire program, titled Moving Music, will also feature George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s The American Pas de Deux and Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A. Each piece will be accompanied by live music.

When asked about her decision to have Nikaidoh set a piece on the company, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says, “I’ve known Kimi since I was a teenager and I’ve always admired her as an artist both as a dancer and now as a choreographer and director. Her work is very balletic, but the center of gravity is lower like Bruce’s work so it’s a nice change from our more classical repertoire.”

Inspired by Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece TenebraeThe Face of Water is an emotional rollercoaster that forces the dancers to delve deeper into their own psyche. In between trios and quartets Nikaidoh has incorporated standard pas de deux and corps work that feature the dancers’ gorgeous lines, pliable spines and supple feet, which will be adorned in ballet slippers for this number. Like Cooper, Nikaidoh preferred to keep the corps in motion with continuous formation changes and stage entrances that challenged both the dancers’ musical timing and spatial awareness. You can see Nikaidoh’s own personal touches sprinkled throughout the piece, but especially in the dancers’ port de bra arms and the quieter moments in the music where the dancers had to rely on smaller gestures and unlikely body shapes to convey their feelings.

When asked about her experience working with the dancers Nikaidoh says, “I loved working with ACB. The dancers are smart, quick and so willing to do the work.”

She adds, “This was also a great learning experience for me because I am used to working with a certain set of dancers who in general were approaching movement from Bruce’s perspective. I noticed that even though I share a classical vocabulary with ACB there were still things about how I wanted them to get from one classical step or space to another that were very influenced by my contemporary background and my work with Bruce. So, what I recognized during the process was that those were the moments I needed to spend time on.”

Now, unlike Cooper’s balletic works, Nikaidoh’s piece doesn’t include any petite allegro jumping sections or any grande jete jumping passes. You also won’t see any fouette turns. Instead, Nikiadoh focused on the dancers’ connections both physically and visually and how these connections change and evolve with the music. “We talked about connective tissue between them and for them to all feel like there’s this complex type of spider web that’s connecting everyone’s limbs together. I mean these dancers are used to working as an ensemble and they understand the importance of clean lines and the need to stay together, but when you have someone new come in and ask them to go off balance or run low instead of high sometimes a different image can be helpful.”

This year marks the fourth annual WCP, an endeavor Cooper started when she noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies’ seasonal programs. Since its inception WCP has featured new works from almost a dozen national and international female choreographers, including Shauna Davis, Janie Richards and Elizabeth Gillapsy. As far as where WCP goes from here Cooper says, “I’d love to get to a place where WCP isn’t needed anymore. In four years I’ve seen a shift across the country with a lot of discussion of the problem and many more ballet companies commissioning female choreographers. We aren’t there yet, but we are inching toward equity.”

This preview was originally posted on theaterjones.com.

 

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