Category Archives: People and Places

Q&A: Emily Molnar, AD of Ballet British Columbia

The artistic director of Ballet British Columbia on starting conversations through dance and performing in Dallas as part of TITAS/Dance Unbound this weekend.

Emily Molnar working with members of Ballet British Columbia. Photo: Michael Slobodian
Dallas — TITAS/Dance Unbound’s 2019-20 season continues with the innovative, intelligent and dynamic Ballet British Columbia (BC), Nov. 8-9, at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Moody Performance Hall. This is Ballet BC’s second time appearing in Dallas, the first occurring in June 2017, and the program looks to be just as bold, beautiful and strange as the last with the Company performing in Aszure Barton’s BUSK (2009) and Johan Inger’s B.R.I.S.A. (2014).

Ballet BC is an internationally acclaimed collaborative and creation-based contemporary ballet company that is a leader and resource in the creation, production and education of contemporary dance in Canada. The Company’s continuing success can be attributed to Artistic Director Emily Molnar who, since her start in 2009, has developed a repertoire of more than 45 news works by acclaimed Canadian and international choreographers, including William Forsythe, Cayetano Soto, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, Medhi Walerski, Ohad Naharin, Crystal Pite and Johan Inger, among many others.

Molnar’s illustrious dance career includes being a member of the National Ballet of Canada, a soloist with the Ballet Frankfurt under director Forsythe and a principal dancer with Ballet BC. Molnar is also a critically acclaimed choreographer and has created works for Alberta Ballet, Ballet Mannheim, Ballet Augsburg, Cedar Lake Dance, ProArteDanza, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company and New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute.

Her numerous artistic accolades include being named The Globe and Mail’s 2013 Dance Artist of the Year, the 2016 recipient of the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award, BC Community Achievement Award and the YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Art Culture & Design. It was also recently announced that Molnar will be leaving Ballet BC to become the new dance director of Netherlands Dance Theater.

We ask Molnar about the journey Dallas audiences will take, the dancers’ daringness on stage and how she feels about the next phase of her career with Netherlands Dance Theater.

TheaterJones: When putting together a program like the one you will be presenting in Dallas what factors do you consider?

Emily Molnar: There are so many different people and levels of conversation that I keep looking at whenever I am trying to put anything together. One of the first things is that there is a choreographer that really has something to say. That is really investing in where dance is today. And I know they are going to bring that into the studio first, and work with our dancers on that conversation to help develop an artist, develop a performer and develop a comment through dance on society.

And then I look at the other side of it, which is when I put anything together what is the experience that our audience is going to go through. What can we offer them as a journey? What can we offer them as a reminder of our humanity or a conversation? But, of course, it’s not up to us to decide that because as you know the performing art is about a conversation. We all can enjoy dancing in and moving in our kitchen. That’s a beautiful thing and it’s very much about being alive. But once you ask someone to be on the other side of that and be in the theater with you then the responsibility you have as a dancer and a choreographer is to really say something with that. To really speak to the people and share ideas through dance with someone. And so I’m always looking at how the whole evening will create something that may raise questions or move an audience to a different observation.

The other gorgeous thing about dance is of all the art forms we are the least documented. The minute that show is over it is a residual. It’s something that echoes in each of us and that’s what’s left. And so that is also a very beautiful thing. A very unique thing about dance. So when I try to put an evening together I’m very aware of diversity. Of variations on ideas that will as a whole create an experience for our audience and create an experience for the artists within the work. And, one that will also help move a choreographer’s artistic vision forward as well.

Photo: Michael Slobodian
Ballet BC Dancer Kirsten Wicklund

For those coming to see Ballet BC for the first time how would you describe your dancers to them?

I can speak from the point of view of what I look for when I am hiring someone, which I do think is what the audience feels at the end of the day, and the responses I get from them. I hear things like generosity and daringness. They can absolutely see the training because we have a classical root that is evident in the type of virtuosity of the body and of the daringness within the way the dancers approach the work.

When we went to Europe last year, I kept hearing audience members say ‘You know, I see a lot of really great dancers, but what we don’t always see is a collective of people that are so clearly on the same path. That are so clearly with the same intention.’ And I think that is really the first thing people feel with our dancers is that they collectively are on the same page. That they are together with a clear intention and then each of them can rise to their own occasions as individuals within that.

I also think people appreciate the virtuosity. That we have a group of dancers who can walk through many different styles of work fluently, and that is very much the hallmark of what the company is about. That we can essentially, as much as possible, be a company that would be every choreographers’ company. That we could go deeply into each person’s process with this type of openness and a toolbox that’s wide enough that we can jump to a different style. And with each year we get stronger in that. Of course, it’s always a big learning curve, but I do think we have very opened and curious artists inside the company. Also, energetically the dancers break down that fourth wall. We really focus on the idea of who’s sitting on the other side is as important as those people that are on stage.

How would you describe Ballet BC’s dance aesthetic?

As far as stylistically what they will see, whether it’s ballet or contemporary, I will say that it’s all of it. It’s a woven tapestry of the very first of the training of that classical dancer, which is the person that’s in the company, but with a lot of training and contemporary aspects of dance. So, what you are going to see stylistically is really the appetite of contemporary ballet today or contemporary dance I would say.

There are so many different ways to go around it, but at the end of the day what you’re seeing more than ever is that the body is an enormous vehicle for expression and we have choreographers today who are able to tap into that. And we have dancers who can tap into that more than ever because every year in schools and companies and choreographic processes around the world we are getting wiser and more sophisticated each time we make a work. You can see that there has been an evolution from what we were able to do 30 years ago, and I think that’s very exciting and what I do like about what we are offering audiences is that we are still making the body the most important expression out on the stage.

At what point in your career did you begin exploring the business side of running a dance company?

It kind of came into my life as early as probably when I was still training in the National Ballet School. I started asking a lot of questions, and I’d often think I was the most challenged dancer in the room because I was fascinated with the creative process and making new work and all of the things that are involved in collaborating with a choreographer. So from the age of 12 I was hypnotized by working with choreographers, but at the same time when I started dancing in companies what I also started looking at was how are we coming together as a company? How are we coaching dancers? How are people being cast? How are we talking to audiences? How are we curating evenings? And I didn’t realize what I was doing, but I started to become very curious about the mechanics of a company. The mechanics of developing a dancer and developing work and I kept thinking ‘Hmm why do I find those as interesting as myself dancing’ and I used to use those questions to help me better myself as a dancer.

By the age of 26 I started to realize I needed other things to come into my life so I could still mature as a performer. I started teaching creative process classes at that point. I also started running a company for youth, and then I started to want to bite off different responsibilities. I just wanted more information, and I wanted to take on more responsibilities. And I went freelance at one point where I was writing all my grants and putting projects together and developing myself as a freelance choreographer. And that’s when all of the management side per say came in and I realized it was starting to complement those other questions I had about the mechanics of running things. That’s when I realized that I have always wanted to direct from a very young age, but I needed certain pieces of the puzzle to come together through my own various experiences in order to help me do the job I am doing right now.

Were there many females in leadership roles in other dance companies when you started working with Ballet BC a decade ago?

I’ll speak specifically to Canada because our ballet companies were founded, most all of them I think, by women — ironically, [they were] not run by women all of the time. We are a female-dominated profession so you would think if anywhere in any profession you would be seeing more female leaders it would be in dance. That was definitely something I was aware of when I started, but I am a person in the way I live my life where again I tend to not put boxes around anything. I am eager for the day where we don’t have to identify ourselves as male or female or anything. Where we can literally be a unique version of ourselves and so I look forward to fewer labels and not more.

So, I never really saw myself as a female or a female trying to be a leader. I just thought I have an idea. I want to try to do this. I do know that the roadblocks getting there were different for me not just because I was a female, but I also didn’t walk out of a ballet company as a principal dancer. So, there are certain politics around directing and I knew I was asking very important questions and I didn’t have the solutions, but the fact that I was even asking them I would hope would make me a positive young leader. But whether I’d ever get an opportunity to exercise those I was absolutely very aware that may never happen. Unless I was willing to start my own company from scratch, which I questioned for many years, because if what I want to build already exists then it shouldn’t be built. There needs to be a need for what I would be building and I didn’t want a company that was just about my own work. I wanted a company that was about many peoples work. And so I felt already that Ballet BC existed and I felt there were other companies that existed in that manner. So it wasn’t about me making a company. It would have to be about me coming into a company that needed a new director.

What can we do to help nurture female leaders in dance going forward?

I think this issue is more prevalent in the ballet world than the contemporary dance world. We have a lot female choreographers and female directors at their own companies in the contemporary dance world. But in the ballet world I would agree there’s an enormous intelligence in the female voice that is, thank goodness, now being more observed. But I also think it starts much earlier if you ask my opinion, which is how are we as leaders using our platform to really make this an initiative. I don’t think it’s a lack of talent. We need to start at a very young age at addressing people’s questions. So, when you see a young person whether they’re male or female if they have a desire we need to start to give them opportunities much earlier on. And allow them to build confidence so that when they do develop in their careers that they feel like they can try.

Congrats on your new role as dance director of Netherlands Dance Theater. What prompted this move?

I am definitely in the early stages of this transition and so what I can say is it’s a great time for a new director to come in to Ballet BC. We’re healthy and things are much different than they were 10 year ago so I feel very excited for the company. There’s also a lot of directors that have an interest in the company, so I think it is also a beautiful opportunity for a new leader to come in. I wasn’t searching this out to be completely honest. I did know that if I was going to do my job well as a leader I need to look at just not what I do within an organization, but also how I leave an organization. So, I was aware that in the next few years it would probably be a positive choice for me to move on so that someone else can come in and refresh the button, and just bring me a new point of view within the organization and also for our audiences.

My decision has nothing to do with not wanting to stay at Ballet BC. This opportunity with Netherlands Dance Theater was just something I couldn’t turn down. It is also an opportunity for me to take a new step and I am excited about that. It is a gorgeous company and it still falls in line with a lot of the things that I’ve been working on and I am excited to see what I can bring to that beautiful legacy of the company and also to their future potential. And I am also excited to see what’s going to happen Ballet BC.

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

 

Preview: Not Your Average Masquerade presented by ImPULSE Dance Project

Circus Act

ImPULSE Dance Project takes us to the circus in Not Your Average Masquerade at the Medical City Lewisville Grand Theater this weekend.

Photo: Impulse Dance Project
Impulse Dance Project rehearses for Not Your Average Masquerade
Lewisville — Over the last eight years ImPULSE Dance Project has built quite a following in Dallas by providing audiences with dance experiences that are original, reflective and highly-entertaining that also celebrate the art of modern dance. Case in point ImPULSE’s annual Snow performance, My Beating Heart (2016) and True Colors (2013). Continuing on this path ImPULSE has put together an immersive dance production for its eighth season opener, Not Your Average Masquerade, which takes place Nov. 2-3 in the recital hall at the Medical City Lewisville (MCL) Grand Theater.

This dance experience takes the audience on a journey through a strange circus, but there is more than what meets the eye in this elusive spectacle, according to the company’s press release. “The performers go on a journey as well; a journey of self-discovery and revealing their true identity,” says ImPULSE Artistic Director Anastasia Waters. “This production aims to create a unique dance experience for the viewer, releasing them from limitations of one seat and freeing them to move about and view the dance from a variety of perspectives.”

Not Your Average Masquerade is an evening-length work that Waters created in collaboration with ImPULSE company member Miranda Spence. Waters tells me that the show began as a mission to explore how to bring their audience into the dance. “I have always been interested in finding ways to connect with the audience not only through relatable concepts, but truly bringing the audience into the world I am trying to create.”

Waters continues, “This is why I love intimate dance spaces. Usually in a dance performance the audience is on the outside looking in at the world the dancers are in, almost as if the dancers are in a snow globe. In this show I wanted to bring the audience into our world.”

This world that Waters and Spence have created is representative of the performers and animals you would typically see at the circus. Waters says that she has always loved going to the circus, but always felt a little sad for the animals and saw the circus performers as people looking to find themselves. “This is such a relatable theme for almost everyone,” Waters says. “We hear phrases like ‘I’m running away to the circus’ a lot in life when we are struggling with our life circumstances.”

She adds, “And even though it was amazing what the horses, elephants and lions were doing, I always wondered if they really wanted to be doing it. That again leads back to questions of identity. Is this who I want to be? Is this who I am? Who do I want to be? How do I become who I want to be? So, in this show there is a sense of discomfort within the mysticism, and an underlying theme of searching for identity.”

The location of this site-specific production is the recital hall at the MCL Grand Theater, which Waters says is a beautiful space usually meant for parties and banquets. She is particularly fond of its high ceilings, lights, mirrors and large windows. “In this show I wanted to see how I could use all of the beautiful attributes of the space to tell the story within the show. So, we make use of every nook and cranny of this space. All of this has truly opened up the possibility for exciting spontaneous moments throughout the performance.”

Waters also notes that while there are some designated areas for the performers to dance, most of the show happens in, around and through the audience. She adds that there are also moments where the audience will be guided to move to certain areas of the space throughout the dance.

Looking over the entire process Waters says the most challenging aspect for her has been trying to predict where the audience will be in the very unpredictable immersive experience. “This is what makes the show exciting, but also its greatest challenge. Not only will our audience need to be very responsive to the dance, but our dancers will have to be very adaptable to where the audience is choosing to be.”

As to what she hopes the audience will take away from this dance experience, Waters says, “My goal is to connect with our audience at a whole new level. I want our audience to leave excited for the possibilities of what dance can be and do. I want to give our audience a truly unique experience.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: DBDT 2019 Director’s Choice Series

Fire Within

Dallas Black Dance Theatre digs deep to find their fire in Nijawwon Matthews’s new work, From Within, part of the company’s Director’s Choice this weekend.

Photo: Courtesy DBDT
Nijawwon Matthews

 

Dallas — Edgy, exhilarating and athletic are some of the words that come to mind while watching a video teaser for Nijawwon Matthews’ new work, From Within, on Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Facebook page. In the video clip the dancers execute a series of pendulum floor swings in sequence before suddenly shifting direction and then changing direction again. I couldn’t help but marvel at the dancers’ strength and stamina as well as that special communal bond that is always present when this group dances together.

In talking with Matthews about this moment I learned that the pendulum swings are meant to symbolize a grandfather clock to remind us of how we are always fighting against time. And if you look closer you will also noticed that Matthews has set up the movement so that the dancers’ rhythm goes against the music instead of with the music.

When asked about this choice, Matthews says, “I did not want them to count because when we get into dance and do counts we start thinking and moving in such a mechanical way. I’m more into artistic freedom and artistic expression, and the artistic exploration of timing without being timed.”

He continues, “I just had them go and then I would say ‘ok the rhythm is going to go here, and Xavier you will start by doing four and you’ll add in on the next four’ and so every four someone will add in.”

Growing up Matthews trained in many dance forms, including ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, African, partnering methods and social dances. His performance credits include Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Cecilia Marta Dance Company, Philadanco! and Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company. He has also worked with prominent artists such as Donald McKayle, Christopher L. Huggins, Milton Myers, Otis Sallid, Kevin Iega Jeff, Gary Abbott and George Faison.

As a dance instructor and choreographer, Matthews has traveled nationally and internationally to instruct master classes and choreograph for a host of academic schools, dance studios and professional companies as well as institutions in the British Virgin Islands, Germany, South Africa, China, Bermuda, Curacao, Peru, Helsinki, Italy and Taiwan.

Matthews is also the founder and artistic director of his own project-based company, XY Dance Project. He is also on staff at The Joffrey Ballet School and Broadway Dance Center in New York where he has been living for the last ten years.

Even through their paths have crossed a few times at the International Association of Blacks in Dance annual conference, Matthews says that this was his first time really getting to know DBDT. “I saw the dancers perform last year at Alvin Ailey and they just blew me away. They are probably one of the top companies that is giving you pure art, dance and technique. No one’s lazy, and everyone is passionate.”

He adds, “You see the soul of who they are on that stage and it made me want to jump on stage with them and it made me want to create on them.”

Fast forward a year and Matthews’s wish came true when he was invited to come create a work on DBDT for its Director’s Choice performance Nov. 1-3 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Matthews’s From Within will be performed alongside Stephen Mills’s Bounce and Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance.

Reflecting on his time working with DBDT, Matthews says, “It was so much fun! Everybody was working hard. I was inspired and I hope I inspired them. I am just so thankful and blessed to be given this opportunity.”

Matthews notes that he wouldn’t have had this chance if it wasn’t for the recommendations by Melanie Person and Christopher L. Huggins of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Huggins in particular has had a profound impact on Matthews’s life both personally and professionally.

“Christopher has been a huge part of my life since I was 19 years old. And I am just thankful for him and everything that he has contributed to my life and my love of dance. He has always had my back and he doesn’t just say it. He puts it to action. And the fact he is willing to do that shows me that not only is he a master as an artist and a choreographer, but he is also the master of his own humanity.”

Matthews says what also made his experience with DBDT enjoyable was Artistic Director Melissa M. Young’s warm and endearing personality. “She is such a down to earth, open and loving artistic director. She’s just so humble. So cool. And she get the work done.”

Matthews says the concept for his piece, which includes excerpts of Maya Angelou’s narration of “Still I Rise,” was born out of a dark place and is about being able to find the fire within to keep fighting against life’s constant hurtles.

“For me, it’s an experience of how do you leave the trauma and the drama that had happened to you behind and how do you allow that to not dictate the path of your life. And so fighting and striving toward the better good of what you want for your life and how do you fight the negativity to always stay on that positive lane.”

He adds, “It’s a fight for one’s soul. It’s a fight to ensure that you find the power and the fight from within to be the person that really showcases your best self no matter what situation you’re put in or you’re going through.”

And what better individual to draw inspiration from to broadcast this message than Maya Angelou, Matthews tells me. Matthews also notes that while this work is inspired by Angelou, it is not about the life of this prolific figure.

“The fact that she did not speak for such a long time says a lot about this person who then became such a brilliant writer, motivational speaker, director and dancer, and such greatness even after all the trauma she’s been through. We have all been through this kind of similar experience and we all handle it differently.”

He continues, “So my hope for this work is that it serves the emotional spirit of the soul. It’s really to serve that and to see with curiosity what comes out when you watch the piece. What do you as an audience member and what do you as a dancer on stage feel, and what’s happening inside of you as this piece progresses along.”

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: DGDG’s The Bippy Bobby Boo Show

Ghoulish Games

Photo: Anthony Lazon
The cast of The Bippy Bobby Boo Show

 

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group puts a spooky twist on 1960s musical variety TV with The Bippy Bobby Boo Show at Theatre Three.

Dallas — Danielle Georgiou’s fascination with the social norms and entertainment icons of the 1950s and ‘60s have been the precursor for many of Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) most memorable performances over the years, including NICE (2014), The Show About Men (2015) and Donkey Beach (2017).

In DGDG’s latest production, The Bippy Bobby Boo Show, co-creators Georgiou and Justin Locklear are using the structure of a ‘60s musical variety show to explore hot button issues surrounding sexuality, gender roles, cultural differences and even death.

To keep the mood from getting too heavy, the 15-member cast will address these themes through song and dance reminiscent of the era. Oh, and performers will be doing it all while portraying ghosts of former patrons and audience members of Theatre Three, which is where the company will be performing the show in the downstairs space, Theatre Too!, Oct. 25-Nov. 2

The script contains all the mirth and subtle sarcasm that we have come to expect in a DGDG performance, but Georgiou points out that the language has been toned down to fit within the parameters of what was deemed acceptable for T.V. during this time period.

“We are staying true to how shows were formed in the ‘60s. So the jokes are full of innuendos, but there are certain things that you couldn’t do or say in the ‘60s, and we are holding true to that because all of our ghosts are from that time period and don’t really know what would happen in 2019.”

Georgiou adds that even though the material addresses contemporary issues, we are still dealing with the same issues that we were dealing with in the ‘60s. With that said she does acknowledge that we have made advances as a society, but says historically we are still in the same place. “I’m not going to discredit the strides we have taken forward as a society, but universally we are still dealing with the same sorts of conceptual issues, including fear of the unknown, fear of different cultures and isolationism. So we are tackling those sorts of ideas in the show, but through, as we always do, a very comedic lens.”

She adds, “We also have the history of Theatre Three and the productions they have done in the past to be able to use theater as truly a mirror onto these ghosts and what they have seen throughout the 58 years of the theater.”

Georgiou goes on to explain that these ghosts have followed Theatre Three from each space it has inhabited over the company’s history from the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Dallas and a car seat factory in Deep Ellum to the theater’s current space in the Quadrangle.

“We just imagined that some of the patrons are really in love with the theater and just decided that that’s where they wanted to spend their afterlife,” Georgiou says about the show’s premise.

“So they have decided that they can be actors too and every night they put on their own show for each other. But Bippy Bobby has this idea that all the alive people need to come and see the show and so he comes up with a plan to get what we call the pre-dead down into the basement to watch the ghost’s show.”

Even though the show is centered on these ghostly characters, Georgiou is quick to say that the show is not intended to be scary. “This is a comedy show, so it’s goofy gags and thrills and some blood, but it happens in a very comedic way.”

Locklear plays late-night show host Bippy Bobby, who is a combination of many well-known hosts from the era, including Jack Linkletter, Jim O’Neill, Roger Miller and Dean Martin. Georgiou says there is even some of Beetlejuice’s wackiness in the character. If Locklear’s performance is anything like the kooky narrator role he did in Donkey Beach, then audiences are in for a good time.

What about that title, which rolls off the tongue.

Bippy Bobby Boo came from the fact that we knew we wanted to do a ghost story and also something that involved magic,” Georgiou says. “It also came from that Cinderella and Fairy Godmother moment because she basically gives Cinderella everything that she wants. So, we were trying to come up with names of a talk show host who hosted a late-night haunted variety show and we knew it had to be magical because this ghost character has a lot of powers and from there Bippy Bobby was born.”

As for the choreography, Georgiou says she is incorporating moves from well-known jazz choreographers making work in the ‘60s, including Bob Fosse and David Winters. “I wanted it to be what they would have made. So I watched a lot of Hullabaloo episodes and was heavily inspired by what those dancers were doing on that show.”

She continues, “Their movement was fast-paced, sharp, athletic and that’s a challenge because right now we are so contemporary dance-based and fluidity is what’s marketed as how dance is right now.”

For the last couple of years, Georgiou has been making choreography for and outside of DGDG that is solely jazz based. “There’s something that’s really beautiful and also incredible to watch as an audience member when you see 15 bodies doing exactly the same thing at the exact same time. Your brain doesn’t understand what it’s watching, and I’m interested in seeing if we can do it too.”

She adds, “I’ve spent the last seven to eight years doing one thing and I just felt like there is more that I want to explore as an artist. I also want to challenge myself too in what I’m making, and so this was, for me, the next step.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Avant Chamber Ballet: Morphoses

Transforming Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet kicks off its season with a triple bill featuring Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses and two works by Katie Cooper at Moody Performance Hall.

Photo: Dickie Hill
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Morphoses

 

Dallas — It has been a busy summer for Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB). In addition to preparing for its 2019-20 season, which kicks off with Morphoses Sept. 7-8 at Moody Performance Hall, the company also moved into its own studio space in the Dallas Design District in July. ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says that having their own space has been transformative for the company.

In previous years, Cooper says that the company would not have been able to put on a fall show because of the limits of renting or being lent space owned by ballet schools. “We had to wait till summer intensives and summer classes were over for us to have daytime hours.” This meant either rushing to put a performance together in late September or competing with a busy October arts month.

She adds, “So for us to find this weekend, and it worked for everyone involved, including musicians and everything, I am super happy and lucky that everything aligned for our fall show.”

Even though the company is heading into its seventh full season, Cooper says that in many ways this feels like their first year as a real company. Cooper explains, “We’ve transitioned to paying the dancers weekly, which is huge. And it makes sense for the dancers be paid weekly because every week that they’re working is actually a good work week now that we have a home.”

This weekend’s triple bill includes Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, Cooper’s Sisterhood and the world premiere of Cooper’s Brahms Trio.

Regarding the program, Cooper says, “It feels like my miracle repertory because there was so many different puzzle pieces that had to come together and I am just so excited about it.”

One of these puzzle pieces was when the schedules of musicians Alexander Kerr (Dallas Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster), David Cooper (ACB Musical Director and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Horn and Cooper’s husband) and Fei-Fei Dong (international piano soloist) aligned so they could perform alongside ACB in Cooper’s Brahms Trio, which is named after the work composed by Johannes Brahms.

Cooper says that she has always wanted to choreograph to the Brahms Trio and describes the music as very danceable, beautiful and romantic. She also says she wanted to do the classical music justice by only using classical choreography.

“I really wanted to do it well because it is a very classical piece of music and classical ballet,” Cooper says about the choreography for the piece. “And unless you do classical ballet right then it’s not good. It’s almost easier to pull off something really contemporary and new because when it’s classical it has to be well-rehearsed, interesting and clean.”

She adds, “The choreography has to be really good because there’s no bells and whistles or quirkiness that’s going to keep the audience’s attention. It really has to be beautiful, musical and interesting in its purity and the reflection of the music.”

Also on the program is Wheeldon’s Morphoses. As Cooper proudly states, ACB is only the third ballet company to perform the work after New York City Ballet and Washington Ballet. For those unfamiliar with the ballet, Morphoses is a complex and athletic ballet for four dancers set to György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1. ACB’s cast includes Juliann McAloon, Kara Zimmerman, Alexander Akulov and Marlen Alimanov. The music will also be performed live by Cezanne Quartet.

Rounding out the evening is Cooper’s Sisterhood, which the company premiered last May. The work features music by composer Quinn Mason and is a nice departure from Cooper’s classical roots. Instead of tutus and pointe shoes the dancers perform in trendy sportswear and sneakers.

When asked about these particular choices Cooper says, “I wanted to challenge myself with something different with the sneakers and clothing. Sneaker ballets are such a specific modern American thing. Just think of Jerome Robbins and Justin Peck does a lot of them now. I just wanted to explore something new, and that music I just loved.”

Cooper adds that putting Sisterhood on this program just made sense because it creates a nice balance with the other works. “The three ballets are so incredibly different and that’s what you always hope for in a triple bill. That they all have their own internal world and they’re all radically different.”

Looking back on the last several years Cooper says the company has really developed into what she wanted. “I always said I wanted a company that I would have wanted to dance to in. That every show there’s good stuff that’s fulfilling for the artists both physically, mentally and emotionally.”

“To me, being able to present this season that we have going is really finally the culmination of a lot of years of work.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances 2019: BWD

Dallas Dances Profile: Bruce Wood Dance

Company member Olivia Rehrman on learning Bruce Wood ‘s movement and performing a section of Garrett Smith’s Forbidden Paths at Dallas Dances this weekend. 

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Olivia Rehrman, center, in Garrett Smith’s Forbidden Paths, performed by Bruce Wood Dance

 

Dallas — Even though she never knew him Olivia Rehrman says she feels a strong connection with the late Bruce Wood through his movement aesthetic and those who knew the choreographer well, including Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) artistic staff members Kimi Nikaidoh, Joy Bollinger and Gayle Halperin.

“I really connected with the technical aspect of his movement,” says Rehrman who is celebrating her fourth season with the company. “I think I’m a pretty clean technical dancer, and his movement is very technical, strong and powerful.”

She adds, “What didn’t click right away was the partnering. All the transitions in his work are so smooth and the partnering I did before didn’t involve a lot of overhead lifts so the hardest part for me was learning how to come in and out of the floor with a partner.”

A Dallas native, Rehrman grew up training at the Academy of Dance Arts. She continued her training at The University of Arizona where she graduated in 2012 with a BFA in dance. Before joining BWD in 2016, Rehrman spent four seasons with the world-renowned jazz company, River North Dance Chicago.

During her time with BWD Rehrman has gotten to perform in works by Wood, Yin Yue, Kate Skarpetowska, Bridget L. Moore, Nikaidoh, Bollinger and Albert Drake III. When she’s not in the studio with BWD Rehrman can be found teaching ballet and modern at Tuzer Dance Center.

Rehrman says her favorite Wood work is the crowd pleasing RED. “It is so powerful and so exhausting to dance, but it is so rewarding when you push through it to the end.”

BWD actually performed RED at Dallas Dances 2017 at Moody Performance Hall, which is presented by the Dance Council of North Texas. At this year’s Dallas Dances BWD will be performing the third section of Garrett Smith’s Forbidden Paths, which the company premiered at its June performance.

In the last section of his piece, which was created in protest of an Iranian law that prohibits people from dancing in public, Smith has the dancers strip off their baggy clothes to reveal skimpy black shorts and tops. When asked about the costume choice Rehrman says, “I am not a modest person so the costume didn’t really bother me.”

She continues, “If anything, the affect the costume had on me is when I was wearing baggier clothes I felt like it was easier to make my movement look grounded or grungier almost. And being stripped down at the end you kind of want to physically come out of the floor, but you can’t do that because his movement is so grounded and you have to use your plie so much. So, I think physically the costume changed my movement and I had to kind of fight against that.”

As for what it was like working with Smith on this piece Rehrman says, “This experience has taught me to not take for granted what I do every day. So on those days that I am tired and don’t really feel like dancing I remind myself that not everyone has the luxury to dance the way I do.”

BWD will be performing Forbidden Paths as part of Dallas Dances’ Saturday program at Moody Performance Hall.

>This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Dallas Dances 2019: DBDT

Dallas Dances Profile: DBDT

Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Xavier Mack on his second season with the company and performing Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Execution of a Sentiment.

Photo: Avitava Sarkar
Xavier Mack in Execution of a Sentiment

 

Dallas — Xavier Mack began his dance training with Divine Dance Institute in Capitol Heights, Maryland. He went on to attend the University of Maryland-Baltimore County where he earned a BA in Modern Language and Linguistics. Mack’s says his dance journey with the Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) organization started at one of the company’s summer intensives.

“I met Nycole Ray, the director of DBDT: Encore!, when I attended DBDT’s 2016 summer intensive,” Mack says. “From there, we stayed in contact while I was completing my college studies. Mrs. Ray offered me a contract upon graduation.”

Mack spent one season with DBDT: Encore! before he was asked to join DBDT in 2018. When asked about the move from DBDT: Encore! to DBDT Mack says the transition wasn’t a difficult one. He explains, “The standard of excellence is high for both companies. The warm environment of the established DBDT dancers also helped make my transition painless.”

Mack also credits DBDT Artistic Director Melissa M. Young for creating an environment where the dancers feel comfortable taking risks, which, in the long run, helps them become better artists and individuals. “Since being under Melissa’s leadership, I am better at managing my goals, instead of letting my goals manage me. She often reminds us to take things one step at a time (literally and figuratively), one hour at a time, and one day at a time.”

Mack adds, “With the advice of this peaceful approach I’ve noticed that I have been able to meet more of my personal marks.”

For this year’s Dallas Dances, DBDT will be presenting Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Execution of a Sentiment set to music by Ezio Bosso. The company premiered the piece at its 2019 Spring Celebration Series.  Talking about the concept of the work Mack says that the piece does not have a general feeling. Instead it has many different feelings sprinkled throughout its three sections.

“There are moments of somber stillness. Then, there are contrasting moments buzzing with intensity. In fact, the mission of the movements is to physicalize emotions that are normally communicated verbally.”

As far as what he feels when performing the work, Mack says, “I feel electrically charged. Especially during the third section. There is something about the dramatic music and the dazzling work of my beautiful team that gets me going!”

DBDT will be performing Execution of a Sentiment as part of Dallas Dances’ Saturday program at Moody Performance Hall.

> This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

Ballet North Texas Announces 2019-20 Season

BNT

The first time I spoke to Nicolina Lawson, the artistic director of Ballet North Texas (BNT), was last winter when I interviewed her about the company’s first Nutcracker production, which the company performed at venues in Dallas, Terrell and Palestine. She impressed me with her drive and clear focus regarding her plans for the company as well as her ability to multi-task with two young kids in tow. And I believe she is expecting baby #3 this fall.

Lawson also knows her way around a sewing machine. I know this because I  recently talked to her about making BNT’s Nutcracker costumes for a piece I wrrote for the Dance Council of North Texas’ DANCE North Texas publication.

During this conversation Lawson told me she had some big news to announce in the next couple of weeks. The big news turned out to be the lineup for BNT’s second season, which runs from Sept. 2019 to July 2020.

Leading off the season will be BNT’s annual production of Night on the Trinity. It will feature Associate Artistic Director Anna Sessions’ Mélange d’épices, Arthur Saint-Léon and Fanny Cerrito’s classic La Vivandière, two world premieres by Lawson and Cindy Michaels as well as a guest performance by Ballet Frontier of Texas. Performances will be held Sept. 19-20 at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas and Oct. 12 at the Scott Theater in Fort Worth.

BNT’s Nutcracker will return to the stage for two productions on Nov. 24 and Dec. 20-21. Close to 60 children’s rolls are cast to join BNT’s Nutcracker, which is choreographed by Lawson to Tchaikovsky’s famous score.

In April 2020 BNT will present Cinderella at the Irving Arts Center. The Company will venture into Prokofiev’s haunting score to transport the lonely heroin from her wistful fireside dreams to a dazzling palace ball where she will meet her prince.

The season will conclude with Shakespeare’s comedic romance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Moody Performance Hall in July. The ballet follows the quarrels of King and Queen of the Fairies and the mayhem of mismatched lovers, abetted by mischief-maker Puck. All coming to a resolve with the infamous “Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn.

Tickets will be available soon. For more information visit www.balletnorthtexas.org.

Join Ballet North Texas as we embark on our next step to becoming one of the top tier ballet companies Dallas/Fort Worth has to offer.

We are holding this fundraiser to secure assets for the construction of our brand-new facility. When this new space is complete, we will be introducing North Texas Conservatory to serve as the premier school of Ballet North Texas. North Texas Conservatory will offer world class dance and music lessons for students of all ages and abilities. It is with your commitment and dedication that enables us to take this next step towards building the conservatory as our founders have envisioned.

All funds from this event will benefit Ballet North Texas and North Texas Conservatory in the buildout and furnishing of the Conservatory, outreach and special needs programs, as well as the upcoming 2019-2020 season.

Q&A: Tamsin Carlson

The former Merce Cunningham dancer on performing solos by the legendary American choreographer at the 16th annual Modern Dance Festival this weekend.

Photo: Reed Hutchinson/CAP UCLA Tamsin Carlson performs in Night of 100 Solos:  A Centennial Event at UCLA’s Royce Hall

Fort Worth — Thanks to the Merce Cunningham Trust, audiences across Dallas-Fort Worth will get to experience some of the revolutionary American choreographer’s most memorable solos as well as new works inspired by his methods at the 16th annual Modern Dance Festival, presented by Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth (CD/FW) in collaboration with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The festival’s roster includes works by many well-known locals in the modern dance genre, including Loris Anthony Beckles (Beckles Dancing Company), Kerry Kreiman (CD/FW), Muscle Memory Dance Theatre and Momentum Dance Company. Other familiar names include Lynn Lane and Jennifer Mabus of The Transitory Sound and Movement Collective (Houston) and Mel Mobley and Tina Mullane of M2 (Monroe, LA).

Also participating in this year’s Modern Dance Festival is master teacher and former Cunningham dancer Tamsin Carlson. The associate artistic director of Vox Dance Theatre in Los Angeles, Carlson was a member of R.U.G (Repertory Understudy Group) for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1996 to 1999. From 1999 to 2000 she performed with Lucinda Child’s 25th anniversary tour and also worked with Jonathon Appels, Charemaine Seet, Ellen Van Schylenburch and Beth Toll.

Carlson is a graduate of the Arts Educational School and London Contemporary Dance School. She has been working with Rudy Perez as a member of his ensemble since moving to Los Angeles in 2000. She also is currently the chair of modern dance at the Colburn School and is part-time faculty at Renaissance Arts Academy.

This weekend Carlson will perform the Cunningham solos she learned for Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event. This special project originally took place on April 16 in New York City, Los Angeles and London and featured 25 dancers at each location performing a selection of 100 solos by Cunningham.

TheaterJones caught up with Carlson to discuss her introduction to Cunningham’s Technique, being part of the Night of 100 Solos event in Los Angeles and performing excerpts from these solos for audiences at the Modern Dance Festival this weekend.

TheaterJones: How did you get involved with the 16th annual Modern Dance Festival?

Tamsin Carlson: Kerry Kreiman contacted the Merce Cunningham Trust for potential performers from the recent Night of 100 Solos (Cunningham’s Centennial performances) for the Modern Dance Festival. I was one of the dancers who performed in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful coordinated event, with performances taking place in New York and London as well, all on the night of April 16,, 2019. After contacting the Cunningham Trust, Kerry reached out to me and we found the dates worked within my schedule of teaching and performing and I was thrilled to be able to participate.

Why is it important to you to be a part of festivals such as the Modern Dance Festival?

I believe festivals and performances in alternative spaces to be vital, both culturally and for reaching audiences. For making the work accessible, for connecting with wider, more diverse audiences and to potentially inspire and exhilarate with dance those who might not ordinarily be exposed to such an experience. And as this is Merce’s Centennial year, it is important that his work be an ongoing part of that celebration of world dance. With the Cunningham Company no longer performing, it is always a special opportunity to see his work in live performance.

Please talk about your history with the Cunningham solos you will be performing.

What was so wonderful about learning the solos is that all of the dancers got to work with actual stagers (former Cunningham company members) from the Cunningham Trust rather than learn the work off of video, which often happens. And what was particularly rewarding and special with regard to my four solos I performed in LA is that I got to work with each of the original Cunningham dancers that the solos were created on. They are Susana Hayman-Chaffey, Victoria Finlayson, Banu Ogan and Lisa Boudreau, each wonderful to work with. And as always performing Cunningham, it is an eloquent connection directly back to Merce, who I knew in New York and was on faculty at his School.

How did it feel to be a part of Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event?

To say it was an honor to participate in such an event is absolutely true, but to your question about how did it feel, I found it to be incredibly moving and somewhat transcendent, if that doesn’t sound too abstract. To be a small part of this worldwide cultural celebration of Merce, and to add one’s efforts to such an amazingly gifted and dedicated corps of dancers unified in celebrating a special life and fulfilling the expression of that life on stage. There were four generations of dancers in Los Angeles, all of us in awe of Merce’s enormous, indescribable body of work. We found rich community together during the rehearsal process and culminating performance, an experience none of us will ever forget, but we now get the opportunity to share Merce’s work with others such as during the Modern Dance Festival.

Describe your introduction to Cunningham Technique? Did it immediately feel right on your body? Were you intimidated by any of his choreography?

So interesting you phrase the question that way, because it did immediately feel right on my body! In a way I feel Cunningham has been a part of my life forever, and this is very nearly true. I first encountered and fell in love with Cunningham technique as a teenager in London when I was at dance college. I then sought out teachers throughout London who were teaching Cunningham technique.

When I moved to New York in 1996 it was with the primary aim of studying at The Cunningham School. I was thrilled to become an understudy (what was called R.U.G.) in 1997 and then to join the faculty in 1998. Merce’s choreography was so intimidating! As well so thoroughly physically and mentally demanding, but also absolutely exhilarating for the same reasons. With Cunningham there was and is no halfway — you just had to dive in and give beyond that which you thought you were able!

For those unfamiliar with Cunningham’s Repertory Understudy Group (R.U.G) what was the purpose of this company?

We were literally understudies in the classic sense that should a dancer become injured, the understudy was ready always to perform in their stead, though I must say that rarely happened as Merce’s dancers were always so conditioned and strong. In my time as a R.U.G., the understudies also constituted an outreach program; we were representatives of the School who would tour as dancers the elementary, middle and high schools in the surrounding boroughs of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and New Jersey.

We performed Cunningham repertory and after performances would hold Q&A sessions with the students. These times also could be so rewarding, to see some of the kids’ faces light up and their barely contained excitement made these tours special in their own right. Also, in later years when Merce would no longer tour with the main company, we R.U.G.s would be Merce’s dancers that he would choreograph on toward developing and staging the work.

What are some of your fondest memories performing with R.U.G?

So many! I mean, I loved being in the studio with the Company whilst Merce was creating new works and being part of that. In my time Merce created PondwayScenario, Biped, and he would start by teaching us phrases he had created (Merce often used the computer system “Dance Forms”) and Merce would assign counts for each movement of the torso, legs, arms, head. The series of counts and movements would build to a phrase and over time these counts would morph into a complex rhythm and then eventually you’d no longer count, but simply the rhythm would sustain you in a thrilling way as you navigated such challenging choreography. Merce was a genius and to have had the opportunity to work with him in New York is beyond anything I could have conceived while studying to be a dancer growing up in England.

Doing the tours, when we performed in the schools, I think for the majority of the children it was their first experience certainly with modern dance, and again they were so enthralled and excited by the performances and seeing live work that it was just really moving and created memories I have to this day.

 How does Cunningham’s method influence the work you are doing today?

Things from Merce stay with you always. The development of the phrase, the building process, the absolute commitment, trusting in the process of counts to liberating rhythm. I find when creating phrases for class or working on choreography, through Merce I am really focusing on rhythm. Merce’s technique makes the body extremely strong and versatile. It would have to be to perform the work.

When choreographing, I also find ‘chance’ to be an enormously helpful tool. Chance can aid in the placing of phrases in such a way that becomes original and unexpected. You know, it is inevitable sometimes, I find we tend to have impulses that follow some expected or obvious choices, and chance can shake this up, lead to some fascinating outcomes, or sometimes just refresh and reset the work.

Keeping things unpredictable can potentially result in more arresting work, both for audience as well as the performers. Part of Merce’s lasting legacy, I believe, is his unique way of using space; any and all coordinates are potentially important, any facing can be used. Merce was really the first choreographer to make those choices and it reflects on all choreographers today.

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

 

 

Avant Chamber Ballet Announces New Company Home

Avant Chamber Ballet Summer Intensive
Student summer intensive at ACB’s new studio space. Photo: Courtesy of ACB.

After years of borrowing space from other dance studios in the area Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has taken the leap and found itself a home base in the Dallas Design District where the company is currently holding its summer intensive series.

ACB is the second professional dance company to settle down in the Design District. The Bruce Wood Dance Gallery is just a couple miles south of ACB’s new home. Since opening its doors about five years ago, the Bruce Wood Dance has held many classes, fundraisers and choreographic sneak peeks at this location.

To celebrate this grand accomplishment, ACB will be hosting an open house and mini performance at the newly named Avant Chamber Ballet Center, 2408 Farrington St., on Aug. 25 at 3:30p.m.

The performance will include excerpts from the season opening mixed repertoire program Morphoses, which the company will present, Sept. 7-8, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.

The full press release is included below:

 

AVANT CHAMBER BALLET ANNOUNCES NEW STUDIO HOME

DALLAS, TX (July 16, 2019)

Avant Chamber Ballet Artistic Director Katie Cooper announces the opening of the new Avant Chamber Ballet Center in the Dallas Design District. The studio space will be the rehearsal home for the professional company but will also house a new training program for young dancers this fall.

“This is an incredible step forward for the company. Having our own home studio means that we will be able to rehearse and train consistently for performances, but also have a pipeline for training young dancers who may eventually join the company,” says Katie Cooper.

To celebrate the new studio, the company will host an open house and mini performance at the Avant Chamber Ballet Center, 2408 Farrington Street, Dallas Design District, August 25th at 3:30pm. The performance will be excerpts from the season opening mixed repertoire program “Morphoses” which ACB will perform at Moody Performance Hall September 7-8th.

“I am so proud of where the company has gone in the last 7 seasons,” says Music Director David Cooper. “The new studio represents Avant Chamber Ballet establishing itself firmly in the future of arts in Dallas.”

Subscriptions for the full Avant Chamber Ballet season are now at TicketDFW.com. Single tickets go on sale August 1. Subscribers will receive a 40% discount on all four productions.