Category Archives: People and Places

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2019 Cultural Awareness Series

Justified Movement

Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates singer and Civil Rights activist Odetta Holmes in Matthew Rushing’s Odetta, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series at the Wyly Theatre.

Matthew Rushing. Anddrew Eccles

Dallas — The moments that have stayed with me days after watching Dallas Black Dance Theatre rehearse Matthew Rushing’s Odetta (2014) were, interestingly enough, not the full bodied-movements, grandiose jumping passes or powerful partnering skills, though these elements were incredible and well suited for the dancers. No, it was the quieter moments where the dancers relied on basic instinct and human connection to fulfill their roles that have left an imprint on me.

A perfect example is the opening scene when company member Kayla Franklin (who shares this role with Lailah Duke) slowly walks toward the audience as she cuts through the space with her arms and curves her spine over. As the opening notes of Odetta Holmes’ rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” fill the space, a joyous expression crosses Franklin’s face as she circles her hips and bounces from heel to heel to an internal beat that soon takes over her entire body.

Another memorable instance is the section where Jasmine White-Killins and De’Anthony Vaughan use mainly arm gestures while sitting on side-by-side stools in center stage to “There’s a Hole in The Bucket” sung by Holmes and Harry Belafonte. The song is fun and playful and White-Killins and Vaughan do an admirable job of conveying the emotions in the catchy tune. For example, as White-Killins begins to lose her patience, her arm movements become sharper and more pronounced, such as when she demonstrated how to sharpen an ax by rubbing her forearm intently across her right thigh.

And yet another picturesque moment occurs as Sierra Noelle Jones and Zion Pradier dance on a self-made dock to Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water” while the rest of the dancers watch attentively from their seated positions. At first I thought the couple was dancing on a stage, but as Jones cups her hand and extends it over the edge of the stage it transforms into a dock. The dock is actually six benches constructed of different-sized squares, which enables the benches to interlock with one another to appear as train seats as well as add a cool visual affect when they are placed vertically in other sections of the work.

“I wanted to work with something that was interchangeable and from scene to scene could kind of morph into whatever the scene was about,” Rushing says about the set. “I knew I would be dealing with a lot of different sections because Odetta Holmes’ work was so huge that I would be working with Blues and Jazz, protest songs and works from musical theatre so I knew it would be very layered within itself. So, whatever the set would be it would have to be able to morph and change in these different environments and settings.”

Come to find out, the idea for the set was actually a miniature I.Q. test that Rushing says he found while on tour in Germany and what we see onstage today is a much larger replica of these wooden Lego-like parts of this cubed puzzle.

This work also requires a high level of maturity, vulnerability and trust, which, when watching the dancers rehearse, it’s obvious to see DBDT possesses these qualities in spades. These ingrained abililties can also be attributed to why DBDT is the first company to perform Odetta outside of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

“They are extremely versatile dancers,” Rushing says about DBDT. “They are able to go in and out of different genres of dance and that skill is required for the ballet Odetta so I just felt it was an easy fit.”

He adds, “They are incredible artists who are also extremely expressive as well as technically strong in different styles of dance. And just like Odetta’s work was extremely diverse and layered I feel that the artists of Dallas Black Dance Theatre are exactly that as well. They are extremely diverse and they have many layers to their artistry.”

This is not the first time Rushing has worked with DBDT. The rehearsal director for the Ailey Company choreographed Tribute for DBDT in 2016, which was also when he first brought up the subject of DBDT possibly doing Odetta sometime in the future.

“I remember being in tech rehearsal sitting next to Ms. (Ann) Williams and it hit me at that point. I could really see the dancers of Dallas Black Dance Theatre performing Odetta,” Rushing says in a press release from DBDT.

As for Rushing’s inspiration for this work, singer and actress Odetta Holmes, he says, “One of the biggest “aha!” moments I had with choreographing this piece was finding out just how Odetta Holmes used her gift as an instrument and as a weapon for social justice. That spoke to me directly and it encouraged me and challenged me that I could do the same with choreography and with being a dance artist.”

He adds, “She might not have been the person leading the marches, but she was the person who led the rallies before the marches and I was like WOW how amazing that we all in a sense have a piece in this puzzle about making this world a better place. And she was very confident and clear that her place fell into using her gift as a singer and musician and I really connected with that when I found out about her work and how she literally changed the world with her gift.”

Odetta makes its Dallas premiere at DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 15-17, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Dianne McIntyre’s Nina Simone Project, an evening-length work DBDT premiered back in 2011.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Preview: Ballet Frontier of Texas’ 2019 Director’s Choice

Dancing Cowgirl

Company dancer Elizabeth Villarreal on her roles in Rodeo and Bamboo Flute Concerto, part of Ballet Frontier of Texas’ Director’s Choice this Saturday.
Elizabeth Villarreal. Photo: Courtesy of Ballet Frontier of Texas

Fort Worth — Like most aspiring ballerinas Elizabeth Villarreal fell in love with ballet at a very young age. She was put in her first dance class at the age of three, and 15 years later she’s still passionate about the art form. A Fort Worth native, Villarreal has spent the last 10 years training with Ballet Center of Fort Worth, under the tutelage of Chung-Lin and Enrica Tseng, and is currently celebrating her eighth season with Ballet Frontier of Texas.

“They are amazing and worked with me so well and took the time to know me and my needs,” Villarreal says about her training at Ballet Center of Fort Worth. “They knew what I needed to grow and therefore I never felt like I needed to leave.”

(Photo: Ballet Frontier of Texas
Elizabeth Villarreal and Marlen Alimanov)

Villarreal has had the fortune of performing in all of BFT’s productions with some of her favorite roles being that of the Dew Drop Fairy, Lead Arabian, Flowers and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker as well as Chung-Lin Tseng’s Variation on a Rococo Theme and Roy Tobias’ Mozart K379. In her spare time Villarreal enjoys teaching and is currently on the ballet faculty at Ballet Center of Fort Worth. The 19-year-old also plans on going to school to become a physical therapist.

“I spent a lot of time in physical therapy for my own injuries, and it just really seemed like something that would work for me because I like to be moving around and active,” Villarreal says about what draws her to the field of physical therapy. “I also like the idea of helping younger dancers really focus on their injuries and how to properly strengthen their bodies.”

This Saturday Villarreal will be performing in BFT’s Director’s Choice at I.M. Terrell Academy in Fort Worth. She will be performing a solo and pas de deux with Marlen Alimanov in Chung-Lin Tseng’s Bamboo Flute Concerto as well as portraying the main cowgirl in his rendition of Rodeo. The program also includes performances by Dallas-based dance companies: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance and DBDT: Encore!

“It’s a lot of fun and super relatable,” Villarreal says about dancing in Rodeo. “I feel like it’s more of a coming of age story for this young cowgirl who doesn’t quite fit in and is just figuring herself out and where she belongs.” She adds, “I love all of the choreography and there’s lots of laughs in it and it’s really nice to be able to push past my own comfort zone to play the cowgirl.”

Regarding the show’s lineup BFT’s Co-director Enrica Tseng says, “The dancers are challenged in multiple ways with style and technique. They will be dancing neo-classical choreography to classical Chinese music, a contemporary work by Lee Wei Chao and Rodeo, which is a short story ballet composed by Aaron Copland. So three very different pieces.”

And as for the guest companies that will be performing Enrica Tseng says, “The guest companies bring a different variety of styles and techniques, which makes the performance of Director’s Choice very versatile. Both companies are not local to the city of Fort Worth and we like the fact that this will give an opportunity to the Fort Worth audience to watch them perform.”

From a dancer’s perspective Villarreal says being around these dance companies gives her and her co-workers an opportunity to see how they work and how they encourage and support each other while they’re dancing. She adds, “It’s also nice to be exposed to these different kinds of pieces because it’s not classical ballet and it’s not just neo-classical. It’s a very different kind of contemporary style and they are touching on so many different subjects through their dancing. It’s really amazing to get to watch and learn from them.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Paul Taylor Dance Company

A Modern Celebration

The new artistic director of Paul Taylor Dance Company on following in his mentor’s footsteps and the company’s celebration tour which comes to the Eisemann on Saturday.

Michael Novak and Laura Halzack. Photo: Courtesy of Paul Taylor Dance Company

Richardson — It has been six months since the passing of American modern dance pioneer Paul Taylor, but the loss still sits heavy for many who have had some kind of connection to the iconic dance maker, whether it be through books, documentaries, dance classes, lectures, performances, or, for me, speaking to him on the phone for an article. These Taylor encounters are the reason why Paul Taylor Dance Company’s (PTDC) new Artistic Director Michael Novak has decided not to dance with the company at its performance at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, on Feb. 9.

“I am not dancing in Richardson because it’s important for me to be out in the house to mingle with a lot of the residents there,” Novak says. “It actually has been a really powerful experience to meet people especially as part of Paul’s passing away. There are a lot of people who come to me to introduce themselves and they almost always have some kind of relationship to Paul and it’s important that I hear those stories from different people and let them feel heard. I think Richardson is a great place to engage with people in that particular way and I am looking forward to doing that.”

Engaging with the audience is something Taylor requested that Novak do, along with continuing to dance with the company. “When I had met with Paul he had specifically requested that I keep on dancing. Obviously it meant that I had to refocus how often I was actually going to be dancing because one of the things that Paul also wanted me to do is not only be on stage performing as an artist. He also felt that it would be important for me to be out in the actual house meeting with audience members.”

Michael Novak. Photo: Bill Wadman

Novak adds, “It’s a balance that is new for me and one I am having a fun time figuring out.”

As far as what has been the most challenging part of his new job position Novak says, “taking a step back and looking at how much Paul Taylor actually did in his career and how do you celebrate that in a way that gives people who know his work so well an opportunity to be reminded of how great it was and gives them this massive overview. But also how do you do it in a way that entices new audiences to come in and to use this opportunity to really celebrate the company in a way that takes us forward?”

Originally from Illinois, Novak started dancing at the age of 10. In 2001, he was offered a Presidential Scholarship to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the following year he became an apprentice at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society. After an injury caused him to take some time off from dance, Novak decided to go back to school. He attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies where he was awarded scholarships for academic excellence. It was at Columbia where he became interested in the study of dance history, which ignited his passion for modern dance.

Novak started dancing at the Taylor School in 2007 and was asked to join the company in 2010. Since then he has danced 56 roles in 50 Taylor dances, 13 of which were made for him, including Three Dubious Memories(2010), which happens to be the focus of the Paul Taylor documentary “Creative Domain,” which will be shown at the Eisemann on Thursday following master classes with company members Robert Kleinendorst and Sean Mahoney.

On Saturday the company will perform four iconic works by Taylor: Aureole (1962), Three Epitaphs (1956), Piazzolla Caldera (1997) and Promethean Fire (2002).

In our discussion about these choices Novak says, “Aureole really established him as one of the emerging choreographers of the mid-20th century. It was also the first time in Paul’s career that he explored this notion of not only the Baroque music, but also this very fluid, beautiful and simple approach to dance making.”

He goes on to say that Three Epitaphs is well known for its costumes, which keep the dancers’ faces covered, and describes Piazzolla Caldera as a steamy, gritty and energizing tango piece that doesn’t have a single tango step in it. The final work of the night is Promethean Fire, which Novak says many audiences have associated with the events of 9/11 and centers around this idea of a community of people overcoming obstacles in order to maintain hope and move forward.

Looking back on his time working with Taylor, Novak says his experience was incredibly positive. He admits that in the beginning all he wanted was for Taylor to enjoy his dancing, but says that over time it became more about reading his mind and his physicality. “As a dancer who worked for him you were often waiting on him to tell you what to do or to give you an idea of what he was looking for and you tend to not respond verbally, but you tend to respond physically.”

“The relationship is built on trust and it’s based on this intuitive understanding of where the other person is at and trying to make art. So, over the course of my eight years, I got to know him very well in the sense of being able to read his mind a little bit and figuring out how best we could collaborate.”

The trust that Novak speaks about also played a major role in his appointment by Taylor as the next artist director of PTDC. “When Paul invited me over for a meeting where he told me that he wanted me to take over his company he said that he trusted me, and that was a huge moment for me because Paul was not a man of many words. Usually if he liked what you were doing he wouldn’t say anything. So when he would give a compliment or say something was beautiful it usually meant that it was almost transcendent.”

He continues, “So when he said that he trusted me it was very touching and probably the most profound thing he could ever say to any of his artists and to me in particular. It has also given me a great deal of confidence to know that he believed in me and what I bring.”

This confidence has also helped as Novak preps for the company’s future. His plan includes building off what Taylor started five years ago when he created Paul Taylor American Modern Dance at Lincoln Center. “It’s this three pillar approach to presenting modern dance that wasn’t just Paul Tayor and his repertory. It also included historic modern dance works from the entire cannon. Coupled with that are the contemporary choreographers that we bring in to work on the Paul Taylor Dance Company.”

Novak adds, “I am incredibly passionate about those three aspects and figuring out after we have this celebration dance maker tour how we can continue that going forward. I am determined to do both in the sense that there are important modern dance historical works that haven’t been seen in a long time both within the Taylor cannon and modern dance that I would love bring back and share with audiences. But I also believe in curating new artists to come in and make work. We really have to do both.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Winter Series

Out of this World

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance aims to resemble alien rock stars in Mark Caserta and Mikey Morado’s new work Dregs, part of the company’s Winter Series at WaterTower Theatre.

DCCD rehearses Dregs. Photo: Brian Kenny

Addison — “An alien dark underbelly vibe, but with a gentle tone,” is how Mark Caserta describes the mood of Dregs, a new piece he and fellow choreographer and boyfriend Mikey Morado have created for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s (DCCD) Winter Series, which boosts works made by queer choreographers centering on gay identity in America. The program will also feature Eoghan Dillon’s Boys Are and Joshua L. Peugh’s Bud, which he did in collaboration with multimedia artist Brian Kenny. The performance will be held Jan. 24-27 at Addison Theatre Center, DCCD’s new home for 2019 thanks to its new partnership with WaterTower Theatre.

“It’s quite gender confusing, but very sexy,” Caserta says about the approximately 22-minute work, which includes an original score by Pittsburgh-based slowdanger whom he says mixed the track in the studio while the dancers worked. “It’s alien and out there, but also has a relatable vibe.”

As for the choreography in the piece Morado says, “We like to work with images that are more chic and simplistic and less confetti and more latex. So, what we made at the end of the day was a very alien world that has its own rules and doesn’t really operate within this 2019 America vibe.”

Morado and Caserta are both products of reputable dance institutions. Morado received a BFA in dance at Marymount Manhattan College before joining Sidra Bell Dance New York in 2013. Caserta trained at the Ailey School and graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in ballet performance. He has danced with Eleone Dance Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz De Montreal and Camille A. Brown + Dancers.

Mikey Morado in Mark Caserta’s Good Boy. Photo: Matthew Caserta
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.

“I have known of Dance Industry since my time at Complexions,” Caserta says. “The kids would come to New York City to attend workshops, and through them I developed a relationship with Christy and Jamie Anderson. They had offered me a job a few years before, but I was working, so it wasn’t until 2015 when Mikey and I were looking for a change that I asked them if the offer still stood and we moved to Dallas.”

Morado says that his relationship with Dance Industry didn’t start until after the couple had made their decision to move. “I had never met either of them, but we came out in March to teach and see what the vibe was here and Jamie and Christy picked us up from the airport and the second we got in the car with them there was an instantaneous certainty that we belong here. So, they brought me on and gave me basically the same amount of role that Mark has in the studio.”

It was about a year later when Wolverton-Ryzman handed over the reins of the Thriving Artist Project to Morado and Caserta. “This was something she had started the year prior to hiring us,” Morado says. “It was a small scale project and really more about her connecting with the kids and giving them professional advice.”

He continues, “I think she knew she wanted to amp up the program and that she wanted to do something that would extend beyond the walls of Dance Industry in a very real and practical concert dance sense. So her bringing Mark and I on, she knew that she would be well-connected to the current dance world that is still happening in New York and all over the world.”

So far Morado and Caserta have been living up this promise as evident by the list of names they have on the Thriving Artist Project’s event calendar online. The list includes high end choreographers such as Sidra Bell of Sidra Bell Dance New York, Jonathan Alsberry of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Micaela Taylor of TL Collective and Christie Partelow of Nederlands Dans Theater.

When I brought up that these are names you typically associate with local dance institutions such as Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Morado replies, “There are a lot of shiny and glitzy things in Dallas and particularly around Booker T. and so it’s very easy for that to be considered the mecca of ‘shiny dance things,’ but I think it’s really meaningful and impactful for these kids that Mark and I work with that we work in a way that is very humble and we choose to work with artists who reflect that humility.”

He adds, “What sets us apart as individuals, but also as a couple is our level of consideration and really making sure that the quality and connection is genuine. That it’s never forced and we work with artists who we truly support.”

It was through the Thriving Artist Project where Morado and Caserta meet Peugh who was at the couple’s first performance back in 2016.  “He was super complimentary and we clicked with him right away,” Morado says.

“It was such a bold and loving move for him to reach out to us,” Caserta says. “He is a smart businessman and has become a great friend.”

Mark Caserta. Photo: Matthew Caserta
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.

The dance duo also had nothing but nice things to say about their time in the studio with the DCCD dancers. “We were super inspired by the dancers and just by that particular group that is with Dark Circles right now,” Morado says. “They have such a warm chemistry among them and the majority of them identity as gay or queer themselves, and I think particularly being in Dallas and connecting with people like that has a bit deeper of a ripple than it would in a place like New York because there is less of a demographic there for that.”

While discussing the creative process for Dregs, Morado says it was done in reverse order to what people generally consider normal. So, instead of giving the dancers specific movement phrases or specific motifs, he says they generated a lot of the movement based off of the tasks they had the dancers doing such as free writing and coming up with their own gesture movements, which they later combined into collaborative group phrases.

Morado explains, “The experience for them is very personal, and rather than giving them the details and having them form the piece around that we kind of had them form the piece and then said ‘oh that is a detail we want to put in.’” He adds, “We also made an effort to highlight each dancer individually and to not stick with one soloist. We wanted to equalize everyone and especially with a group this talented we would be short changing ourselves if we didn’t individualize the piece for them.”

For this work, DCCD has also paired with Youth First, a program of Resource Center and one of the only youth centers in the North Texas area aimed at meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth ages 12-18. The company has been teaching masterclasses for the teens which explore identity and self-expression through movement.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

The Year in Dance

Here are my favorite new dance works of 2018!

Face What’s Facing You by Claude Alexander III for Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Anne Marie Bloodgood

This year saw the creative juices flowing from well-known local dance artists, including Joshua L. Peugh, Katie Cooper and Kimi Nikaidoh as well as guest artists who brought styles that had yet to be seen in Dallas such as Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary dance style and Gabrielle Lamb’s bird-like quality and theatricality. We also saw the resurgence of authentic jazz technique from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Artist-in-Residence Brandi Coleman and the expansion of Bombshell Dance Project’s technical fortitude in a new piece by visiting choreographer Amanda Krische.

A few of the works on my list this year also featured live accompaniment, including Cooper’s The Little Match Girl Passion, Nikaidoh’s The Face of Water and Peugh’s evening-length work Aladdin,حبيبي. We also saw more musical collaborations with local talent such as Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet with Verdigris Ensemble and Peugh with SMU alum Brandon Carson who worked on both Aladdin and Lamb’s Can’t Sleep But Lightly.

Relatability also played a big part in my decision making for this list, and while every piece made me feel something, the one that spoke to me the loudest was Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you! He managed to address a number of issues affecting individuals with humility and an uninhibited movement quality.

As far as what I’m looking forward to in the coming year I am excited to see what Bridget L. Moore is cooking up with her new company, B Moore Dance, as well as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s winter showcase, Avant Chamber Ballet’s Romance and Ragtime and Bruce Wood Dance’s gala fundraiser entitled Dances from the Heart. I am also looking forward to seeing Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs at the Winspear Opera House in March.

And my wonderful husband got me tickets for both Anastasia and Hamilton at Dallas Summer Musical in Fair Park. I am already counting down the days!!!!!

My dance writing goals for 2019 include talking and visiting with even more local dance companies and choreographers as well as attending some shows outside the dance realm, including plays, musicals and opera. Can’t wait to get started.

Until then, here are my favorite new works made in 2018:

 

The Little Match Girl Passion by Katie Cooper

Avant Chamber Ballet and Verdigris Ensemble

December

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Always one willing to break the mold when it comes to classical ballet, Katie Cooper paired her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the vocalists of choral outfit Verdigris Ensemble for a very sobering and elegantly danced performance of David Lang’s A Little Match Girl Passion at Moody Performance just a few weeks ago. Cooper took a very different approach for the choreography in this performance. Instead of bouts of group allegro and adagio movements Cooper had the corps act as scenery and story imagery, which only added to the balletic lines and character portrayal of lead dancer Juliann McAloon. ACB took a risk with such a somber show, but while the show brought to the surface the feelings of loss and sadness, it also presented airs of beauty and spiritual awakening.

 

Aladdin,حبيبي by Joshua L. Peugh

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

October

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Sixth Floor Studio Theatre, Dallas

Peugh stretched his artistic boundaries with his first evening-length work, Aladdin, Habib, which Dark Circles Contemporary Dance performed back in October as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Known for giving very few details about his pieces to his dancers, Peugh admitted Aladdin was a completely new experience for himself. He stepped outside his comfort zone with repurposed set design, strong character portrayals and live music. The movement was a blend of Peugh’s signature heavy-footed walking steps, twisty curvy floor work and subtle gesturing with more accented hips, body ripples and staccato movements typically associated with Middle Eastern dance cultures. The narrative is based on “The Story of Aladdin” as well as company member Chadi El-koury’s own personal story of coming to America with his family as a young boy, which he approached with calm determination and an emotional intensity we had yet to see from him.

 

Brandi Coleman’s And One More Thing… at SMU. Photo: Meadows Dance Ensemble

 

And One More Thing… by Brandi Coleman

Meadows Dance Ensemble

October

Southern Methodist University, Bob Hope Theatre, Dallas

One of the few jazz choreographers in the U.S. trained in Jump Rhythm Technique, Coleman wowed the audiences with her funky and loud jazz number, And One More Thing…, at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert in October. Originally created in 2015, Coleman added on three new sections with a grand finale that featured a large group of females dressed in casual street clothes moving and grooving to “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The piece played between the juxtaposition of stillness and hotness, which the dancers demonstrated through subtle gestures and sassy expressions as well as their sudden bursts energy and scat-singing, a fundamental element of Jump Rhythm Technique. It was fun and rambunctious and definitely a work worth seeing again.

 

LUNA by Amanda Krische

Bombshell Dance Project

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Repetitive phrases that travel every which way was the foundation for New York-based choreographer Amanda Krische’s LUNA, which was part of Bombshell Dance Project’s Like A Girl performance at Moody Performance Hall last June. Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tapped into their inner beasts in order to maintain their energy levels throughout the 10-minute work which started out with the two of them walking a specific number of steps before the monotonous phrase was broken up with gestures, pauses and abrupt floor work. The girls described the piece as a slow burn and they definitely had to dig deep as the intensity continued to build and the music switched from meditative to pulsating. It was a pleasant departure from the bombshells signature robust movement style.

 

Can’t Sleep But Lightly by Gabrielle Lamb

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

March

WaterTower Theatre, Addison

New York-based choreographer Gabrielle Lamb challenged the dancers’ mathematical skills as well as their artistic sensibilities in her piece for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s showing at WaterTower Theatre’s Detour Festival back in March. Methodical walks, balletic lines and alien-esque body shapes are woven throughout this cleverly crafted piece. What I liked most about this piece is its lack of physical partnering; instead the dancers relied on simple human contact to produce authentic connections with one another. It was a very trippy ride indeed and a complementary pairing of artistic minds.

 

The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

 

The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh

Avant Chamber Ballet

April

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Nikaidoh used a range of emotions and the highs and lows within Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece Tenebrae to drive the movement in her new work for Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2018 Women’s Choreography Project last April. Nikaidoh described the piece as more of an emotional journey focused primarily on hope and new beginnings, which was depicted in the longer, sweeter notes in the music. The combination of classical movements such as pas de deuxs and standard corps body lines and formations with Nikaidoh’s penchant for subtle musical gesturing and unlikely body shapes was a delightful juxtaposition for these talented dancers. Add in the dancers’ emotional conviction and you had a winning work.

 

Begin Again by Yin Yue

Bruce Wood Dance

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Bruce Wood Dance did an admirable job of presenting New York-based choreographer Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary techniques to audiences at its Harmony performance last June. The cyclical nature of the piece is an extension of Yue’s movement style that features liquid body rolls, continuous arm circles and wide, sweeping leg lifts and floor work. The piece showcased the bond of the group, a staple of many of Bruce Wood’s works, in which the dancers appeared as one living organism before breaking off into smaller pairs and individual movement sequences. A musical mover Yue’s choreography came across as one continuous line of thought that dips, daps, weaves and loop-de-loops around an individual’s personal space, which led to some unexpected and visually pleasing moments.

 

Face what’s facing you! by Claude Alexander III

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

May

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Dallas

Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackled their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series back in May. As a rising choreographer Alexander delivered a strong voice in this work, which centered around some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process. The piece was cathartic and heart pounding at the same time as the dancers meshed smooth walks and sustained lines with explosive jumps and multiple turns. Alexander didn’t waste any time getting to the theme of the piece and the action-packed stripped-down choreography was a breath of fresh air.

 

This list was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Avant Chamber Ballet’s The Little Match Girl Passion

Match Pointe

Emily Dixon Alba of Avant Chamber Ballet on dancing to live vocalists in The Little Match Girl Passion, featuring Verdigris Ensemble at Moody Performance Hall.

Emily Dixon Alba in The Little Match Girl Passion. Photo: Will Graham

Dallas — As one of the hardest working female choreographers in Dallas, Katie Cooper is always looking for new ways to elevate the local ballet bar and increase exposure of the 300-year-old art form. She did it when she started her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the goal of bringing ballet and live music back together; when she created the area’s first Women’s Choreography Project; and now she is doing it again with the addition of live vocals courtesy of Dallas-based Verdigris Ensemble at ACB’s showing of The Little Match Girl Passion Dec. 7-8 at Moody Performance Hall.

The dancers of ACB and the singers of Verdigris Ensemble will be bringing to life David Lang’s choral setting based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, “The Little Match Girl.”

The collaboration marks a new challenge for Cooper who is known for breaking boundaries when it comes to classical ballet traditions. “Creating dance to almost acapella voice is a much different process than what I have done in the past,” Cooper says. “It has breath to it in a very literal way, plus David Lang’s score is quite modern and tells the story in a very different way than if I had picked more traditional dance music for the choreography.”

The task has also proved challenging for some of the dancers such as Emily Dixon Alba who told me during our phone conversation earlier this week that the Verdigris Ensemble recording they were using in rehearsals sounded a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher at first. “But then the more I listened to the recording the more words I heard.” Alba notes that the lyrics will be printed in the program for the audience to follow along.

Alba also points out that the movement in The Little Match Girl Passion isn’t what you’d typically expect from ACB. “It’s abstract in terms of dancing, but it’s literal in terms of all of us dancers are flushing out the story around Julianne McAloon who is playing the main character. So, we’re all in black and we’re all becoming the words that are being said. For example, in one part we are walking across the stage really fast and we are supposed to resemble the street cars that she’s trying to dodge around.”

A native Texan, Alba trained at the Ballet Academy of Texas under the direction of Lisa Slagle before joining Tulsa Ballet II after graduating from high school. In 2009, Alba was accepted into the corps de ballet with The Sarasota Ballet. During her five seasons with the company Alba had the opportunity to perform a wide variety of repertoire, including works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Matthew Bourne, Dominic Walsh, Peter Darrell, Agnes De Mille, Johan Kobborg, to name a few.

Alba was with Colorado Ballet while also guesting with ACB till her move to Dallas in 2017 to dance full time with ACB in addition to settling down with her husband and being closer to family and friends. Alba says making the decision was terrifying as she had spent the last 10 years with union companies where she had no fear about salary or health insurance. But Alba says Cooper wooed her with the repertoire she had planned, which included works by Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon.

“I remember looking at ACB’s season and then looking at Colorado Ballet’s season coming up that year and it was a no brainer as to where I wanted to dance,” Alba says. “Looking at ACB’s season and what they were bringing in I wanted to see what my full potential was and be pushed to do that, and I knew this repertoire would do it.”

She adds, “Just in this one year I feel like I have grown and the company has grown. I feel like we have been pushed in ways you may not pushed in a company that has 30 or 40 people in it.”

One of Alba’s brightest moments with the company so far was when she was asked to perform one of the principal roles in Balanchine’s Who Cares? at ACB and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s joint performance in the spring of 2016. Alba says she still gets emotional every time she performs the role because there was a time in her career where she didn’t think she was capable of dancing a principal role. “I had reached a place where I thought I was a great demi soloist and soloist, but I cut myself from ever being able to do the bigger roles. So, when Katie asked me to come in and guest in Who Cares? I was half terrified because I had already told myself I was below that principal role, but then I was also excited to get a chance to tackle it.”

Alba continues, “And so that was such a victory for me not so much physically, but mentally and emotionally pulling through Who Cares? because it was one of those moments where you realize WOW there is more in me then I thought there was and that gave me a lot of confidence to come back the next year.”

Alba also links her increase of self-confidence to her time spent with local Balanchine Repetiteur Michele Gifford during rehearsals for Who Cares? “For the past two to three years Michele has been one of my dearest mentors on and off the stage. I can talk to her about anything. She helped me navigate my move back and just getting to work one on one with her through all of the Wheeldon and Balanchine works has been amazing.”

I couldn’t end the interview without asking Alba how she feels about portraying such a sad story right around the holidays. “Well, at first I was confused about why we were doing such a sad story, but I read a recent interview of Katie and it brought to light again that Katie is always reaching beyond what’s normal and I think there is an audience that actually connects to grief in the holidays.”

She adds, “The holidays can also evoke a different side of emotions. It is not wrong to feel grief or loss and that is not a bad thing. That is being human. And so I think Katie is going to connect with a side of the audience that is very real and very human through this experience.”

You can see Emily Dixon Alba in The Little Match Girl Passion at the Moody Performance Hall this weekend. The evening also includes The Nutcracker Suite choreographed by Katie Cooper and Paul Mejia with live music by Cezanne Quartet.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce Performance

Shades of Bruce

Bruce Wood Dance celebrates the many sides of the trailblazer in its fall performance, All Bruce, at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

Bruce Wood Dance in Local 126. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — It has been four years since his death, but Bruce Wood’s philosophy that “It is about the work” continues to drive Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) forward, which is apparent by the title of the company’s upcoming performance, All Bruce, Nov. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall. The program features four memorable Wood works, including Echoes of Enchantment (1999), Bolero (2001), Local 126 (2001) and The Edge of My Life So Far (2010), featuring Nycole Ray of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The performance also marks a first for Joy Atkins Bollinger in her new role as BWD’s artistic director and is really a reunion of sorts for those of us who were in the audience at the Montgomery Arts Center for Wood’s triumphant return to the Dallas dance scene in June 2011. Viewers were in awe of the talent of company veterans Kimi Nikaidoh, Harry Feril and Albert Drake who would later band together to help keep Wood’s memory and movement aesthetic alive after the choreographers untimely passing in 2014. Today, most of the company veterans have moved on and a new batch of talent is now working to maintain Wood’s legacy.

I got the chance to sit down with Bollinger a couple of weeks ago at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery and talk to her about how she is adjusting to her new role and how the newer dancers are acclimating to company culture.

“I was a little concerned when I saw how many new company members we have this season,” Bollinger says. “I just knew we had so many changes ahead of us with our infrastructure and our staff and then losing some of our veteran dancers, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by the intelligent, hardworking and earnest nature of these dancers.”

She adds, “We’re to the point now where almost the entire company is working toward this man’s legacy who they have never meet and it’s just their understanding of what was important to him and how that affected others that draws them in.”

The new company members include Lauren Hibbard, Lauren Perry, Chad Vaught, Seth York and apprentice Arden Leone. They will be dancing alongside Adrian Aguirre, Jillyn Bryant, Olivia Rehrman, Gabriel Speiller and Megan Storey. Emily Drake, the most senior company member, will only dance in Bolero for this performance.

So, the responsibility of articulating Wood’s movement really falls on Bollinger’s shoulders. An incredibly daunting task, as anyone who had seen Wood in the studio can tell you. “Bruce had this uncanny way of not speaking,” Bollinger says. “And the feeling in the room or the feeling coming off him was enough for the dancers to understand where he was headed with choreography. And then when you weren’t sure about that from him you could turn to the veteran dancers that had worked with him for many years and ask them for help.”

Watching Bollinger give notes to the dancers after they ran through Local 126 it’s obvious she has a gift for words when it comes to telling the dancers what she needs from then. “A more crisp arrival,” “sharpen your focus” and “brighter energy through the legs” were a few of the corrections Bollinger gave as well as the ever present “have fun.”

But what Bollinger says she spent the most time discussing with the dancers was Wood’s emphasis on the group dynamics within his works. “The one thing I was focused on for this performance was the importance he placed on the group. If you look at Local 126 there is no partnering in the entire thing. Bruce would say he could choreograph to Bach in his sleep pretty easily so he wanted to challenge himself by doing no partnering for this entire piece.”

Bollinger adds, “The dancers needed to understand that you don’t get the lift and fly relationship. They’re going to have a different feeling of their bodies working in unison and as one and in sculpture and line and the architecture of the piece is going to have to create that. That’s been something we talked about a lot for this show because we’re going to need that in every dance, especially in Bolero.”

Before starting Bolero Bollinger says she and Nikaidoh sat down and talked through their memories of the dance and what they remembered Wood expressing so clearly. And through this conversation they were able to reconnect with the feeling and the finer details of the work. “It’s hard because in this day and age, when the second generation perceives something as sensual they automatically think it’s a celebration of sexuality, but it’s not. Bolero is very dark, almost that to the detriment of every person on stage.”

She explains, “At the same time as these women are wielding the power over the men and manipulating each other it’s also building toward a chaos. Everyone is walking in these courtship manners and the women are wearing ball gowns and the men are in tuxes, yet in complete irony the dancing women are in lingerie.”

Bollinger adds, “There’s so many layers here as to what is happening and at the start of this piece Bruce told us, ‘You know, this isn’t the party. This is 3 a.m. and the party has already happened’.”

Come experience Bolero and other Wood works at Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce performance at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2018 Director’s Choice Series

DBDT2018ThisTime
DBDT rehearsing Joy Bollinger’s This Time. Photo: Melissa Young

Dallas Black Dance Theatre explores the fleeting nature of time and memories in Joy Bollinger’s new work, This Time, part of the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre.

Dallas — It has been a fall to remember for Joy Bollinger who not only will be presenting her first program as artist director of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) this month, but also showcasing her first commissioned piece at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 2-4, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. Bollinger’s new work, This Time, will be performed alongside works by Tommie-Waheed Evans, Lily Cabatu Weiss and Elisa Monte and David Brown.

“I have choreographed on BWD. I was asked to choreograph a piece on my alma mater Texas Christian University,” Bollinger says. “But this was the first time an outside professional dance company has asked me to choreography on them and that was just an exciting milestone.”

She adds, “I love being a choreographer and I hope in the future I can continue down that path in whatever way. I am just really thankful for this opportunity to work with DBDT.”

Bollinger was contacted over the summer by DBDT’s newly-appointed artistic director Melissa Young about setting a piece for the company’s Director’s Choice performance at the beginning of November. Young says she was blown away when she saw BWD perform Bollinger’s Carved in Stone in 2016, and began to wonder how her movement language would translate onto DBDT’s dancers.

“Since we are a repertory company, in my opinion our dancers do an amazing job of morphing into every style put before them,” Young says. “We didn’t have any works in our repertoire with Joy’s distinct movement language and overall tone. I knew whatever she chose to create would be a perfect fit. So, by adding This Time into our programming, our audiences will get to know Joy and her beautiful work as we travel across the country as well as get acquainted with another facet of how DBDT dancers move.”

Young adds, “The best part of this collaboration was the ease of how everything came together. From start to finish, I would consider it all Joy.”

Young and Bollinger’s history actually goes back almost 15 years when they danced alongside each other as part of a Bruce Wood Dance Company and DBDT collaboration in 2003. “There’s something about her calm energy that has always drawn me in. I really admired Joy as a person and her artistic abilities. The special care and attention to detail that she puts into her own dancing resonated with me over the years.”

If you have seen Bollinger’s previous works, Carved in Stone and Hillside, then you have probably noticed her penchant for large scale visuals, dynamic groups sections and musically-driven movement phrases. As we sat talking at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery last Friday Bollinger notes that this piece for DBDT is very different from anything she has done before.

“For this piece I am using a much smaller group, only seven dancers, and since they will be performing in a smaller space I kept the architecture of the dance pretty simple. She jokes, “Plus, I don’t think we have any storage space left [at BWD’s studio] for another one of my props.”

What didn’t change this time around is Bollinger’s need to find music before jumping into the choreography. Bollinger already had a piece of music on her mind going into the process, but due to its length, she had to do a quick pivot and find something else, which she admits was a little challenging. “Finding music is crucial for me because I like to choreograph musically. So when I realized the first idea wasn’t going to work I was like “okay” what do I do now, but I just had to go with it.”

She laughingly adds, “I now realize I have a love affair with Olafur Arnalds because I start searching for music and when I realize I like something guess who it is. So, the three tracks I picked were done in collaboration with someone else and there is the sound of water in the music but also violence and sweeping and piano. You know, music you want to move too.”

This Time was inspired by Bollinger’s relationships with her children and grandmother and how over time these images become fractured and blurry, thus increasing our desire to hang on to these precious memories. To help the dancers find more personal meaning within the work Bollinger says, “I tell them what it means to me and then I say that’s not what it has to mean to you, but I want you to find what in your life connects and resonates with what that means to you.”

The most challenging part of the process for the dancers was learning a new movement vocabulary, Bollinger says. Audiences are very familiar with Bruce Wood’s unique aesthetic which features a strong balletic core so the dancers can effortless execute his off-axis turns, quick changing body positions and pendulum-like arm and leg movements.

“There were definitely a few things in the vocabulary that were new to them and probably countered how they often do things such as running low and in the floor and also the group aesthetic within the work. They are such dynamic performers, and I know every one of them has the capability to be a fantastic soloist, so they now have to keep that but also feel the group.”

You can see Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Joy Bollinger’s This Time at the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre this weekend.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Beckles Dancing Company Announces Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival 2018

Kaleb and Lacy in Duettino April 2018
Beckles Dancing Company members Kaleb Smith and Layla Brent in Duettino. Photo: Supreme Dream Photography 

Mark your calendars! The 2018 [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) will take place Oct. 12-13 at Ann Richards STEAM Academy in Dallas.

Entitled Back Together AgainSDDF will feature a performance on Friday evening and master classes on Saturday with the Melissa M. Young, the newly appointed artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The whole week will include master classes at two public schools, plus an open master class, a roundtable discussion and performances. The performances will include several companies, groups and soloists, including Jordan Willis, currently at Point Park University and the 2018 recipient of the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship.

The goal of SDDF is to encourage collaborations between area artists and companies and to support each other’s growth and impact on the local community.

General admission: $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, members of Dance Council of North Texas and the Star System.

Master Class: $5.00 participants, $15.00 general

More information about the festival is available at www.becklesdancingcompany.org/events

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Aladdin, Habibi

MAGIC MOVES

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance takes us to a whole new world in Joshua L. Peugh’s Aladdin, Habibi, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

DCCD Company Member Chadi El-Khoury. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas — Over the last seven years Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh has wowed us again and again with his insightful and unique perspective on the human condition as well as today’s social norms. He transfers this information to his dancers using a combo of classical and modern movements infused with his own special blend of grounded footwork, knee-bruising floor work and happenstance partnering. His aesthetic demands that the dancers be comfortable in their own skin, yet open and vulnerable on stage.

Peugh is asking this and much more from the company in his first evening-length creation, Aladdin, حبيبي, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, Oct. 11-14, at the Wyly Theatre. The immersive 75-minute production focuses on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures. The work is based on the folk tale of “The Story of Aladdin” or “The Wonderful Lamp,” first written in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights).

Peugh says this process all began while browsing through a book store one Sunday morning. “I found a copy of Arabian Nights and the first line in the book is once upon a time in China. See when most people think of Aladdin they think of the 1992 Disney movie, but Aladdin was actually Chinese and the story was added later on by Frenchman Antoine Galland.”

He continues, “This was one aspect of the work. The other being company member Chadi El-khoury’s personal story, which includes his mom bringing him and his brother to America when he was 11 years old. We go to his Mom’s house every Sunday and she always calls her children Habibi, an Arabic endearment like ‘sweetheart,’ and it’s why the title of the work is called Aladdin, Habibi. We put the term in Arabic to signal to these people that their voice is being represented here.”

Peugh also points out that the work will feature a new score from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a six-piece band. The production also includes costumes designed by Susan Austin and lighting by Bart McGeehon.

“I honestly didn’t know what the music was going to look like until I got started with the dancers, but we needed music before rehearsals began and so I ended up sending Brandon a list of plot points and asked him to make them musical numbers. We started off with 20 minutes of music and have gone back and forth a lot until we got to today’s product.”

In the work the dancers also double as stage hands, which was evident during the run through I saw at Preston Center Dance in Dallas last Wednesday morning. When not executing movement in the center, the dancers are constructing a tent out of canes and fabric, playing a game of cards and actively observing their surroundings, just to give a few examples.

Peugh explains, “We played a lot of theater games and one of them was about making yourself very present and aware and basing everything you do on things outside your circle so you are inviting things to happen instead of making them happen, which is already the principles that I run the company on in the first place, but we are now expanding that in different directions.”

The example he gives is in regard to the architecture of the room. Because this show follows a narrative, Peugh had his dancers do a lot of exercises that had to do with using what is there in the space. “Everything you see in the show is stuff that was laying around the studio. So, everything is sort of a found object and not a created one and that mirrors the world we are trying to create in this dance.”

There were a lot of moving parts just within the first 20 minutes that I got to see of the show, so I will try to break it down for you without giving too much away. Company veteran El-khoury portrays the role of Aladdin and we get to witness his inner struggle of questioning certain rules and customs of the culture that he was born into and then coming to America and trying to fit in here. El-khoury’s journey of discovery involves two genies: the genie of the ring played by Jaiquan Laurencin and the genie of the lamp played by Lena Oren.

El-khoury moves with laser focus and incredible control during rehearsal. Deep lunges, swirling arms and rhythmic hip isolations are at the crux of most of his individual movement phrases. Over the last two years he has put on some noticeable bulk and his technical execution and artistic depth continues to flourish with every new piece the company puts out.

“He works really hard to make this happen,” Peugh says about El-khoury’s artistic growth. “He still works a full time corporate job and he works really hard to dance the way he wants. He has grown incredibly in the last several years. He’s fighting for it and he really loves dancing and it give him pleasure so that’s ultimately where it all starts from in the first place.”

Peugh admits that the creative process for this show has been a completely new experience for him. He doesn’t like to give his dancers too many details because he likes to see how the dancers take the material and make it their own. So, sitting down with the dancers after every rehearsal to talk about the narrative is really a foreign concept for him. Peugh says on the second day of rehearsals he asked the dancers to bring in a list or make a presentation to the group about the question ‘What is Middle Eastern?’ and from there he had the dancers take their lists and make a movement phrase based off one plotline in the story, and that is how the choreography for the show came to fruition.

“It was a really organic process,” Peugh says. “This has been one of the most fun, creative processes I have ever had. I have learned a ton and I am super proud of the work everyone has done. Everyone has put in a lot more than a few hours of learning steps.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.