Dallas – It was announced this week that New York-based choreographer Michelle Thompson Ulerich is this year’s winner of Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), which will take place April 21-22 at Moody Performance Hall in conjunction with ACB’s spring performance. Never one to just stick with the status quo, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper started the project in 2015 with the objective of providing more opportunities for up-and-coming female choreographers to showcase their work. Since then the WCP has gained quite a following in Dallas thanks to Cooper’s insistence of live orchestration and her eclectic programming, which has included works by herself, Shauna Davis, Elizabeth Gillapsy, Emily Hunter, Amy Diane Morrow, Janie Richards and Hailey von Schlehenried. Cooper continues to enrich the Dallas arts landscape with her “dare to be different” attitude when it comes to the rules and traditions surrounding classical ballet and the expectations that come with being a choreographer in this particular genre. Cooper has also successfully brought live music and dance back together, which I think is putting positive pressure on other professional companies in the area to find creative ways to incorporate more live music in their performances. I can’t wait to see what Cooper and ACB have in store for us in the coming years.
Below is Avant Chamber Ballet’s press release in its entirty:
Avant Chamber Ballet Announces Women’s Choreography Project Winner
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 30, 2017
Dallas, TX – For the last three years, Dallas-based Avant Chamber Ballet has broken stereotypes and glass ceilings with live music and new works. This season’s Women’s Choreography Project presented in April 2018 is no different. “You might not notice the imbalance and sexism in ballet from the outside,” says Avant artistic director Katie Cooper. “There are more female ballet dancers than male by far, but there are very few female choreographers getting commissions from professional ballet companies. With Women’s Choreography Project, we give emerging women choreographers the opportunity they need to take their careers to the next level.”
Avant Chamber Ballet held an international search for the right choreographer to commission a new work for this season. Out of over 50 applicants, Michelle Thompson Ulerich was chosen to be this year’s winner. “I am thrilled to be choreographing for the artists of Avant Chamber Ballet,” says Ulerich. “Texas was my home for 14 years, and I am looking forward to coming back to create and to bring some of my New York experiences with me.”
Michelle is a choreographer, dancer, and teacher in New York. In 2017, she will present new works in New York; Austin, Texas; Napa, California; and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Prior to moving to New York, she was a professional ballerina with Ballet Austin for 14 years. Michelle has been teaching ballet at SUNY Purchase since September 2016. She has created works for Ballet Spartanburg, Ballet Austin II, Ballet Zaida, MOTION Dance Theatre. Her work for Avant Chamber Ballet will be presented on April 21-22, 2018 at Moody Performance Hall on the program Moving Music alongside masterworks by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Paul Mejia.
Also commissioned this year through the Project is a new work from Kimi Nikaidoh. As the artistic director of Dallas’s Bruce Wood Dance, Kimi has choreographed for her own company of modern dancers but this will be her first commission with a professional ballet company. “I’m beyond lucky that Dallas provides me with the opportunity to create work for high-caliber modern and ballet dancers,” says Nikaidoh. “Working with the lovely ACB company will be a delight!”
And yet another profile for Dallas DanceFest. This was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Artistic Director Anastasia Waters on the company’s mission and her expectations for their first showing at Dallas DanceFest.
Dallas — ImPULSE Dance Project (IDP) was created out of founder Anastasia Waters’ desire to change the way the general public perceives modern dance. IDP’s mission is to make dance more accessible for the general public by integrating their dance works into the environments that surround people in their everyday lives. The name stems from Waters’ impulse decision to make her dream a reality after a long internal struggle. “Though it has been a long time dream of mine, the thought was always very scary and overwhelming with the actual logistics of starting a company. Where will I get funding? Who will dance with me? Where will we dance? One day when all of these questions were running through my mind I had the impulse just to do it. So, that is where the name imPULSE Dance Project comes from and I have been acting on impulses in regards to this company ever since.”
Waters received her BFA in modern dance at Texas Christian University. During her time there she had the opportunity to perform in works by Susan Douglas Roberts, Elizabeth Gillaspy, Suki John and guest artists Robert Battle, Loretta Livingston and Alexander Beller. During Waters’ senior year she was awarded the Emerging Choreographer’s Award for her modern pieces Bedtime Story and Omnipotence. Bedtime Story was also chosen to be performed and adjudicated at the 2010 American College Dance Festival. After dancing with Dallas-based Muscle Memory Dance Theatre for two years, Waters left to start her own company in 2012.
While this will be IDP’s first time presenting at Dallas DanceFest, the group is no stranger to festivals in general. The company actually premiered its very first work, True Colors, at the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival in 2013 and has also performed at the Denton Dance Festival and Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. Waters credits dance festivals for helping IDP grow because she says they gave them an outlet to perform back in the beginning when they didn’t have the funding to put on their own productions. She adds, “Various festivals have helped us establish an audience and reach people we wouldn’t have otherwise. I believe they have also helped me acquire and keep dancers as they offer us more opportunities to perform, which is ultimately why we do what we do!”
For DDF 2017, IDP will perform Waters’ piece Between Wind and Water, which she explains is an abstract representation of vulnerability. “It is a dance on finding the courage to expose one’s deepest self in order to form real desired connections and relationships. In the dance these feelings are represented by images of wind and standing exposed in inclement weather.” The work features Waters’ signature movement style, which she says is very athletic and comes from her love of experimenting with power in dance so her movement contains a certain amount of weight and grounded quality.
As a first time presenter Waters says she is most looking forward to having the company share the stage with so many other talented companies in the area. She is also interested to see how her work translates onto a larger stage stating, “Most of the performances we do are held in very intimate black box settings, which I love, but we are all very excited to perform at Moody Performance Hall.”
» imPULSE Dance Project will be performing Between Wind and Water at Dallas DanceFest this Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:
And yet another profile piece for Dallas DanceFest. This features Bruce Wood Dance Company Member Austin Sora! This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Company member Austin Sora on joining Bruce Wood Dance and what she’s looking forward to at this year’s Dallas DanceFest.
Dallas — Dallas DanceFest (DDF) will forever be dear to Austin Sora as this was where she made her performance debut with Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) in the late choreographer’s Requiem back in 2015. Since then Sora has really come into her own as an artist, beautifully acclimating to Wood’s quirky yet poetic movement style and finding deeper emotional connections to his work with the help of BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh and Artistic Associates Joy Bollinger and Albert Drake.
“I like that Bruce has a very distinct aesthetic that is consistent with all his pieces even through there is such a variety of styles within that aesthetic. I love that it is kind of a marriage of technical skill and athleticism, but still very emotional and human.” She adds, “His work is also really personal and so, even though I never knew him, I feel like I have been able to get to know him through his work and through people who knew him and worked closely with him. That’s been a really special experience for me.”
Born in Toronto, Canada, Sora moved to New York City when she was accepted to Marymount Manhattan College where she earned a B.F.A in dance and a minor in arts management. It was during her senior year when she briefly crossed paths with Nikaidoh who was there setting a work for the senior showcase. “I wasn’t in her piece, but my friend David Escoto was and he went on to join BWD after graduation. It was actually David who mentioned my name to Kimi when she was looking for another female dancer, and so I came down to Dallas on kind of a trial contact and I have been here ever since.” This is Sora’s third season with the company.
Sora says she is excited to be dancing in an excerpt of Wood’s Red at this year’s DDF, which takes place Sept. 2-3 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. “Red is really physical and athletic and there’s a rawness to it, and the music is very driving. You just feel like there’s this constant struggle to keep on going amongst all the turmoil and chaos happening around you.” Sora points out that in rehearsal Joy would talk to them about the period of time in which Bruce created this piece, which was around when 9/11 happened, and how he didn’t intend for the piece to be about that, but it definitely influenced the work. “It’s very emotional and there’s a lot happening and I don’t even think that by the end you overcome the struggle. You just keep coming up against a wall that won’t let down.”
Sora also mentions the reasons she enjoys performing at DDF, which include getting a chance to perform for different audiences and the comradery she feels amongst the artists backstage. “The dance community here in Dallas is thriving and so, festivals like this are kind of like a celebration of that for me.” She continues, “It’s just exciting to see everyone together on the same stage. It’s always inspirational to see all the different dance groups that are out there. And for growing companies festivals are important as they help to build momentum and create new opportunities.”
» Bruce Wood Dance will be performing an excerpt of Red on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.
» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:
And here is another profile on one of the local pre-professional ballet companies performing at Dallas DanceFest this weekend! This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Ballet Ensemble of Texas Artistic Director Allan Kinize on the benefits of dance festivals for aspiring professionals and what the company has in store for Dallas DanceFest 2017.
Dallas — Formed in 2001 by Lisa Slagle, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) goal is to present quality ballet performances for the local communities and to provide advanced ballet students with the opportunity to prepare for a career in dance. Over the last 15 years BET has done just that with its tight knit group of fiercely driven and gifted dancers and the company’s refreshing renditions of classic story ballets such as The Firebird, Coppelia, The Nutcracker, and Aurora’s Wedding. The company spends countless hours in the studio (Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell) honing their musical aptitude, technical execution, stylistic versatility and performance quality, which typically result in packed performances throughout the year. Many of BET’s former dancers have gone on to dance professional with American Ballet Theater, Texas Ballet Theatre, Sarasota Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Colorado Ballet, just to name a few.
For this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DDF), BET will be stepping outside its comfort zone slightly in Tammie Reinsch’s Generation#.Featuring the entire company, the work blends ballet, contemporary and modern movements with props, including oversized emojis created by Wendy Lamar, to tell a light-hearted tale of how modern technology is affecting the personal relationships among today’s youth. “Generation# is a fun-filled, but contemplative look at how all our ever evolving technology is affecting our lives, and specifically young lives,” says BET Artistic Director Allan Kinize.
Kinize has been an advocate for DDF from the beginning and BET has been fortunate to have presented work in three out of the last four events, including this year’s performance of Generation#. “As a director, I see many benefits in participating in these types of festivals. First and foremost such venues give our dancers another opportunity to show their talents to the viewing public. The dancers also get to see other companies perform, and they get the chance to meet those dancers in a supportive artistic setting.” He adds, “These festivals also give the choreographers of BET the opportunity to either choreograph a new work or to set something that deserves additional exposure.”
Kinize also notes that his dancers are always very enthusiastic about participating in DDF, and have expressed those thoughts to him this year and in the past. “DDF gives the dancers a chance to see what we are accomplishing and that of the other groups in the area. Also, performing in such a beautiful theater is a special bonus for them because the pieces look and feel professional and are managed by professionals.”
» BET will perform on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall as part of DDF 2017.
» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group returns to its zany storylines and feminist roots in Donkey Beach, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Dallas — Over the last six years Danielle Georgiou has made a name for herself in the Dallas arts community for her unique collaborations with local singers, actors and musicians as well as for putting out work that is real and relevant and always pack a punch. Her use of originxal music, tanztheater (expressionist dance) and dark humor to bring attention to taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism is both disconcerting and engaging at the same time. You can see all these elements at work in Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) newest production, Donkey Beach, which premieres June 22-25 at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Inspired by the beach party movies of the 1960s featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Georgiou and her team, including Justin Locklear and Ruben Carrazana, have created a similar setting where the sun always shines, the songs are about bikinis and surf boards and the teenagers say things like “gee whiz” and “cowabunga” while busting out classic ’60s dance moves like The Swim and The Mashed Potato. The concept for the show came to Georgiou while watching Disney’s Teen Beach 2 one evening. “I really liked the idea of being transported to a different time and place,” Georgiou says. “I also love the ’60s because it was the first time that women really had a voice in society and were comfortable in their own skin.” Georgiou adds that she’s also a fan of the femme fatale characters in the movies from the ’40s and ’50s.
The structure of the show is a musical with songs and dances woven in between dialogue and modern dance techniques such as weight sharing, concaved body shapes and pedestrian movements. “This is definitely a musical, but it doesn’t have the typical happily ever after at the end. I mean boy meets girl and the two of them kind of fall in love, but then everything starts to fall apart. There is no happy ending in this musical.” Georgiou doesn’t tell me this to spoil the ending of the run through I was about to see of Donkey Beach at Eastfield College in Dallas last Saturday afternoon. Actually, Locklear alludes to this fact multiple times in his opening monologue, which explains how Donkey Beach came into existence.
To sum it up, a seahorse enchantress and an evil gin—“it’s an evil genie,” band member Trey Pendergrass shouts out multiple times throughout the show—had a falling out and in her anger the enchantress turned the genie into a donkey. Heartbroken and looking like a literal ass the donkey creates a magical place where everyone is happy all the time. Locklear and the band then lead us into the opening scene, which depicts a bunch a miserable teenagers at a summer camp where it rains all the time. With Locklear’s urging the lead characters Jimmy (Matt Clark) and Susie (Debbie Crawford) drink from a bottle of donkey water that then opens up the portal to Donkey Beach. You can definitely draw some parallels between this story and that of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which also includes magical beings and a remote island.
The music for the show has a Beach Boys vibe with lyrics about bikinis, surf boards and beach parties, which will be performed live by Locklear (vocals and bass guitar), Pendergrass (percussion) and Cory Kosel (vocals and guitar). Like all of Georgiou’s productions, she uses these original tunes as a means to poke fun at specific societal norms and stereotypes with the ultimate goal of opening up the audiences’ eyes to certain issues in a non-threatening and usually ridiculously funny way. An example would be Crawford’s solo with a ukulele, “because of course she can play the ukulele,” Pendergrass states as he brings the instrument over to her. The song starts off light about young love, but then turns heavy when she questions why society makes excuses for men when it comes to domestic abuse and how society typically looks the other way when it happens. The song ends and the performers are quiet for a minute, allowing for the viewers to absorb the message, before Will Acker jumps up and says, “Dude you killed the mood. This is a bonfire!” With that cue the band starts playing and dance madness ensues. You also have to appreciate the irony of Carrazana portraying a woman complete with a grass skirt and coconut bra in a movie genre known for its plastic images.
Later in the show you will notice the performers make vague references about world events such as mass tragedies and natural disasters as well as smaller, more personal tragedies. When asked why she didn’t name specific tragedies like the recent bombing in Manchester, England, Georgiou responded that she didn’t want to limit the show to just the here and now. “I want it to represent all time periods, not just what is happening today. I want the show to mean something in a universal way.”
Georgiou loosely describes the show as having three acts: the first being the gloomy camp scene where we meet the teenage characters; the second on Donkey Beach where the characters are transformed into 1960s talking and dancing beach kids; and the final scene between the enchantress and the donkey, which Georgiou says contains the meat of the show. “This is where the bottom just drops out of the show. Everything before this is just pretense.” I don’t want to give the twist away, but I left the rehearsal pondering to myself if given a choice would I rather live in miserable reality or in a joyful lie.
Bruce Wood Dance Project humanizes the refugee crisis in Albert Drake’s Chasing Home, part of the company’s Journey’s performance this weekend.
Dallas — Emily Drake tenderly cups David Escoto’s face in the palm of her hand before he scoops her up and spins her around in childlike glee while the rest of the dancers quietly celebrate in the background. As the duet progresses, the two twist, duck and arc around one another while always maintaining their connection through physical touches and eye contact. This marriage ceremony is just one of many poignant moments viewers get to witness in Albert Drake’s new work Chasing Home, which depicts the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps as they seek to reclaim their identities. The work features an original score by Joseph Thalken, which will performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Bruce Wood Dance Project’s(BWDP) Journeys performance June 16-17 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s Schmetterling (2004) and Zero Hour (1999).
Out of the full 20-minute piece, it’s the duet with Emily Drake and Escoto where we really get to see who Albert Drake, Emily’s husband, is becoming as a choreographer. Yes, Wood’s aesthetic is visible in the dancers’ swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing, but there is a vulnerability and sensuality in the couple’s partnering that is uniquely Albert Drake. “It is not sexual at all,” Albert Drake says. “It’s sensual in that it’s more about seeing, touching, hearing and feeling. It was about finding those intimate connections between the dancers.” Wood’s influences can also be found in the couple’s silky smooth transitions and momentum-driven partnering and floor work, whereas the dynamic bodying shaping and contrary movement phrases showcased in the dancer’s individual moments cater more to Albert Drake’s artistic sensibilities.
When asked about his evolving movement tastes Albert Drake says, “There are definitely a lot of influences from Bruce in my work just because I adore and respect him. I have also found a lot of connection to his work from my concert training at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.” Before attending SMU in the fall of 2008 Albert Drake says his knowledge of concert dance was limited. It wasn’t until he took Graham technique with Professor Myra Woodruff that he fell in love with the art form. It was also during this time period that he met Bruce Wood who came to SMU looking for dancers to perform in the first concert of BWDP.
(Woodruff’s teaching methods were recently praised on Dance Teacher magazine’s website by former student Corinna Lee Nicholson. Check it out here.)
“There were a lot of connections between my Graham classes and Bruce’s work, so I never felt as if I was starting over with a new aesthetic,” says Albert Drake about his first year with the BWDP after graduating from SMU in 2012. “And these connections definitely and heavily translated in my first work Whispers. That piece kind of came out of nowhere and so, I definitely played from what I knew.” Since the premiere of Whispers last season, Albert Drake says he has been trying to find more of his own self in the movement. “Dynamic range has always been important to me. Also, suspension, release, contraction, expansion, soft and aggressive. I like playing around with all these elements and I hope this comes across in my work.”
Circling back to the marriage ceremony mentioned earlier, Albert Drake says the idea came from one of the multiple documentaries he has watched pertaining to the refugee crisis. He was particularly touched with a story about a couple that had met, fell in love and gotten married while living in a refugee camp. “I was inspired by the fact that even with everything else that was going on people came together and found items like pieces of fabric and makeshift flowers to adorn the bride and groom in. It’s these moments of hope and of being able to move forward and progress while still living in this situation that is really what this piece comes down to for me.” A wedding isn’t the only communal activity featured in the piece. Albert Drake also brings soccer and the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, into the fold with movement sequences dedicated to fast, syncopated foot work similar to an Irish jig and rhythmic soccer drills performed by the men.
After watching Albert Drake and Joseph Thalken converse at the end of rehearsal about the music for the final section it’s clear the two have an amicable working relationship and seem to be on same page in terms of the bigger picture. When I mentioned this to Albert Drake later he chuckled and admitted it has taken a lot of time and mind mapping for them to get to this point. “In our first meeting we wrote a lot of stuff down on paper in terms of content, tune and mood and then we just starting tying all these things together.” He adds, “Joseph and I broke everything into sections with working titles, so there really is no beginning, middle or end to the piece. Instead I created different chapters or vignettes with the hope audiences will focus more on the dancers’ connections than following a narrative.”
Dallas Black Dance Theatre leaps into a new era with Stephen Mills’ Bounce and two works by new Artistic Director Briget L. Moore at its annual Spring Celebration Series.
Dallas — A rollercoaster of emotions, movement that changes in texture, weight and dimension, and jumps – lots of them. With its strong classical foundation and pas de deux like couplings, Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills’Bounce is a detour from what we normally see from Dallas Black Dance Theatre(DBDT). Well known for presenting works that honor the African American culture and related dance styles, it’s easy to forget that DBDT is also well-versed in modern, jazz and classical dance forms. The dancers prove this in Bounce, which will be performed alongside works by Twyla Tharp and DBDT’s new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore at the company’s annual Spring Celebration Series, May 19-21, at the Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre in the Arts District.
In Bounce, the dancers’ strong classical training can be seen in their port de bras, controlled arabesques and jumps with deep plies, which Mills cleverly fused with grounded foot work, curvaceous spine movements and elastic body positions for a more contemporary look. And with no plotline or hidden messages to decipher the audience can just sit back and enjoy the way the dancers’ bodies interpret the music, which is an original score by Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds. Reynolds’ work has been featured in numerous movie soundtracks, including Before Midnight, Bernie and A Scanner Darkly and he is one of Mills’ favorite collaborators for original dance music.
Mills has always had a penchant for all things musical. Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, Mills’ extracurricular activities included piano lessons and drama club. It wasn’t until his first year of college when one of his theater requirements included him taking a ballet class that he discovered his passion for the art form. From there he jumped into every class he could find, including ballet, modern, jazz, tap and even African dance at the Ailey School. He would later join The Harkness Ballet and The American Dance Machine in New York before moving on to work with Ohard Naharin, Katherine Posin and Mark Dendy.
Since becoming artistic director of Ballet Austin in 2000, Mills has created a number of innovative and memorable works for the company, including Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew and Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, his two-year, community-wide human rights collaboration. Most recently, Mills was awarded the Steinberg Award, the top honor at Le Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition for One/the body’s grace.
Mills’ sophisticated understanding of music can be seen throughout Bounce from the opening sequence where the dancers bounce side-to-side to the syncopated beats of a xylophone; to his visually compelling use of movement canons and moments of stillness in the quartet with Claude Alexander, III, Zion Pradier, Sean J. Smith and De’ Anthony Vaughan accompanied by the harmonious tinkering of a piano. While I didn’t get to see Mills at the rehearsal of Bounce I attended last week at DBDT’s main studio in downtown Dallas I did get to see international choreographer and Dallas native Bridget L. Moore in the studio – an opportunity I have been looking forward to since it was announced she would be taking over as artistic director earlier this year.
I was eager to see how she would interact with the dancers now that she has become a permanent fixture in the organization. She has worked with the company on many different occasions, but it has always been in a visiting artist capacity. While I wasn’t surprised with her straight-forward, hands-on approach during notes, I was inspired by her thoughtful individual critiques, which were focused on helping the dancers continue to growth artistically for the long haul and not just in the moment.
A prime example was her feedback for Alyssa Harrington regarding one of her duet sections with Alexander. “You have such beautiful lines, but there’s still more you can do to bring us in,” Moore says. “Push to elongate more and reach behind that knee. Don’t just rely on the lines you have.” The movement phrase Moore was referring to is when Harrington developes her right leg up as she leans into Alexander before she springs back onto that leg in an arabesque hold with her arms reaching forward. Harrington’s mind/body connection was much stronger after hearing Moore’s comments. She was able to stretch through her movement more, which did indeed draw my eye in.
One of the things Moore wanted the group as a whole to continue working on is their performance quality. Because the work keeps bouncing back and forth between various emotions and moods such as anger, longing, flirtation and joy, it’s imperative that the dancers remain in the zone if they want the piece to keep the audience engaged from start to finish. “You have to continue building your performance quality while also executing the movement at the same time. You need to figure out how to connect more with the movement and your partner so the piece reads well.”
The artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre on her new role and the world premiere of her Uncharted Territory at the TITAS Command Performance this weekend.
Dallas — Bridget L. Moore is no stranger to the Dallas dance scene. She was born and raised here, and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) in 1989 before heading to The Ohio State University where she earned a B.F.A dance and a concentration in choreography. She would later go on to earn a M.F.A in dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2006.
As a professional dancer Moore toured with New York-based Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE/Dance Company from 1999-2008. She was the first recipient of Project Next Generation, a commission to an emerging female choreographer by Urban Bush Women Dance Company. She was also commissioned by the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography to work with Philadanco Dance Company in a creative residency. She also co-directed This Woman’s Work with colleague Princess Mhoon Cooper and was listed as one of Dance magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2006.
Throughout her professional career Moore has returned to Dallas numerous times to teach and set works for many arts institutions, including Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT), University of Texas at Dallas and BTWHSPVA where she was also the artistic director of the World Dance Ensemble. In May of 2016 a group of Moore’s students from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, were asked to perform at DBDT’s Spring Celebration. All of these experiences as well as her close rapport with DBDT Founder Ms. Ann Williams make her an ideal candidate for the artistic director position. The selection committee obviously agreed because at the beginning of this year it was announced that Moore would take over for Ms. Williams effective Feb. 1.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Moore’s work then you are in luck because her new work Uncharted Territory, which was commissioned by TITAS, is on the roster for the annual Command Performance Gala at the Winspear Opera House this Saturday. The piece includes music by Kangding Ray and features DBDT Company Members Claude Alexander III and Kimara Wood, who is filling for Matthew Rushing of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The evening’s program also includes works by Alvin Ailey, Wang Yuanyuan, Moses Pendleton and Dwight Rhoden, just to name a few.
TheaterJones asked Bridget L. Moore about coming home to Dallas, her plans for DBDT’s main company and working with Matthew Rushing and Claude Alexander, III on her work Uncharted Territory for this year’s Command Performance Gala.
TheaterJones: How are you settling into your new role as artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre?
Bridget L. Moore: It’s been going very well. I’ve had some time to learn about the day-to-day operations, but of course you are talking about 40 years of history and commitment to the field so there is still a lot that I have to learn. Fortunately, I have been able to shadow Ms. Williams which is really great and it has been very special to have her there with me. I have really appreciated her advice and guidance.
What type of growth would you like to see within the main company under your leadership?
What I really want and I’m planning to do is to build on the legacy and the excellence that is already present at DBDT. Now, I would like to continue to expand our national and international touring as well as enhance and continue to push our educational outreach program through our academy. As well as foster relationships through our community and connect our community through culture, dance and innovative programming. And also put forth initiatives that ensure the mission and the structure of the organization and that also empower our next generation of artists.
What made you decide to come home to Dallas?
Well, I have spent that last three years in South Korea teaching at Sungkyunkwan University as a visiting professor and it was such a wonderful opportunity, but I love Dallas and I was ready to come home. And now I have the opportunity to share those experiences with others.
What motivated you to apply for the position?
One of the main things that attracted me to DBDT is their mission statement which is to create and produce modern dance work at its highest level of artistic excellence. And because they also have the arts and education program as well as the educational outreach program that really support my overall personal and goals. It just seemed like a great fit for me and it’s something I was already thinking about doing while I was in Korea. I was trying to come to an agreement with myself in terms of what I wanted to do in the next phase of my career. I absolutely love teaching and choreographing, but to be able to do all of it and support the professional dancers on that level is definitely something I am excited to do.
What changes in the Dallas dance scene have you noticed since returning home?
I would say that particularly in the Arts District I am noticing a lot more collaborative projects and community engagement projects that really involve the people that they serve. And I think it’s so important that we are involving and working with our community because that truly drives the economy and also just really connects us. So, I am seeing a lot of collaborative projects that I didn’t necessarily see as much before.
What was your inspiration for your piece, Uncharted Territory, for the TITIS Command Performance?
Conceptually, a lot of the piece comes from my travels while I was in South Korea. I was able to venture out to several neighboring countries, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Japan. And I travelled alone to these countries which was very unusual and awkward at times, but still very enjoyable yet unfamiliar. So, I wanted to choreographically challenge myself with this new work by finding new ways to approach the movement. I tried to take a very experimental approach to creating the work. It is a duet with two men and I eventually want to make it a larger work for the company.
Why did you select Matthew Rushing and Claude Alexander III to be in the number?
Charles Santos has always liked the idea of connecting dancers from different companies such as Alvin Ailey and DBDT, which both have rich history and are very dynamic. So, Charles thought it would be great to have Matthew and then I decided on having Claude from DBDT. They are both dynamic dancers and have such beautiful artistry and sensibility when it comes to movement that I knew they would look great together. But unfortunately Matthew is injured so Kimara Wood of DBDT will go into his place. I think it’s going to be fantastic and I can’t wait!
Choreographers Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky have received a lot of heat recently for their responses to a question in a New York Times article asking them why most of the major choreographers in classical dance are male. As a female choreographer who has travelled around the world what are your thoughts on this imbalance? Where should the change begin?
First, we need to recognize and acknowledge that there is indeed a problem and that there is definitely a disproportion between women and men choreographers in terms of equal opportunities. There is a lack of presence of women, but we are doing the work and we definitely have women choreographers that are clearly capable and are just as technically capable as the men. In 2003 a college of mine, Princess Mhoon Cooper, and I created and designed a performance work as a response to that notion as a platform for women to present their work. And so, how do we solve the problem. I think the first initiative would be to come together and have dialogue to continue to talk about why there is an imbalance among women and men choreographers. I think we just have to support each other and lift each other up by using our platforms and our resources to empower one another.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates 40 years through video clips, audio recordings and dance in Sean J. Smith’s Interpretations, part of DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series.
Dallas — “This is just magical! I had never been in a theater before…!” As Ms. Ann Williams reflects in a pre-recorded interview about her first visit to the opera and seeing dance for the first time, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) Company Member Claude Alexander III leisurely makes his way to the center of the large rehearsal space, which occupies most of the second floor of DBDT’s home on Ann Williams Way in downtown Dallas. As Ms. Williams’ voice fades, it is replaced with the bright and powerful sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet in Birth of the Blues, which Alexander emulates through his explosive jumps, smooth leg circles and cutting arm movements.
A dance hall vibe ensues as the rest of DBDT’s main company enters and exits from different parts of the stage sometimes singularly and other times in pairs or trios while performing a lush variety of jazz, ballet and contemporary moves in the first section of DBDT’s Company Member Sean J. Smith’s newest work, Interpretations. The approximately 30-minute work tells the story of the company’s 40-year legacy using dance, video clips and audio recordings that feature DBDT alums and faculty members, including Deena Chavoya-Ellis, Darrell Cleveland, Nycole Ray, Kathleen Sanders, DeMarcus Williams and Melissa M. Young, just to name a few. The piece also features music by Smooth Jazz All Stars, Les Miserables Brass Band, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sarah Vaughan and Chris Botti.
In addition to acting as the thread tying all seven dance sections together, the audio recordings also serve as a reference point for each dance break. For example, prior to the second section Ms. Williams talks about the company’s early days and its founding members. As the audio is playing Hana Delong, Kayah Franklin, Alyssa Harrington, Jasmine White-Killins and McKinley Willis enter with a black folding chair. The dancers proceed to lean, stand and droop across the chairs, and as the ladies move circularly from chair to chair you get this feeling of time passing which is intensified when the men join in. The choreography in this section flows seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with a couple Fosse-inspired moves thrown in for some added zing, including head bobs, shoulder shimmies with elbows close to the body and walks with tilted hips.
“I use a multitude of styles, not just one,” Smith says about his movement choices for Interpretations. I have a couple sections that are jazz orientated, but also contemporary. I also incorporate some fast foot work and some adagio movement that celebrates DBDT’s diversity, which I don’t think I could’ve done by sticking to just one style.”
Smith has a diverse dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and contemporary techniques. His dance idols include Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Michael Jackson. He has trained at many well-known dance institutions such as Toronto Dance Theatre, Ballet Creole and The Ailey School before joining DBDT in 2010. Over the last six years Smith has performed featured roles in works by Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle and Jamal Story. As a choreographer he has produced 11 works for the last seven Black on Black performances and created his first full-length piece entitled Monologues for the company in 2013.
When Ms. Williams approached Smith about making a piece showcasing the evolution of DBDT for its 40th anniversary season Smith says he was honored to work on a project of this magnitude. “I am appreciative to Ms. Williams for giving me this opportunity. Anyone can go to the website and read our history, so the challenge is how do I make this material more engaging and interesting. To me we are not Dallas Black Dance Museum. We are Dallas Black Dance Theatre and so it is important to make this a special experience as you get all this wonderful information from the last 40 years.”
When asked about the meaning behind the title Interpretations, Smith says it speaks to the true nature of being a member of a repertory dance company. “Interpretations is an important title because that is what we do as dancers; we interpret. We have a 40-year history of diverse and challenging repertory that spans many different genres and we as dancers have the responsibility to maintain the integrity of the work. So, the idea is when you step on stage the steps are the same, but the person conveying the message will always change as every body and spirit carries with it a different set of experiences that they will convey through the choreography.”
As the piece comes to a conclusion in a rip roaring big band number featuring the men performing a series of leaps, turns and slides while holding on to canes that they periodically extend out as if passing the baton to the next generation of DBDT dancers, a female voice suddenly cuts through the noise. She says something along the lines of “This is what I have been waiting for! I am in awe of the company now!” The finale, which features the entire company dancing in unison for the first time throughout the whole work, gives us a glimpse into DBDT’s future and will hopefully leave you feeling uplifted and inspired.
The premiere of Interpretations was made possible in part by an award from the MidAmerica Arts Alliance. You can experience the work for yourself during Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 17-19, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. The program also includes an excerpt of Bruce Wood’s Smoke (2001), Asadata Dafora’s Awassa Astrige/Ostrich (1934), Darryl Sneed’s …And Now Marvin (1995), and Wood’s solo The Edge of My Life…So Far (2010) performed by DBDT: Encore! Artistic Director Nycole Ray.
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group uses movement, text and original music to depict the democratic nature of honeybees in the new work War Flower at the Bath House Cultural Center.
Dallas — “Unsettling” was the first word that came to mind as I watched Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) rehearse War Flower, Georgiou’s latest theatrical dance work, which explores the inner workings of animal societies such as honeybees for insights into the human condition, at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas last Friday evening. The heavy electronic beat Donovan Jones plays in the beginning helps set the pace for performer Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso’s passion-filled monologue, which starts with the line “The bees came in the summer of two thousand and whatever.”
Dressed in a modest, floor-length cream dress with a wreath of flowers on top her head, Jasso moves purposely around the minimally adorned space (strips of artificial grass, white plastic chairs and a whole wall decorated in vines with “The Hive” spelled out in twinkling lights) as she tells the story of man’s creation using verses from the Bible. She finishes up by saying “welcome home,” which was the cue for the other 15 performers, all dressed in soft, floral-printed tops and dresses, to come in running and screaming like cavemen. The primitive movement, i.e. concaved shapes, heavy tailbones, rolling and crawling around on all fours, is right in Georgiou’s wheelhouse, along with theatrics, videography and soundscape.
War Flower is Georgiou’s grandest production to date with a cast of 19, including Georgiou, sound specialist Donovan Jones, conceptual designer Justin Locklear and lighting designer Lori Honeycutt, and also features a number of moving parts, including live music, video and small machinery. When asked about the large cast Georgiou says, “I wanted a large cast for the work to help visually build the idea of a community and demonstrate the rituals acts in the piece.” As for performing in her own work, something she hasn’t done in the last couple of years, Georgiou says that was a natural decision.
“When I started working on movement for War Flower in February of 2016 for the faculty dance concert at Eastfield College, I was working with a cast of four dancers, and I slowly began to find myself in the piece with them. Then when it became time to bring in the full cast for the premiere production it just made sense to remain a part of the show. As a dancer I was intimately connected with the work and I almost couldn’t take myself away from it.”
Back to the rehearsal. After the caveman dance, Dallas actor, director and playwright Ruben Carrazana steps forward and begins explaining the finer points of being a honeybee, including the fact that they live to die, to newcomer Vinay Naik. And similar to how Virgil leads Dante through the nine circles of hell, Carrazana then leads Naik through the social and political hierarchy of honeybees while also touching on some of the most controversial human belief systems in the U.S., including Catholicism, Scientology and the Democratic Parties.
Georgiou is known for tackling controversial topics such as sexuality and gender roles in ironic and poignant ways and War Flower appears to be no different in this aspect. Her clever use of metaphors and pop culture references allow viewers to enjoy the show even when their politics don’t align. For example, the text she uses in the show includes sections from The Bible, The Federalist Papers, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense as well as lyrics from popular Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj songs. Her decision to center the piece around the lifecycle of honeybees stems from her readings of Honeybee Democracy by animal behaviorist Thomas D. Seeley. Part of the book synopsis reads, “Honeybees make decisions collectively and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building.”
Georgiou describes these tenets through a series of repetitive movement phrases that are executed singularly and collectively while someone is reciting text or performing a ritualistic action such as administering the Kool-Aid to a new cult member. There is also a scene where Carrazana asks Naik a list of yes or no questions in a rapid fire manner while Georgiou checks Naik’s body for signs of stress. This scene is eerily similar to the auditing sessions I recently saw on Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which Georgiou did confirm later was her inspiration for the section. She also told me that she got the list of questions from a personality test for Scientologists and a questionnaire that determines your political party, both of which she found online.
Most of the movement in War Flower is simplistic in nature – a lot of pedestrian walking and gesturing, pivoting body isolations and loose hips – but when performed in unison by the group easily captures the essence of the hive mind mentality. Georgiou explains, “For me, the hive mind mentality occurs when a group of people come to the same thought at the same time. Or when people act in unison without any foresight, communication or practice. It’s something instinctual and real. It’s a raw response; a decision made from the heart and gut, not the head.”
She continues, “It’s the group mind at work and that’s what really interested me. How we can make decisions in our hive without ever talking or without ever really knowing each other. It’s both terrifying and enticing. How we act in unison with our social groups, our friend groups, our families, without ever really being aware of where the initial inspiration came from.”
War Flower runs Jan 19-21 and 26-28, at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas.