Category Archives: Performance Review

Review: Donkey Beach, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group captures the essence of the 1960s’ beach movies in Donkey Beach, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

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Danielle Georgiou Dance Group in Donkey Beach. Photo: Mark Lowry

Dallas — As an artist Danielle Georgiou has always been a rule breaker. Looking over her portfolio of work these last few years, which includes Dirty Filthy Diamonds, NICE, and The Show About Men, you will notice that the only time she follows the rules is when she is about to break them. Georgiou is also not shy about addressing social taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism in her work, but she does it in such a way that you don’t know whether to laugh or cringe. You typically end up doing both at the same time, which is one of the main draws of a Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) show. The other being Georgiou’s ability to gather so many gifted local musicians, singers, actors and dancers in one place. This is something no other dance performance company has come close to doing here in Dallas.

Needless to say the expectations were high for DGDG’s newest production Donkey Beach, which premiered this weekend at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. A well-suited collaborative effort among Georgiou, Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script), Donkey Beach is a parody of the 1960s beach party movie genre, which includes films like Gidget (1959), Beach Party (1963), Pajama Party (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Like the movies that inspired it, Donkey Beach seamlessly blends live surf rock played by Locklear, Trey Pendergrass and Cory Kosel (also known as the Beach Bums); popular dance moves at the time such as The Twist, The Shimmy and The Mashed Potato; and meticulously timed dialogue that includes a copious amount of ’60s slang like “can you dig it” and “hang ten” to create one totally awesome beach bash.

Justin Locklear in Donkey Beach. Photo: Mark Lowry

The insanely happy beach vibe is carried throughout the entire production, including the moving sets featuring fabric on wheels which unveil multiple life-size 3D ocean waves, a camp cabin that becomes a lifeguard stand and a small stage in an upstage left corner where the band is situated. Locklear keeps the surfer theme going with the costumes, which feature bold-patterned swim trucks for the men and brightly colored cover-ups for the women. And Lori Honeycutt does a dynamic job with the lighting which transitions from muted purples and flashes of white light in the camp scene to warm yellows and oranges during the beach party.

Known for its borderless performances, DGDG had to get creative when it came to the rectangular-sized space of Hamon Hall as well as the fact the audience would not be on a rake when viewing the show. DGDG solves the first problem right away by having some of the members enter from the back of the room in a militant-styled dance sequence, which welcomed us to Camp Walla Bang-Bang. The 14-member cast wears army green t-shirts over black biking shorts with plastic head pieces that resemble raincoats.

Georgiou uses simple movements such as heavy walking, pivot steps and repetitive arm gestures to represent the campers’ dull and monotonous state of being. As the campers are directed to state their name, bunk number and favorite color, viewers notice that some voices are clear as a bell (Hannah Brake, William Acker, Curtis Green and Carrazana) while others, including De’Ja Farr, Omar Padilla and Colby Calhoun, are harder to hear due to the speed at which they speak—they all adjust this by the next scene.

The second problem of the people in the back not being able to see some of the action up front is addressed by Locklear, who describes the action the same way a sports caster would—so not to exclude anyone from the fun.

Locklear and the band are the glue that holds the show together. Locklear sets the mood in his opening monologue, which is a combination of Dick Clark, Humphrey Bogart and Vincent Price rolled into one as he tells audiences how Donkey Beach came into existence. It started with an enchantress and evil gin (or genie), Locklear says with a wicked smile and a wink. To sum it up the two creatures get together and then break up, and in his heartbroken state the genie banishes the enchantress to the sea, but not before she turns him into a donkey. In order to cope with his new image, the donkey creates a place at the end of the world where the sun is always shining and the party never stops. Locklear’s delivery is kind of creepy yet inviting, with a hypnotic cadence that the audience can’t help but follow.

Georgiou’s modern dance background and tanztheater influences are scattered throughout the show, including the fluid body shapes and springy footwork of Gabe King, Green and Calhoun in one of their trios and Debbie Crawford and Matthew Clark’s jerky body isolations after drinking out of a bottle containing rain water. She even makes dancing bushes appear musical and exciting. Georgiou has a knack for tackling issues like such gender roles in non-confrontational ways with the aid of irony and humor. An example would be when Carrazana rubs up on the lifeguard (Brian Witkowicz) dressed in grass skirt, coconut bra and blonde wig as Witkowicz sings about young, soft bodies in bikinis.

Spoiler Alert: Near the end it is revealed that Witkowicz is the donkey and he must be punished for tricking the teenagers into drinking his magic water and basically brainwashing them to be happy all the time. Becki McDonald’s hauntingly beautiful solo (she’s wearing a seahorse mask; both it and the donkey mask, designed by Locklear, are fantastic) is a sweet note in the show as the performers manipulate strips of blue fabric stretched across the stage while she sings about coming out of the water. The dialogue between McDonald and Witkowicz hits home when he mentions the terrors and tragedies happening across the world as well as more personal tragedies such as heartbreak and rejection. And this is where Georgiou’s twist happens—but you’ll have to see it to find out what happens.

You can still see Donkey Beach today at 2 or 8 p.m. at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

<<This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

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The Nutcracker: Collin County Ballet Theatre

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Collin County Ballet Theatre Presents The Nurcracker. Photo: Fermaint Photography

This year’s Nutcracker season concludes with Collin County Ballet Theatre’s spirited version featuring stunning guest artists and live music at the Eisemann Center.

Richardson — With more than 15 professional and pre-professional The Nutcracker productions running from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year, ballet company directors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have to continuously find new ways to up their production value if they want to stand out from the rest of the Nut pack. For some ballet companies this means tweaking choreography, storylines and stage setup while for others it means adding live music and big names from local and national dance companies to draw in the crowds, which is exactly what Collin County Ballet Theatre (CCBT) does with its Nutcracker production. While the promise of live music and notable guest performers is what initially got me to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts last Tuesday evening, it was the budding technical range and intuitive musicality displayed by the Senior Company (Brittany Chambers, Emily Dunaway, Aurelia Han, Lauren Huynh, Abigail Linnabary, Marissa Storey and Carissa Weaver) as well as Junior Company Member Alisa Ishikawa’s luminous performance as Clara that puts CCBT’s Nutcracker production in a class of its own.

For those unfamiliar with the 19th century holiday ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, here is a quick synopsis: The story begins at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party where family and friends have gathered to eat, drink, dance and exchange gifts. Herr Drosselmeyer arrives late and entertains the children with magic tricks before handing out toys to everyone, including a nutcracker doll for young Clara. After Clara falls asleep she dreams of her nutcracker doll coming to live and battling an army of mice led by the Rat King. Once the Rat King is defeated the Nutcracker Prince escorts Clara through the Land of Snow and across the Lemonade Sea to the Kingdom of the Sweets where couples from different nations are waiting to dance for her, including the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Most Nutcracker productions have the cast enter the stage during the musical introduction at the beginning, but CCBT Director’s Kirt and Linda Hathaway cleverly chose to leave the stage blank and just let the audience soak in the crisp, pervasive sounds of the Plano Symphony Orchestra (PSO) led by Hector Guzman. Nothing beats live music at a dance performance. It adds new depth and excitement to a dancer’s performance, which we clearly saw in the Merlitons and The Waltz of the Flowers variations as well as the Grand Pas de Deux with the Cuban Prima Ballerina Adiarys Almeida (Melian Izotov Dec. 22) and World Ballet Competition Gold Medalist Taras Domitro (Shea Johnson Dec. 22).

The Hathaway’s kept the movement in the party scene simple with repetitive combinations that included waltz steps, pas de chats, glissades, piques and detournes, which the adults and children cleanly executed while also changing directions and group formations. Timing was off here and there and movement appeared fuzzy at times, but the performers continued to garner strength and confidence as the scene progressed. Alisa Ishikawa (Clara) was a guiding light for the younger dancers on stage. She confidently led the children across the stage in a number of skipping and running passes. She also exuded youthful vigor and technical brilliance in her solo moments which showcased her supple pointe work and graceful arms. Additionally, Ishikawa had some endearing moments with Kirt Hathaway (Drosselmeyer) who charmed audiences with his gleeful expressions and dynamic gesturing.

Once Clara is asleep chaos ensued in the form of tiny dancers dressed up as mice. They scurried around the stage as dancers dressed in red and white solider uniforms tried to coral them with their militant arm movements and clipped marching steps. The battle scene was where CCBT’s Resident Company began to shine. Jamie Thompson (former member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre) was a ball of controlled energy with his multiple jumps and grand battements, and Lauren Gonzales (CCBT instructor and choreographer) was the most agile Rat King I have seen all season with her head whacking leg extensions and multiple fouette turns.

The momentum in the battle scene carried over into the snow scene thanks to the striking violins offset by a brass counter melody that the dancing snowflakes then paralleled with their springy yet sometimes heavy footwork and fluttery arm movements. CCBT Resident Company Member Ashton Leonard’s rigid spine kept her from filling out some of the poignant musical notes in the Snow Pas de Deux, but she countered that with beautiful control during the adagio sections and a fearless approach to the numerous lifts. Guest Artist Shea Johnson continues to work on his technical control and onstage chemistry, which was evident in his tight landings and the confident way he led Leonard through the intricate partnering skills.

The second act contained even more exuberant dance sequences, standout instrumentals by PSO and exquisite performances from individual CCBT company members and guest performers. The dim lighting at the start of the Lemonade Sea section prohibited us from seeing the pretty green hues of the Sea Maidens and Sea Sprites costuming as well as most of Carissa Weaver’s Sea Queen choreography, but the lights did brighten up as we were welcomed into the Kingdom of the Sweets by a dozen cute cherubs.

The variations in the second half were hit or miss. While Brittany Chambers, Marissa Storey and Adrian Aguirre (CCBT Resident Company) had the tendency to rush at times, the trio did handle the playful shifts from staccato to sequential movement in the Spanish dance with polished ease. A stumble earlier in the act threw Emily Dunaway off her game in the Arabian duo, but kudos to her for maintaining the slow, hypnotic feel of the music with her unhurried back arches and leg extensions aided by Michael Stone (CCBT Resident Company). Katelyn Benhardt and Sophie Ludwig were not always in unison during the Chinese variation, but they attacked the nuances in the fast-paced number with exacting pointe work and endless energy.

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Photo: Fermaint Photography

Aurelia Han, Lauren Huynh and Abigail Linnabary did not miss a beat or, in this case, a ballonne (a step in which the dancer springs into the air extending one leg to the front, side or back) in the Merlitons variation, while Reid Frye (CCBT Resident Company) wowed viewers with his acrobatic skills as the Trepak. Linnabary, Huynh and Weaver also embodied the ethereal qualities of the lead fairies in the Waltz of the Flowers with their flickering foot work, graceful arm positions and subtle musicality.

The highlight of the evening was the Grand Pas de Deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy (Adiarys Almeida) and her Cavalier (Taras Domitro). Almedia was the epitome of a prima ballerina with her technical fortitude, amazing body control and musical maturity. It appeared as if her body was the source of the music as she twirled, leaped and fluttered across the stage. Domitro also entranced the audience with his tender handling of Almedia during the various dips and balances in the partnering sections as well as his explosive leaps and quadruple pirouettes.

<< This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Bench Strength

Beckles Dancing Company demonstrates steady artistic growth and maturity in the company’s annual spring performance simply titled 21.

Photo: Beckles. Beckles Dancing Company

Dallas — Simple body lines. Subtle musicality. Intense emotional connections. These were the common threads that elevated Beckles Dancing Company’s spring show, 21, at the South Dallas Cultural Center last Friday evening. While there were some noticeable discrepancies among the works on the program mainly pertaining to the content and context or lack thereof in some of the pieces, it was an improvement from last year’s show which was a less consistent mix compared to this year’s more cohesive blend of professional and student-based choreography.

A few of the works that didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of concept and content, with content also pertaining to facial expressivity, were Loris Anthony Beckles’ group pieces Magical and Whispering Wolf as well as his solo Clifton-Bainbridge-Park set on long-time company member Tina Mullone. In Magical, dancers Lacy Brent, RoseMarie Sanders, Amaya Scoggins, Kaleb Smith, Angel Sparks and Taylor Townsend executed the Afro-Caribbean movements, including hip swirls, shoulder rolls and rhythmic foot stomping, with a natural ease and uniformity that comes from years of training and dancing together. And while the lively spirit of the dance was not reflected in the dancers’ expressions, which remained stoic throughout, the dancers fully embodied the steady drumming in Betty Carter’s composition with their playful gesturing (i.e. head bobs and open-close hand pulses) and deep leg lunges with swooping arms.

The dancers’ facial performances were also lagging in Beckles’ Whispering Wolf, but the dancers redeemed themselves with their competent technique, which featured rudimentary ballet steps layered with constantly changing arm movements and directional changes as well as luscious Graham torso contractions and weighted walks. One of things audiences can appreciate about Beckles’ choreography is that it never feels rushed. For him it’s about the journey, which is why when Mullone performed a series of simple plie tendues with proper epaulement in Clifton-Bainbridge-Park, viewers felt like they were seeing these well-known ballet steps for the first time. If the solo was meant to be ironic then the passive expression Mullone wore as Sam Cook crooned Nat King Cole’s I Love You For Sentimental Reasons was a clever choreographic choice.

Photo: Beckles Dancing Company

Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, Alma Alvarado, Kyndall Ash, Kaleb Smith and Jacqueline Rea (members of Espie’s After School “Character Counts” Dance Company) did a phenomenal job of capturing the anxiety and urgency in Gonzalez’s Washed in the Blood with some dynamic movement choices and intense facial expressions. And while the lack of transitions between certain tricks (i.e. cartwheels to the knee, stag leaps, backward shoulder rolls and side leg tilts) minimized their shock value, the dancers’ intensity, both physical and emotional, stayed true throughout.

The other student piece on the program, Layla Brent’sStages, featured edgy pointe work and exciting partnering skills and a well-rounded structure. Both couples (Layla Brent and Jared Smith and guest artists Erin Brothers and Kade Cummings) displayed amazing control and technical fortitude throughout the fast-paced piece. Later on Layla Brent and Smith showed great stylistic diversity when they nailed the sustained movements and luxurious body contortions in Andre R George’s Du Lahka. When I saw these two dancers perform the piece at last season’s show I was enraptured with the couple’s beautiful lines and intricate counter balance poses. This time around I knew what to expect movement wise which gave me and others more opportunity to relish in the beautiful love story driving the movement.

Another highlight of the night was Beckles’ Benchmarks. Broken into five sections, the work featured a variety of dance styles from ballet and modern to African improvisation at the end, as well as various moods that were represented through the dancer’s bodies and the different colored fabrics the dancers peeled off the ever present bench. Beckles cleverly incorporated the bench in every section of the work by having it act as a physical support and in one section a barrier for the performers. In the first section Lela Bell Wesley and Mullone used the bench to accentuate their reactions to one another such as when Wesley bent Mullone backwards over the bench. Lacy Brent used the bench as a home base during her more balletic solo, while Sanders used the bench as barrier as she slowly revealed different body parts. The African dance jam at the end was engaging and gave each company member a moment to shine.

>>This review was originally posted on www.TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Review: Dallas Youth Ballet’s Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular

Dallas Youth Ballet channels The Rockettes in its highly entertaining Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall.

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Dallas Youth Ballet in Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — While most pre-professional dance companies in the area are focusing solely on their balletic form during this time of year the Dallas Youth Ballet, comprised of students at Park Cities Dance (PCD) and The Dallas Conservatory, is honing a wide range of skills from acting and singing to Broadway, contemporary and ballet dance stylings, which the company efficiently and enthusiastically put on display at its seventh annual Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall on Sunday.

The Rockettes-inspired dances and festive Christmas caroling in the first half were a welcomed reprieve from the multiple Nutcrackerproductions currently being offered across Dallas-Fort Worth. Choreographer and PCD Artistic Director Jacqueline Porter and her band of Santas, soldiers, elves, ballerinas and candy canes set the pace for the show with a fun and flashy opening number entitled A Rockefeller Christmas. Dressed in sparkly red dresses edged with white faux fur and donning black character shoes, the 10 Santa dancers did a commendable job of channeling the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes with their regimented formations, clean upper body lines and clear foot work as they mined classic tap moves, including time steps, drawbacks and Shirley Temples (also known as Broadways). Audiences actually felt like they were at Rockefeller Center thanks to a vibrant backdrop Porter was able to rent, thus completing the overall effect of a New York Christmas.

The acoustics in the Dallas City Performance Hall did a nice job of picking up the Dallas Conservatory’s Children’s Singing Ensemble sweet harmonies and distinct enunciation as they charmed audiences with some fun holiday ditties, including “The Man with the Bag,” “All I Want for Christmas” and “White Christmas.” Music Director Lynn Ambrose also incorporated some basic tap steps in “The Man with the Bag” and cutesy gesturing in “All I Want for Christmas.” Student Allyson Guba also showed dynamic range and stage presence as she sang a hauntingly beautiful version of “Christmas Lullaby.”

In “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the 10 dancers’ showcased an abundance of shakes, shimmies and sass so as to not be outdone by the song’s energetic pace and bold musical accents. In today’s dance world where tricks and flexibility are taking priority over strength building and technical foundation work, audiences were pleased to see simple jazz walks, sharp flicks and kicks and a variety of beveled foot poses scattered throughout the routine.

In Cool Yule 10 dancers performed an exuberant 42nd Street-inspired number complete with shimmery dresses and character taps and featuring classic tap steps, including running flappes, wings, drawbacks and time steps. And while slightly darker than the other numbers with its aggressive contemporary movements and relentless running patterns, Clair Culin’s Pursuit kept inside the Christmas genre with a fast-tempo instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells.”

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Choreographers Porter, Culin, Haylee Bargainer and Olga Pavlova had the daunting task of blending multiple skills levels into the second half of the show, which started with Act 2 of The Nutcracker where Clara enters the Sugar Plum Palace and ended with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Rachel Rohrich) and Cavalier’s (Arron Scott, American Ballet Theatre) grand pas de deux. Bargainer accomplished this feat with simple tendues, plies, and epaulement arm gestures for the itty bitty dancers in the Spanish, Arabian and Chinese corp roles. The result was a darling mass of clumsy cuteness adorned with sparkly costumes and tiaras.

The Snowflakes’ movement in the opening number of the second half lacked some of the bounciness and rhythmic nuances typically associated with this dance segment, but the dancers made up for this with some lovely cascading arms gestures and interweaving pathways and alternating circular formation changes. And while her pointe work came across clunky at times, particularly in the landings of her jumps, Julie Shilling did display impressive musical timing and technical fortitude in her consecutive pique and chaine turns in her Snow Queen solo.

Kali Kleiman’s nimble feet and angelic features made her an ideal choice for the role of Clara. Her natural grace and childlike giddiness showed through her fluttering bourrées and springy petit jumps and jete leaps.

The Arabian, Russian and Chinese variations were clean, yet not as choreographically imaginative as some of the other dances in the show. Margot Tortolani (age 14) did an admirable job as the Dew Drop Fairy, drawing out the musical phrases with slow descending arms in her tour jetes and travelling balances as well as her leg lines inarabesque. The flower corp, including company members Claira Russell, Dani Van Creveld, Eden Ryder, Emma Odom, Michelle Arriaga, Summer Sexton, Taylor Waller and Shilling executed some of the most challenging technique of the night with multiple turning sequences and constantly changing epaulement positions to complement their crisp pointe work.

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The biggest surprise of the night was 14-year-old Rohrich’s professional-quality interpretation of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Rochrich’s airy arm movements and punctuating pointe work were enhanced by Scott’s trusting presence and strong hand holds in the partnering sections. And while Rohrich could have used her breath more to release some tension in the shoulders, she stayed rhythmically invested in the movement even after her music cut out during her solo.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

 

 

Review: Nutcracker, Ballet Ensemble of Texas

Ballet Ensemble of Texas enchants audiences with its wonderfully musical and technically creative version of The Nutcracker in Irving.

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Masumi Yoshimoto and Brett Young as the Snow Queen and King. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Irving — Of the multiple pre-professional Nutcrackers I’ve been able to see this season, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) annual production of the holiday classic, which they performed at the Irving Arts Center last Saturday night, contained some of the most complex and inventive choreography thus far, particularly in the cultural dances in Act II. BET Director Allan Kinzie and his choreographic team, including company advisor Lisa Slagle, Tammie Reinsch and Allison D’Auteuil Whitfield did a commendable job of showcasing the company’s ever-growing technical proficiency, athletic fortitude and personal expressiveness through creative dance sequences jam packed with fast pointe work, intricate petit jumping sequences with changing epaulement and visually exciting movement contagions and formation changes. Add in the vibrant décor, jewel-encrusted costuming and some exuberant performances from local guest artists from Texas Ballet Theater (TBT), and BET has another successful Nutcracker production to add to their books.

There were some minor discrepancies between the first and second half of the show. Act I started on a slower note with some timing issues and fluctuating energy levels in the children’s dances in the party scene, but the show gained momentum during the battle scene and ended with a spectacular snow scene featuring BET company member Masumi Yoshimoto  and TBT’s Brett Young in the coveted Snow Queen and King roles. The choreographers prevented overcrowding in the party scene with well-planned traffic patterns and minimal stage props. This in turn gave the well-played adult guests more room to waltz and the children more space to chasse around in a giant circle. And while occasionally musically out of sync during the adagio doll dance, viewers couldn’t miss the young girls’ beautiful presentation of the foot before each pique step and their high releves in the bourrees and soutenu turns.

Sheridan Guerin and Kinzie were both steadfast in their roles as Clara and Drosselmeyer. A former dancer with the Boston Ballet, Kinzie captivated audiences with his grandfatherly mannerisms and musical awareness when presenting Clara with her Nutcracker doll. Guerin drew us in with her angelic demeanor, but she held our attention with her clean lines and super-flexible feet, which were most pronounced when she executed an arabesque hold or bourrée step. One of the sweetest moments in the party scene came when Guerin and Kinzie fed off each other’s energy in one of the partner dances.

Yoshimoto and Young handled the complicated choreography in the Snow pas de deux with dignity and boundless energy. The movement showcased their expert facility and amazing body control through numerous assistedpirouettes, sustained arabesque balances, opposing body angles and no more than five press up lifts and shoulder sits. There were a few instances where the couple’s movement felt rushed especially in some of the assisted turns, but both dancers quickly adjusted their tempos to stay in time with Tchaikovsky’s driving score. The 16 snowflakes perfectly captured the nuances in the music with their springy footwork and sequential arm movements as well as their creative use of space and opposing rhythms.

The second half of the show was more consistent in terms of technique and performance quality and featured some exceptional dancing from certain company members and TBT guest artists Paige Nyman and Paul Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier.

Raquel Gamboa, Lisette Hotz, Hannah Menchu and Melynda Phillips performed the musical fan flicks and sharp leg lifts in the Spanish variation in perfect unison while Ryan Nemmers executed a series of double pirouettes and touren l’airs. The young men of BET which included Joseph Dang, Michael Fass, Nemmers, Adam Phillips and Akihiro Yoshimoto showed off their athletic dexterity and genuine charm in the widely popular Russian piece with multiple toe touches, double knee jumps and round houses. And while Helena Cerny and Phillips struggled with some of the hand holds and foot placements in the Dewdrop Fairy pas de deux, the couple pushed through to deliver some stunning moving pictures. Soloists Jordan Carter, Ana Denton, Menchu and Juliana Yu are proving themselves worthy of future leading roles with their exacting pointe work and beautifully controlled body positions in the Waltz of the Flowers.

BET is also the only pre-professional company that includes the Hungarian dance in its Nutcracker production. The repetitive rhythmic foot stomping and staccato arm placements were quite simple, but the steadily building tempo added a layer of anticipation of which none of the other dances could match.

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Paige Nyman and Paul Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Photo: Cathy Vanover

The stars of the night were Nyman and Adams in the grand pas de deux. Both dancers are rising through the ranks of Texas Ballet Theater and have shown steady improvement both technically and artistically speaking over the last year. The couple executed the tricky counterbalance holds and multiple reverse promenades throughout the piece without a stumble. Adams pushed his stamina to the limit with consecutive turning jetes, double tours to the knee and multiple front and back cabrioles while Nyman performed the delicate pointe work and fast-paced fouette turns at the end with swan-like poise.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: Nutcracker, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

LakeCities Ballet Theatre offer up a visual feast of vibrant dancing and stellar guest artists in honor of its 25th production of The Nutcracker.

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LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s 25th annual presentation of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

Flower Mound — With stunning sets, exquisite dancing and live musical accompaniment provided by the Lewisville Lake Symphony, it’s no wonder LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) annual production of the Nutcracker is one of the top items on people’s to do list every holiday season. This year’s Nutcracker performance was especially festive as it not only marked the company’s 25th anniversary of the holiday classic but was also the first time LBT sold out both showings at Marcus High School in Flower Mound this past weekend. This Nutcracker production also marks a transitional year for the company as many of its senior members graduated last spring, including Sydney Greene, Ali Honchell and Mackenna Pieper, giving members the opportunity to set up to the plate.

For those needing a refresher, the Nutcracker ballet is divided into two acts. The first includes a large party scene where our heroine Clara receives a Nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. When Clara goes to sleep that night she dreams of a battle between the Rat King and her Nutcracker Prince and also the Kingdom of Sweets where couple’s from different nationalities, including Russia, China and Spain perform for the reigning couple. After the climactic Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier pas de deux, Clara returns to her bed where she awakens from this wondrous dream.

Sarah Lane and Daniel Ulbricht in the grand pas de deux in The Nutcracker at LakeCities Ballet Theatre. Photo: Nancy Loch

In LBT’s version, audiences are immediately pulled into the story as families heading to the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party marched down the aisles and up onto the stage. Former English National Ballet dancer Kenn Wells (Herr Drosselmeyer) keeps the audience connected as he gestures to us to help him find the location of the party. Artistic Director Kelly Lannin’s fine eye for details, imaginative choreography and quirky sense of humor are on display throughout the party scene from the inventive adult and children dance sequences to Wells’ well-timed practical jokes and Mayor Silberhaus’ (Chuck Denton) over-the-top facial expressions especially after he ingests one too many holiday spirits. Not everyone may have noticed, but Denton also smoothly orchestrated almost every transition in the party scene from the lighting of the tree and the puppet show to the presentation of the Ballerina and Cadet dolls. Madeline Hanly and guest artist Ruben Gerding perfectly captured the doll’s unyielding forms with their pursed lips, angular arm gestures and jerky upper body movements.

Carly Greene shone in the role of Clara. Her natural grace and infectious personality were enhanced by her poignant pointe work and passionate character portrayal. Unlike other productions where Clara does very little after the first half, Lannin gives Greene many opportunities to flex her technical muscles throughout the show, much to the viewers delight. The only instance I am on the fence about is Lannin’s decision to feature Greene and guest artist Jack Wolff (Nutcracker Prince) at the beginning of the Snow Scene, a spot that is typically reserved for the Snow Queen and King pas de deux. Don’t misunderstand, Greene and Wolff nailed every singlearabesque hold, assisted pirouette and various sustained body movements, but their performance just couldn’t match up to the exciting lifts and complex pointe work that Mackenna Pieper and Shannon Beacham have perfected over the years in their roles of Snow Queen and King. Pieper, who graduated last year, has left some hard shoes to fill and it will be interesting to see who rises to the challenge. Adult member Faith Jones’ super long legs and penchant for beautifully controlled movements would fit the role nicely as would Carley Denton’s commanding stage presence and regal posturing.

The cast carried the party vibe over into the second half with more lively and technically brilliant performances by both LBT company members and special guests Sarah Lane (American Ballet Theatre) and Daniel Ulbricht (New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Denton was fun and flirty as the lead of the Spanish dancers, deftly guiding the rest of the corp, including Chloe Davis, Ashleigh Eaton, Kelsey Rhinehelder and Mikaela Seale through a series of rhythmic hands claps and fast foot work. Jones and Beacham displayed amazing control and dexterity in the Arabian dance especially when Jones bent backwards and held onto her foot while Beacham rotated her in a circle. Guest Artist Andre Harrington got the audience up and cheering with his consecutive back handsprings, while a surprise appearance by former Dallas Cowboys player Isaiah Stanback in the role of Mother Ginger sporting a Cowboys jersey and helmet on top of the large colorful skirt housing eight tiny dancers had the audience in stitches.

Lane and Ulbricht were sublime in the grand pas de deux at the end of the show. They executed the controlledpromenades, ponche arabesques and shifting epaulement phrases in a calm and fluid manner. Lane’s breathy exhales during her multiple pirouettes and various jumping sequences made her moves appear bigger and bolder. Ulbricht’s incredible artistry and athleticism are well known in the ballet world. He eats up the space with his gravity defying jetes and barely makes a sound when he drops to his knee after performing consecutive tours en l’air.

Lannin and her team should be proud of the whimsical and welcoming Nutcracker production they have diligently fostered over the last 25 years. I’m looking forward to seeing how the younger dancers progress into the ballet’s more challenging roles in the coming years.

This review was originally posted  on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: Chamberlain Performing Arts’ Nutcracker

Chamberlain Performing Arts delivers strong technique and spectacular guest artists at the company’s 31st Nutcracker production this weekend.

CPA-NUT
Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in Chamberlain’s Nutcracker. Photo Ryan Williams

Richardson — Oh, the weather outside was definitely frightful last Friday evening, but the mood inside the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts was festive as audiences eagerly took their seats for the Chamberlain Performing Arts’ (CPA) 31st showing of The Nutcracker. What sets this company’s Nutcracker apart from other productions in the area is Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain and her team’s minimalist, yet effective approach to the stage design and movement choices, thus turning the typically cumbersome party scene into an exciting dance narrative filled with nonstop action and clean choreography.

The simple set design in the party scene, which included a handful of gifts, a large grandfather clock, a couch and a chair enabled the audience to focus more on the children and adult dances as well as the subplots taking place around the room. Choreographers Chamberlain, Richard Condon, Lynne Short and Catherine Turocy combined rudimentary ballet steps i.e. chasses, balances, relieve plie and bourrees with various regimented formation changes and even some boy/girl partnering walks in the children’s dances, creating an effect that was both clean and captivating. By intermingling the adults and children into one waltz section, the choreographers successfully kept the energy and storyline moving at a chipper pace.

Katherine Patterson (Clara) perfectly captured a child’s innocence and wonder when it comes to Christmas with her endless energy and shining stage presence. And while Patterson had a tendency to cut her movements short, when she did complete her line in an arabesque hold or sous-sus in fifth, it rivaled the lines of the older company members. With more time and training she will be a force to be reckoned with in coming years. Clara’s friends (Madison Cox, Emily DeMotte, Annika Haynes and Mary Rose Vining) displayed beautiful musicality and body control in their petit adagio section, which featured alternating leg extensions and arm placements and deliberatepique steps, all the while holding baby dolls. Guest artist Joshua Coleman really played to the younger audience members in his role as Herr Drosselmeyer with his over-the-top facial expressions and well-executed magical illusions, which included an impressive disappearing act.

CPA Senior Company Member Bethany Greenho did a commendable job as the Snow Queen. Even her sometimes stiff back arches and locked hip joints in her battements couldn’t take away from her swan-like arms and nimble pointe work nor the way she fearlessly went for the pas de deux’s momentous lifts.  Dallas native Travis Morrison, who performed with the Colorado Ballet from 2006 to 2012, inspired Greenho’s confidence with his unwavering strength and razor-sharp focus during the lifts and tricky counterbalance body positions spread throughout the dance. The snowflake dance lacked some of the elasticity demanded by Tchaikovsky’s score, which falls more on the choreographer’s shoulders than the dancers as the movement in the section catered toward more gliding steps and sustained body positions rather than constant spritely jumps and steps. The hand-held fan-like props with tiny snowballs attached at the ends drew attention to the dancers’ strong body lines and made for a memorable ending to the first half of the show.

The second half in which Clara and her Prince entered the land of sweets gave the whole company the opportunity to show off their artistic growth and technical versatility and also featured some amazing performances by special guests, including Harry Feril (Bruce Wood Dance Project) in the Arabian section and Tiler Peck (New York City Ballet) and Tyler Angle (New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Peck and Angle’s chemistry was undeniable as they executed the complex reverse promenades into a ponche arabesque and the multiple over-the-head lifts including the dynamic fish bowl dip at the end with expressive abandonment. Their luminous auras and technical finesse portrayed at the end of each move, especially after the lightening-quick seven assisted pirouettes into a sustained back arch, is not something that can be taught. Their magnetism as a couple didn’t fade in their solo sections, which featured impressive jumps and controlled landings by Angle and bold lines and unwavering confidence from Tiler in the infamous diagonal chaine, pique turn combination in time to the changing rhythm of the music.

Lisa Hess Jones’ clever choreography in the second half played to each group’s specific skill level from the synchronized walking patterns of the itty bitty angels and the simple soft shoe work of the intermediate bakers and bon bon’s to the more technically advanced pointe work of the marzipans and the Waltz of the Flowers. The end result was one of the most well-rehearsed and lively second acts of the Nutcracker I have had the pleasure to see this season.

Senior dancer Luke Yee wowed audiences with multiple toes touches in the Chinese dance as well as in the Russian dance where he performed alongside Southern Methodist University dance major Alex Druzbanski. Henry Feril showed off his modern background with his hinged-back body layouts and swooping arm movements before assisting Katherine Lambert in a number of shoulder lifts and body dips in the Arabian section. Greenho, Breanna Mitchell, Raquel Dominguez, Aidan Leslie and Serena Press enthralled viewers with their beautiful lyricism and solid pointe work while playing their flutes in the marzipan dance. The whole senior company returned for the Waltz of the Flowers in which they effortlessly captured the nuances in the music with their constant weight shifts on pointe and dynamic crisscrossing jumping sequences. Definitely, a Nutcracker worth seeing again next season!

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: The Show About Men, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group picks apart some age-old male stereotypes using song and dance and a balance of darkness and humor in The Show About Men.

The Show About Men from DGDG. Photo: DeAndre Upshaw

Dallas — Man up! Real men Shave! Don’t be a D***! A Barbie is not a boy’s toy!

These are a just a few of the societal catchphrases that Danielle Georgiou and her troupe of artistically gifted performers addressed head on in the reprisal of The Show About Men at the Performance Hall at Eastfield College on Friday evening. After receiving rave reviews at the Festival of Independent Theatres in Dallas last summer,Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) decided to bring the show back for this limited engagement and with a few production enhancements including two new songs and additional cast members Ruben Carrazana and Nick Leos who fit right in to this wacky boy’s club.

If you have seen any of Georgiou’s work in the last couple of years, including Dirty Filthy Diamonds and NICE, then you know that you aren’t going to just sit and watch passively from the audience. No, you are going to experience the show right alongside the performers thanks to Georgiou’s artistic philosophy which includes immersing the audience into the environment she and the performers have created, while expressing through dance and theater topics that many may find otherwise unapproachable. The Show About Men doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

Throughout the performance, the men relate stories based on their personal experiences, which range from sexuality, complex relationships with other males (fathers/friends/sons), responsibilities of providing for families or being in positions of authority and permission to be vulnerable, in need of love and to be afraid. These personal stories help make the show more accessible and prevent viewers from passing their own judgments as we were completely captivated by the individuals’ words and body language.

The Show About Men from DGDG. Photo: DeAndre Upshaw

Fear is the motivator in the opening segment as William Acker, Colby Calhoun, Ruben Carrazana, Matthew Clark, Curtis Green, Gabriel King and Nick Leos (sadly DGDG conceptual designer Justin Locklear was unable to perform) repeatedly slapp their thighs, chests and heads while chanting phrases like “Fear! Fear of myself! Fear of rejection! Fear of saying the wrong things!” The phrases are shouted with drill sergeant-intensity and are accompanied with militant walking steps and tense posturing. The mood invoked by their minimal clothing (boxers and thermal tank tops, a.k.a. “wife-beaters”), aggressive gesturing and frantic shouting is at first intimidating. But Georgiou and Locklear once again work their magic and right before the tension becomes too overwhelming the performers suddenly yell “bugs!” and start trembling, releasing the built-up tension in the room.

Georgiou also manipulates the venue to aid in her mission to include the audience into the action. The 30 or so audience members were escorted onstage and behind the red curtain where a gritty bar scene awaited us complete with dingy lighting, a variety of mismatched tables and chairs, a long bar to one side, lone chairs and a piano on the other as well as a large hand-written sign welcoming viewers to Dick’s All Night Bar & Karaoke.

As the less-than-90-minute production unfolded the bar was transformed into a sanctuary of sorts for the seven male performers, allowing them to speak freely about what it means to be a man. In a very candid group conversation the men shouted out their answers to the age old question: what makes a man a man? Answers varied from rational to ridiculous such as when a suggestion that men were “handy around the house” turned into “handsy” as Leos groped himself, and some answers were contradictory, such as that men are both knowledgeable and stupid. The conservation ended with a randy song and dance number that had the men performing numerous pelvic thrusts and booty shakes while colorfully describing the male sex organ to a tune resembling The Hokey Pokey, composed by Trey Pendergrass and Locklear.

Another lighthearted group number had the performers standing up against makeshift urinals discussing the deficiencies of men’s restrooms relative to women’s restrooms which ended in the group singing about a “gender neutral bathroom in the sky.” Carrazana’s magnetic personality and awkward coming-of-age stories regarding asking a girl out and proudly sporting a so-called moustache at age 12 also had the audience in stitches. And as the only female in the show, Kayla Anderson did a beautiful job of portraying the various roles women play in a man’s life, including those of wife, mother, friend and lover.

But not every experience ends on a jovial note. While Calhoun serenades us about how he never thought of being a man “until you told me so,” King and Green execute a series of push-and-pull partnering exchanges featuring concaved torso movements, high chest arcs and body dips. Green’s journey to manhood involves joining the army, and he didn’t miss the irony of being a gay soldier in the “don’t ask don’t tell” days who would ultimately win the manly solider of the year award. The other performers’ subtle marching steps and pivot turns are done in contingent and round out Green’s tale. King speaks about how he felt like a man after his first physical argument with his father, depicted visually by two performers in the background.

Every artist strives to influence a person’s perception pertaining to a certain topic or theme, but sometimes they miss the mark. Still, DGDG succeeds in altering the audiences’ perception of what society deems to be manly behavior by reminding us, through Pendergrass’ monologue near the end, that we are all human and therefore should be allowed to express all the emotions that come with that privilege freely and without judgment.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Dracula

This was the first ballet I brought my daughter to and she did great. She is 2 1/2 and sat through the whole first half. The second half was a little scary so my husband took her into the lobby. I recommend this show for anyone with little kids.

Photo: Nancy Loch
Photo: Nancy Loch

LakeCities Ballet Theatre sucks audiences in with brilliant dancing and dramatic special effects at its 10th annual Le Ballet de Dracula in Lewisville.

Lewisville — After a decade, it’s natural for a ballet to start to lose some of its luster. But that’s not the case with LakeCities Ballet Theatre‘s Halloween spook-tacular, Le Ballet de Dracula, which played to a sold-out crowd for the troupe’s 10th-anniversary show on Saturday at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theatre.

Having seen this production many times before, I can honestly say the ballet gets visually and technically stronger every year thanks to Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin’s fine choreographic detailing and continous production enhancements, including set designs, costuming and special effects that always seem to bring audiences to the edge of their seats.

The show’s popularity can also be attributed to Tom Rutherford’s well-conceived narrative and creative mash-up of characters including Ratcliff (the quirky sidekick), weolas (batlike creatures) and a dozen vampire brides.

Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, LBT’s version illustrates the love triangle between Aurelia, Marius and Dracula in two well-balanced acts. In the first half the villagers, gypsies and Romanians all come together to celebrate the engagement of Aurelia (Carley Denton) and Marius (guest artist Steven Loch of Pacific Northwest Ballet).

The company members demonstrated great animation and agility in the specialized group dances, which featured various movement styles, including soft-shoe ballet, pointe, jazz, modern and even some folk dance. The Romanian dancers’ rhythmic foot stomps and traveling shuffle steps were accompanied by simple arm gestures and crisp formation changes.

The gypsies, led by Denise Clarkston, used an array of hip isolations and open-armed twirling phrases to depict their rebellious nature. Aurelia’s friends (Chloe Davis, Kristina Lorelli, Carly Greene, Julie Fenske, Madeline Hanly and Julia Tiller) proved why LBT is one of the most sought after pre-professional ballet companies in the Dallas area with their exacting pointe work, beautiful musicality and commanding stage presence.

One of the newer additions to the show was a musically enchanting pas de deux with company member Michelle Lawyer and guest artist Dan Westfield pf Ballet Frontier of Texas. Lawyer’s lithe frame and nimble point work balanced out Westfield’s wider frame and explosive jump sequences.

In the partnering sections each pulled from the other’s strengths and suddenly Lawyer’s sautés were as high as Westfield’s, and his arms placement and fourth lunges were just as soft as Lawyer’s. The exchanging of the tambourine throughout the pas de duex was perfectly timed and added a new musical layer to the dance.

Carley Denton’s role as Aurelia was well-earned. Her flexibility and stamina has improved over the last year, demonstrated through her various sustained body positions and lightning-quick pique turns. She has also found the key to releasing the tension in her shoulders with the help of certain breathing techniques.

Steven Loch continues to breathe new life into the role of Marius with his limitless energy and technical fortitude. The couple’s pas de deux was a lovely display of unending lines and counterbalance poses topped with Denton’s six continuous pirouettes into a luxurious body dip at the end.

The maypole dance that Lannin incorporated about six years ago remains one of the highlights of the first half. In this scene 12 dancers frolicked around a 15-foot pole, creating an intricate weaving pattern with the brightly colored streamers they carried. Rhythmic clapping accompanied the dancers’ spritely skips and gallop steps.

The mood changed drastically when Dracula (Shannon Beacham) and his minion Ratcliff (Asia Waters) arrived to lure Aurelia away from her family and Marius. Over the years Beacham has perfected the role of Dracula, from his menacing walks and nuanced cape flicks to the overly dramatic facial expressions.

Smoke machines and special lighting techniques succeeded in creating the illusion of Dracula appearing out of thin air. The dim lighting, ominous music and ghostly appearance of Dracula’s brides in the second half evenly matched the dancers’ loose, hanging arms, soundless bourrees across the floor and vacant expressions.

Julia Tiller (Marcela) set the tone at the beginning of the scene with her solid pointe work and expansive arm-gesturing. The fight scene between Loch and Beacham started off spotty with some lengthy pauses between their physical exchanges, but they quickly found their rhythm. Mindful of the young ones in the audience, the really heavy moments were lightened by Waters’ constant wandering and clumsy interactions with the brides.

Wildly creative, meticulously produced and cleverly choreographed, LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Le Ballet de Dracula is sure to continue entertaining audiences for the next 10 years.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Epiphany DanceArts, Diamonds

Epiphany DanceArts in Diamonds at the Eisemann Center. Photo: Sarah Beal
Epiphany DanceArts in Diamonds at the Eisemann Center. Photo: Sarah Beal

Precious Gem

Epiphany DanceArts stretches itself technically and emotionally in an encore performance of Diamonds at the Eisemann Center.

Richardson — Bold. Edgy. Emotionally volatile. One wouldn’t typically use these words to describe Epiphany DanceArts. Created by Melissa DeGroat six years ago, Epiphany has made a name for itself in the Dallas dance scene with its strong storytelling, uplifting content, and unique blend of ballet and liturgical movement stylings. But as everyone in the dance community knows, the key to surviving in this oversaturated market is to keep evolving, which is exactly what Epiphany did last season with its compelling work Diamonds. The show was so well-received that the company decided to bring it back for an encore at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson this past weekend.

In Diamonds, which is inspired by Max Lucado’s children’s book You Are Special, DeGroat uses removable fabric swatches adorned with either dots or stars to express the internal battle everyone goes through when choosing between who they want to be versus who everyone expects them to be. Throughout the 75-minute work the dancers depict identity struggles that show in poignant movement choices, especially the removal of the dot and star swatches at the end.

The “diamond” element of the story is depicted through Abel Garcia’s live painting during the show, of a dancer suspended upside down. Garcia’s pastel-colored strokes worked in sharp contrast to the black and red tones presented onstage. Unlike other live collaborations I’ve seen, here Garcia and the dancers maintained a connection throughout the performance, sometimes by simply stopping what they were doing to make eye contact, or in DeGroat’s case, by coming over and dancing in Garcia’s space. DeGroat’s opening solo effectively introduced Garcia into the storyline. She kept her movements simple yet deep, with sweeping arm gestures, shifting leg extensions and breathy body contractions as Garcia worked behind her.

Unlike past Epiphany productions where the focus was on a singular emotion such as love or loss, in Diamonds DeGroat pushes her dancers to emote myriad feelings on this winding journey of self-discovery. And while all 13 dancers displayed beautiful body lyricism and natural facial expressions, some delivered more feeling than others. For example, in several stop-action moments in the opening number, the dancers needed to exude energy from every inch of their bodies while holding various poses.

Epiphany veterans DeGroat, Ivy Koval and Anna Wueller Diaz commanded the audience’s attention with their unending lines and wonderful use of breath in their sustained movements. In contrast, at times the newest company members held too much tension in their chests, causing their forms to shrink instead of expand. The dancers’ diagonal pathway was a great use of symbolism, cleverly used throughout the show.

With a playlist that included music by the Piano Guys, the XX, Two Steps from Hell, Fort Minor and Bruce Rowland, choreographers DeGroat, Koval and Jennifer Guess challenged the dancers with tricky ballet sequences and sharper movement quality. In one of the most dynamic dance sequences, the dancers had to dig deep to control their leg extensions and stag leaps while their hands remained bound. The dancers rose to the challenge with seamless standing-to-floor transitions and wicked pirouettes.

The group also got to exercise their acting chops in sections such as “Hurting People Hurt People,” where they stood whispering and ignoring people before physically engaging one another. Later, as Diaz contorted into various yoga-type poses, the others stood making faces in the background.

The final dance, performed to an instrumental medley of “Over the Rainbow” and the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” encompassed everything audiences have come to appreciate about Epiphany DanceArts, including elegant technique, unique musicality and strong emotional content. This has been the company’s most cohesive and captivating production to date. It will be interesting to see what it brings to the table for its December holiday performance.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.