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Q&A: Tamsin Carlson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Preview: Bruce Wood Dance’s Embrace Showcase

Forbidden Dance

Garrett Smith pays homage to those living in countries where dancing is banned in Forbidden Paths, part of Bruce Wood Dance’s Embrace concert.

Garrett Smith’s Forbidden Paths is part of Bruce Wood Dance’s Embrace Concert. Photo: Brian

Note: This preview was written in April after a private viewing of the work at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery.

Dallas — Unmoving, the nine Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) company members sit on their haunches with their heads bowed and wrists locked behind their backs. The longer the dancers remain in this pose, which continues for about a full minute, the more overwhelming the moment becomes as my mind shuffles through similar images I have seen in the news recently. It brought up the images of people praying outside the burning Notre Dame Cathedral as well as images of those in mourning after the bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.

This poignant section occurs in the middle of Garrett Smith’s new work, Forbidden Paths, which premieres at BWD’s Embrace showcase, June 14-15, at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas. The program also includes Joy Bollinger’s critically acclaimed Carved in Stone and the Dallas premiere of Bruce Wood’s Dark Matter, previously only seen when the company was in Fort Worth.

Smith’s powerful use of imagery is one of the many reasons that BWD’s Artistic Director Bollinger wanted him to come work with the company in Dallas. “The first time I saw his work I immediately fell in love with the musicality, powerful imagery and incredible partnering,” Bollinger says before the viewing.

Originally from Utah, Smith began his dance training with the Utah Regional Ballet and performed in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. He later studied at the Houston Ballet Academy and created five works for Houston Ballet II’s repertoire. As a dancer with Houston Ballet, Smith got to perform works by Stanton Welch, Jorma Elo, Nicolo Fonte, Christopher Bruce, Ben Stevenson and Christopher Wheeldon.

It was only after seeing the piece that Smith told us about the concept, which started when he became aware that dance is prohibited in the country of Iran. “For me, this is the image of being detained,” Smith says about the section mentioned above. “There was a group of seven individuals in Iran that had danced to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ and they were detained for a month.”

He continues, “So I tried to imagine myself in that position and how extremely scary that would be for doing something that is not wrong. It is wrong according to their Islamic Constitution, but everyone should have that right to express themselves through dance and that is really the driving force for this piece.”

Whereas Wood’s gesturing is usually viewed as light-hearted and comical, the gesturing in Forbidden Paths comes across as more celestial. A prime example is when the dancers appear to be cupping a precious ball of energy between their hands, which they then manipulate aggressively and rhythmically around their bodies and outward.

Smith credits his use of gestural images to his time spent with the great Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián at the Norwegian National Ballet. Smith has also worked personally with Nacho Duato and Alexander Ekman and has also performed multiple pieces by William Forsythe.

Another striking moment in Forbidden Paths is Megan Storey’s opening solo. Her balletic lines melt into contorted shapes and weighted walking patterns, which she breaks up with flex-footed jumps and textured gesturing. Frustration is evident in her expression as her eyes follow an unknown source.

We found out later that the movement in Storey’s solo depict certain feelings and emotions that were stirred up by specific questions Smith had asked the group at the beginning of the process. “I asked the dancers’ questions such as what does dance mean to you? And how would you feel if you could not dance? The dancers then created solos based off their word choices, which I later sculpted into the piece,” Smith says.

At this point Smith asked Storey to step forward and show us some of the gestures she had crafted from these questions. She described an open-chested pose as her moment of discovery and expressed her anger through an unexpected jump with flexed-feet and fisted hands.

When talking with Storey about her solo later on she says, “I based the choreography off of the words I had chosen for my ‘paper phrase’ as Garrett called. He had given us several questions asking us various things about our relationship to dance, how we would feel if it was taken away from us, etc. From our answers, we chose words that stuck out to us and created gestures for each of them.”

She continues, “Some of the words represented in my solo are ‘music personified,’ ‘transcend,’ ‘conduit,’ ‘express,’ ‘angry’ and ‘can’t.’ From that starting point we, Garrett and I, adjusted certain transitions and gesture intentions to then reflect the objective of the piece and that worked with the musicality of the track.”

Reflecting on her time with Smith, Storey says, “It was truly a wonderful experience for me. Not only was his movement and musicality natural to me, but I also loved the purpose of the piece. It really opened my eyes to how other cultures view dance and performing arts, and how blessed I am to have the opportunity to pursue it as my career.”

She adds, “I try to channel all of those feelings when doing his piece and I’m honored to perform this work for those who aren’t able to.”

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Spring Celebration Series

Dance Vibes

 

Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Jasmine White-Killins on revealing a new layer of herself in Darrell Grand Moutrie’s Execution of a Sentiment, part of the Spring Celebration Series.

Dallas — A recent video posted to Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Facebook page (seen above) caught my eye for it sheds a new light on company dancer Jasmine White-Killins who, in the clip, is practicing her adagio solo in choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s new work, Execution of a Sentiment. Known for her powerful technical execution and poised stage presence, White-Killins surprised me with her quiet control and raw vulnerability.

I reached out to White-Killins to find out more about Moultrie’s new piece, which premieres at DBDT’s Spring Celebration Series, May 17-19, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. The jam-packed program also includes Jamal Story’s aerial duet What to Say: Notes on Echo and Narcissus; a new work by DBDT company member Claude Alexander III entitled A Tender Pardon; and a performance from special guests Ballet Hispánico.

Originally from Cincinnati, White-Killins moved to Dallas after high school to attend Southern Methodist University where she earned a B.F.A. in dance performance and a minor in Arts Management. Her dance training has also included The Ailey School, Martha Graham School and the Cincinnati Ballet Academy. White-Killins performed two seasons with DBDT: ENCORE! before joining DBDT where she has spent the last four seasons.

“It was a very refreshing thing to do. It feels almost like meditation,” White-Killins says about performing the short solo. “And I owe a lot of that ability to Darrell because he was very good at looking at each dancer and accepting where ever you were at that moment.”

Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Jasmine White-Killins

She continues, “He said I needed to just center myself and kind of find my inner strength and my vulnerability and being okay with going to that place. So, when I do the solo I always get very emotional because it really makes me look inward.”

While White-Killins makes every move in the solo look effortless she tells me that getting it to this point was harder than she initially thought. She explains, “There are a couple of moments were he has me holding some very technical balances like a passé or arabesque, but he’s like ‘just hold it and get to it with no wobbles and no shakes. Just be there.’ And I think that as a professional I got this and then you get up there and try to do it with all the emotion and you realize that you are not as strong as you thought,” she laughingly says.

One of the most challenging moments in the solo is where White-Killins is balancing on one leg and then she has to drop her body three times without wobbling. As for how she accomplishes this feat White-Killins says, “Darrell said you have to be invested so much in that space and that weight that you’re going down to, which is just taking you into a deeper and deeper place. And so, once I started to look at it from that perspective it’s so much easier to get wrapped up in that. And when I do it now I just feel so right there!”

Overall, White-Killins says it was a very refreshing experience working with Moultrie again. She had the pleasure of working with him in high school and then later at The Ailey School. “He treats us very much so like individuals and he was very clear that he wanted each person to express their individuality and that no one is going to look like the other person.”

She continues, “The experience was just eye opening for us. He literally gave us so many technical notes, but also just notes about being interested in what we are doing. He said that as artists and professional dancers it’s our responsibility to figure out what each step means and what each step represents. Even down to the smallest gesture. He was very big on that.”

She adds, “He also had us focus a lot on showing emotion through your body and not so much in your face. A lot of times he would tell us that our face is doing all this stuff, but he wasn’t seeing that in our body. So he was very big on the vocabulary coming through the movement and not necessarily putting it on like we would do in more theatrical pieces.”

White-Killins describes the work as physical demanding with a concept that doesn’t follow a particular narrative or chronological order. “There isn’t just one sentiment being shown. There are lots of sentiments being shown in the three sections of the work. We start out moving big and fast, which leads into an adagio section and then the pace picks up again.”

As for the feeling of the piece White-Killins says, “I think everybody is very individual and their journey is something completely different. Everybody’s path is different.”

She adds, “When Darrell taught us the movement he would always start out by saying ‘so the feeling is’ and then he would do all this movement and it would happen single time. So we would always start with the feeling of it and everybody’s feelings and steps were completely different.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Daniel Ezralow

The world-renowned choreographer on breaking dance traditions using movement and visual arts and his company’s Dallas debut on the TITAS Presents series.

Daniel Ezralow’s Open. Photo: Angelo Redaelli/Ezralow Dance

Dallas — Since its inception in 2014, Ezralow Dance has garnered a reputation both in the U.S. and abroad for its explosive physicality, original thought and playful humor, which all stem from the mind of artistic director and choreographer, Daniel Ezralow. The Los Angeles-based company is comprised of nine dancers performing works that mingle contemporary dance with humor, provocative ideas and impressive video projections. The company also aims to collaborate with performers, composers, visual artists and filmmakers to transport audiences to new dimensions, exploring and questioning the ideas of dance and humanity, according the Company’s website.

Ezralow’s performance résumé reads like a who’s who of contemporary dance. He has danced with 5×2 Plus, MOMIX, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Throughout his career Ezralow has created 15 original dance theatre plays, including PearlFlying Bodies, Soaring Souls and a reinterpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

His work has also been seen in Julie Taymor’s film Across the Universe, Cirque du Soleil’s Love and in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

His most recent show Open, had its U.S. premiere at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles in 2016 and is also the program the Company will be presenting in Dallas, March 29-30, at the Moody Performance Hall. Described as surprising, comical and fun, Open is a series of dynamic vignettes that are woven together using classical music, inventive concepts, playful movement and striking visuals

TheaterJones asks Ezralow about creating movement for film and theater, collaborating with his dancers and what audiences can expect to see this weekend.

 

TheaterJones: How would you describe Open, the work you will be presenting in Dallas this weekend?

Photo: MSA
Daniel Ezralow

Daniel Ezralow: You’re obviously going to see movement. You’re going to see fun concepts paired with classical music. And you’re going to see a fun show that is available to everybody. So I try to in a sense demystify the work and not put it up on a pedestal. I think it has to really play for everyone. Those who love dance and those who have never seen dance before as well.

 

So many contemporary choreographers today choose to go deep and heavy with their work. What made you want to create something light and humorous?

Generally speaking, choreographers today take themselves too seriously. Everyone is important in this world, including the janitor, the trash collector and the street sweeper. Everyone is important and they’re as important to appreciate your work as a well-developed artist who has been around the world or someone whose graduate summa cum laude from a university. I think it’s really important that we pay attention to everybody because as artists our responsible is to somehow have a positive effect on the world.

So, sometimes I get a little fed up, as you do, with the doom and gloom and the seriousness and the politicization of contemporary work. And I say you know what? I would just like everyone to really get their money’s worth. In other words, they have to come to the show and reach into their pocket to buy a ticket and spend 75 minutes of their life watching what I do on stage. I would like them to walk out feeling inspired. Feeling happy. Feeling a sense of joy. And I say this a lot and it’s a silly thing, but just that they want to live another day of their life because what’s important is that we inspire. And this work was very much meant to be that. I was meant to be accessible and that pretty much anybody could come a watch it and they wouldn’t have to say ‘oh, what does that mean?’ I just want them to accept it and get it.

 

There’s a fine line between comical and cheesy. In Open how did you keep from going over the top with the humor?

I think of it as more ironic than anything else. In my life I feel like I am very respectful of everybody, but I am respectful in a way to the rules in order to break them. So there is a big part of me that wants to look at something and if the rules are not working then I want to show people that it can be broken. I want to show that there is irony behind the rule. So a lot of the humor that I play with it really comes from my childhood. In my childhood I felt capable of joking around. There’s times that I do see my work and I think ‘Oh my God’ that’s just too silly. And then other times I see the dancers uplift the choreography to the point where I say “Wow they pulled it off!”

You see, I get overjoyed when I see someone walking down the street and they start jumping up and down on the sidewalk. Usually children and puppies do that, but adults never do that. So to see someone so overjoyed that they jump up and down is a very unique ironic break our society. And I think that is an important thing to see all the time. In a way I am very serious with the humor I use. But I believe also there is a very powerful thing that you can say once you make someone laugh.

 

Do you typically collaborate with the dancers during the creative process?

I am always collaborative. I come in with a strong idea, but I don’t actually believe that I can make anyone believe anything or do anything. So, both with the dancers and the audience I let the audience have the final word. I don’t want to tell them they’re supposed to believe what I am saying. If they believe it I am really happy and if they don’t then I need to work on my work.

It’s the same with my dancers. You see, I never believed that the dancer was just a color that the artist paints with. I think the color has an energy to it. I think dancers have their own unique energy. Ultimately, I think from a long time ago when I founded MOMIX with Moses Pendleton the whole belief system was that the dance is greater than the dancer and the dancer is greater than the choreography. Meaning to say that inside of our bodies we have dance. We are born with it. We keep moving our bodies because moving your body is what keeps you young and what keeps the flow of life going through you.

So, I believe that the dance is inside of you. The choreography is designed for which to hold the dancer or which to hold the dance. The dance is like a Greek spirit. It’s beyond all of us. And then the dancer takes that energy into their body and then the choreographer takes the energy of the body of the dancer and decides to organize it in a certain way.

So, I don’t really feel that at any point choreography should be stronger than the person performing it. In that sense I try to involve the dancers from a very early stage.

 

What type of dancers do you like to work with?

For a long time when I did commissions on companies and I tended to gravitate toward the black sheep. I wanted the dancer that the director told me was trouble and to not work with them, but that was the person I wanted to work with. Because they always had some unique issues right under the surface and that gave me fantastic material to work with.

And with my own company there is a lot of turnover, but only because my company is a project-based company. So, when we have a show we get together, but they all work commercially as well. I tend to like dancers who can do a music video or T.V. show and then they come and do concert work. I feel those dancers are very well-rounded. But the dancers I am working with, I call them all the time and some of them have been working with me for more than 10 years.

 

How hard is it for you to switch gears from concert work to commercial work?

Even when we were doing MOMIX, David Bowie would call or U2 would call us because they liked the work we were doing. So I wouldn’t call it commercial. You could come at that work from a commercial point of view or you could come at it from an artistic point of view. And I always come at it from artistic even when I did films like The Grinch with Ron Howard. That still is an artistic project for me. All the commercial things I do like Television even in Italy. Though seemingly it looks like just a TV show, I always try to change the dynamic and change the parameter to feel more artistic and that’s what I love about it.

So I kind of hop skip and jump between film, TV, Broadway, commercial work and artistic work, and because I am flexible in my mind I don’t see that it’s a problem. I’m sure for some people it would be a big problem. But my mind is flexible and these are very different worlds. The timing on an artistic project is not at all the timing on a Television project. In Television you have to move fast. You have to change fast. And you have to be willing to give up your idea and compromise all the time. Whereas with an artistic project you’re really backing your idea. So, I just shift with the projects and I don’t see that it’s difficult.

This Q&A was posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: LakeCities Ballet Theater’s Coppelia

Dancing Dolls

LakeCities Ballet Theatre serves up another kid-friendly ballet with Coppelia, featuring special guest Steven Loch at MCL Grand Theater in Lewsiville.

LakeCities Ballet Theatre Presents Coppelia. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography.

Lewisville — As I watched LakeCities Ballet Theatre (LBT) rehearse Act 1 of Coppelia Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin leaned over and whispered how this particular section of music always reminds her about the time their Franz injured himself mid-performance and Steven Loch, who was 12 at the time, was asked to step in and danced the final part of show perfectly.

Later, when I mentioned this story to Loch in the breakroom where we sat down to talk he laughed and says he gets acknowledged quite often for his ability to jump into roles at the last second—a skill that he says he learned from Lannin and her team at the Ballet Conservatory in Lewisville.

“There is so much supply and not enough demand so the high level of excellence gets even more exaggerated,” Loch says about what it takes today to become a professional ballet dancer. “You have to be the most valuable worker to have the best shot, and I think one of the great things about here is Kelly knew that from the beginning. She knew that if you want to make it as a dancer than you’re going to have to learn to do it all.”

Photo: Pacific Northwest Ballet
Steven Loch

He adds, “And also too, the standard that she puts on students are so high and you know have to hit those standards because there’s no forgiveness. Then, when you go the professional world you have good habits. You’re disciplined. You’re a good worker. You’re a professional and you’re a good human. And it’s actually surprising how valuable that is. And Kelly’s standard is such that even for understudies you have to be able to jump in and do it perfectly so that no one notices or you are going to be in trouble.”

But in the same breath Loch also says Lannin is very nurturing, which I saw firsthand during one of the company’s Coppelia rehearsals a couple of weeks ago. “She is so sweet and loving and gives so much of herself,” Loch says. “She gave me so much love and not only cared about me as a dancer, but also a person. She was my mentor growing up and she taught me everything in order to be ready for the professional world.”

After graduating from high school in 2009, Loch joined the professional program at Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). He joined the company in 2011 and was promoted to corps de ballet in 2012. He was promoted to soloist at the end of last season. Throughout his career with PNB Loch has returned home on numerous occasions to perform leading roles in LBT’s productions, including DraculaGiselleThe Nutcracker and Coppelia.

As for his reasons for returning, Loch says, “This place is my home and it has given me so much so I definitely want to return the favor.”

He continues, “I also get called in to do the leading roles, which when I was younger I didn’t get the opportunities to do. It also gives me more practice and experience in these roles so when I start performing lead roles in Seattle I will be more ready.”

Regarding his reaction to the news of his promotion last season, Loch says, “When I got promoted to soloist it was really satisfying because I had put so much work into it and to see the fruits of your labor turn in to something like this just felt really special.”

He adds, “As dancers we are all perfectionists so earning this title has also definitely given me more confidence.”

Watching Loch jump into rehearsal after just stepping off a plane I couldn’t help but wonder what he does to help prevent injury and illness. On this topic Loch says, “Recovery is so important so anything that can help me speed up recovery is great. I do cryotherapy. I have Norma Tec boots. I do a lot of stretching and roll out using a roller. I also do massage and work with this lady who does Trager Approach in addition to neuromuscular therapy.”

Of all the recovery methods that he uses Loch says the cryotherapy has been the most effective for him. “It’s so much more efficient than icing because you are put in such a cold environment that the blood goes to your core instead of your extremities. So it’s more nutrient rich, and it only takes three minutes, and you are able to move afterwards, so you can do it before working out or after working out. And it makes you recover three times faster than you normally would so, for me that has been a huge game changer.”

You can check out Loch in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s rendition of Coppelia, March 29-31, at the Medical City of Lewisville Grand Theater in Lewisville.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s Myth & Magick

Bewitching Ballet

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet explores the hierarchy of witches in its version of The Rite of Spring, part of the company’s Myth & Magick at the Sammons Center.  

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet presents Myth & Magick. Photo: Alisa Eykilis

Dallas — Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet (DNCB) has never been afraid to present works showcasing the darker side of ballet. If anything, the company thrives on performing work that is raw, dark and peculiar. Case in point, The Company’s annual Horror Series where the dancers are decked out in drab clothes covered in fake blood and crazy hair and makeup. Other works that come to mind include DNCB’s retelling of The Red Shoes in 2015 and Masque of the Red Death in 2016.

So, when I head DNCB was doing its own version of Vaslav Nijinsky’s and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at its Myth & Magick performance on March 22 at the Sammons Center for the Arts in Dallas, I couldn’t wait to find out what kind of twist Artistic Director Emilie Skinner would be adding to her recreation of the infamous ballet.

When she told me the nine female dancers would be portraying witches my first thought was that these characters were well-suited for the ballet, which is already steeped in pagan rituals, including a human sacrifice near the end. And second, what would make Skinner decide to take on such an ambitious project.

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet presents Myth & Magick. Photo: Alisa Eykilis

Skinner says the ballet wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Lane Harder, a professor at Southern Methodist University and the director of the music ensemble SYZYGY. She says Lane was the one who threw out the idea of doing The Rite of Spring at one of their brain storming sessions. “I remember the first time I saw the ballet live, which was when the Joffrey Ballet did it in Dallas in 2013. I was really impacted by it and so, it has stuck out in my mind ever since. When Lane brought it up he said we had the players so we decided to go for it.”

Going into the process Skinner says the most challenging aspect for her was taking a work that has a large number of dancers and translating it onto just nine female dancers. She goes on to say that she wanted to stick closely to the original choreography, but had to take into consideration the intimate space they would be performing in due to the frenzied nature of the ballet. “I don’t think our version looks as chaotic as others, like Joffrey, because I don’t have as many dancers doing as many different things. And because we are doing this at the Sammons Center and in a round I didn’t want it to be too much for the audience to take in when they are sitting right there at stage level.”

She adds, “I really like the setup at the Sammons Center. I think it’s a fun way to present the piece and it makes it a little more raw that it’s right there and it’s just so aggressive and weird and unfamiliar movement for a lot of people including us.”

The all-female cast was a purposeful choice made by Skinner to bring attention to the strength and femininity that she picked up on while researching the culture of witches. She did make it a point to say that while she is drawn to certain aspects of the culture she is not a practicing Wiccan.

“I am not a witch, but there is something about that style and aesthetic that fits really well and I can just plug that into The Rite of Spring. And when I think about the Pagan rituals and sacrifice in the piece I just automatically go to this Wiccan history.”

She continues, “This piece is more focused on the feminine side of that culture. It’s just seems so powerful and feminine and nice and beautiful, but also kind of scary and dark, which is kind of what our company is about.”

The all-female cast represents different degrees of witches, including the neophytes (lowest degree), second-degree witches and third-degree witches or high priestesses, which will be represented by long-time DNCB company member Lea Zablocki. The dancers will be wearing long black skirts and crops tops decorated by local artist Heather Lynn who says in a Facebook post that she was inspired by Pagan runes and celestial diagrams. Skinner says loose hair and body paint will complete the look.

“I wanted her to create different designs for each of those groups of witches,” Skinner says about the costuming. “And Lea is actually making herself this crazy huge head piece. So, this sort of barbaric nature, raw and down-to-earth kind of feel.”

The program on Friday will open with a re-staging of Erik Satie’s Mercure from 1924, which will also include live accompaniment by SYZYGY. Also featured in the first half will be an original work by a composition student of the Meadows School of the Arts Division of Music.

You can catch Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s The Rite of Spring at the company’s Myth & Magick performance at the Sammons Center for the Arts this Friday.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series

Below the Surface

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance reaches new artistic depths in Sidra Bell’s new work Nervosa, part of the company’s Spring Series in Addison this weekend.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance rehearsing Nervosa. Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

Addison — With only flesh-toned G-strings and dance belts covering their lower halves, one by one the dancers run into the space and execute an upper spinal curve that accentuates the muscular lines of their chests, thighs and glutes before being pulled off stage by some invisible force. This back and forth continues until, suddenly, all the dancers run on and form a circle in the right, upstage corner. Standing shoulder to shoulder the dancers remain motionless except for the heavy rise and fall of their bare chests and their eyes, which are actively searching the space.

This is just a taste of what New York-based Choreographer Sidra Bell has in store for Dallas audiences in her new work Nervosa, which premieres at Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series this weekend.

Bell is one of the hottest names in the dance world right now thanks to her unique style, which explores bodily forms through the modular lenses of flesh, bones, nerves, memory, site and history, according to her Web site. Her knowledge of visual art also plays an important role in her creative process. Bell’s work has been seen throughout the U.S. and abroad, including Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Slovenia, China, Canada, Korea and Brazil. Her company, Sidra Bell Dance New York, has rapidly garnered an international profile for work that reveals aspects of the human condition through a distinctly female lens.

After watching a run-through of Nervosa in February at Preston Center Dance, Bell sat down to talk with the small audience that was there about her creative process for this piece and answer any questions we might have for her.

Bell starts off by telling us that Nervosa is about making you and making me in two parts and is housed within a much longer work that her company is currently working on that focuses on the nervous system and how it affects the way a person feels and moves. “The piece is about relationships and what it means to really feel someone,” Bell says. “It’s also about what makes the nervous system tick and sensing the people around us with our eyeballs and skin.”

This statement definitely brings more clarity to that moment where the mostly nude dancers are standing in a circle watching one another as well as the following duet where Eric Lobenberg slowly walks around the space with Victoria Daylor draped over his shoulder. This is an extremely raw and tender moment between the couple, which thankfully isn’t diminished by their nudity; something Bell was hyper aware of when she made the decision for the dancers to be mostly nude for this part of the dance. (Note: The dancers wear black and gray long sleeved-unitards for most of the work)

“It was a late decision,” Bell says about the nudity. “It was made in an effort to export more of the human experience. The nudity in the duet feels natural and more innocent and does not conjure violence. It also brings attention to the lines of the body.”

“She made the decision with 30 minutes left to the end of our rehearsal the day before the preview,” Daylor says. So, we did it again with nudity and it just completed the work.”

Regarding the nudity in the duet Daylor says, “When Eric is holding me it feels comfortable. I feel close to him. His body feels like a layer of clothes against my back. I actually feel more vulnerable in the first part of the duet where we are not touching and the wind on my skin reminds me of my nudity.”

And as for working with Bell, Daylor says it was a wonderful experience and she was pleasantly surprised with how much personalized time Bell gave to them. “She gave us very individual things to work on that were not just about the choreography, but also things to help further our dancing going forward.”

Daylor uses her solo at the beginning of the dance as an example. After the group disperses, Daylor starts walking around the space and stops occasionally to contract her chest, which then ripples down into her hips and legs. Her movements remain fluid and evenly paced even when Nick Heffelfinger enters and begins convulsing on the ground.

“She gave me advice on things to do with my focus. She told me to think about the muscularity of my eyes and how deep set they are in my face. She also wanted me to be seeing everything around me in a way that is energetic.”

When I asked her if Heffelfinger’s frenzied movement ever made her lose her focus Daylor laughingly said, “I actually have no idea what he does because I am in my own world. For me, I am just here on earth and he is something on another planet and maybe we collide at some point, but I can’t give him too much attention.”

As for the control and stability Daylor exudes in her solo she says she has to give some of the credit to her outside training in the Gyrotonic method. “It has really helped me with my focus and stability of my breath when I’m dancing. Underlying it with my dancing has given me a good base.”

You can catch Daylor and the other members of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Bell’s Nervosa at the company’s Spring Series, March 22-24, at Addison Theatre Centre. The program also includes the premiere of Joshua L. Peugh’s Dialogue featuring Tejas Dance, a local Bharatanatyam Indian classical dance duo.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

Preview: Texas Ballet Theater’s In the Middle Performance

Power in Numbers

Andre Silva shares the significance of the number sigh 11:11 in his new work of the same name for Texas Ballet Theater’s performance this weekend.

 

Photos: Andre Silva (L) courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater. Andre Silva’s 11:11 (R) courtesy of Steven Visneau.

Fort Worth — You have seen him portray princes, villains and heroes in numerous ballets presented by Texas Ballet Theater (TBT), but, for the first time, audiences will get to see who Andre Silva is as a choreographer in his work 11:11, part of TBT’s In The Middle performance March 1-3 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. The program also includes William Forsythe’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated and Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances.

Originally from Brazil, Silva began his professional ballet career with TBT at the age of 17. He danced with the company until 2009 when he decided to leave to dance abroad with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal from 2009-2014. From there he danced with Germany’s Ballet Augusburg for a year before returning to TBT in 2015, much to audiences’ delight.

Throughout his time with TBT Silva has danced leading roles in many of Ben Stevenson’s ballets, including Peer GyntRomeo and JulietSwan LakeDraculaBartokPreludes for VanFive Poems, and Mozart Requiem. Some other works he has performed in include Val Caniparoli’s Without Borders, Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, Carlos Acosta’s Carmen and Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas.

Silva says what ultimately brought him back to TBT was Stevenson. “I love his leadership. What he brings to the table. The way that he coaches the dancers. The way that he choreographs. And I love his energy.”

He goes on to say, “TBT was my first company when I was 17 so I came into the company very young and I learned so much from Ben. He gave me my first leading role when I was 18.  So, I really wanted to dance under the direction of Ben Stevenson again. I wanted to do his ballets again and I also wanted to work with the staff again. So, that was the reason I came back and I am very happy to be back.”

He also points out that his decision to leave TBT was mostly to explore what was out there and learn from various directors and choreographers in Canada and then Europe.

Silva admits that he was speechless when Stevenson approached him about creating a piece for the company. He says up until then he had only set work on the school and second company.  “He really took me by surprise. In a year and a half I had created three to four pieces so I suppose I showed him that I was capable of doing this. When he approached me he said ‘I think you are ready for the company’ and I was like WHAT, but I was obviously extremely grateful and I still am and forever will be because I get to show what and who I am as a choreographer.”

The title, 11:11, came to Silva while he was working in Germany and has remained in the back of his mind so when Stevenson came to him about doing a piece Silva knew exactly what he was going to call it. The 25-minute work features 22 dancers (11 men and 11 women) and is broken up into nine movements. The work also includes costumes by Brazilian native Sonia Roveri, which Silva says fits the theme with its blending of colors and concepts that connect with the movement.

As for his experience in the studio with the dancers Silva says, “It was very collaborative. I would come in with a short phrase and allow the dancers to collaborate and let their bodies move in a way, and if I like the way they move or the way they approached it then I loved to put that in.”

He continues, “I am a very collaborative choreographer. I think it makes the work much more interesting because the movement comes in the moment and it becomes real and natural, and that’s also what 11:11 means to me. 11:11 is in the moment. 11:11 is infinite. And so it becomes this beautiful experience for me to be able to have dancers that are opened as well. It becomes a natural and interesting approach and I am always content with how things turn out.”

When it comes to organizing movement ahead of time Silva says he prefers to do it at home in his back yard or at the park where he can garner inspiration from everything around him in nature. He also says that he used to try to write everything down, but now prefers not to prepare too much before coming into the studio with the dancers. “This challenges me to accept that it will be O.K in the end and that I will come up with something special out of that.”

Going back to the title Silva says that for some people it may mean nothing, but for others it could have many different meanings. In this work the nine movements represent nine experiences Silva has had with 11:11. As for the audience he says, “I hope that people can understand perhaps what it means or take away something for their future reference as 11:11 or just have some kind of perspective of 11:11.”

He adds, “It’s important that each audience leaves the theater hopefully inspired and intrigued by their next experiences with 11:11.”

During our phone conversation Silva was also very opened about the struggles that come with choreographing any type of work. The main one being what happens when a choreographer gets stuck. When this happened to Silva he says he would remind himself of his intentions for the work. “When I am struggling and stuck I have to remember what the intention behind it is. What is it that I want to come through? And the moment that I think about that the feeling is what actually gives me movement.”

He confesses, “It’s not easy to do, but I have to trust that intuition and just let it flow. And the moment we trust it, that’s when it flows better than you ever thought it would.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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

Justified Movement

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

Matthew Rushing. Anddrew Eccles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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

Dancing Cowgirl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.