Category Archives: Published

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Aladdin, Habibi

MAGIC MOVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Preview: Texas Ballet Theater’s Cleopatra

Dancing Queen

Carolyn Judson on her role as the Queen of the Nile in Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cleopatra in Fort Worth this weekend.

Carolyn Judson as Cleopatra. Photo: Steven Visneau

Fort Worth — With her girl-next-door looks and sweet disposition, Carolyn Judson is the obvious choice to play the female lead in story ballets such as GiselleCinderellaRomeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker. In addition to her physical attributes, Judson’s penchant for softer, more pliable body positions, delicate foot work and beautifully drawn out leg extensions also make for easy casting decisions. But this weekend she will be trading in these sweet roles for something more seductive in Texas Ballet Theater’s (TBT) Cleopatra at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

Transforming into this powerful temptress has been a fun challenge for Judson who also played the part in TBT’s 2009 production of Cleopatra. But because back then she only got the role last minute, Judson says she was more focused on learning the steps than working on the characterization, something she hopes to rectify this time around.

“This time around I really wanted to try and capture that strong woman human quality that I think is Cleopatra,” Judson says.

As to how she accomplished this task Judson says timing both in the literal sense and where she is artistically speaking played a pivotal role in the rehearsal process. “Well, for one thing I have had more time to devote to the character. I also have more experience to pull from and richer character development than I did years ago, which has really helped because this role is so emotionally draining.”

Judson is the type of dancer who learns by doing the movement as it materializes from the choreographer. So, when rehearsing for Cleopatra she says she retains movement best when she is copying what TBT Artistic Director Ben Stevenson is doing alongside her. But when it comes to understanding a certain feeling or emotion, Judson says she will usually watch Stevenson from the front so she doesn’t miss any of his nuances.

For this weekend’s performance Judson will be reunited with her former Cleopatra partner Andre Silva, whom she says she used to partner with all the time before he left the company only to return a couple of years ago. “Other than doing the sugar plum fairy variation in The Nutcracker last season this is our first full-length ballet together since he has come back, and we’re just really excited to be working together again. That we have been building on things that we’ve experienced in the past 16 years here has made our bond even stronger and we’re really enjoying our work together.”

Another beautiful bonus of TBT’s Cleopatra performance is the live accompaniment provided by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Judson points out that the majority of rehearsals have been to recorded music and it wasn’t until two weeks prior to the show that the conductor came to the studio to lay the music out on the piano.

“This way he can get used to our tempos and we can get used to doing something that’s not going to be always the same.” She adds, “This is important because it does takes quite a bit of rearranging your brain when dancing to live music since our minds kind of go on autopilot with a recording a lot of the time. So, it’s really helpful for us to have those two weeks before to get used to the music for both the dancers and the conductor.” She also notes that the company will not get to perform with the full orchestra until the Wednesday before the show.

A fun fact I learned about Judson is that during performances with live music she likes to find moments in the show to make eye contact with the conductor. “I think there are times when it’s appropriate to look at the conductor during a performance. For example, whenever I’m taking a bow I end up looking at him as sort of a thank you because this is such a nice collaboration between musicians and artists and so it’s much more enjoyable for us to feel like we are all working on the same project and not just two separate entities.” She adds, “I don’t look at the conductor all the way through the ballet, but I think there are times when you can really bring him in to the action on stage.”

It’s hard to talk to any professional ballet dancer nowadays without bringing up the lawsuit against New York City Ballet and Principal Chase Finlay and other scandals involving the company over the last year. With this in mind I wanted to know what steps, if any, has TBT taken to ensure that its dancers and staff feel safe and supported. “Actually at the end of last season we did have a company come in and work with us on just being mindful of how we talk to each other and how we treat each other. We also have our school here in the same building and just being aware of treatment of the children as well especially since some of the company dancers are also teachers at the school.”

She adds, “So yes we did go through a program with tests and educational information just to make sure that everyone is on the same page. And we are so lucky that we have a really great working environment here and we all consider each other family and in fact most of us are married to other people in the company.”

You can see Judson in Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cleopatra Sept. 28-30 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances: 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre

Executive director Marielle McGregor on carving out space in the local contemporary dance arena and presenting Brush to Canvas at Dallas Dances.

6 o’Clock Dance Theatre dancer Sophi Marass. Photo: Ace Anderson

Dallas — As the Dallas arts scene continues to grow so has the number of contemporary dance companies in the area. With well-established companies such Avant Chamber Ballet, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Ballet Dallas, Bruce Wood Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, 8&1 Dance Company and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet claiming large chunks of the city’s ballet and contemporary dance audience, you have to wonder what a newcomer like 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre can possibly bring to the table.

Executive Director Marielle McGregor says the answers lies in the framework of the company, which was founded by Zach Law Ingram in 2014. “What makes us unique is that we are career professionals working across many industries in Dallas. But, instead of happy hour at 6 p.m., we meet to explore our art. We decided that dancers should not have to choose between art and a living wage. You can have both!”

She adds, “We have dancers who are UX designers, mathematicians, marketers and engineers. We have 9-to-5 jobs, but at 6 o’clock—that is when we dance!”

McGregor is currently the senior digital editor for Dallas County Community College District. She is also a co-founding member of 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre and serves as the executive director, managing company business and equipping the company dancers and choreographers for success.

6 o’Clock Dance Theatre will be performing Ingram’s Brush to Canvas as part of Dallas Dances’ Saturday evening program. Ingram is a Dallas native whose professional experiences include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. He was also in the Broadway production of The Lion King. He officially moved back to Dallas this summer.

In Brush to Canvas McGregor says Ingram was inspired by the fact that a painting has no real finish. “The painter begins not knowing the end,” she says. “He [the painter] creates his art by throwing out ideas to the canvas, mixing his paints and seeing what comes back. And at some point the painter—through feeling—knows it is a complete work. And yet, at any time, he could pick the brush back up and again continue to explore more.”

McGregor adds, “Zach was also inspired greatly by the music itself. He said it gave him a lot of freedom and rather than dictating what the movement should be, it just let him paint.”

Brush to Canvas is set to “Infra 8” by Max Richter and “Thunders and Lightings” by Ezio Bosso. The piece features company members Darwin Black, Shelby Stanley Campbell, Sarah Cat Hendricks, Constance Dolph, Katricia Eaglin, Sophi Marass, Madison McKay, Marielle McGregor, Katherine Parchman, Laura Pearson, Allison Wood and Alex Yap.

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances: Tejas Dance

Founder Bhuvana Venkatraman on bringing the classical Indian dance style Baratanatyam to Dallas Dances this weekend.

Chintan Patel and Bhuvana Venkatraman of Tejas Dance. Photo: Tejas Danc

Dallas — Bhuvana Venkatraman is well known in the Dallas dance community for her roles as an instructor, performer, and advocate of classical Indian dance. More specifically Baratanatyam, which, when broken down, means the dance that encompasses music, rhythm, and expressional dance or Abhinaya and strictly adheres to the Natyashastra or the scripture of classical Indian dance. Venkatraman created Tejas Dance in 2014 as a way to enrich and popularize Bharatanatyam and also identify and encourage talent in the field. Venkatraman says she and Chintan Patel (artistic director of Tejas Dance) were drawn to Baratanatyam because of its vibrancy and the spiritual beauty it has to offer.

“We believe that Baratanatyam is looking at things beyond their actual appearance,” Venkatraman says. “We consider it a medium for finding metaphors in every event in our lives and finding its deeper roots in spiritual elevation.”

The duo has performed for many local organizations, including the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, the 2017 Dallas City Council inauguration, Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple, Allen Radha Krishna Temple and Arathi School of Dance, just to name a few.

Tejas Dance will be presenting Ardhanareeshawara – Synchronization of Dichotomy at Dallas Dances this Saturday night. The work features music from Parshwanath Upadhye’s album Shambho. The dance will explore the age old question: Are men and women really different?

“This dance talks about the two aspects of our society—the masculine and the feminine. Thinking of both of them as separate energies is common, but the actual spiritual elevation lies in knowing and understanding that these two characteristics though so different are one and the same,” she says. “If we understand that these two are nothing but a complementing half of a major energy, we realize how futile our efforts are to prove one is superior to the other.”

“This dance gives out a strong message to think of someone’s quality and abilities beyond their gender and find beauty within everything,” she adds. “It’s a great way for adults to find themselves more elevated from the claws of society and an excellent opportunity for kids to learn important concepts that will mold them for a better future and eventually leading to a better society.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances: kNOwBOX dance

Co-creator Martheya Nyaard breaks down the company’ intentions and what they have planned for Dallas Dances.

YeaJean Choi. Photo: Visionstyler Press

Dallas — Looking over the lineup for Dallas Dances, it’s exciting to see so many first-time presenters blended in with event staples such as Texas Ballet Theater, Bruce Wood Dance and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. One of these new faces is kNOwBOX dance, which was created by local choreographers YeaJean Choi and Martheya Nygaard at the beginning of 2018.

Choi and Nygaard met while earning their MFAs in dance at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Their overlapping interest in making art that challenged contemporary and modern dance aesthetics lead them to becoming fast friends and dance peers. Choi was working as the dance department’s digital media coordinator and Nygaard as the department’s publicity coordinator when the duo starting brainstorming about what they were going to do after graduation. They came up with the question: how can artists have access to stay connected, make new work and share work globally, and from there kNOwBOX was born.

“We strive to say no to the box,” Nygaard says. “The box symbolizes the boundaries and confines that limit connections. We pursue experimental production and collaboration with other artists in order to create, discuss and advocate for art. …The vision of kNOwBOX dance is to use the digital space and alternative formats to collaborate and archive. Our social media-based Evolving Laboratories facilitate a global presence for our collaborators to make, capture and share art.”

For Dallas Dances Hyun Jung (Jenna) Change will be performing Choi’s 괴다 (The memory of love) to Donovan Jones’ song “The Memory of Love.” The piece uses Korean contemporary dance techniques to express one’s memory of love. Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Choi earned her BFA in Korean dance from the Sung Kyun Kwan University in 2012 and performed with Du-Ri Theater of Korea. Her work has been presented at World Dance Alliance-Americas in Mexico, Dallas DanceFest, Texas Dance Improvisation Festival, American College Dance Association, Seattle BOOST Dance Festival, Terrance M Johnson Dance Project, Big Rig Dance Collective and the Choreographer’s Series in Korea.

Later this year kNOwBOX dance will be co-producing, alongside the Dance Council of North Texas and the Dallas Public Library, the first Dallas Dance Film Festival. In terms of what they hope to accomplish with this new event Nygaard says, “It is our goal that this festival can support both local and international emerging and professional dance filmmakers and provide an affordable platform to share their work. This free festival also offers the community of North Texas a new way to engage with dance.”

“We hope this will be an annual festival that has the potential to grown into a weekend event with workshops, installations and guest artists.”

>This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances: Brandi Coleman Dance

The jazz dance professor on the fundamentals of Jump Rhythm Technique and her piece, What We Do with Time, part of Dallas Dances.

Brandi Coleman Dance. Photo: Andrew Garvis

Dallas — Just like every young dancer Brandi Coleman grew up learning all the basic dance techniques, including ballet, jazz, modern and hip-hop. It wasn’t until Coleman went to the Jazz Dance World Congress in 1992 and saw Billy Siegenfeld’s choreography for the first time that she realized she wanted to focus primarily on jazz. More specifically, she wanted to learn Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm® Technique. So, when she heard Siegenfeld was teaching at Jacobs’ Pillow along with fellow jazz choreographer Danny Buraczeski, Coleman knew she needed to go.

“This was a pivotal point for me,” Coleman says about her time at Jacob’s Pillow. “Up to this point I have had a variety of dance training, but this experience at Jacob’s Pillow working with both Danny and Billy really solidified my innate response, love and passion for jazz dance and specifically moving rhythmically and musically.”

“Jump Rhythm Technique just felt good innately to me both in the physicality and in my heart and soul.”

Today, Coleman is an artist-in-residence in jazz dance at Southern Methodist University and is also the associate artistic director of Jump Rhythm Jazz Project (JRJP), an Emmy Award-winning performing and teaching company that celebrates the communal core of jazz performance, including dancing, singing and storytelling in rhythmically syncopated conversations. She also holds a B.A. in dance from Northeastern Illinois in Chicago and an MFA in performing arts/dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

To put it simply Coleman says the goal of Jump Rhythm Technique is to turn the body into a percussive instrument. “So, it’s using the musical construct of jazz music, meaning we’re trying to play syncopation and swing in the body, but we are also trying to understand what it feels like to feel rhythm in the body and to shape energy over approaching movement from how my body looks in space. We do address shape, but we address time first.”

When explaining the fundamentals of Jump Rhythm Technique to her students Coleman uses a comprehensive step by step process. “So, in Jump Rhythm Technique we first say what is the rhythm. Then we improvise to that rhythm. Then we clarify the rhythm. Then we clarify the emotional intention behind the rhythm. And then we clarify where in space we do that rhythm.”

Coleman points out that the technique also involves a lot of vocalization, which she says is hard for many dancers because the perception is usually that dancers are to be seen and not heard. So, she usually starts out by asking the dancers questions so they can hear their voices out loud and then she has them sing the Alphabet percussively and then rhythmically. From there she has them start scat singing, which audiences will get to experience firsthand at Dallas Dances this Sunday in Coleman’s What We Do With Time.

“Rhythm and emotion primarily inform the movement and the narrative of the piece,” Coleman says. “It is a quirky, humorous comment on being stressed. It’s about meeting deadlines and missing deadlines and anticipating deadlines that you know you can’t or won’t make. It’s a universal theme that I anticipate anyone and everyone can empathize with.”

This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

SIDEBAR:

I asked Brandi if she thought classical jazz was a dying off and she told me that this is misconception because in order grow jazz dance has had to align with pop culture, which is where new styles like jazz funk and lyrical jazz come into play. So, classical jazz isn’t dying. It is just changing as is natural with all dance forms. She uses the imagery of  branches to example these newer styles of jazz, which she said I could read about in the book “Jazz: A History of the Roots and Branches” by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver.

Like the dance history nerd I am I immediately purchased this book on Amazon and it should be here in a day or two. I am looking forward to reading and will definitely put up a post about my thoughts on the book as soon as I am done reading it. Here is a link to the book if you will she purchase it too

 

 

 

 

 

Dallas Dances: Jordan Fuchs Company

The choreographer on starting the annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival and presenting at the Dance Council’s Dallas Dances festival.

Jordan Fuchs’ Torsion from 2017. Photo: Jordan Fuchs

Dallas — A well-known associate professor of dance at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), Jordan Fuchs has been making dances grounded in improvisational practices since the early 1990’s. At that point he was living and working in San Francisco until he moved to New York City in 1998, which he then left in 2007 to take his position with TWU. His work uses the aesthetic values of improvisation to find the instability of each performance moment, the possibility of transformation through sensation and the inherent state of moving always in relationship to another and to our environment, according to his Web site.

Throughout his career Fuchs has danced for artists, including K.J. Holmes, Kirstie Simson, Mark Dendy, Luka Kito/Megan Boyd, Rebecca Lazier, Gina Jacobs, Scott Wells, Lizz Roman, Joanne Nerenberg and Potrezebie. Fuchs is a Fulbright Specialist and has been on faculty at Hunter College and Movement Research. He has taught workshops at numerous universities and festivals across the United States and internationally. Fuchs is also a former dance specialist in the Jerome Robbins Moving Image Archive of the Dance Division of the New York Public Library.

For Dallas Dances he will be presenting a 6.5-minute excerpt from the second half of his work Torsion, which premiered in 2017 at the Jordan Fuchs Company’s spring performance at TWU’s Dance Studio Theater. Featuring dancers Michelle Beard, Whitney Geldon and Melissa Sanderson, the originally 20-minute trio explores movements centered in the pelvis and the body’s connective tissue, the fascia. The piece also includes original sound composition by Andy Russ and lighting design by Roma Flowers.

“I was intrigued at the movement possibly between the layers of skin, muscle and bone,” Fuchs says about the inspiration for the piece. “For instance, if you hold your forearm in your hand and rotate your forearm there is a lot of movement possible. I wanted to know what kind of dancing could emerge from paying attention to such subtlety.”

“When I start projects, I only define starting points.,” he adds. “I never know where they will end up and that is one of the pleasures of choreography for me. Finding where I end up.”

In addition to teaching and choreographing, Fuchs is also the founder of the annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this October with special guest artist Judith Sánchez Ruíz, a former dancer with both Trisha Brown and Sasha Walsh. “I wanted to create a space where improvisational dance practices and movement forms such as contact improvisation could be front and center rather than an alternative offer, particularly in moving here from New York City over a decade ago, a place where such practices were so integral to the dance making of me and many of my peers,” Fuchs says about jumpstarting the festival in Dallas.

“The mission of the annual festival has been to share, inspire and challenge the improvisational dance community in Texas through bringing in internationally renowned guest artists and creating opportunities for sharing teaching, performing and dance practices and for networking.”

 

>This Dallas Dances profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Princess in Training, Texas Ballet Theater’s Cinderella

Paige Nyman on becoming a princess for Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cinderella this weekend in Dallas.

Dallas — Every young girl dreams of one day becoming a Disney princess, including Texas Ballet Theater’s Paige Nyman who will get to live out her childhood fantasy in the company’s production of Cinderella at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House Aug. 24-26. “I have always related most to Belle and Cinderella,” says Nyman, who is celebrating her 10th season with TBT. “I relate to Belle because I love reading books too, and I have always admired Cinderella’s resiliency and her ability to find hope and make the best in every situation.”

Paige Nyman of TBT. Photo: Steven Visneau

Nyman started dancing at the age of 3 in her hometown of Kansas City. At 16, she received a scholarship to the Harid Conservatory where she trained under Svetlana Osiyeva, Oliver Pardina and Victoria Schneider. Nyman joined TBT in 2009 and since then has performed roles in Ben Stevenson’s DraculaSleeping BeautyPeer GyntRomeo and JulietCinderella and Four Last Songs, among others. She has also performed in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante, Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries, Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, Harold Lander’s Etudes and the title role in Carlos Acosta’s Carmen.

This production marks Nyman’s first time performing a lead role in one of Stevenson’s acclaimed story ballets, an incredible opportunity Nyman says she is more excited than nervous about. “This is such a fun legacy to be a part of and I am enjoying finding who I am in the character. Cinderella has this wonderful innate sense of hope, joy and happiness, but also experiences deep hurt and sadness and it has been a fun challenge to learn how to internalize everything.”

In rehearsals the dancers work equal parts on technique and acting, which Nyman says is really what separates Stevenson’s story ballet from other ballet companies. “He just understands what audiences want to see and what we, the dancers, want to do. He is always finding new ways to keep the story ballets fresh.”

These story ballets are just one of many aspects Nyman enjoys about being a part of TBT. “This is one of the most welcoming places I have ever encountered. From the start I was afforded the chance to work closely with the other company members and choreographers and it has been a wonderful journey for me these past 10 seasons.” She adds, “Ben continues to stretch our boundaries while also staying grounded in his story ballets and I just feel at home here.”

Nyman admits that the road to becoming Cinderella isn’t all tutus and tiaras. “Dancing with inanimate object like a broom can be hard. It doesn’t reason with you,” she jokes.

Nyman is referring to the kitchen scene where she is imagining she is at the ball dancing with a handsome prince when in reality she is covered in filth dancing with a broom. This dance segment led to one of Nyman biggest questions about the process, which was how to keep the role authentic through these quick emotional changes. She explains, “I wanted to know how to create a natural transition from the high of imagining I am at the ball to suddenly realizing I am at home dancing with a broom.”

Nyman has also had to shift her mindset from being one of many dancers in the corps to taking center stage. “There’s this wonderful sense of camaraderie in the corps because we all have the same goal, which is to be the picture frame for the lead dancers. But when you transition into doing a lead role you have to step outside that mindset of amenity. You have to face the fact that the goal is that everyone is looking at you, and maintaining that level of engagement is a beautiful responsibility.”

And like all dancers Nyman has a ritual she does before every performance that might sound kooky to some, but continues to work in her favor. “In the dressing room I have to put my left eyelash on first, my left earring and my right pointe. That is my secret recipe.”

 

The Texas Ballet Theater season also features:

  • Ben Stevenson’s Cleopatra (accompanied by Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) at Bass Performance Hall: Sept. 28-30, 2018
  • Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker at Winspear Opera House, Nov. 23-25 and Nov. 30-Dec. 2, before transitioning to Bass Performance Hall Dec. 7-9; Dec. 13; Dec. 15-16; Dec. 20-24. The Nutty Nutcracker, an unconventional take on the holiday classic, will be at Bass Performance Hall Dec. 14.
  • The first mixed repertoire, March 1-3, 2019, at Bass Performance Hall features the work of two renowned choreographers, William Forsythe and Christopher Bruce in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and Ghost Dances, respectively. TBT dancer Andre Silva will share his contemporary choreography in a world premiere called 11:11.
  • A collection of works by TBT Artistic Director, Ben Stevenson, O.B.E., is on the bill for the second mixed repertoire and includes Four Last SongsTwilightEsmerelda (pas de deux only) and L. The pieces will be performed at Bass Performance Hall March 29-31, 2019.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Camille A. Brown

This weekend, the award-winning dance and theater choreographer Camille A. Brown opens the TITAS Presents season with BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.

camilleabrown
BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Dallas — 2018 has been quite a year for Camille A. Brown whose powerful combination of storytelling and modern, African and hip-hop movements has been capturing audiences from every angle, including concert dance, on and off-Broadway, and television. Most recently, her work has been seen on NBC with the Emmy-nominated special, Jesus Christ Superstar LIVE, and also on Broadway with the 2018 Tony award-winning production, Once On This Island. Her other theater credits include A Streetcar Named DesireCabin in the Sky, Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick…BOOM and Dallas Theater Center’s world premiere productions of Stagger LeeFortress of Solitude, and Bella: An American Tall Tale.

The dancing It Girl is also a four-time Princess Grace Award winner, TED Fellow, Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner, Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and Audelco Award winner. Her work has been commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions, Ailey II, Philandanco!, Urban Bush Women, Ballet Memphis, and Hubbard Street II, among others.

With all these creative accolades it’s no surprise to learn that Brown has been choreographing since childhood when she would make up dances to cartoon shows. A lot of her movement is influenced by the social dances of her childhood, including hip-hop, African and step dance. She was also versed in salsa dancing and musical theatre thanks to her parent’s love of musicals and Latin social dances. Add in her point of view as a strong black female from Queens and you have the foundation of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play (2015); the second part of a trilogy that her troupe Camille A. Brown & Dancers will be performing as part of TITAS Presents in Dallas Aug. 24-25.

TheaterJones caught up with the busy dancemaker to talk about her current success, working on Once On This Island, finding her artistic voice and what Dallas audiences can expect to see from her dancers this weekend.

TheaterJones: Most young dancers dream of becoming performers, and yet you knew you wanted to choreograph from a very young age. Dancers don’t usually come across composition classes till they reach high school age, so how did you foster your interest in creating movement growing up?

Camille A. Brown: I have always been a quiet child. My voice was small, so I got teased a lot, and it made me more self-conscious about speaking. I watched Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson videos as well as musicals (which my mom introduced me to). I would spend hours learning all the routines from videos and musical numbers. I also created movement to the opening credits of cartoons I watched. Family gatherings were opportunities to put on a show with friends and cousins. My family would support our efforts and was always a great audience.

How has your upbringing in Queens influenced your artistic choices throughout your career?

One of the first works I did was about rush hour in New York City and what happens when everyone is waiting for a delayed train. I took all of my experiences riding the subway since 13 to create six minutes of material. The work was eventually commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. My most recent work is also pulling from my experiences growing up in the city. Some of it is inspired by my neighborhood. A couple in Queens walking down the street with their isms bold and bright. The guys that play basketball outside. The hand gestures (dab) they do greeting each other.

In BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, there are moments that are inspired by relationships with my mother, grandmother, and cousin. Q85, Farmers Blvd., Guy R. Brewer, Foch Blvd, E/F train (last stop), Green Acres Mall, Rochdale Village, grandma and granddaddy’s house. We carry our stories with us and they never let us go. 

Looking back, would you still have chosen to go to college before starting your professional dance career?

Absolutely! I wasn’t ready to be a professional dancer after I graduated high school, and still wanted to learn more as a student.

How did you get involved with Once On This Island? What research did you do leading up to teaching the choreography for the show?

I had never seen OOTI, but was very intrigued by the story. I knew it was a very popular musical, which made me nervous! It’s hard stepping in as a choreographer creating material for a show that’s been done thousands of times. I got a little bit in my head about it. I knew my role as a part of the creative team was extremely important. I wanted to honor the culture of Haiti and the Caribbean islands, but also honor my choreographic voice.

People ask me what the inspiration behind the movement for the show was. Culture always tells you where to go. The challenge was to create a language that combines culture, my voice and the actor’s creative identities. I connected with an Afro-Haitian/Afro- Cuban consultant, Maxine Montilus. We had four sessions together. I told her that these sessions were not so I could implant these specific steps into the show. It was about me knowing the origins of steps so they could help to inform my choreographic choices.

The other challenge for me was the production was staged in the round and I had never choreographed anything in the round before. I was creating my latest work, ink, at the same time so I used that creative process as an opportunity to practice. It’s interesting how many projects can support one goal. I’m grateful for it all.

How have your experiences working on Broadway and TV impacted the way you think about movement for your company dancers?

I have always been interested in telling stories, but working in theater with collaborators and putting an entire show together that has music, acting, dance, set design, sound design, costume design and orchestrations has made me a better storyteller and communicator. The information that I absorbed working in theater has helped me to create my movement language and given me the tools to communicate what I want to my dancers and musicians.

Can you please talk to me about the building of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play? Is it mainly autobiographical? Is it one complete story or broken up by experiences?

BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play is the second piece of the trilogy and it reveals the complexity of carving out a self-defined identity as a black female in urban American culture. In a society where black women are often only portrayed in terms of their strength, resiliency, or trauma, this work seeks to interrogate these narratives by representing a nuanced spectrum of black womanhood in a racially and politically charged world.

Kyra Gaunt’s book, The Games That Black Girls Play, talks about the contributions of black girls to hip hop through childhood games. If we look at the mechanics of the hand clap game “numbers”, it’s highly intelligent, mathematical and musical. Social dance grounds a time and place. The body has so many stories to tell and we can see them through social dance. We can also see people’s creative identities.

There is artistry in childhood games and social dance.

I am bringing all my stories, my personal experiences of being a woman and of being black into the work. BG:LP is about my childhood. It has glimpses of the relationship I have with my sister-friends, cousin and mother.

At what point did you know you wanted to make this part of a trilogy?

After creating Mr. TOL E. RAncE, my headspace was still in the world of black identity. My mentor and dramaturge, Talvin Wilks, encouraged me to go with the flow. Three evening length pieces later!

Where do you want to go from here?

I want to stay focused, clear and keep growing. It is my goal to continue creating works for my company, become a director/choreographer for musical theater and do more TV and film. Debbie Allen is a huge inspiration. She does it all. Her body of work makes me believe that all things are possible.

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

 

A Girl Thing: Preview of Bombshell Dance Project’s Like A Girl Performance

Bombshell Dance Project gets ready to showcase three new works, including program headliner Like A Girl at Moody Performance Hall today!

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Bombshell Dance Project presents Like A Girl this weekend. Photo: Courtesy of Bombshell Dance Project.

Dallas — The inspiration for Like A Girl, one of two new works by Bombshell Dance Project’s Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman, focuses on what it means to do something like a girl.

“We started out with the phrase “fight like a girl,” but then it expanded to doing anything like a girl and what does that mean especially now that there is such a boom in strong women,” Bernet says. “It’s not to say no progress has been made. It’s more like what does it mean now that we’ve made all of this progress?”

Rodman adds, “It’s interesting because we started off with a phrase that is kind of aggressive and then over the past year it has evolved into so much more, like what does it mean to be sensitive or what does it mean to be feminine like a girl?”

To accomplish their task the bombshells are incorporating some of what they learned during a fight choreography workshop with Prism Movement Theater co-founder Jeff Colangelo into their choreographic process, which features the duos’ penchant for large, powerful movement guided by contact improv, images and feelings. In this particular piece the bombshell’s movement choices are also being influenced by feedback from an online survey that asked questions such as what does it mean to be feminine and name something you believe in fighting for. The bombshells have also added to their ranks for this piece, with fellow female powerhouses Haley Tripp, Alyx Henigman and Alex Clair.

Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project. Photo: Katie Bernet

I caught up with the dance besties during one of their recent rehearsals at Preston Center Dance in which they candidly talked about their experience with fight choreography and what they have in store for the rest of their Like A Girl program, which takes place June 22 at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas.

“It was not an easy class,” Rodman says about Colangelo’s fight choreography workshop. “It was hard to keep it pure because it was so movement-based. It required us to find the balance between anticipating and not anticipating what was happening.”

Bernet laughs, “Oh yeah! We kept getting in trouble for dancing it.”

The class focused primarily on stances and how one should advance and back up and then progressed into more detailed techniques like how to throw a punch. From there more partnering was added and the students essentially made what dancers would call a phrase, according to Rodman. And while the pair will not be performing any of the fighting techniques, they say the experience has definitely impacted their creative process for Like A Girl. “The experience really opened us to the elements of listening and the reactive element in which you try not to anticipate what’s to come,” Bernet says. “The level of physicality involved and this quietness-from-behind-like approach also were aspects of the class that have stuck with me.”

The Bombshell’s second new work, All The More, was inspired by Harry Styles’ “Kiwi” music video and features a cast of 12 students from around the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The applicants were required to submit a three-minute improvisational video and it just so happened that all the submissions the bombshells received were from female dancers, a detail the ladies say works great for this show. “It was opened to everyone, but we would have picked females anyway for this particular show because we are exploring something that is really unique to females and so, that is kind of what we are going for this time,” Bernet says. She adds that the duo is working on some ideas for incorporating men into their work later down the road.

The third piece on the program is New York-based choreographer Amanda Krische’s LUNA. Rodman met Krische at YoungArts Miami during their senior year of high school, and they really got to know each other when they were selected as presidential scholars and spent two weeks together in Washington D.C. The two remained in contact throughout college and when the bombshells decided it was time to bring in another choreographer Rodman says Krische was always at the top of their list.

Krische graduated from Purchase College with a BFA in dance and currently resides in New York City where she works with her own set of dancers. Her choreography has been shown in such venues as LaGuardia High School, the Dance Theater Lab at Purchase College, SUNY, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Gallim Dance, the Actors Arts Fund and Ailey Citigroup Theater. Her work mainly focuses on the physical history of the body and its connection to memory. This is the first time her work will be presented in Dallas.

“We both learned a lot from her choreographic process,” Rodman says about their time with Krische. “She came in with one little phrase and floor pattern and turned that tiny nugget into a 10-minute dance in only four days. …Amanda works a lot with the ideas of memory, and when we were working with her she was really specific about creating a world and how the movement exists within that world even to the point of what the temperature is and what you are looking at and what you see at different moments.”

The bombshells describes Krische’s piece as a slow burn due to the repetitive nature of the movement. The piece starts off with the two dancers walking a specific number of steps in a predetermined pathway around the space before gestures, pauses and abrupt floor work are woven in to break up the monotony of their walks. The intensity of the piece builds as the dancers dig deep to maintain their high energy levels as the music changes from meditative to pulsating, which leads to an unexpected yet satisfying ending.

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.