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Game Face On: Preview of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2018 Spring Celebration

Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackles their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series.

Claude Alexander III. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — Over the last couple of years Claude Alexander III has grown into an even more magnetic and mindful performer thanks to roles in unforgettable dance works such as Bridget L. Moore’s original version of Uncharted Territory for the TITAS Command Performance in 2017 and Jamal Story’s aerial duet, What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus (2015), which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite pieces. Now, this Dallas Black Dance Theatre company veteran is making his transition into the world of choreography with his first dance work,Face what’s facing you!, part of DBDT’s annual Spring Celebration Series at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas this weekend.

For his first choreographic piece Alexander is coming to terms with some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process, which he says is the underlying theme of the whole work. “I wanted to create something that is authentic and true to who I am right now,” Alexander says about his inspiration for the piece. “So, I just started thinking about things in my life which lead me to consider some things that I felt like I had to deal with as child and as I came into being an adult and this made me realize that I operate a certain way because I never quite addressed these issues when I was younger.” He adds, “I literally just wanted to be able to have a cathartic point to deal with a few issues in my life and I felt like this work was going to be the beginning of the process for healing.”

Once he had a clear idea of what he wanted the piece to be about Alexander and the other DBDT dancers met in the studio where he had the group create some improv movement based off a series of prepared questions. “I first asked them to identify what their issue is. Then what does it affect in your life. Then I asked them where it hurts you the most. And lastly, I asked them what would it look like to become free from whatever that thing is.” He continues, “And so, we used those four questions to formulate some improv and create some really authentic movement or motifs and from there is just all came together.”

A recent opinion piece on dancemagaine.com entitled “Dancers are Choreographers, Too. It’s Time for Dance Criticism to Reflect That” led me to ask Alexander exactly how much of the dancers improv material did he wind up using. He responds, “Oh, a lot of it! The improv material is probably where we developed the bulk of our motif. Now, I created most of the actual movement, but I would say hey, let’s use the arm from this person’s improv or let’s use that step from this person’s solo. And what I did was each person has a solo within the piece and it’s not always a featured solo, but they all have something that maybe only they do and I siphoned that movement, if you will, to use in other places in the work.”

While the inspiration for the work is based on specific moments in his life, Alexander says the narrative of the piece is not autobiographical. “Well, for one thing, the lead in the piece female,” he says. “At first I thought it was going to be a man because I thought it was going to represent me, but it actually turned out to be a female and she doesn’t necessarily represent me at all. It’s more about what her struggles are, but I certainly used movement and motifs that represent my struggles as well.”

The piece is broken up into five section with the first section focusing more on movement than the actual storyline. The second section is where the main character is introduced and Alexander explains that the three women dancing alongside her represent the three issues she is struggling with. He describes the third section as mostly a duet with a lot of partnering which gives the main character the opportunity to look at how someone else deals with their issues. The fourth section involves a group of dancers and each person is assigned one of the lead’s issues. And the final section is all about the lead realizing her strength and finally addressing a person/issue that she meets in the beginning, but never acknowledges until this last section.

As far as what Alexander wants this piece to say about him as a choreographer he says, “More than anything I want the work to be accessible to everyone. And accessible doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to like it, but that they can still relate to it.” He adds, “My biggest goal is to get the audience to have a reaction so that they leave and say that they understood what they watched or that made mef feel something or that challenged me in a new way. And I think if that goal is reached then I have done my job.”

You can see Face what’s facing you! at DBDT’s annual Spring Celebration May 18-20 at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Ray Mercer’s Undeviated Passage, Ulysses Dove’s Vespers and Joshua L Peugh’s Rattletrap.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Contemporary Ballet Dallas Announces New Name

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CBD in Holiday at the Ballet. Photo: Sharen Bradford /The Dancing Image

Contemporary Ballet Dallas (CBD) continues to rev up its image with a new name that will differentiate itself from the pre-professional school known as the School of Contemporary Ballet Dallas. CBD will be launching its new name, Ballet Dallas, at its spring concert May 17-18 at the Latino Cultural Center near downtown Dallas.

CBD was co-founded in 2000 by Valerie Shelton Tabor who has since served as one of the company’s choreographers and is now the company’s artistic director. Since its inception, CBD has participated in a number of local art and dance festivals, premiered more than 50 original works and has additionally commissioned eight new works from respected choreographers.

When I started writing about the Dallas dance scene for TheaterJones.com nine years ago, CBD was really a mystery to me. I felt that it lacked some clarity in its name, marketing and the types of work being produced and commissioned. And you would never see the same dancers perform in multiple shows. Thankfully, CBD has become more consistent with its dancers over the years.  The name change also puts to bed any confusion regarding the company’s status as a professional dance company. For awhile there I thought CBD was a pre-professional troupe of dancers similar to that of Chamberlain Performing Arts, Collin County Ballet Theatre or Ballet Ensemble of Texas. I realized pretty quick that my assumption was incorrect, but I can’t be the only one to have made this error.

OK! back to the company’s upcoming performance at the Latino Cultural Center. It looks like it will be a fun and eclectic evening of dance with four new works by choreographers Kevin Jenkins (Boston Ballet School), Hailey von Schlehenried (Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas), Carter Alexander (Chamberlain Performing Arts) and Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Dallas-based Bombshell Dance Project.

I hope to see y’all there!

 

 

New Local Choreography Project Needs Funding

AKA Ballet’s first performance will feature new works by Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander, but they need your help!

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From Left: Albert Drake, Carter Alexander and Hailey von Schlehenried. Photo courtesy of AKA Ballet.

Summer is usually a slow time for dancers as most dance companies take a break during the hot summer months to prepare for the next season. And most dance schools have changed their schedule to focus primarily on dance camps, which leaves many teachers with less hours and a smaller income. It is especially hard for freelance dancers to find work during the summer as the job market comes to a standstill and won’t pick up again till September when Nutcracker preparations begin.

With all this in mind three local choreographers are looking to change things up this summer with a new choreography project!

Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander have joined forces to create AKA Ballet, a new choreographic endeavor which features six new works to be presented at the Dallas Latino Cultural Center in July. The catch is the three creators are hoping to raise the funds needed to pay the dancers, musicians and technical crew prior to show, thus making the event FREE to attendees.

A lot of dance companies in the area have turned to crowdfunding to finance certain projects, performances or specific individuals. I typically just scroll past these posts on Facebook, but something about AKA Ballet’s project made me pause and click on their link https://www.gofundme.com/akaballet

I ended up contributing to this project because I have seen work produced by all three choreographer so, I know they will give us something that is high caliber as well as aesthetically moving and stylistically diverse. If you are not familiar with these three individuals: Drake is a member of Bruce Wood Dance and has produced two works for the company, Whispers (2015) and Chasing Home (2017). Von Schlehenried teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and her choreography has been featured at Dallas DanceFest 2017 and Avant Chamber Ballet’ Women’s Choreography Project. Alexander is the associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts and has set work on local dance companies like Contemporary Ballet Dallas. He also served as school prinicpal at the Miami City Ballet School for seven years before returning to Dallas.

When asked about the idea of free admission von Schlehenried says, “We really just want people to embrace the art and come see what we are doing and tell us what they think. We also want to provide more job opportunities for those working in the arts community which is why we are asking for donations so we can also pay for the music and the lighting and the theater as well as the dancers.”

She adds, “Carter is really the one that got the ball rolling on this project. He approached me last year after Dallas DanceFest about doing some kind of collaboration next summer and of course I said YES! I just think this is an awesome idea and hopefully it can become something bigger in the future.”

Drake is also pumped for the opportunity to create work outside his comfort zone. He writes on this Facebook page, “I’m excited to challenge myself on a new front and dive into an experience I didn’t know was possible. The chance to work with some really talented individuals with the freedom of expression is the dream baby.”

Hailey also hinted that the three of them might be working on a piece together in addition to their own individual works. I am interested to see what a classical, modern and Flamenco dancer can come up with.

As the time draws closer I will be making visits to rehearses to see how the collaboration is going as well as get a sneak peak at the works, which I will then share on my blog. So, please mark your calendars for July 29th and don’t forget to donate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Lies Beneath: Preview of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Women’s Choreography Project

ACB company member Emily Dixon Alba.  Photo: Rhilee Photography

Avant Chamber Ballet reaches new emotional depths in Kimi Nikaidoh’s latest work, The Face of Water, part of the company’s Women’s Choreography Project this weekend.

Dallas — If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching Kimi Nikaidoh’s choreography it is that she likes to take you on a journey either musically, emotionally or narratively speaking. Her first work, Find Me (2015), for Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) was a beautiful tribute to Wood’s aesthetic and evoked warm, happy feelings. Her second work, Bloom (2016), was more introspective and carried the theme of healing and recovery with more of a straight forward narrative. In Nikaidoh’s newest work, The Face of Water, she uses a range of emotions and the highs and lows within the music to drive the movement home.

“So, the piece doesn’t follow a narrative, but is more about an emotional journey,” Nikaidoh says. “In the music there are these beautiful moments that feel to me like new beginnings. I’m talking about these long, stretched out notes that felt like one thing has finished and a new thing is starting. In the music I hear a lot of activity, turmoil and what I started to frame in my head as work, and then what follows these sections are these sweeter, longer notes of hope and new beginnings.”

Watching Avant Chamber Ballet rehearse The Face of Water at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas last week I was surprised by the amount of ballet vocabulary and other classical elements Nikaidoh chose to use in the piece. But really I shouldn’t be surprised, since a ballerina was all Nikaidoh wanted to be until injuries and the advice of others lead her to audition for the Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) when she was 18. Leading up to this Nikaidoh had trained with Tanju and Patricia Tuzer, Canada’s National Ballet School, the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theater.

Nikaidoh danced with BWDC until 2004 when she moved to New York to have ankle surgery and earn a degree in neuroscience from Columbia University. During this time she also continued to perform with various groups, including Bruce Wood Dance, Thang Dao Dance Company, Columbia Ballet Collaborative and Emery LeCrone Dance. Nikaidoh also toured nationally and internationally with Complexions Contemporary Dance. After Wood’s death in 2014 Nikaidoh decided to return home and eventually took over the reins of BWD.

The Face of Water is one of two new works ACB will present as part of its Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), April 21-22, at Moody Performance Hall. The other work is Day Vignettes by former Ballet Austin dancer Michelle Thompson Ulerich with new music by composer Catherine Davis. ACB’s entire program, titled Moving Music, will also feature George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s The American Pas de Deux and Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A. Each piece will be accompanied by live music.

When asked about her decision to have Nikaidoh set a piece on the company, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says, “I’ve known Kimi since I was a teenager and I’ve always admired her as an artist both as a dancer and now as a choreographer and director. Her work is very balletic, but the center of gravity is lower like Bruce’s work so it’s a nice change from our more classical repertoire.”

Inspired by Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece TenebraeThe Face of Water is an emotional rollercoaster that forces the dancers to delve deeper into their own psyche. In between trios and quartets Nikaidoh has incorporated standard pas de deux and corps work that feature the dancers’ gorgeous lines, pliable spines and supple feet, which will be adorned in ballet slippers for this number. Like Cooper, Nikaidoh preferred to keep the corps in motion with continuous formation changes and stage entrances that challenged both the dancers’ musical timing and spatial awareness. You can see Nikaidoh’s own personal touches sprinkled throughout the piece, but especially in the dancers’ port de bra arms and the quieter moments in the music where the dancers had to rely on smaller gestures and unlikely body shapes to convey their feelings.

When asked about her experience working with the dancers Nikaidoh says, “I loved working with ACB. The dancers are smart, quick and so willing to do the work.”

She adds, “This was also a great learning experience for me because I am used to working with a certain set of dancers who in general were approaching movement from Bruce’s perspective. I noticed that even though I share a classical vocabulary with ACB there were still things about how I wanted them to get from one classical step or space to another that were very influenced by my contemporary background and my work with Bruce. So, what I recognized during the process was that those were the moments I needed to spend time on.”

Now, unlike Cooper’s balletic works, Nikaidoh’s piece doesn’t include any petite allegro jumping sections or any grande jete jumping passes. You also won’t see any fouette turns. Instead, Nikiadoh focused on the dancers’ connections both physically and visually and how these connections change and evolve with the music. “We talked about connective tissue between them and for them to all feel like there’s this complex type of spider web that’s connecting everyone’s limbs together. I mean these dancers are used to working as an ensemble and they understand the importance of clean lines and the need to stay together, but when you have someone new come in and ask them to go off balance or run low instead of high sometimes a different image can be helpful.”

This year marks the fourth annual WCP, an endeavor Cooper started when she noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies’ seasonal programs. Since its inception WCP has featured new works from almost a dozen national and international female choreographers, including Shauna Davis, Janie Richards and Elizabeth Gillapsy. As far as where WCP goes from here Cooper says, “I’d love to get to a place where WCP isn’t needed anymore. In four years I’ve seen a shift across the country with a lot of discussion of the problem and many more ballet companies commissioning female choreographers. We aren’t there yet, but we are inching toward equity.”

This preview was originally posted on theaterjones.com.

 

Beguiling Ballet: Preview of Ballet Frontier of Texas’ Giselle

Ballet Frontier of Texas brings one of ballet’s oldest and most popular productions to Fort Worth with its version of Giselle this weekend.

Hannah Wakefield in rehearsal for Giselle at Ballet Frontier of Texas. Photo: Todd F. Wakefield

Fort Worth — One of the only pre-professional ballet companies in Fort Worth, Ballet Frontier of Texas (BFT) has blossomed over the last five years with its drive to expand its repertoire to incorporate more contemporary works by new and seasoned choreographers, while at the same time still paying homage to the classics such as Les SylphidesThe FireBird and this weekend, Giselle with performances that focus on authenticity both in character portrayals and choreography.

BFT Artistic Directors Chung-Lin and Enrica Tseng’s fondness for Giselle is just one of the reasons they chose it for their season closer. Enrica explains, “The choice of the repertoire is all about the dancers that are around us and we felt that the place, the time and the dancers and guest dancers, including Kathryn Boren (Giselle), Dan Westfield (Albrecht), Nathan Vendt (peasant pas de deux) and Hannah Wakefield and Elizabeth Villarreal (peasant pas de deux and Myrtha), make a great combination for this to happen right now.”

This two act romantic ballet was originally choreographed by Jean Carolli and Jules Perrot with music by Adolphe Adam. Today’s versions derive from revivals staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The role of Giselle was created for Carlotta Grisi who was the only ballerina to dance it at the Paris Opera for many years. The famous Wilis (ghostly spirits of dead girls jilted on their wedding day) that appear in the second half of the show are led through a dance by their queen, Myrtha, which in BFT’s rendition will be performed by company members Wakefield (Saturday) and Villarreal (Sunday).

“We are so excited to have Hannah dance the role of Myrtha on opening night,” Enrica says. “The character requires a strong presence, technique and acting. BFT is very fortunate to have Hannah as part of the company as she has all those qualities.”

Growing up, Wakefield spent many summers attending ballet intensives with companies all across the United States, including Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, Ballet West, Joffrey Ballet NYC, Tulsa Ballet and Gelsey Kirkland Academy. She earned a bachelor’s degree in ballet from Brigham Young University where she was also a principal dancer with Theatre Ballet. While at school Wakefield also had the opportunity to perform in operas and Broadway shows such as the Phantom of the Opera. She also participated in a study abroad program in Italy where she got to study the origins and pedagogy of ballet at La Scala and World Dance Movement.

Wakefield’s professional dance career includes Utah Regional Ballet where as a demi-soloist she performed in roles such as the Dewdrop Fairy in The Nutcracker, Little Cygnet in Swan Lake and Silver Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty. In addition to performing with BFT Wakefield also teaches jazz and ballet at the Ballet Center of Fort Worth.

“I am so blessed to be performing with Ballet Frontier of Texas,” says Wakefield who joined the company last June. “I truly love classical ballet and all the story ballets and so BFT is just what I was looking for in terms of repertoire.”

While Wakefield has performed in various story ballets throughout her career this will be her first time dancing a role in Giselle, a detail that led her to do extra research to help her get more of a feel for her role. “I watched a lot of different YouTube performances of Myrtha which helped me understand her personality. She is very playful and cute, but also very angry and quite bitter and if you look at the context of the story you can understand why. To me, it feels like she takes on the burdens of all the other Wilis and therefore is kind of like a mother to Giselle in the second act of the show.”

You can see BFT’s production of Giselle April 7-8 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center’s Scott Theatre.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Sarah Lane of American Ballet Theatre

The American Ballet Theatre principal dancer on performing Giselle with LakeCities Ballet Theatre and guest teaching at Dance Planet 22 this weekend.

Sarah Lane performing Giselle with American Ballet Theatre. Photo: Erin Baiano/Courtesy ABT

Lewisville — The image we have of ballet dancers today is changing thanks to professional dancers like Misty Copeland, David Hallberg and Sarah Lane. These dancers have done what many say is impossible and have brought classical ballet into households around the world with their artistic pursuits both on and off the stage. Copeland is the first African-American to reach principal status at American Ballet Theatre (ABT). In 2011, Hallberg became the first American to join the ranks of the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow. And Lane is most recognized for her role as dance double for Natalie Portman in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ feature movie Black Swan (2010). But in the last year Lane has also been making some big moves on stage as well, if her promotion to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in September 2017 is any indication. She also received positive reviews for her debut role in Giselle last spring at the Metropolitan Opera House (MET) in New York City.

Throughout her career with ABT, which started in 2003 as an apprentice, Lane has performed in numerous classical ballets, including CinderellaCoppéliaLe CorsaireDon QuixoteThe NutcrackerThe Sleeping BeautySwan Lakeand Les Sylphide. She also created the Chinese dance in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, the Miettes Qui Tombent (Breadcrumb) in Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty, Miranda in The Tempest, Princess Praline in Whipped Cream and a role in Demis Volpi’s Private Light. Lane has also performed in works by notable choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, George Balanchine, Liam Scarlett, Jorma Elo, Marcelo Gomes, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp.

Lane began her dance training in Memphis, Tenn. under the direction of Pat Gillespie at the Memphis Classical Ballet. When her family moved to Rochester, N.Y., she continued her training with Timothy Draper and Jamey Leverett at the Draper Center for Dance Education. At age 16, Lane received a full scholarship to the Boston Ballet’s Summer Program. In 2000 and 2001, she was awarded first place and the Capezio Class Excellence Award at the North American Ballet Festival. In 2002 Lane became a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

Lane will be pulling double duty this weekend as she reprises her role in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Giselle and guest teaches at Dance Planet 22. TheaterJones.com caught up with Lane after she returned from tour last week to discuss her rise through the ranks at ABT, preparing for the role of Giselle and participating in Dance Planet 22.

TheaterJones: Growing up, was becoming a professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) your main goal?

Sarah Lane: I have always loved dancing, but I never expected to be in a major ballet company because I just never felt that highly of myself. It wasn’t a goal I felt was obtainable for me until we moved to Rochester, New York, and I started at a more difficult school and was exposed to more teachers and guest teachers in the summers. I loved imagining myself as a professional ballet dancer because of the qualities these teachers brought to their classes and their teaching skills really rubbed off on me. So I kept working, and when I was 16 I came to New York City with a friend and saw ABT perform at the MET for the first time, and it made me think that maybe my dream is to be in ABT.

I always thought that NYC was too big of a city for me and being part of ABT would be too stressful, but then I thought of how beautiful the dancers looked on stage and I really wanted to be a part of that. And I think a lot of this had to do with the ballerina I saw that night, Amanda McKellow, who to this day is one of my favorite ballet dancers. She has such a sensibility when she moves and is so humble and she helped me a little bit with Giselle in the studio, which also happens to be the ballet I saw her perform in when I was 16.

You mentioned that you never saw yourself becoming a professional ballet dancer because you didn’t think that highly of yourself. How did you find the confidence to pursue your goal of joining a professional company?

Well, it’s something that I struggle with to this day. And I guess you can call it my Achilles heel because I have never been incredibly sure of myself. I love what I do and I get lost in it and I get lost in a certain feeling. It’s the feeling and the ideas I bring to what I do that drives me. And also the people that I work with and the processes that just make my performances whole rather than me coming out and thinking ok I can do this, this and this. So, instead of it being about me and myself and what I can do that drives me, it’s more about the artistry and what ideas I am trying to portray. So, in that sense I guess I don’t focus so much on whether I have confidence or not. I would say my confidence has gotten better over the years in that I’ve learned to appreciate the process more, and if I give more to the process then it distracts me when I go onstage so I can focus on the work more.

Looking at your career as a whole what advice do you have for the next generation of ballet dancers?

The most important thing is to have a really good work ethic because if you think you are too good to work or if you have one good show and you don’t think you have to work after that then that’s your downfall. Your whole career is going to be work and it’s not easy for anyone. Humility is also very important and having perspective in life and just keep working. I mean, perfectionism is great because that’s what keeps you working, but another point is you can’t judge yourself so much that you lose your love for what you do.

You were a soloist with ABT for 10 years before being promoted to principal last year. At any point during those years did you just want to throw in the towel?

I felt like I was just bashing my head up against a brick wall for many years. I wanted to go further and I wanted to develop and I wanted to do new and fresh works, but the thing is nothing is ever lined up so you can get what you want all the time. And that is how it was for me. I wasn’t lucky with the timing of how the company was going for a huge chunk of my career. But at the end of the day I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t have to persevere through that time. I learned how to work for myself and drain as much as I could from a role, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was thrown into things faster. I wouldn’t have learned how to keep myself occupied and keep myself entertained with what I had. So, this taught me perseverance and how to motivate myself. I mean if you really love something than you have to keep working toward it. Even when you get discouraged you have to find a way to inspire yourself.

You had your debut in Giselle at the MET last May and received rave reviews. One critic even called you the Giselle for the Millennials. How did you go about making the role your own?

I really enjoy the depth of the story and the ethereal feel of the second half. This wasn’t a role I was thrown into. I have done so many peasant pas’s in my career that playing Giselle just felt like the next step for me. So, for me it wasn’t like all of the sudden I was on that night. It was more of a progression of so many years of continuing to be disciplined and continuing to love what I do. I have such fond memories of doing the ballet with LakeCities Ballet Theatre nine years ago that when I finally did it with ABT I just had such love for it that whatever judgements I had about myself I had to throw out the door because I felt like the ballet didn’t deserve any of that. And even though Giselle is one of the oldest ballets, it still contains emotions and storylines that people can relate with today such as love and betrayal. So, the ballet is still living and breathing the emotions that we have as human beings.

You performed in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) Giselle nine year ago, and you have also been playing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Company’s Nutcracker since 2014. What do you enjoy most about working with these young dancers?

It always helps to having someone older to look up too and learn from so I hope that there is something these dancers can learn from me and that I could be there to give them any tips or offer some encouragement. That’s what I enjoy about having these dancers around and watching and talking to them and just being a part of their productions. It’s really an honor for me to be there and to be a role model for them. LBT has a really good heart and lots of positive energy and they have kind of accepted me into their family and that just means so much to me.

While in Dallas you will also be performing and teaching classes at Dance Planet 22. How would you describe your teaching style?

I think I am a pretty fair type of teacher. I mean if someone doesn’t seem like they are really invested in my class I can be a little tough with them because if you’re not interested now then you are never going to be interested. But if a dancer is working hard, but still struggling with something I am more than happy to be gracious and give everything that I can to help them. The tough love side of me really only comes out when I feel like a student is being lazy or isn’t trying. I love coaching and being with dancers inside the classroom, so teaching is definitely something I see myself doing more of in the future!

You can see Sarah Lane in  LBT’s production of Giselle April 6-7 at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theatre and Dance Planet 22 April 7-8 at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Dallas Arts District.

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

 

Heart of Texas: Preview of Bruce Wood Dance’s Lone Stars Performance

Red from Bruce Wood Dance is part of Lone Stars. Emily Drake is second from front. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image.

Bruce Wood dancer Emily Drake on partnering with Houston-based METdance in Bridget L. Moore’s new work, Following Echoes, part of the Lone Stars performance on Friday.

Dallas — Emily Drake is not hard to spot on stage amongst the other members of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD). Her fiery red hair and petite statue will always draw your eye, but it’s the way she lives in the movement that keeps us from being able to look away. “Emily is a really gifted performer and an intelligent mover,” says BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh. “She can make just about anything work. So, say you ask her to make a turn go into something else that goes to the floor or in the air and she can very quickly find a way to make that happen. Her musicality is also really remarkable. …There are dancers who can do something on the note and there are dancers who can do something with the feeling of the note in the music and Emily can do with the feel of the note immediately. It’s this emotional intelligence too that makes her performance so satisfying to watch.”

Originally from Nashville, Drake grew up studying modern, ballet and jazz and attended summer programs at The Rock School of Ballet. She came to Dallas in 2010 to attend Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where she had the opportunity to perform in works by renowned choreographers Martha Graham, Adam Hougland, Jessica Lang, Billy Siegenfeld, Bill T. Jones and local dancemaker Bruce Wood. She met Wood toward the end of college and worked with him on a project basis till she graduated in 2014 and officially joined the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP), now Bruce Wood Dance. Today, Drake is one of the few remaining company members that got to work with Wood directly before his passing in May of 2014.

“He was very intense,” Drake says about her first time working with Wood in the summer of 2013. “He did not let me go under the radar. He pushed me and really laid into me and it was all because he was trying to get something out of me that I wasn’t aware of yet. He just had this energy about him that made the people around him want to be great for him.”

Drake laughs as she reflects on RED, the first piece she learned with the BWDP, and one of the two Wood works the company will be presenting at its Lone Stars performance with special guests Houston-based METdance this Friday evening at Moody Performance Hall. “I was blown away by the physicality of it and at the time it was the hardest dance I had ever done.” Drake explains, “I didn’t know how to balance my energy yet so, I just pushed myself to go 100 percent the entire time and you just can’t do that in this piece. After I learned how to control my energy the piece feels so different now and I definitely get more enjoyment out of doing it.”

In addition to RED, BWD will be doing another Wood favorite, Lovett! and Drake and David Escoto will perform in Bridget L. Moore’s new work Following Echoes alongside METdance company members Danielle Garza and Kerry Jackson. The program also features METdance’s Mario Zambrano’s VolverParalyzed by Fear by Houston-based Courtney Jones and Snow Playground by New-York based choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska.

“This show is all about celebrating dance in Texas,” Nikaidoh says about the program which she collaborated on with METdance Artistic Director Marlana Doyle. “At first it was just going to be a shared show and then we thought how great it would be for someone to come in and set a work using dancers from both companies.”

The choreographer they chose is Texas native Moore, who at the time was the head of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She has since been released from her position for reasons that are still unknown. It’s the organization’s loss as Moore has continued to find ways to share her creativity within the Dallas community and her most recent work, Following Echoes, will be making its debut in Lone Stars. “The only directives we had for Bridget was length, the number of dancers and that we would like the work to have emotional weight and be athletic,” Nikaidoh says. “We appreciate her coming in and giving our dancers this opportunity to learn from her.”

As one of the four dancers in the piece Drake was able to give me some behind the scenes information about Moore’s creative process and what is was like working with the dancers from METdance. Drake says Bridget started off the process by talking to them about her feeling for the piece. That it would be her way of showing appreciation toward Bruce as well as delve into the different transitions we go through in life.

“She then used the different images we have of Bruce in the studio to create a motif based off of how each image made her feel,” Drake says. “Some of the movement was planned while other times she would just give us a directive like right leg developpe in a circular motion.”

Drake adds that the structure of the piece is a mix of ensemble work with solos plugged in, but in the ensemble sections the dancers are rarely doing the same things at the same time. She also says there is not a whole lot of partnering involved in the dance. “Bridget likes to keep your eyes moving around the space. She likes filling up the stage so big, full lines of energy are very important to her.” Drake describes the piece as, “Kind of like being on a rollercoaster because there are these moments of high energy and others when the movement calms down, which is represented through the highs and lows in the music.”

The cast learned the piece in a very short time at the BWD Gallery back in December and then to keep things balanced went to Houston to rehearse at METdance’s studio space a few weeks ago. “It has been a really nice collaboration,” Drake says. “Everyone was so easy going and honestly we were just enjoying each other’s company.”

As for Drake’s future as a dancer she says, “BWD is home for me. It has given me everything I didn’t know I was looking for and there has never been a moment that I felt like I wasn’t growing as a dancer.” She adds, “From the start everyone was so supportive and I never really felt like I was in this alone and that’s what I like about the company. BWD has always been first and foremost about the group so, if you don’t love it then this is not the place for you.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Right On Pointe: Preview of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Beauty And Bach Performance

Avant Chamber Ballet. Photo: Glenn Preuett
Avant Chamber Ballet celebrates its artistic growth with three physically and musically challenging works in Beauty and Bach.
Dallas — One major sign of a business’s staying power lies in its ability to grow even when facing obstacles that are out of its control. Since its inception in 2012, Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has been sticking to its mission of reconnecting ballet with live music by providing live chamber music at every one of its performances, while also stretching audiences’ understanding of classical ballet with Artistic Director Katie Cooper’s bold choreographic choices and keen eye for interesting and diverse guest artists and local collaborations. Cooper will need to rely on these skills moving forward in the midst of The Arts Community Alliance’s (TACA) announcement last month that it will be cutting its funding to local arts groups. To try to counter this hit to ACB’s bottom line, Cooper has been busy applying for grants as well as promoting the heck out of their performances with the hopes of increasing ticket sales.
The silver lining in all this is that people have been talking about ACB’s upcoming Beauty and Bach performance, which takes place Feb. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall, since the company made the announcement back in the summer. The line-up includes George Balanchine’s musically challenging Concerto Barocco, the world premiere of Cooper’s Appalachian Spring featuring a 13-member orchestra and Cooper’s restaging of Aurora’s Wedding from Sleeping Beauty with music from Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky’s score, which is arranged by Bryan English. Dallas native Brad Everett Cawyer will conduct the whole evening with the group of musicians he has hand-picked with ACB Music Director David Cooper.
ACB dancer Emily Dixon. Photo: Rhilee Photography
When asked if ACB is ready for such an ambitious program Cooper replies, “Musically it is ambitious and I think the company needs to grow in that way because artistically we are the strongest we have ever been.” She adds, “I almost hate to use the word ambitious because I think it’s not ambitious in some ways because we have been working toward this since the beginning. Yes, it’s a bigger program that we have done before, but we are definitely ready for that.”
Cooper also notes that a program such as this one enables the audiences to see a variety of balletic styles in one setting. And with live accompaniment. “In this case we have a beautiful neo-classical Balanchine piece, my Appalachian Spring which is quite neo-classical and modern ballet, and then Aurora’s Wedding, which is the only super classical ballet we’ll do this season.”
With her strictly classical background you would think it would be challenging for Cooper to tap into the modern nuances of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring (1944), but Cooper says her lack of modern training actually worked in her favor. “It wasn’t hard for me to create something different because I am not a Graham dancer and therefore her work is not in my mind or body. I know Martha’s verision, but it’s so far apart from my vocabulary that I knew nothing was going to come out looking like hers.” Cooper adds that a lot of the movement for the piece was a testament to how fantastic the music is, which was composed by Aaron Copland and features a 13-member chamber orchestra.
“It’s such beautiful music and it’s easy to dance to because Copland wrote it for Martha Graham so, the counts are really clear and melodic sounding.” She adds, “There are also a lot of familiar themes like ‘Simple Gifts’ which is just really famous, so a lot people can sing the words to that song. So, in that I think Appalachian Spring is a very accessible piece for audience members who don’t get to see music concerts and dance pieces very often.”
Unlike other ballets of this time period, Concerto Barocco was created with no story or theme in mind. Instead, the choreography is a direct response to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, which will be performed by soloists Eleanor Dunbar and Lauren Densinger. The work is split into three movements with the third one being the allegro section featuring the entire ensemble, which ACB was in the process of cleaning when I stopped by the company’s rehearsal at Bruce Wood Dance’s studio in the Dallas Design District two weeks ago.
All 10 dancers hop on pointe into two parallel lines that extend diagonally across the space, their arms moving from fifth then alternating side lines, as they shift their focus from side to side to match the syncopated chords of the music. The dancers’ stamina and continuity are tested with the section’s many formation changes and complicated phrasing such as asymmetrical arm and leg movements as well as quick balances and constant weight changes on pointe. “Balanchine’s choreography is so incredibly clear and every note of the music has a step, so really the dancers never stop moving for the whole 18 to 19 minute ballet.” Cooper adds, “It’s all about clarity and stamina.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Southern Hospitality: Preview of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2018 Cultural Awareness Series

 

Michelle N. Gibson. Photo: Omar Ramos

Choreographer and Hurricane Katrina survivor Michelle N. Gibson shares her story in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series.

Dallas — In August 2005, Michelle N. Gibson and her family, including her newborn son, piled into their car and drove away from their New Orleans home. A home they would never return to due to the flooding and destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With very few supplies and no means to contact family and friends, Gibson and her family drove all the way to Dallas where her boyfriend at the time had recently resided. It was in a hotel lobby where Gibson got her first look at the devastation caused by Katrina. “We had no idea what was going on because we didn’t even have electricity in the hotels so, we didn’t know about the conditions of the convention center or the whereabouts of our family and friends. Let me tell you! When I watched the TV for the first time and saw the people in front of the convention center looking like it was a third world country, I just lost it. I have never felt so helpless.”

That first year after relocating was a tough one for Gibson, who knew nobody in the area. She chose to stay home with her young children instead of finding a job as a dance educator. She says at the time she didn’t even want to dance. All that changed the day Vicki Meek called her out of the blue and told her to get down to the South Dallas Cultural Center. “Now, if you know Mama Vicki then you know when she speaks you better listen. She said she heard that I had been in Dallas for a year and she had not laid eyes on me so I needed to make my way down to the South Dallas Cultural Center.”

DBDT rehearsing Displaced, Yet Rebirthed.  Photo: Melissa Young

Gibson soon found herself at the South Dallas Cultural Center where she met Meek who, to this day, has been a source of comfort and support for Gibson. “The South Dallas Cultural Center was the space that gave me a new start. It gave me a new place to create and a new home and I am forever grateful to Vicki and the center.” She adds, “Vicki also enabled me to pick back up with Exhibit Dance Collective, a dance company I started in New Orleans which is kind of like the Urban Bush Women of the south in that the work was all about the feminist empowerment movement and women of color.”

Today, in addition to running Exhibit Dance Collective, Gibson also teaches dance at Brookhaven College and Mountain View College in Dallas. She also holds an artist in residence position with the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans. Over the last 12 years Gibson has also taught dance for the Dallas Independent School District and has conducted numerous dance intensives and workshops for universities and cultural centers across the U.S. and in Germany. Gibson earned a B.F.A in dance from Tulane University and her M.F.A in dance and performance studies from Hollins University/American Dance Festival at Duke University.

Gibson’s choreographic works include New Orleans Second Line: Takin It To The Roots performed at the American Dance Festival in 2001; Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters with the Dallas Children’s Theater; Krump accompanied by the LoneStar Wind Orchestra at the Meyerson Center; 2008 South Dallas Dance Festival premiere of I Made It, But Some Didn’t, a tribute to souls survivors of Hurricane Katrina; and the Dallas premiere of Evolution: Honoring, Recognizing, and Uplifting Women of Color and Sisters of the Yam at the South Dallas Cultural Center in 2012.

This weekend Gibson will be sharing her Katrina evacuation story using some traditional New Orleans dance moves and music in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, which is part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Cultural Awareness Series at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. It was recently announced that the dancers will be accompanied by The Kickin’ Brass Band and New Orleans trumpeter Thaddeus Ford in the grand finale. The program also includes Christopher L. Huggins’ tribute to South African President Nelson Mandela in His Grace.

After receiving the call from former DBDT Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore asking if she would be a part of the performance, Gibson spent a week with the company exploring her movement aesthetic which she calls a fusion of jazz, contemporary, Afro modern and New Orleans second line, a style Gibson says she has been cultivating since graduate school.

“Second line is not something you learn in a dance studio. For me, second line is kind of the traditional dance of New Orleans so for my thesis I began to look at a dance that’s done from an impulse and then started creating a language so the movement could be taught.” She continues, “In my classes I will usually have a live brass band there because the music cannot be separated from the movement. Like when you go church and the spirit hits you it’s like a buildup of adrenaline that needs to release. So, that’s what I try to maintain in my second line aesthetic.”

Gibson created Displaced, Yet Rebirthed during her residency at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign last year and says the process was like a therapy session with herself. “It has taken a while for me to creatively through dance do a work about Katrina because I’m still wearing it. We ALL are still wearing it. And this piece is about what we are still living through every single day.”

When it was time to go into the studio with DBDT Gibson says she knew the dancers were technically good, but that this work was not just about the movement. “It’s about the dancers being able to embody a real life experience such as the loss we all felt after Katrina. Because Katrina was a loss for us all emotionally, mentality and spiritually. So, I went in thinking of the work as a compositional piece and focused on getting the dancers to understand how to allow the human experience to be the movement and not the movement being the movement.”

Gibson also points out that there is a fine line between being authentic and acting when creating a piece on such an emotional topic like Katrina, and so to keep the piece from becoming overly dramatic she would sit down with the dancers before every rehearsal to just talk. “You see, I always wanted them to know where I was in my spirit as a human being and not just as a choreographer and talk about my intentions for the work. We would talk about different parts of Katrina and how it happened for me so then they could take my experience and make it their experience.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Avery-Jai Andrews

Avery-Jai Andrews (bottom) in Notturno with Keyhole Dance Project. Photo: Mario Squotti

The Dallas native on coming home and starting Don’t Ask Why Dance Company, which makes its world premiere this Friday.

Plano — As in any industry, the Dallas dance market has seen its fair share of highs and lows since I moved to the city almost a decade ago. In the two years following the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2009, the Dallas dance community saw an impressive rise in the number of professional dance companies in the area, including Avant Chamber Ballet, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Bruce Wood Dance. The dance scene’s next noticeable growth spurt happened around 2014 with the influx of more local dance festivals such as Dallas DanceFest, Rhythm in Fusion Festival and later, Wanderlust Dance Project. Since then the dance market has plateaued, with many dance companies and organizations struggling to find cost effective ways to increase funding and ticket sales without disrupting their bottom lines.

Now, the Dallas dance market is about due for another growth spurt and I believe it will come in the form of fresh talent like Avery-Jai Andrews, who grew up in Dallas but left to pursue dancing elsewhere and is now returning home to start her own dance company. Like many serious dancers here in Dallas, Andrews attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before being accepted into New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating from NYU in 2014, Andrews decided to move overseas where she danced professionally with artists in Italy, Israel and Germany.

In 2016 Andrews made the decision to come home to Dallas and start making her own work, which is how her dance company, Don’t Ask Why, came into existence. The company’s first performance is this Friday, with performances at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., at the White Theater, part of the state-of-the-art facilities that make up the new Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano. Titled GESTALT, which is a German word meaning an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts, the 45-minute piece features Italian-based contemporary dance company Keyhole Dance Project.

TheaterJones talked to Avery-Jai Andrews to find out more about her European contemporary dance style, the lessons she has learned abroad and what viewers can expect to see at Don’t Ask Why Dance Company’s premiere performance.

TheaterJones: What made you decide to come back to Dallas to form your own dance company?

Avery-Jai Andrews: Dallas is such a vibrant city, and I know for me and my dance friends when we come back home there is always something new happening in the dance community, and I think that is what’s pulling a lot us [professional dancers] back to the area. With that said, I have spent the last three years traveling between New York, Europe and Israel, and I finally had enough of that and wanted to come back to Dallas with the intention of settling down and creating my own work. So, in October 2016 I made the decision to start changing things so I could start to create my own non-profit.

Avery-Jai Andrews. Photo: Courtesy

How has your perception of the dance scene in Dallas changed since leaving for college in the fall of 2010?

I remember we moved into the new section of Booker T. at the end of my Freshman year, so I really got to experience the changes happening in Arts District first hand, but by the end of my Senior year I was ready to leave home and experience being a college kid. I feel like when I left that dance wasn’t something that I wanted to do here in Dallas. I thought that I needed to be in New York in order to make it as a professional dancer. My mind wasn’t opened up to the idea until I left America and I started seeing what was happening dance-wise in other countries and as my own voice started to become more clear. During this period of time I started to have more desire to share and to create, and I think that’s when the urge to find a place to settle down and start choreographing began to take over.

I mean when I went to college I had no idea that I really wanted to create and start my own company. I was just ready to be a dancer, join a company and to be living that New York fast-paced life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love New York City, but I have started to realize that you are limited there. Everything is very expensive there, so when it comes to creating your own work in the city, you know outside of working to make money to pay your rent, you also have to find the free time and the money to be creative and I felt that would be more possible here. I just feel like Dallas is asking and wanting the young, different voices too. They want different flavors and there are a lot of people who want to support the arts. It’s so great to go to shows here and see an audience that is excited to be there and I feel like sometimes you miss that in the big cities where there are always dance performances happening.

Why did you chose to pursue a dancing career abroad after graduating from college?

I was blessed to study abroad over the summer to Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria and that was my first taste of dance outside of the U.S. and more specifically the European contemporary style. It showed me a whole other world. I mean, just the way they use the space, sets, lights and costumes; it’s such an integrated feel that I think sometimes I’m missing out when I’m here in America. The experience opened my mind up to all that dance can be. That dance can be something more than I already see and so, when I got back and entered my last year of school I knew that I wanted to go back and felt like I needed to immerse myself in dance outside of the U.S. So, as soon as I graduated I ended up going to Israel to Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Dance Journey program for five months.

Even with all the conflict that was happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis during this time, I still had a great time and the program helped me acknowledge that I have the tools and skills to be an artist and that I could go forth and be a professional. And because it is an international program I got to meet so many wonderful people from around the world and it is actually where I met Matteo Zamperin from Italy who started Keyhole Dance Project. I also met Elise Cleaver there, and I was in Hamburg with her in 2015 creating a new work. So, I still kept in contact with a lot of those people and that has afforded me the opportunity to travel more just from that program. The Dance Journey program really set me up to continue this deep desire of whatever was brewing in me to get out and explore the world. And just being in other cultures and living there, not just visiting or being there a week or two, but living in other countries has really expanded me as a human and had me questioning a lot about who I want to be and how I want to live my life.

As of today, how would you classify your movement style to audiences?

I am definitely not classical and I wouldn’t even say modern because I even see modern as a bit more classical so, I would say I am within the realm of European contemporary dance. What I like to focus on as a creative is, the dancers have to be physical and dynamic with their bodies but yet still relate to the people who are watching them. How can we still show that we are human, but then also be more expressive within our own bodies? So, I definitely put in those lines and we have big movements and we take the space and travel, but then I want us to be able to transition into just being human and being a body at the same time.

Can you explain Friday evening’s program to me?

The program is 45 minutes long with no intermission and I would describe it more as a performance experience.GESTALT is a collaboration with my friend Matteo and his Italian-based company, Keyhole Dance Project. He and I formed a good rapport through Kibbutz’s Dance Journey program and I knew that I wanted that again so, when I decided to produce my own show as a premiere for Don’t Ask Why I immediately reached out to him.

The theme of the show comes from its title GESTALT, which basically means the perceived whole is more important than the individual pieces that make up the whole image. That has served up very well in the creation process because Matteo hasn’t been here this whole time and just being a start-up we have been rehearsing here and there and so we were literally creating in pieces. And some of the material we worked with had been planned a year ago so most of our collaboration came into play when we started putting all these pieces of movement together. GESTALT is a very dynamic and layered piece and I’m personally enjoying that each of the seven performers is having an experience of their own throughout the work.

What is the inspiration behind the name Don’t Ask Why?

Well, when my mom came to my shows she would tell me ‘that was great, but why did that happen?’ and I would say, ‘Mom you don’t need to fully understand what I was thinking. I just want you to experience the movement.’ In my mind, as long as the show made her feel something then the job was done. I just want people to feel something when they see my work and that’s one of the reasons behind the name. The other is more personal and goes back to when my best friend Micaela White passed away right before I went to college and a year later I was in another scary situation with a close friend who was in the hospital and these experiences made me started questioning why me? Why am I in this place? At that time this felt like a very dangerous place psychologically to be in and so, I told myself that I was going to stop asking why and just keep moving forward. I have taken this philosophy with me since then and it has been a very productive thing for me to live by.

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