AKA: Ballet offers up a unique experience for both viewers and performers at the Latino Cultural Center tomorrow night.
From left: Carter Alexander, Hailey von Schlehenried, and Albert Drake of aka: Ballet. Photo: AKA: Ballet
Dallas — Hailey von Schlehenried is one of many local choreographers reaping the benefits of the changes that have been made to the Dallas dancescape over the last several years. Von Schlehenried first caught the public’s eye at Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2017 Women’s Choreography Project (WCP) and then again at Dallas DanceFest (DDF) later that summer. She has also recently been asked to set a piece for Wanderlust Dance Project, which marks another first for the blossoming artist.
It was at DDF where von Schlehenried met Carter Alexander (associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts) who asked if she would be interested in doing a collaboration the following summer. One thing lead to another and von Schlehenried is currently in the final stages of two new works, which will be presented alongside new pieces by Alexander and Albert Drake of Bruce Wood Dance at AKA: Ballet’s premiere performance at the Latino Cultural Center this Friday.
The performance will feature many familiar dancers, including Kaitlyn McDermitt, formerly with Avant Chamber Ballet; Alyssa Harrington, formerly with Dallas Black Dance Theatre; Alizah Wilson, Adrian Aquirre of Bruce Wood Dance; and Riley Moyano, Amanda Fairweather and Alex Danna of Texas Ballet Theater.
“We are so happy to have these dancers and they have been working so tirelessly in preparation for the show,” von Schlehenried says.
For this performance von Schlehenried has created two pieces: a classical pointe number and a more contemporary work. She describes the pointe work as fluid and free, and in contrast the contemporary work is visually darker, which meshes well with its theme about sinning. “I was really inspired by the music for the contemporary piece which is really centered on the idea of sin. The dancers pass around this scarf throughout the dance, which represents this idea of passing off our sins to someone else,” von Schlehenried says. “And the pointe piece is all about letting go and getting the dancers outside their classical boxes so that they appear to be surrendering to a situation.”
Von Schlehenried says her dancers played a big part in the creative process for both pieces. “I really wanted this to be a collaboration so I had the dancers brainstorm with me, which really makes them feel like they have a say and also relaxes the dancers. They all possess this amazing creative energy which helped make the process so much easier.”
Von Schlehenried is especially close with McDermitt who has had a role in almost every work she has put out since 2013. She even goes as far as calling McDermitt her lucky charm. “It just seems that every time I am working on a special project Kaitlyn is always in it. She is such a lovely person and is so into what she is doing, which really makes her a positive force for me and the arts community.”
McDermitt has definitely been paving a way for herself in the Dallas arts scene with gigs, including a couple of seasons with Katie Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet, performances at local festivals such as Plano Dance Festival and DDF as well as partaking in local arts events, including Dallas RAW and AKA: Ballet. She also teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and is a member of Ballet North Texas. She graduated from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts with a BFA in dance performance in 2012.
You can see McDermitt and the other performers in von Schlehenried’s, still untitled, works this Friday evening at the Latino Cultural Center. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com. You can make a donation to the show at www.fracturedatlas.org.
Choreographer Yin Yue brings her unique style to Dallas in Begin Again, part of Bruce Wood Dance’s Harmony performance this weekend.
Dallas — Acclaimed New York-based choreographer Yin Yue is the latest name on the short list of artists who have been invited to commission work for Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) since Kimi Nikaidoh took over the reins of the Dallas-based troupe in 2014. Since then BWD has performed works by international choreographers such as Bryan Arias, Andy Noble, Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Bridget L. Moore as well as pieces by in-house talents like Nikaidoh, Joy Atkins Bollinger and Albert Drake. Yue’s new work, Begin Again, will premiere this weekend at BWD’s Harmony performance at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. The program also includes Wood’s poignant The Day of Small Things (2012) and the crowd pleasing Rhapsody in Blue (1999).
In regards to the program Nikaidoh says, “The title represents the variety of this program, and we have been fortunate with Bruce’s work because there is such variety from a single choreographer. Certainly that range expands when you add another choreographic voice to the program, and Yue’s work is a great fit because it is coming from a different place than Bruce’s.” She adds, “I also want our dancers to continue growing in their diverse abilities.”
Nikaidoh calls Wood’s The Day of Small Things a beautiful example of how he could make a quiet work very powerful. “It’s quiet and understated and yet it’s glorious and majestic at the same time. The inspiration for the piece was that these small interactions and moments between people are really meaningful and important. And we don’t need to look at those as though they’re inconsequential.”
Nikaidoh notes that Wood created the piece in honor of her grandma, whom he was very fond of. “He and my grandma had a really sweet relationship. He would let her come watch rehearsal and she was just such a sweet, compassionate and lovely person who really appreciated Bruce’s work.”
On the other hand is Rhapsody in Blue, which Nikaidoh describes as one big party. “It’s elegant, charming and just loads of fun. And that is one of his most classical pieces. There’s a lot of fun, flirtatious and an almost who cares feel to parts of it.”
The third piece on the program is Yin Yue’s Begin Again, which uses heavy electronic music and FoCo contemporary technique to support the cyclical nature of the work. FoCo is a contemporary folk style that Yue originated, which is inspired by the elements, including root, wood, water and metal. Nikaidoh got to experience this way of moving firsthand when Yue visited BWD back in May. In addition to creating a work for the company’s Harmony performance, Yue also taught several technique classes during her stay.
It was during these classes where Nikaidoh says Yue began to create movement for her new work. “She would do some warm up in place and then she would just start a choreographic phrase and what I ended up realizing is that a lot of the movements that she generates for a piece come from these phrases that she uses in her classes.”
Nikaidoh also learned that Yue’s movement style is driven by an internal rhythm instead of a musical melody. Nikaidoh explains, “So, she feels inspired that the first movement should be slow and thick and then the second two movements need to be staccato and coming quicker. And that’s interesting because even though some parts of the dancing end up going exactly with the music the movement itself and the rhythm you’re supposed to do the movement with are really coming from inside her and not from the music.”
Originally from Shanghai, Yue studied classical ballet, Chinese classical and folk dance at Shanghai Dance School. She continued her education at Shanghai Normal University where she had the opportunity to appear in many festivals and dance performances throughout China. Yue moved to New York City in 2004 to pursue a MFA in contemporary dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Yue’s distinct movement style has earned her many accolades over the last couple of years, including winner of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago International Commissioning Project in 2015, BalletX’s 2015 Choreographic Fellowship and Northwest Dance Project’s 5th annual Pretty Creatives International Choreographic Competition in 2013. She was also selected as an emerging choreographic at Springboard Danse Montreal in 2015 and was a finalist of The A.W.A.R.D Show 2010 put on by New York The Joyce Theater Foundation. She currently resides in New York where she is the artistic director of the Yin Yue Dance Company. She also holds the position of artistic director and residency choreographer at Jiangxi Zhongshan Dance School.
In a video on BWD’s Facebook page Yue expresses her amazement with how quickly the dancers were able to pick up her movement in a very short timeframe. “The first couple of days are just about getting your body into what you are doing and there is a learning and questioning like why and how and then we can already see the dramatic change about Thursday Friday,” Yue says. “So, then I create a phrase in front of them and I look back and they are already doing it so we are already 80 percent there and for me it is just way fast.”
You can see Bruce Wood Dance perform Yin Yue’s Begin Again at the company’s Harmony performance at 8 pm. June 15 and 16 at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas.
AKA Ballet’s first performance will feature new works by Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander, but they need your help!
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!
It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.
And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.
We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.
So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.
And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.
In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:
Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou
Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.
Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman
In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.
Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger
Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.
HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh
Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.
Chasing Home by Albert Drake
The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.
Interpretations by Sean J. Smith
Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.
Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate
Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.
And yet another profile piece for Dallas DanceFest. This features Bruce Wood Dance Company Member Austin Sora! This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Company member Austin Sora on joining Bruce Wood Dance and what she’s looking forward to at this year’s Dallas DanceFest.
Dallas — Dallas DanceFest (DDF) will forever be dear to Austin Sora as this was where she made her performance debut with Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) in the late choreographer’s Requiem back in 2015. Since then Sora has really come into her own as an artist, beautifully acclimating to Wood’s quirky yet poetic movement style and finding deeper emotional connections to his work with the help of BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh and Artistic Associates Joy Bollinger and Albert Drake.
“I like that Bruce has a very distinct aesthetic that is consistent with all his pieces even through there is such a variety of styles within that aesthetic. I love that it is kind of a marriage of technical skill and athleticism, but still very emotional and human.” She adds, “His work is also really personal and so, even though I never knew him, I feel like I have been able to get to know him through his work and through people who knew him and worked closely with him. That’s been a really special experience for me.”
Born in Toronto, Canada, Sora moved to New York City when she was accepted to Marymount Manhattan College where she earned a B.F.A in dance and a minor in arts management. It was during her senior year when she briefly crossed paths with Nikaidoh who was there setting a work for the senior showcase. “I wasn’t in her piece, but my friend David Escoto was and he went on to join BWD after graduation. It was actually David who mentioned my name to Kimi when she was looking for another female dancer, and so I came down to Dallas on kind of a trial contact and I have been here ever since.” This is Sora’s third season with the company.
Sora says she is excited to be dancing in an excerpt of Wood’s Red at this year’s DDF, which takes place Sept. 2-3 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. “Red is really physical and athletic and there’s a rawness to it, and the music is very driving. You just feel like there’s this constant struggle to keep on going amongst all the turmoil and chaos happening around you.” Sora points out that in rehearsal Joy would talk to them about the period of time in which Bruce created this piece, which was around when 9/11 happened, and how he didn’t intend for the piece to be about that, but it definitely influenced the work. “It’s very emotional and there’s a lot happening and I don’t even think that by the end you overcome the struggle. You just keep coming up against a wall that won’t let down.”
Sora also mentions the reasons she enjoys performing at DDF, which include getting a chance to perform for different audiences and the comradery she feels amongst the artists backstage. “The dance community here in Dallas is thriving and so, festivals like this are kind of like a celebration of that for me.” She continues, “It’s just exciting to see everyone together on the same stage. It’s always inspirational to see all the different dance groups that are out there. And for growing companies festivals are important as they help to build momentum and create new opportunities.”
» Bruce Wood Dance will be performing an excerpt of Red on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.
» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:
Bruce Wood Dance Project humanizes the refugee crisis in Albert Drake’s Chasing Home, part of the company’s Journey’s performance this weekend.
Dallas — Emily Drake tenderly cups David Escoto’s face in the palm of her hand before he scoops her up and spins her around in childlike glee while the rest of the dancers quietly celebrate in the background. As the duet progresses, the two twist, duck and arc around one another while always maintaining their connection through physical touches and eye contact. This marriage ceremony is just one of many poignant moments viewers get to witness in Albert Drake’s new work Chasing Home, which depicts the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps as they seek to reclaim their identities. The work features an original score by Joseph Thalken, which will performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Bruce Wood Dance Project’s(BWDP) Journeys performance June 16-17 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s Schmetterling (2004) and Zero Hour (1999).
Out of the full 20-minute piece, it’s the duet with Emily Drake and Escoto where we really get to see who Albert Drake, Emily’s husband, is becoming as a choreographer. Yes, Wood’s aesthetic is visible in the dancers’ swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing, but there is a vulnerability and sensuality in the couple’s partnering that is uniquely Albert Drake. “It is not sexual at all,” Albert Drake says. “It’s sensual in that it’s more about seeing, touching, hearing and feeling. It was about finding those intimate connections between the dancers.” Wood’s influences can also be found in the couple’s silky smooth transitions and momentum-driven partnering and floor work, whereas the dynamic bodying shaping and contrary movement phrases showcased in the dancer’s individual moments cater more to Albert Drake’s artistic sensibilities.
When asked about his evolving movement tastes Albert Drake says, “There are definitely a lot of influences from Bruce in my work just because I adore and respect him. I have also found a lot of connection to his work from my concert training at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.” Before attending SMU in the fall of 2008 Albert Drake says his knowledge of concert dance was limited. It wasn’t until he took Graham technique with Professor Myra Woodruff that he fell in love with the art form. It was also during this time period that he met Bruce Wood who came to SMU looking for dancers to perform in the first concert of BWDP.
(Woodruff’s teaching methods were recently praised on Dance Teacher magazine’s website by former student Corinna Lee Nicholson. Check it out here.)
“There were a lot of connections between my Graham classes and Bruce’s work, so I never felt as if I was starting over with a new aesthetic,” says Albert Drake about his first year with the BWDP after graduating from SMU in 2012. “And these connections definitely and heavily translated in my first work Whispers. That piece kind of came out of nowhere and so, I definitely played from what I knew.” Since the premiere of Whispers last season, Albert Drake says he has been trying to find more of his own self in the movement. “Dynamic range has always been important to me. Also, suspension, release, contraction, expansion, soft and aggressive. I like playing around with all these elements and I hope this comes across in my work.”
Circling back to the marriage ceremony mentioned earlier, Albert Drake says the idea came from one of the multiple documentaries he has watched pertaining to the refugee crisis. He was particularly touched with a story about a couple that had met, fell in love and gotten married while living in a refugee camp. “I was inspired by the fact that even with everything else that was going on people came together and found items like pieces of fabric and makeshift flowers to adorn the bride and groom in. It’s these moments of hope and of being able to move forward and progress while still living in this situation that is really what this piece comes down to for me.” A wedding isn’t the only communal activity featured in the piece. Albert Drake also brings soccer and the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, into the fold with movement sequences dedicated to fast, syncopated foot work similar to an Irish jig and rhythmic soccer drills performed by the men.
After watching Albert Drake and Joseph Thalken converse at the end of rehearsal about the music for the final section it’s clear the two have an amicable working relationship and seem to be on same page in terms of the bigger picture. When I mentioned this to Albert Drake later he chuckled and admitted it has taken a lot of time and mind mapping for them to get to this point. “In our first meeting we wrote a lot of stuff down on paper in terms of content, tune and mood and then we just starting tying all these things together.” He adds, “Joseph and I broke everything into sections with working titles, so there really is no beginning, middle or end to the piece. Instead I created different chapters or vignettes with the hope audiences will focus more on the dancers’ connections than following a narrative.”
Bruce Wood Dance Project demonstrates the healing power of dance in Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh’s new work Bloom, part of the company’s SIX performance this weekend.
Dallas – Bruce Wood was known for making dances that touched viewers in very real ways. He created dances about human nature, the good the bad and the ugly. So, it comes as no surprise that long-time Bruce Wood dancer Kimi Nikaidoh would draw from her own personal experiences to aid in the creation of her new work Bloom, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’sSIX performance Nov. 11-12 at Dallas City Performance Hall.
The work, which focuses on the healing and reclaiming of hope through recovery in a number of poignant solos, duets and trios, was inspired by the emotional rollercoaster Nikaidoh experienced during the lowest points in her life – in particular the passing of her brother and her broken engagement. “This piece is about broken people and the people who are willing to use their own emotional resources to help them heal,” Nikaidoh says. “For me, it wasn’t the people who told me everything would be ok that really helped, but those people who came in and just did life with me every single day. I chose the title Bloom because that word symbolizes what is possible after the healing is done.”
Nikaidoh explains that the work takes place in a room and the individuals coming in are there to help heal those already in the space from whatever tragic event has lead them there. With that said the piece not only challenges the dancers technically, but emotionally as well. Instead of the stoic expressions commonly associated with modern dance the eight dancers in the piece express a number of conflicting emotions, including anger, frustration, sadness, acceptance and hope, which when combined with Nikaidoh’s lovely musical phrasing and unexpected movement choices, tells a story everyone can relate too.
To help bring her vision to fruition, Nikaidoh enlisted the talents of Dallas-based visual artist and AURORA co-founder Shane Pennington. Pennington was a recipient of the New Dallas Nine award from D Magazine and has exhibited internationally at the Paddington Contemporary Gallery in Sydney, Australia and at Sur la Montagne in Berlin.
Not wanting to give too much away, Nikaidoh says Pennington’s contributions have included a stage design and film that present the illusion the dancers and audience are in an actual room. She does share with me one of her favorite projections which is a floor to ceiling window that overlooks a city scene. “We really wanted to make you feel like you’re looking out this window from inside the room.”
When asked what the hardest part of this process has been, Nikaidoh paused for beat before saying it has been figuring out when to rely on the dancers’ strengths and when to test them movement wise. “Bruce was good at knowing when to use our strengths and when to push us. In the past I have changed movement that felt unnatural to the dancers, but in this piece I kept some of the unnatural movements anyways because I want the dancers to always be growing.” One example of this unnatural movement occurs after the dancers perform a series of winding body movements in one direction and then have to reverse the entire phrase without losing their momentum.
The choreography is mostly comprised of non-stop spiraling floor work and traveling movement, staccato arm gestures, collapsed body positions and naturally evolving partnering skills. When I commented that the dancers make the complicated partnering sections of this piece look effortless Nikaidoh says, “That’s because the partnering in this piece was very much a collaborative effort between me and the dancers. I would ask the dancers where they wanted to go next with the movement, which is something Bruce would always ask us in rehearsal.” This explains why the partnering sections come across as one continuous line of thought instead of a bunch of static shapes and choppy transitions. One example is when Emily Perry crawls through the legs of Albert Drake who proceeds to grab her ankles as he executes a forward roll landing on his back, which sets him up to catch Perry as she falls backwards. Another example is when Brock James Henderson spins Joy Atkins Bollinger around in small circles as she opens herself up into a starfish shape with her feet just skimming the floor.
You can see Bloom along with Bruce Wood’s classic No Sea To Sail In and Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s new work Klezmer Rodeo at the company’s SIX performance at the Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend.
Gayle Halperin’s latest endeavor opens new doors for the Dallas dance community. Literally.
Dallas – Bruce Wood Dance Project. TITAS. Dallas DanceFest. Dance Planet. These are just a few of the high profile dance organizations and events that Dallas arts patron Gayle Halperin has helped cultivate. Last year alone, Halperin steered the committee for the inaugural Dallas DanceFest while also continuing on with the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) fourth season after the loss of its founder a few weeks prior to the company’s June performance. Halperin’s drive and intuition when it comes to the needs of the local dance community led to her being featured in TheaterJones’ first Forward Thinker Series in December 2014. Halperin’s most recent contribution to the dance community not only gives BWDP a stable home, but also provides dance groups in the area with a more affordable option when looking for rehearsal and performance space.
“My dream has always been to have a rehearsal space that transforms into a minimal black box theater that can be used for small studio performances,” Halperin says. “I like a space that can only fit about 80 to 100 people and has minimal lighting and good sound, but without all the fancy trimmings.”
Halperin is turning this dream into a reality with the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery. Located at the corner of Howell St. and Levee St. in the Design District, the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery occupies approximately 6,000 square feet of the 12,000-square-foot white brick building. Right now BWDP is only using half of the space while the other half is being finished. The second space only became available for lease this past winter. Halperin says she hopes to have the company rehearsing in the second space, which is 400 feet bigger, by the end of the summer. BWDP’s current space features sprung flooring, high ceilings, a break area and plenty of natural light. “We ended up going with this location because it had high ceilings, no poles and didn’t need a lot of finishing up. We saw a lot of spaces, and it was quite difficult to find a space that only needed minimal repair. We were fortunate to find this corner property in the Design District.”
The process of finding a rehearsal space started more than a year ago, Halperin says, when Wood decided he wanted the company to start rehearsing during the day, Monday through Friday. “We always knew that if the company was going to go anywhere that it needed its own space. So, last year when Bruce announced that the company wasn’t going to rehearse in the evenings anymore I made that commitment to him to find a place for the company to rehearse.” She adds, “Bruce always said that’s how he worked when he had the Bruce Wood Dance Company. You have to work every day in order for the company to develop a cohesive style and to be challenged to become stronger.”
The company didn’t move into the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery till July 2014; one month after Wood’s passing. And even through Halperin’s name is on the lease she says the whole project has been a huge team effort. She credits BWDP’s Administrative Assistant Rebecca Butler for finding the space and board treasurer Danny Curry for masterminding the construction of the sprung flooring. “This was leap of faith, but Bruce made a huge impact on me so it’s all worth it.”
Albert Drake makes his choreographic debut with his work Whispers, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s upcoming performance marking the company’s fifth anniversary.
Dallas — After watching Albert Drake rehearse his first piece for the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) Monday afternoon at the company’s studio in the Design District it struck me that Dallas is now not only a breeding ground for uniquely qualified dancers, but also choreographers. Drake has made a name for himself in the North Texas dance community as a founding member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project as well as for his work outside the company, including teaching at Park Cities Dance and Southern Methodist University where he received his BFA in dance performance from the Meadows School of the Arts.
As a dancer, Drake is known for his explosive movement quality and innate lyricism and it was nice to see these traits represented in his first chorographic endeavor, Whispers, part of BWDP’s 5 Years performance June 19-20 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The work follows eight dancers, including Drake and BWDP’s Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh, as they search for the meaning of happiness. Starting with an R&B vibe and then shifting into a fast-paced piano phrase, the 20-minute piece is broken up into various duets, trios and group sections depicting the various relationships among the dancers.
“I wanted to play with relationships that weren’t necessarily just about love,” Drake says. “There is a duet toward the end of the third section that has more of a protective quality to it and has this feeling of you and me against the world. And there are other duets and trios that more about trust and support.”
The blind support Drake talks about allows the couple to transfer their weight back and forth without qualm as they glide across the floor. Their momentum never stops even as the female slides into a split and is pulled through her partner’s legs into a steadfast fourth position relevé. The trios are dotted with dynamic leaps, wicked fast turns and buoyant floor work. A composed backward walking phrase is used multiple times, but the dancers’ changing directions keep viewers on their toes.
“I don’t like predictability,” Drake says, as he explains his penchant for the unexpected. This also makes for some exciting transition changes, such as when the dancers sprint out of the wings or get picked up one by one as a dancer runs by. And in one exuberant section all the dancers dash across the stage leaving a lone dancer to execute a controlled headstand into a series of one-footed balances performed in silence. “Creating transitions is difficult because they have to flow and take the audience on a journey without taking them in and out. As a choreographer you have to find a way to keep the audience involved and keep the whole thing circular.”
The cast is a mix of company veterans including Harry Feril and Nikaidoh and newcomers such as Eric Coudron and David Escoto. While the group danced seamlessly together Drake says it did take some time for everyone to adjust to the creative process. “The first week it was just about making sure everyone was present because, for some of the newer dancers, they haven’t gotten a lot of chances to work in the creative process. A lot of dancers get drawn into a repertory company where you learn old works over and over. In the creation process you have to be patient, moldable and willing to let go.” Drake admits that was a struggle, but once everyone got into it he says they were able to absorb the movement without prejudice and some good stuff came out of it.
It’s easy to spot Wood’s influences in Drake’s choreography. After all, Drake spent more than half his career training with the notable North Texas choreographer who passed away suddenly last year. “I adopted him early on as the mentor I wanted to be around and learn from. His previous dancers adored the man and followed him religiously and I see why. So, he invested in me and I invested in him and it was a great relationship.”
Wood’s quirky foot work, deliberate gesturing and emotional pull are seen throughout Drake’s piece, but most poignantly in the opening section where the four females each perform a gestural phrase of movement that slowly builds in intensity.
“His principles are a part of me so it wasn’t challenging to stay within his realm of movement. The hard part was moving away from it and standing out and not necessary being a replica of him. Now, I didn’t try to stray away from them, but I did want to take his principles and use them in a different context.” Wood also had the unique ability of connecting with audiences on a deeply emotional level, something Drake hopes to accomplish with Whispers. “I don’t want the physicality or the prettiness of the piece to determine how people feel. My main purpose of this piece is to keep people emotionally involved.”
The concert will also feature the Dallas premieres of Wood’s Requiem and Polyester Dreams.
At the Eisemann Center, Dallas Repertoire Ballet delivers one of the most exuberant and technically spectacular Nutcracker productions of the season.
Richardson — Having seen multiple Nutcracker performances already this season critics sometimes feel like they are on autopilot when sitting in the audience for another show. Ballet companies have to find new ways to freshen up their Nutcracker without deviating too far from the ballet’s renowned origins. Dallas Repertoire Ballet (DRB) managed to accomplish this Friday evening with a fast-paced and choreographically exceptional Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. Artistic Director Megan Willsey-Buckland and choreographers Kathy Willsey and Audrey Rusher Mitts made some bold choices when it came to story development and prominent dance numbers such as Snow and the Waltz of the Flowers that kept the audience, including moi, engaged for the duration of the show.
The dashing pace of the show was set from the get-go. The curtains opened up to reveal the inside of the Stahlbaum’s house where Mr. Stahlbaum, his wife, daughter Clara and son Fitz are preparing for their annual Christmas party. The stage is simply set with a grandfather clock, some chairs and a sofa. The vastness of the space is quickly forgotten as 50 plus children and adults swarm on stage to greet the party hosts. These introductions, which usually take minutes in many productions, took mere seconds in DRB’s version leaving the dancers with more time to show off their bountiful technique, stamina and individual artistry. Clara (Hannah Morris) and her friends excelled in their allegro numbers, performing the repetitive petite jumps and traveling steps with ease. Chaos was avoided with practiced entrances and exits and visually pleasing traveling patterns. The choreographers took a risk by minimizing the grand gesturing that is typical, replacing it with more dance sequences, a decision that in this case worked thanks to the commitment of the adults and younger dancers. The older party goers displayed their intermediate waltzing skills while Morris wowed us multiple times with her far-reaching lines and unrestrained enthusiasm.
The drama of the battle scene was enhanced by the fog machines and the tour de force that is Albert Drake in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Drake’s background with the Bruce Wood Dance Project added dimension to the otherwise typically flat princely character. Drake also did not hold back when it came to the military-precision arm motions and repetitive toe touches to the delights of viewers. Not wanting to waste such a talent, Drake also makes an appearance in the Snow scene with a pas de deux with Morris which, while quite lovely, did take some of the shine away from the Snow Queen (Ashlee Gilchrist) and Bruce Wood Dance Project member Harry Feril as the Snow King. Feril effortlessly manipulated Gilchrist through the various body shapes and over the head lifts that are staple points of this particular scene. While Gilchrist’s upper body appeared stiff during certain lifts, exhaling while executing movement will enrich her performance. Choreographer Megan Willsey-Buckland’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ background shone through the Snow Corps’ sharp arm placements and various movement contagions.
The first half’s steady pace and eclectic display of skills continued in the second half of the show. Feril pulled double duty as the Cavalier to Grace Ludwinski’s Sugar Plum Fairy. Ludwinski’s slight frame made it easy for Feril to execute the press up lifts and various running leaps sprinkled throughout the grande pas de deux. Ludwinski proved herself capable of handling the exacting partner work as well as the fast foot work and exploding turn sequences in her solo section. Feril’s low center of gravity added extra excitement to his leaps and tour en l’airs to the knee. Other standouts in the second half include Lynnae Hodges’ wicked fast pirouettes in Spanish Chocolate, Bella Rusli’s unnatural body contortions in Arabian Coffee and the whole cast in the Waltz of the Flowers. The intricate pointe work of the soloists mixed with the various rhythmic patterns of the wreath holders transformed the stage into one big beautiful moving picture.