Tag Archives: American Ballet Theatre

Review: Dallas Youth Ballet’s Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

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

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

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

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

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

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

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

 

 

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Review: Nutcracker, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review was originally posted  on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Choreographer John Selya

Courtesy of SMU
Courtesy of SMU

The Twyla Tharp dancer on his journey from ballet to Broadway and creating his new work, Darkside, as part of the SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts Spring Dance Concert.

Dallas — John Selya is not your typical ballet dancer. In addition to classical ballet, Selya is also well versed in Twyla Tharp’s free flowing movement style and is an authoritative voice when it comes to the ins and outs of dancing on Broadway. A native New Yorker Selya attended the School of American Ballet before joining American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in the late 80’s. It was here Selya was exposed to Tharp’s classical, yet quirky way of moving for the first time. Selya spent 11 years with ABT before leaving to join Twyla Tharp Dance. In 2003 he made his Broadway debut performing the central role of Eddie in Tharp’s Tony-winning show, Movin’ Out. His performance earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a musical, an Astaire award for outstanding dancing on a Broadway stage and a Theater World Award for outstanding Broadway debut. Since then, Selya has also appeared in Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls and Tharp’s recent Come Fly Away.

Selya is currently an artist-in-residence at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where he is working with students on his new work, Darkside, part of the Meadows Spring Dance Concert which runs March 25-29 in the Bob Hope Theatre. Using music from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, Darkside adds a visual element to the groundbreaking musical composition (which is the second best-selling album of all time after Michael Jackson’s Thriller according to Wikipedia). The work follows an inquisitive philosophy student named Emily on her journey to decipher the teachings of her professor and fulfill her destiny. The program also includes Danny Buraczeski’s acclaimed 1999 piece Ezekiel’s Wheel, inspired by the life and work of author and Civil Rights activist James Baldwin and a new work by Dallas-based choreographer Joshua L. Peugh entitled The Hi Betty Cha-Cha.

TheaterJones asks John Selya about his experience working with the legendary Twyla Tharp, transitioning from ballet to Broadway and creating his work, Darkside.

TheaterJones: Going into rehearsals did you have a clear vision of what you wanted Darkside to look like?

John Selya: Going in I knew I wanted to use Tom Stoppard’s radio play which is inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. The radio play is split up between dialogue and music, and the more I listen to it and the more I see the work; it’s more like a musical than just a dance. You have your spoken word passages and Tom Stoppard has segued seamlessly into songs from the album. So, when I initially decided to use this for the SMU piece I did have a clear aesthetic vision. I had a vibe that I wanted to create. I wanted to go for an interactive dance piece where the dancers were not confined just to the stage. In the musical Hair, the director, Diane Paulus, had the actors come out into the house and I thought this would be a great exercise for young performers such as the students at SMU to really become comfortable with being themselves at close range. So, that’s what my aim was.

Darkside follows a strong storyline. Do your prefer creating more story-driven pieces vs. abstract work?

I really go for a mix. I like to rely on the storyline just as a general compass, but then I don’t like to adhere to it too much. But what really appealed to me about the Tom Stoppard/Pink Floyd collaboration was that I feel Stoppard was able to add another element independent of what the songs had already said. So, you’re not just reflecting it; you’re adding to it. But that storyline has your compass pointing you where you want to go, and once I go there then I try to become abstract. I also want to add that this radio play is not a simple storyline. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it takes me a long time to fully absorb what Stoppard is saying and why he is saying it. So, I wouldn’t call this a simple storyline. At least not for me.

Were any of the dancers familiar with Pink Floyd prior to this piece?

Some of them knew their greatest hits, but not everyone was familiar with the music and frankly there wasn’t much time to delve into the history and the body of work of Pink Floyd. And I’m sure the dancers kind of felt uncomfortable like they were flying blind because I didn’t explain much to them while we were working except for the basic quality of physical movement that I wanted. I think it was tough for these dancers to not deal with definites. A lot of times in my process of choreographing the intention of a part is unclear and I’m waiting for it to reveal itself. Again that is kind of flying blind and is a much different approach to making work than they’ve been used to so, that was a learning curve all around. They would ask me questions like what are we here and the most I could tell them was that they are the weather of the piece.

After this experience what would you say is the biggest difference between choreographing for college students and seasoned professionals?

I think for the students it’s just a matter of trusting their own artistic identity. They haven’t had that long to forge their own artistic identity and their own movement quality, and I think they’re not used to relying on that and capitalizing on the individuality that they bring to a piece. That’s the biggest difference between so called seasoned professionals and students. I chose these dancers for the piece because there was something about their individuality that appealed to me and that fit right in with what I wanted to do.

What can you tell me about the dance sequences in the piece?

It’s mostly group dances onstage, but there are pas de deux that happen in the audience. What I wanted to set up is the protagonist, named Emily, goes on this journey as cliché as that sounds. So, I have her travelling around the auditorium and ultimately coming onstage to join the other dancers at the end. So, it is mostly group dances and the transitions, I hope, are seamless because as a director that is what I really work hard at is making things flow naturally. I tell the dancers it’s like these Italian road bikes are made really well and the way you see the craftsmanship is the links between the tubes where all the ornamenting is so, I go for that. I hope it flows and if it doesn’t there is still work that needs to be done.

What kind of atmosphere are you trying to create for the audience?

I would say it runs the gamut it terms of emotions. I do like psychedelic especially in the theater, but then there are moments of darkness and at the end I have attempted to do kind of an epiphany.

Looking back on your career what made you decide to leave ABT and join Twyla Tharp Dance?

I met Twyla at ABT when she was hired as the artistic associate and as a result the company absorbed some members of her company. I was amazed to see these totally different dancers in our ranks. ABT had been a solely classical company and in comes Twyla’s group of free formed versatile dancers. Classically trained most of them, but they had something that I had never heard before called movement quality. It was just amazing to have that kind of exposure to a whole other vocabulary of movement. So, anyway Twyla saw me in class during my first tour and she came up to me after and gave me a bunch of corrections on grande jetes and ever since then she has always invited me to work with her. I was just so fortunate that someone took an interest in me and was able to take my training as a classical dancer and extend it into something a little more accessible. Which is what I love about Broadway because you access a whole other audience.

What was the hardest part of transitioning from classical ballet to Broadway?

I don’t think it was hard at all. Working with Twyla on Movin’ Out I just felt at home and I felt like I had a role that was kind of tragic and I loved it. I mean it wasn’t Tommy Tune’s Broadway we were in. We weren’t in tap shoes and sequin vests. My character in Movin’ Out was a mix of Michael Jordan and Bob Dylan and it was a role I could really relate too. I would say it’s more difficult leaving Broadway. For me it’s the ultimate way to really work on your dancing. You have the same thing to do every night and you really get to refine it and really get into the role. It’s fantastic!

How was Twyla’s Broadway work different from what other choreographers were doing at that time?

What Twyla brought to Broadway it was she calls deep dancing. You are basically telling the story through the dancing and very seldom is that done. And it is not done as extremely as it is done by Twyla. I think she crafted a story that was relatively easy to follow, but for me was challenging to execute. Her trust in dancing to tell a story to a Broadway audience is the main thing I think she brought to the industry.

What are some of the lessons she has taught you as an artist?

I’ve learned from her to take no short cuts in the work that you do. I’ve learned to always keep it interesting for yourself. I’ve learned never to keep a regular rhythm when you dance. And I am still learning. There’s a new lesson basically everyday with Twyla.

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