Mark your calendars! The 2018 [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) will take place Oct. 12-13 at Ann Richards STEAM Academy in Dallas.
Entitled Back Together Again, SDDF will feature a performance on Friday evening and master classes on Saturday with the Melissa M. Young, the newly appointed artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The whole week will include master classes at two public schools, plus an open master class, a roundtable discussion and performances. The performances will include several companies, groups and soloists, including Jordan Willis, currently at Point Park University and the 2018 recipient of the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship.
The goal of SDDF is to encourage collaborations between area artists and companies and to support each other’s growth and impact on the local community.
General admission: $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, members of Dance Council of North Texas and the Star System.
Stephanie Rae Williams of Dance Theatre of Harlem returns home for the Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival and the Dance Council Honors this weekend.
Dallas — As the oldest of six siblings, Stephanie Rae Williams says her parents had to get creative when it came to financing her love of dance, especially classical ballet. Williams credits her mom with discovering the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which also happens to be where she will be performing this weekend, along with attending the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence by the Dance Council of North Texas. “My mother is such an amazing woman and she just wanted me to have all these different opportunities in dance and so, she was really the one who sought out different scholarships that were available and helped me apply for them,” Williams says. Her mom’s hard work paid off in 2005 when Williams was awarded the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which she used to attend Julliard’s summer intensive that same year. The scholarship also gave Williams the opportunity to perform at the SSDF, which was a big deal for the 16 year old at the time. “I think I performed a classical piece, which is nothing like the solo I will be performing this time.”
The event, newly renamed Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival in honor of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), runs Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School and includes performances by Williams, Sydney Winston (2017 SDDF scholarship recipient), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. The schedule also features a master class with former Bruce Wood Dance Company member Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase and an industry roundtable. The event is made possible by Arga Nova Dance with the support of Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center.
For SDDF, Williams will be performing José Limón’s Chaconne, courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Out of the four casts, Williams was the only female chosen for the solo, which she describes as modern-based and challenging, yet extremely satisfying to perform. “There’s something really gratifying about the way Jose Limon choreographed this piece. It feels like you evolve as a human being throughout it and by the end of it you’re like dead, but alive at the same time.”
Growing up in Allen, Texas, Williams started her dancing at Texas Ballet Theater School (formerly Dallas Dance Academy) when she was 8 years old. She grew up training in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and hip-hop with Joyce Seaborne Bader, Lyndette Bader and Fiona Fairrie. After graduating from Allen High School, Williams joined Ben Stevenson’s Texas Ballet Theater for a season before heading to New York City. There she worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden at Complexions Contemporary Ballet before joining DTH’s ensemble company in 2010. After DTH returned from hiatus with Virginia Johnson at the helm in 2012, Williams was then asked to join the revived company and has spent the last five years here gaining more confidence in herself and her craft. “It’s the first company that I was able to make my home and really feel like I could grow and be nurtured there. What’s interesting is that half that dancers that came with us to Dallas in 2014 have moved on and yet I am still here. It’s surreal being one of the veterans that the new company members now come to show them the ropes.”
When asked if she ever gets the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, Williams responds, “Yes, I do sometimes get the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, and I have done that with Virginia’s approval, but DTH remains my home base.” Williams mentions that she just completed four shows with the Seattle-based Arc Dance Company, which she says Johnson was nice enough to allow her to do. “It a lot of fun because for once I wasn’t the seasoned dancer. I was the new girl and I feel like it’s really important to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable anywhere, and so I am really thankful I have a director that encourages these types of opportunities.”
As far as what Williams is looking forward the most at SDDF, she says, “Just mingling with everyone there and also seeing so many smaller dance companies from professional to the local high schools perform. And because it’s not just the professionals performing this really does feel like the whole South Dallas community is coming together to celebrate dance throughout these three performances.” Williams adds that she is also looking forward to seeing the kids attending the festival as she believes there are not enough black dancers for them to look up to in the industry today, especially in classical ballet. “I was the only black girl in my entire dance school, but I just thought that this was the norm. It wasn’t until I walked into DTH to audition that I noticed there was this whole other side missing from my dancing because at DTH when we dance there’s this whole other type of soul that we bring to the stage.”
While in town Williams will also be attending the DC Honors where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence. The event takes place at Dallas Black Dance Theater on Sunday afternoon and will include food, a silent auction and performances by local companies and scholarship recipients. In addition to Williams, this year’s honorees also include Kathy Chamberlain, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy. As far as Williams’ reaction to the award news she says, “I was both humbled and excited when I heard I would be receiving this honor. It’s just really nice knowing that I have so much support here in Dallas and it means so much to me to be recognized in this way.”
Formerly the South Dallas Dance Festival, the new Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) is dedicated to the memory of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), whose vision and support were integral to the success of SDDF in years past.
Entitled Spreading Our Wings, the new SDDF features performances from Stephanie Rae Williams (Dance Theatre of Harlem), Sydney Winston (who attends Point Park University), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. To note, Williams was the SDDF Scholarship recipient in 2005 and Winston is this year’s recipient.
Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has danced with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012.
I spoke to Williams back in 2014, two years after DTH was reformed under long-time
DTH dancer Virginia Johnson, when the company was touring in Texas and she shared with me what is was like seeing the legendary dance company for the first time. “I was 16 and my mom drove me to Tyler, Texas, on a school night to see them,” Williams reminisces. “I remember how shocking it was because I had never seen so many dancers of color onstage doing ballet before. It was a beautiful experience.”
Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has dance with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012. Williams will also be receiving the Natalie Skelton Award for artistic excellence at the end of this month at the Dance Council Honors, which will be hosted by the Dance Council of North Texas and held at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The schedule for SDDF also includes a master class taught by Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase, a industry roundtable and many opportunities to see some dancing! The festival takes place Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School in Dallas. Go check it out!
See the press release below for more information:
ARGA NOVA DANCE with support from Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center present [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival – Spreading Our Wings
WHAT: SDDF 2017 “Spreading Our Wings”
WHEN: Friday, 27 October 2017, 8:00 pm, Saturday, 28 October 2017, 3:00 pm & 8:00 pm
WHERE: Ann Richards Middle School, 3831 N. Prairie Creek Rd, Dallas TX 75227, cor. Military