Tag Archives: AT&T Performing Arts Center

Q&A: Dallas Black Dance Theatre Veteran Nycole Ray

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Nycole Ray working with the dancers for Dallas Opera. Photo: Celeste Hart

The Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran on stepping into the opera world as choreographer for Dallas Opera’s production of Samson et Dalila.

Dallas — Nycole Ray is a prime example of what it takes to maintain a career in the ever-changing dance field. For the last 20 years she has made a name for herself within the Dallas Black Dance Theatre organization first as a company member and later as the artistic director of the second company, now DBDT ENCORE! Ray is also the director of DBDT’s Summer Intensive program and has served in the past as assistant rehearsal director for DBDT and the director of Bloom, Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Preforming Ensemble. But over the years Ray’s dance talents have exceeded beyond DBDT as is evident through her collaborations with other Dallas arts organizations such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art as well as various performance opportunities with the Dallas Opera and Bruce Wood Dance. Ray is also a certified Dunham technique instructor and has been a teaching assistant and adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University. Her choreography has been featured at the ninth FINTDAZ festival in Iquique, Chile, the 10th annual Choreographers Choice Series in Dallas and at Vienna’s 2003 International Black Dance Festival.

As a performer Ray has danced with Bruce Wood Dance, Walt Disney World Entertainment, Christopher and Friends directed by Christopher L. Huggins, the Lula Washington Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II and the Zadonu African Dance Company. She has also worked with noted choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Dianne McIntyre, Alonzo King, Donald Byrd, Rennie Harris and Camille A. Brown. In addition to her concert work, Ray has also appeared in music videos and industrials in the U.S. and Europe.

Always open to new opportunities Ray did not hesitate when the Dallas Opera approached her about choreographing its production of Samson et Delilah, which is performed Oct. 20, 22, 25, 28 and Nov. 5 at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The opera, which runs in repertory with Verdi’s La traviata, is based on the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah found in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. The story tells of the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Philistines and when Samson urges them to resist their masters the High Priest of Dagon sends Delilah in to destroy Samson. The Dallas Opera’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ three-act French opera is directed by Bruno Berger-Gorski with conductor Emmanuel Villaume, costumer designer Carrie Robbins, set designer Peter Dean Beck and lighting designer Alan Burrett. The cast includes Clifton Forbis, Olga Borodina, Richard Paul Fink, Michael Chioldi and Ryan Kuster as well as eight dancers of Ray’s choosing.

TheaterJones caught up with Ray in between rehearsals to ask her how she is enjoying this experience as well as her inspiration for the movement and how choreographing for an opera differs from setting work on a dance company and the challenges that come with it.

Nycole Ray working with the dancers for Dallas Opera. Photo: Celeste Hart

TheaterJones: How did you get involved with Samson et Dalila?

Nycole Ray: The Dallas Opera was looking for a choreographer for the production of Samson et Dalila and they reached out to me and I was eager to step up to the plate!

How did you get along with the director on this project?

With this being my first time choreographing for this art genre (though I have danced in opera productions before), it has definitely been an interesting process and very different than just creating a work how I see fit, but it has been a really good challenge for me. I mean, you’ve got so many people on stage at the same time and just navigating through that has been quite challenging. But what has been so wonderful is the director, Bruno Berger-Gorski, has been so much fun to work with. He is high energy all the time and he knows what he wants, so trying to create those visions for him has been fun and interesting. He is sure in his ideas, but he is also open to my creativity. He has very specific things he is looking for and things that he wants to happen, so I have been charged with making those things happen within in his vision as opposed to just creating whatever I want. Collaborating with him has been a lot of fun; we have had no dull moments in this process.

What exactly was Bruno’s vision and how did he convey this to you?

Before we started rehearsals, he and I had a five-hour meeting where we were able to watch and talk about the opera, and he was able to give me more insight about the opera itself and his vision for this production. He didn’t want to go mainstream with it. He wanted it to be this beautiful production, but he wanted it to be real in what was really happening at that time. So, for the bacchanale, which is usually this beautiful ballet, he said he didn’t want it that way. There is some sensuality in it, but he didn’t want this huge ballet production. He also has the chorus and the supers [extras] really involved along with the dancers in creating all of these little vignettes that happen in that piece of music. You’re going to have to shift your eyes all over in order to see all these things happening at the same time.

Was it difficult adapting to this new environment?

I did learn a lot about the process of the opera and I continue to learn in rehearsals. When I go to rehearsals for dance it is me, my assistant and the dancers. Here, you’ve got the stage manager, the assistant stage manager, the union reps, wardrobe, props. All of these people and how they work in tandem is so awesome to see and it is an experience for sure. I mean you’ve got the assistant stage manager telling people what to do while they’re singing. He has Bruno’s notes on the way he wants things to happen and he’s telling them what to do and where to go while they’re singing. It’s fascinating, absolutely fascinating and watching the inner workings of it has been really insightful for me. I really enjoyed doing this and the process of it.

What challenges did you come across in the rehearsal process?

At the rehearsal hall everything is taped out on the floor, but you truly don’t get a sense of what it is such as a platform or some stairs until you get into the theater with the sets and see what changes we need to make. Also, the dancers do not have much room to move, and so navigating through stepping off the platform and into the dancing while the supers and chorus are all around them, it is a challenge making sure everyone is safe. I tell the dancers just to be cautious and keep moving.

What was your time frame on this project? How did it differ from the time you usually get in the dance studio?

I did have a longer time to think about the choreography than I usually do. After I was approached, which was very early in the year, I then had a Skype conservation with Bruno in probably June where he gave me some of his ideas. I then thought about these ideas while listening to the opera and started having some choreographic ideas that went along with his vision. So, I had a little bit of time and then we had our five hour meeting, which was two days before our first rehearsal. Despite this, I would say that I probably didn’t get as much time with the dancers as I would in a dance studio.

What types of feelings or ideas for movement did listening to the opera bring out of you?

From the start I wanted to do something a little bit different than this opera’s previous productions, and I am mostly speaking about the bacchanale, which is this big beautiful scene that usually involves a lot of dancing. And so I wanted to marry classical ballet technique with more grounded modern movements that also included some sensual elements as well. I wanted it to be very mixed in terms of movement and also include partnering, of course. I wanted it to be actually very rooted in its movement. I am not going to say African, but there is a little of that. I really pulled from a lot of different genres and styles of dance that I mixed in there and I hope it reads well to the audience.

What’s in store for those coming to see this opera for the first time?

As not really an opera goer, after listening to and seeing Samson et Delilah I thought, how could I identify and connect with this? Now that I have had a chance to delve deeper and truly understand the opera itself, I have a greater appreciation for the art form. When we got into rehearsal with the chorus and the singers for the first time they blew my mind! They had me sitting up in my chair and thinking this was so beautiful even with just a pianist for accompaniment. So, even with that simple instrumentation, I look forward to the orchestra itself as well as the voices of the leads and the chorus. They are just amazing! I think for people coming just seeing all these elements together, including the live musicians, the live singers, live dancers and the scenery and then having this story that involves a lot of drama and combining that with Bruno’s direction and how he has put it together: This opera’s going to be something else.

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

 

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Preview: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s Donkey Beach

Postcard from Donkey Beach. Photo: Frank Robertson/DGDG

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group returns to its zany storylines and feminist roots in Donkey Beach, part of  AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Dallas — Over the last six years Danielle Georgiou has made a name for herself in the Dallas arts community for her unique collaborations with local singers, actors and musicians as well as for putting out work that is real and relevant and always pack a punch. Her use of originxal music, tanztheater (expressionist dance) and dark humor to bring attention to taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism is both disconcerting and engaging at the same time. You can see all these elements at work in Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) newest production, Donkey Beach, which premieres June 22-25 at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Inspired by the beach party movies of the 1960s featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Georgiou and her team, including Justin Locklear and Ruben Carrazana, have created a similar setting where the sun always shines, the songs are about bikinis and surf boards and the teenagers say things like “gee whiz” and “cowabunga” while busting out classic ’60s dance moves like The Swim and The Mashed Potato. The concept for the show came to Georgiou while watching Disney’s Teen Beach 2 one evening. “I really liked the idea of being transported to a different time and place,” Georgiou says. “I also love the ’60s because it was the first time that women really had a voice in society and were comfortable in their own skin.” Georgiou adds that she’s also a fan of the femme fatale characters in the movies from the ’40s and ’50s.

The structure of the show is a musical with songs and dances woven in between dialogue and modern dance techniques such as weight sharing, concaved body shapes and pedestrian movements. “This is definitely a musical, but it doesn’t have the typical happily ever after at the end. I mean boy meets girl and the two of them kind of fall in love, but then everything starts to fall apart. There is no happy ending in this musical.” Georgiou doesn’t tell me this to spoil the ending of the run through I was about to see of Donkey Beach at Eastfield College in Dallas last Saturday afternoon. Actually, Locklear alludes to this fact multiple times in his opening monologue, which explains how Donkey Beach came into existence.

To sum it up, a seahorse enchantress and an evil gin—“it’s an evil genie,” band member Trey Pendergrass shouts out multiple times throughout the show—had a falling out and in her anger the enchantress turned the genie into a donkey. Heartbroken and looking like a literal ass the donkey creates a magical place where everyone is happy all the time. Locklear and the band then lead us into the opening scene, which depicts a bunch a miserable teenagers at a summer camp where it rains all the time. With Locklear’s urging the lead characters Jimmy (Matt Clark) and Susie (Debbie Crawford) drink from a bottle of donkey water that then opens up the portal to Donkey Beach. You can definitely draw some parallels between this story and that of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which also includes magical beings and a remote island.

The music for the show has a Beach Boys vibe with lyrics about bikinis, surf boards and beach parties, which will be performed live by Locklear (vocals and bass guitar), Pendergrass (percussion) and Cory Kosel (vocals and guitar). Like all of Georgiou’s productions, she uses these original tunes as a means to poke fun at specific societal norms and stereotypes with the ultimate goal of opening up the audiences’ eyes to certain issues in a non-threatening and usually ridiculously funny way. An example would be Crawford’s solo with a ukulele, “because of course she can play the ukulele,” Pendergrass states as he brings the instrument over to her. The song starts off light about young love, but then turns heavy when she questions why society makes excuses for men when it comes to domestic abuse and how society typically looks the other way when it happens. The song ends and the performers are quiet for a minute, allowing for the viewers to absorb the message, before Will Acker jumps up and says, “Dude you killed the mood. This is a bonfire!” With that cue the band starts playing and dance madness ensues. You also have to appreciate the irony of Carrazana portraying a woman complete with a grass skirt and coconut bra in a movie genre known for its plastic images.

Later in the show you will notice the performers make vague references about world events such as mass tragedies and natural disasters as well as smaller, more personal tragedies. When asked why she didn’t name specific tragedies like the recent bombing in Manchester, England, Georgiou responded that she didn’t want to limit the show to just the here and now. “I want it to represent all time periods, not just what is happening today. I want the show to mean something in a universal way.”

Georgiou loosely describes the show as having three acts: the first being the gloomy camp scene where we meet the teenage characters; the second on Donkey Beach where the characters are transformed into 1960s talking and dancing beach kids; and the final scene between the enchantress and the donkey, which Georgiou says contains the meat of the show. “This is where the bottom just drops out of the show. Everything before this is just pretense.” I don’t want to give the twist away, but I left the rehearsal pondering to myself if given a choice would I rather live in miserable reality or in a joyful lie.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Higher Ground

Dallas Black Dance Theatre pushes itself to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial ballet The Parts They Left Out, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series.

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Alyssa Harrington and Claude Alexander III in the Jamal Story dance The Parts They Left Out. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Dallas — Expectations were high as a small group of us gathered at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s main studio back in December to watch the company perform segments from Jamal Story’s new aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, a continuation of his duet What to Say? Notes on Echo and Narcissus, which the company performed at its Spring Celebration in May 2015. Looking around the space I had a feeling Story was going to surpass my aerial expectations when I saw three different apparatuses suspended from the ceiling versus just one last year.

Positioned upstage, stage right was a swing with a wooden seat where company member Sean J. Smith was testing his balance as he shifted from a standing to a seated position. Two long strips of red fabric were hanging unattended downstage, stage left while a familiar white hammock made of silk was situated in the center of the room. In an interview with Story the day before I learned that each aerial apparatus plays a significant role in his retelling of three well known Greek myths. “In this rendition I deal with Echo/Narcissus, Orpheus/Eurydice and Hades/Persephone, and all three of those duet relationships in a much bigger context.” He adds, “I knew there was no way I could tell all three stories with just the hammock so I added in two more. One of the new apparatuses is a swing made out of silk that will serve as a throne for Hades and the other is two strains of red silk that will serve as the pathway in and out of the underworld for Eurydice and Orpheus.”

Photo: Courtesy of Jamal Story

The preview began with a section from the underworld where Hades (Smith) remained perched on the swing while company member Kayah Franklin (Persephone) frantically tried to escape from his clutches. Smith’s movement on the swing was minimal, slight weight changes and body movements, which was in direct contrast to Franklin’s off-centered body lines and compulsive foot work. Story’s jazz and modern background showed through the dancers various body swings, back arches and pelvic tilts.

Audiences are going to be blown away when they see what Story has created with the two long red silks in Orpheus and Eurydice’s duet. As the music built two dancers manipulated the material around themselves while pulling the silks across the stage creating an incline, which Hana Delong than began to climb, strategically weaving and wrapping her body in the material as she made her way to the top where Keon K. Nickie was waiting for her. You don’t even realize Delong is prepping herself for aerial trick until she lets go of the material, unraveling to the ground in a heart-stopping death drop. It’s moments such as this one that emphasize Story’s uniqueness as an aerial artist. For him, it’s not about showcasing the build up to the tricks, it’s about creating smooth and cohesive transitions throughout the work.

“Most aerial work focuses on the ta-da moment and what I want to do, and what I did in the first duet is to eliminate the ta-da moment by creating a context for why the person does whatever he or she does. It is extremely difficult because in an ordinary apparatus circus presentation you’re just doing the tricks for the ta-da effect. I’m not interested in that here.” He continues, “So now I have to think about why she does that wrap and the drop and what does that have to do with the story we are telling. As long as I stay focused on what I am trying to do, then it works out.”

When it came time to teach certain aerial skills to the company members using the three different apparatuses Story says the challenge this time was the fact he didn’t have a lot of time to workshop the material on the actual silks. But he says this challenge was balanced out by the fact he was creating the movement on the dancers unlike the Echo and Narcissus duet that was created on him, which he later transferred to DBDT. And speaking of the duet, audiences will be excited to hear that Claude Alexander III and Alyssa Harrington will be reprising their roles as Narcissus and Echo in this continuation.

The couple has put the extra time they have been given to work on the duet to good use which was evident through their clean and confident handling of the material and more pronounced emotional connection with one another during this rehearsal. In the continuation audiences will get to see more of the couple’s backstory that eventually leads to their climatic duet. “What I am doing this time around is creating material with the other Greek characters that give Echo and Narcissus their context. What you saw last season is a duet about a stunning individual who would eventually fall in love with his own reflection thanks to a curse put on him by one of the gods. And this particular person happens to be pined after by a person who doesn’t have the ability to make her own words. What I am trying to give you in this ballet is the back story to how Echo got into this position.” He continues, “And not just that story, but also the development of these other Greek myths including Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre will present Jamal Story’s aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, at this season’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 19-21, at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee & Charles Wyly Theatre. The program also includes the world premiere of former Alvin Ailey dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance and Bridget L. Moore’s new work Unearthed.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Get Crackin’

Get into the holiday spirit with any one of these Nutcracker productions, from the traditional to Nearly Naked, offer across Dallas-Fort Worth. Plus a list of other holiday dance.

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The Nutcracker from Texas Ballet Theate. Photo: Steven Visneau

It’s that time of year again! In between all the shopping, decorating and baking you have planned this holiday season make sure you set some time aside to check out one of the numerous Nutcracker productions being offered by many of the professional and pre-professional dance companies across Dallas-Fort Worth. For audiences west of the DFW Airport, Texas Ballet Theater will be running Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker for multiple weekends at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Additionally, Ballet Frontier of Texas and North Central Civic Ballet will be presenting their annual Nutcracker performances at Will Rogers Auditorium.

For residents north of Dallas there are myriad Nutcrackers to choose from, including versions by LakeCities Ballet Theatre in Lewisville, Festival Ballet of North Central Texas in Denton, and Allen Civic Ballet in Allen. The Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, will soon be bursting with holiday cheer when Chamberlain Performing Arts, Dallas Repertoire Ballet, Royale Ballet Dance Academy, Tuzer Ballet and Collin County Ballet Theatre bring their Nutcracker productions here beginning Thanksgiving weekend and continuing till Christmas. The Irving Arts Center is another popular venue for local Nutcracker productions, including versions by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, International Ballet Theater and Momentum Dance Company. And in Dallas the Moscow Ballet returns to McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University with its rendition of The Great Russian Nutcracker, featuring new costumes and set designs.

You can even hear Tchaikovsky’s full Nutcracker played by the Dallas Symphony, without dancers, if you’re so inclined.

And if you are in need of a change this season, check out any number of the holiday dance shows being offered, including Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration at Dallas City Performance Hall; Epiphany DanceArts Tis the Season at the Eisemann; Texas Ballet Theater’s The Nutty Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall; and even a burlesque show in Dallas aptly named Nearly Naked Nutcracker. A full list of all the Nutcrackers and holiday productions in the area can be found below.

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Sarah Lane (ABT) and Daniel Ulbricht (NYCB) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in LBT’s 2014 version of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

Nov. 20-21 Ballet Frontier of Texas presents The Nutcracker with choreography by Chung-Lin Tseng at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. $40-$50. Call 817-689-7310 or visit www.balletfrontier.org

Nov. 20-22 Moscow Ballet return to Dallas with its rendition of The Great Russian Nutcracker at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium. This year’s production features new costumes for Act I by designer Arthur Oliver and two new backdrops by Academy Award Nominee Carl Sprague. $28-$88. Call 800-745-3000 or visit www.tickmaster.com

Nov. 27-29 Chamberlain Performing Arts annual showing of The Nutcracker featuring New York City Ballet Principal’s Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $15-$100. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Nov. 27-29 Momentum Dance Company brings the holiday tale to life with choreography by Jacquelyn Ralls Forcher at the Irving Arts Center. $15-$25. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Nov. 28-29 LakeCities Ballet Theatre celebrates its 25th annual production of The Nutcracker which features live music from Lewisville Lake Symphony and guest artists Sarah Lane of American Ballet Theater and Daniel Ulbricht of New York City Ballet. $20-$45. Call 972-317-7987 or visitwww.lakecitiesballet.org

Dec. 4-6 Dallas Ballet Company presents The Nutcracker featuring guest artists April Daly and Miguel Blanco from Joffrey Ballet at the Granville Arts Center in Garland. $23-$24. Call 972-205-2790 or visit www.garlandarts.com

Dec. 5 Local dancers Harry Feril (Bruce Wood Dance Project) and Yulia Ilina (Avant Chamber Ballet) join theInternational Ballet Theater for its production of The Nutcracker Sweet at the Irving Arts Center. $28-$38. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 5-6 Ballet Ensemble of Texas, under the direction of Joffrey alum Lisa Slagle, presents the holiday classic at the Irving Arts Center. $25-$30. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 5-6 Rowlett Dance Academy presents its 14th annual production of The Nutcracker at Garland High School. $10. Call 972-475-8269 or visit www.rowlettdanceacademy.com

Dec. 5-6 Royale Ballet Dance Academy offering of The Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $20-$25. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 5-6 North Central Civic Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. $30. Visit www.nutcrackertickets.com

Dec. 5-10 New York City Ballet brings George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to the big screen in various movies across the DFW Metroplex. $16-$18 Adult. Visit www.fathomevent.com 

Dec. 11-27 Texas Ballet Theater takes the stage with Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Call 877-828-9200 or visit www.texasballettheater.org

Dec. 11-13 Dallas Repertoire Ballet brings its rendition of the beloved holiday tale to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $22-$42. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 12 Colleyville Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker for one-night only at the Irving Arts Center. $25-$30. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 12-13 Festival Ballet of North Central Texas showing of The Nutcracker at Texas Woman’s University, Margo Jones Performance Hall in Denton. $11-$36. Call 940.891.0830 or visit www.festivalballet.net

Dec. 19-20 Tuzer Ballet presents The Nutcracker with guest artists Rie Ichikawa (Boston Ballet) and Zack Grubbs (Cincinnati Ballet) at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $15-$50. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 19-20 The Allen Civic Ballet presents its annual production of the holiday classic with live musical accompaniment by the Allen Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra at the Allen High School Performing Arts Center in Allen. $15-$25. Visit www.allencivicballet.org/nutracker

Dec. 19 The Art Ballet Academy presents The Nutcracker at Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield. $16. Visit www.abacademy.com

Dec. 22-23 Collin County Ballet Theatre’s annual production of The Nutcracker features live music from Plano Symphony Orchestra at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $22-$77. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

 

OTHER HOLIDAY DANCE

(including non-traditional takes on The Nutcracker)

Nov. 19 Avant Chamber Ballet returns to White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake with its holiday production of Nutcracker: Short and Suite. This one-act Nutcracker presented by Apex Arts League includes new choreography by Katie Cooper and music by Tchaikovsky. $15-$20. Call 800-481-8914 or visit www.apex-arts.org

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Avant Chamber Ballet will present Holiday Celebration. Photo: Mark Kitaoka

Nov. 27-29 The Dallas Symphony Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s complete The Nutcracker (no dancers), and featuring the Children’s Chorus of Collin County, at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas. Call 214-692-0203 or visit www.mydso.com

Nov. 27-Dec. 27 MBS Productions presents its annual hit The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents a Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker, in which a church has to do a last minute substitution of its dancers for The Nutcracker, at the Addison Theatre Centre’s Studio Theatre. $29. Call 214-477-4942 or visit www.mbsproductions.net

Dec. 6 8&1 Dance Company closes its third season with In The Spirit, featuring live music and heart-warming chorography at the Quixotic Word in Dallas. Visit www.8and1dance.com 

Dec. 6 Dallas Youth Ballet presents a Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall with special guest Arron Scott from American Ballet Theatre. $20-$75. Visitwww.parkcitiesstudios.com

Dec. 10 Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday celebration at Dallas City Performance Hall incudes Katie Cooper’s Sleigh Ride and Nutcracker: Short and Suite. $20-$30. Visit www.ticketdfw.com

Dec. 11-12 Bruce Wood Dance Project presents a Christmas Cabaret benefit with Broadway stars Aaron Lazar, Liz Callaway and Joseph Thalken, at the BWDP Studio, 3630 Harry Hines Boulevard, Suite 36, Dallas. $350-$1,000. Call 214-428-2263 or visit www.brucewooddance.org

Dec. 12 Ballet Concerto presents its annual A Holiday Special at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. The program includes Winter Wonderland, The Princess and the Magical Christmas Star, O Holy Night and A Cool Yule. $8 for daytime performances and $12-$25 for the evening performance. Call 817-738-7915 or visit www.balletconcerto.com

Dec. 12 Contemporary Ballet Dallas offers their spin on Charles Dickens’ classic tale with Boogie Woogie Christmas Carol at McFarlin Memorial Auditorium on the Southern Methodist University campus. $18-$30. Visitwww.contemporaryballetdallas.com

Dec. 18 Texas Ballet Theater brings The Nutty Nutcracker, its PG-13 spoof of The Nutcracker, to Bass Performance Hall for one night only. $40-250. Call 877.828.9200 or visit www.texasballettheater.org

Dec. 18-19 Epiphany DanceArts celebrates the holiday season with its production of Tis the Season at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $17-$27. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 19 Broads & Panties presents Nearly Naked Nutcracker: A Burlesque Ballet featuring aerial performances, circus arts, ballet and burlesque at Trees in Deep Ellum. $20-$44. Visit www.treesdallas.com

Dec. 19-20 Denton City Contemporary Ballet presents A Gift for Emma at Margo Jones Performance Hall at Texas Woman’s University, Denton. $15-25. Call 940-383-2623 or visit www.dentoncitycontemporary.org

Dec. 19-20 ImPULSE Dance Project celebrates the season with Snow at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater. Program includes works by Artistic Director Anastasia Waters and company members Krista Langford and Kristin Daniels. $17. Visit www.impusedanceproject.org

This list was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Catherine Ellis Kirk, Abraham.In.Motion

Kyle Abraham dancer Catherine Ellis Kirk. Photo: Breton Tyner-Bryan
Kyle Abraham dancer Catherine Ellis Kirk. Photo: Breton Tyner-Bryan

The Dallas native on finding her stride as a concert dancer and performing with Kyle Abraham’s Abraham.In.Motion which comes to town this weekend on the TITAS season.

Dallas — As the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship as well as a 2010 Princess Grace and Bessie award for performance and choreography, it’s no wonder Kyle Abraham was recently dubbed the darling of the dance world by Dance magazine. Abraham started his training at the Civic Light Opera Academy and the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School. He holds a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase and an MFA from the New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. His performing credits include David Dorfman Dance, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, The Kevin Wynn Collective, Nathan Trice/Rituals, Dance Alloy and Attack Theatre. For the last nine years his company Abraham.In.Motion has been captivating audiences across the U.S. and abroad with its provocative movement choices and strong social messages reflecting on current issues and attitudes.

Abraham’s raw approach to movement and eclectic dance background, which includes modern and hip-hop was a huge draw for Dallas native Catherine Ellis Kirk who joined his company two years ago. A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Kirk went on to earn her BFA in dance from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She has also studied with Movement Invention Project, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, the Gaga intensive in Tel Aviv and Springboard Danse Montreal, and has performed works by Fernando Melo, Ohad Naharin, Peter Chu, Andrea Miller, Robert Battle, Alex Ketley and Helen Simoneau. In addition to Abrham.In.Motion, Kirk also currently dances for Chihiro Shimizu and Artists and UNA Projects.

Kirk and Abraham.In.Motion will both make their Dallas debut Oct. 29-30 at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of TITAS’ 2015-16 season. The program includes Abraham’s The Quiet Dance (2011), The Gettin’ (2014) and the world premiere of Absent Matter with live music.

Catherine Ellis Kirk talks to TheaterJones about finding her artistic voice, Kyle Abraham’s creative process and her take on his new work Absent Matter.

TheaterJones.com: What initially drew you to concert dance?

Catherine Ellis Kirk: At Booker T. I took a lot of composition and improvisation classes so I knew pretty fresh off the gate that I wanted to join a modern company and be in New York if not Europe.

Why did you chose to attend New York University vs. pursuing a dance career after high school?

I never considered cutting off my education after high school. I have always loved dance, but I have also always craved more of an academic lifestyle. For my community of concert dancers it’s more of a conservation about whether you wanted to go to a university or conservatory. I tried a couple of conservatories, but I knew I needed something else aside from dance so I studied Political Science and Art History at New York University (NYU) as well. And looking back I definitely needed those three years of training at NYU to discover my voice in dance and how I wanted to move.

Can you give me some examples of individuals or classes that have helped you define your artistic voice?

Many of my “ah ha” moments came from being at Booker T. where I took composition classes with Kyle Richards and Lily Weiss as well as modern with Garfield Lemonius. While taking these classes I decided that I could put my life and my work and passion into these forms of dance, and going to NYU really seasoned that for me. I had so many amazing teachers at NYU, including Pamela Pietro, who taught me modern and composition my second and third year there.

What stood out to you the first time you saw Kyle Abraham perform?

The first time I saw Kyle dance was at Dance Space in New York where he performed an excerpt from one of his solos and I was immediately drawn to his unique movement style. He moves so organically and there’s a wide variety of techniques that he is influenced by such as house dancing, hip-hop, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. His movement is also very contemporary and looks very improv based, so it comes out of him very organically. There’s always an openness to his movement with lots of high arches and speed, but also just very human moments and almost a sense of acting that comes across very raw. I see all of this in Pavement, which I saw for the first time in fall 2013 right after superstorm Sandy hit. Pavement has a very direct purpose in that it talks about Kyle’s neighborhood growing up and that urban lifestyle in which race and economic classes play a pivotal role. Watching all these beautiful people dancing onstage together and having the same movement quality that Kyle does was really astonishing and I just fell in love with this work.

What is it like working in the studio with Abraham?

It’s super interesting! It is pretty improv based so he’ll start moving while someone films it and then gives us the tape and we’ll learn it from there. Other times he’ll do a catch what you can thing where he dances in front of us and we pick up what we can. He moves very fast and organically and habitually. It’s also nice to have us in the room because we all interpret the movement differently so we don’t use the same movement vocabulary over and over.

Do you and the other company members have similar dance backgrounds and training?

Our backgrounds are quite varied. I probably have the least technical training. I am much more composition and modern than balletic. There’s Tamisha Guy who went to SUNY Purchase College and is technically stunning with a background in ballet, pointe and modern. Penda N’Diaye went to NYU before I did and she also has a background in ballet and her and Guy both have beautiful lines. Connie Shiau also went to SUNY Purchase but she also trained in Gaga and works with Gallim Dance, which is just very wild, deep and grounded. The boys are also all very different. Jeremy Neal was a classical singer who started dancing in college, but had danced a lot in the club scene and house, which is very similar to Kyle’s journey. Matthew Baker went to the same college as Jeremy in Michigan, but he started out in gymnastics and then went into dance when he was younger to help him get more flexible. And then we have Vinson Fraley who is just stunning and started dancing when he was 16 at a competition studio so he is all legs and turns. Our careers and lives have taken us into different places, which kind of helps the variety, but it’s also nice because you look around the room and see different skin colors, heights and body types so the movement never gets too habitual or boring.

What is your interpretation of Abraham’s new work Absent Matter?

Absent Matter was actually choreographed before Kyle brought in the live music which includes songs by Kendrick Lamar and Kayne West. For the piece Kyle pulled a lot of inspiration from the Black Lives Matter campaign and also his feelings on cultural appropriation. Being in his late 30’s he has seen things that are just completely being lost in their origin. For example, cornrows which are just plaited hair that women in Africa wore to keep their hair out of the way is now being used on the fashion runways which is great, but it’s being renamed a French twist or French braid. That’s a lighter example, but it all goes back to cultural appropriation and Kyle feeling that as African-Americans we are losing our voice. So, there is definitely a nostalgia and a large sense of anger and riot in the work which feels much more present day than The Gettin’ which will come after. The Gettin’ feels more like a pre-riot gathering while Absent Matter feels more current to me with the Black Lives Matter Campaign and any culture aside from African American just getting lost or abused or not being recognized. Kyle’s very angry about that and it shows through this work.

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

Q&A: Choreographer Ronald K. Brown

Photo: Ayodele Casel
Photo: Ayodele Casel

Choreographer Ronald K. Brown on 30 years of making dance stories, traveling to the birthplace of West African dance and his company’s upcoming performance for TITAS at AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Dallas — Ronald K. Brown doesn’t just make dances; he makes dance stories. Using a combination of contemporary and African dance styles, including Afro-Cuban and spiritual movement, Brown creates work that provides a unique view of human struggles, tragedies and triumphs. His choice of music, literature and spoken word reinforces these themes and helps acquaint audiences with the beauty of African forms and rhythms. This kind of physical storytelling along with Brown’s humility and emotional depth is why he is considered one of today’s leading contemporary choreographers.

A Brooklyn native, Brown began studying dance at a Police Athletic League summer program at age 6. His dream was to train with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, but in high school he changed his focus to creative writing and journalism. After spending the summer before college dancing, Brown realized his true calling and resumed his dance training. Brown has studied a variety of dance techniques, including Graham, ballet, traditional West African dance and Brazilian capoeira. At 16 he began studying at Mary Anthony dance studio in Manhattan, and two years later founded Evidence, which is named after the first dance he choreographed in 1985.

Entering its 30th season, Ronald K. Brown/EvidenceDance Company has traveled across the U.S. and abroad, including Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal, to name a few. In 2010 the company joined the U.S. State Department’s DanceMotion USA tour to perform, teach and conduct demonstrations. In addition to Evidence, Brown has also set works on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Cleo Parker Robinson Ensemble, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Jennifer Muller/The Works, Philadanco, Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago and more. He has collaborated with such artists as composer/designer Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, the late writer Craig G. Harris, director Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theater and composers Robert Een, Oliver Lake, Bernadette Speech, David Simons and Don Meissner. His other accolades include the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Choreographers Fellowship, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, United States Artists Fellowship and The Ailey Apex Award for teaching.

Evidence will be performing at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas on Jan. 17. The program includes Brown’s Come Ye (2002) and On Earth Together (2011). Using music by Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, Come Ye is a call to all those willing to fight for their lives with the ultimate goal being peace. In On Earth Together Brown uses music by Stevie Wonder to reinforce this idea of a loving and compassionate place to celebrate a world view.

TheaterJones asks Ronald K. Brown about his travels to West Africa, incorporating his writing lessons into the choreographic process and the life experiences that ultimately led to the creation of the two works his company will be showing in Dallas, Come Ye and On Earth Together.

TheaterJones: Critics are always quick to comment on your poignant storytelling. How did you uncover this ability?

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

Ronald K. Brown: What’s interesting is that I had all these false starts with my interest and love for dance. I remember at 12 heading to an audition at the Dance Theatre of Harlem when my Mom went into labor with my little brother. I decided then to forget about dance and focus on being a big brother and a writer. So, I went to the Arts Center in Lower Manhattan where I studied creative writing and journalism with the intent of making this my career. It wasn’t long after that when I bit the bullet and realized I did want to dance and I wanted to have a company. I knew I wanted the work to be about something. A kind of physical storytelling in a way. So, when I am creating something I write a lot and I share that with the dancers to help them embody the words of the story. It’s not about acting it out or pantomime. It’s about capturing the true essence of what the story is.

How does your creative writing background aid you in your choreographic process?

I usually come into the studio with ideas and music, but no steps and am improvising while the dancers follow me around. So I build a phrase, which is just like writing a sentence, and from there I build paragraphs and organize it so that they make sense. So the structure of the work is similar to that of writing a story. Writing also makes me conscious of what is and isn’t necessary in the work. Even with that said editing a piece is still very hard. I remember in the early 90’s I was as physical as I could be in my dancing. And then I starting playing with gestures and getting a little more introverted with some of my work. In 1994 everything started to come together in terms of dealing with the physicality and gesturing of my movement.

In the early ’80s was physical storytelling a new concept to dancers and choreographers?

Trisha Brown was really popular in the 80s. The downtown dance world was really about the Alexander technique and about finding the facility in your body absent of emotion. In the history of dance everyone is trying to learn from the generations before, but I think with traditional modern dance a lot of us teachers were then having hip replacements and wanted to develop a teaching and way of moving that really takes care of the body. So, for a young black man from Brooklyn creating movement that was absent of emotion and story just wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Even though I was working downtown I was still trying to say something with it. I am also in the mindset of not harming the dancers’ bodies. There is nothing aloof about our dancing. An example is Doug Varone and his company. I am drawn to the fire of the company’s dancing and the overall physicality of it.

Can you tell me what was going on in your life during the creation of Come Ye (2002) and On Earth Together(2011) and how it impacted the work?

Our country had just gone into Afghanistan when I started working on Come Ye. And it got me thinking about the men and women willing to risk their lives for us and I am just so thankful for them. I was really aware of all the young people going over there. While my company was touring I remember seeing these young people in uniform sitting and playing on their portable video games and my heart felt so heavy. That stayed with me and one day while I was on my hands and knees cleaning my apartment this song by Nina Simone came on. And I had figured that I would do something to her music at some point. It was Come Ye, and in the song it says everyone who is dedicated to fighting for your life, it’s time to learn how to pray. And I realized that is how I feel. This song is over 30 years old, so what happened to all of the lessons we were taught by the revolutionaries who believed that in the time of war that the destination is still peace? The piece began to unfold as I thought about all the unrest in the world and how we try to deal with it. It starts with Simone’s Come Ye and goes into her Sunday in Savannah, Revolution and ends with a song by Fela Anikulapo Kuti nicknamed Amen. He wrote this song after his mother was thrown out of a window because he had spoken out against the government in Nigeria. So, the song speaks of this tragedy and yet is so full of prayer. In the last three minutes of the piece you see images of Gandhi, Bob Marley and all these people who are about liberation while the dancers on stage are trying to embody their warrior nature.

In On Earth Together there is a song in the third section called They Won’t Go When I Go, which is the same song I used for a solo I did back in 1987. My mom passed on in 1996 and my dear friend Dr. Johnson passed on in 2010 and so this section is really about legacy. There’s a moment when everyone’s on stage and one person walks around to check on a few people who are just standing there. I had to give notes to this person and I was so overcome with emotion that I had to walk out of the room.

How do you encourage your dancers to get to such a vulnerable place?

During the rehearsal process I do use different exercises and techniques to help them embrace the essence of the work. Sometimes we watch a movie or share written literature. So, the dancers do have to do a certain amount of homework in addition to learning movement. Another example is when I am trying to have them embody fear I will just scream as loud as I can so they can experience a natural reaction. I also look for dancers who have a simplicity in their performance and presentation. How do they deliver the material in an audition or in a class? There has to be a humility and an openness to their dancing.

You have traveled all over the world experiencing different dance cultures. What dance styles did you encounter?

When I traveled to West Africa in 1995 I think my exposure to traditional, social, contemporary and spiritual dancing helped me understand where I stood in this continuum of contemporary dance. Before that I think I was nervous about using traditional dance steps. I would deconstruct the rhythm or play with the technique but realized I wanted to do something else. And when I started working there I was told that when you touch African dance it automatically becomes something else. A similar thing happened when I went to Cuba for the first time in 2001. I was exposed to traditional and social dances that really broadened my vocabulary and my eye. There is this one style I encountered in Senegal called sabar that makes sense to my body, but then Afro-Cuban also feels really good on my body. And I incorporate all these techniques into my movement vocabulary.

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

Q&A: Choreographer Brian Brooks

Photo: Erin Baiano
Photo: Erin Baiano

Choreographer Brian Brooks on his movement language, penchant for speed and the Dallas debut of his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, presented by TITAS.

Dallas — Many successful choreographers’ careers have started with a simple question. For Brian Brooks it was how to convey the emotions and experiences of running a marathon through the use of movement. By investigating the elements of running such as pace, duration and the feelings of inspiration and achievement commonly associated with the activity, Brooks has created a movement language that is fast-paced, compelling and uniquely human.

Originally from Hingham, Mass., Brooks moved to New York City in 1994. He started his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, in 2002, which has performed in venues throughout the United States, South Korea and Europe. While this is the company’s first time in Dallas (presented by TITAS), it is not their first show in Texas. The company has performed in Austin and San Antonio during previous seasons. The company has also enjoyed repeat engagements at Dance Theater Workshop, Wesleyan University, North Carolina State University, SUMMERDANCE Santa Barbara and Alfred University.

As a dancer Brooks has performed with choreographers Eun-Me Ahn, Christopher Williams and Elizabeth Streb for whom he has also worked as a rehearsal coach and technique instructor. His most recent honor was an award from the National Dance Project supporting the development and performance tour of his work, BIG CITY (2012). Brooks has been on the Dance Department faculty of both Princeton University and Rutgers University-Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has also been an Adjunct Associate Professor of Dance at Barnard College of Columbia University and a guest artist at the University of Maryland, Illinois State University and Rutgers University, among others.

TheaterJones asks Brian Brooks about his distinct movement style, the creation of his signature solo, I’m Going To Explode, and the diverse program he has put together for his company’s first appearance in Dallas. The Brian Brooks Moving Company makes it Dallas debut Nov. 21-22 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, part of TITAS’ 2014-15 season.

TheaterJones: How are you feeling about your company’s Dallas debut this weekend?

Brian Brooks: I am really excited to bring our show to Dallas. We have performed in San Antonio and Austin. Not exactly Dallas, but my artistic work in Texas has started growing and I can’t wait to present to audiences here in town. I have a group of eight dancers that I am bringing with me and two of them are actually Booker T. Washington HSPVA alums. I have these two performing in some of my newest dance works so it will be a nice homecoming for them.

What would you say distinguishes your work from other New York-based contemporary choreographers?

One of the things I am distinctly known for in contemporary dance circles is speed. We have five different pieces on the program and they are some of my favorites. Two are newer pieces, but most of them have been performed at different venues around the country.  I think the variety and the breadth of the works in this collection is exciting and one of the things that stands out is my penchant for fast-paced movement. Three of the works are larger company works and I make very complex partnering sequences in them. The dancers’ joke that they can’t rehearse any of the material without everyone in the company there because they rely so heavily on interacting, touching, grabbing, catching, pushing, pulling into all the other company members several times a second. Without all the bodies there you can’t really practice the material. So, there’s an intricacy in my group work and a speed to it that is very distinct. I am also very interested in trying to expose effort in dance. So, rather than mask it I created an aesthetic that really pronounces the effort. I think it brings the effort and the intent of all the performers to your focus.

Do these qualities reflect your own personality?

I think I’m a fast-moving kind of guy. I like to have many projects, like many of us do, going on at one time. I also like being very active. You know, I struggled for years in both my classical and modern dance training with the question of what dance really means. For me, part of it is just my personality and I think the show represents the many different aspects of my interests and my being. I have also dedicated my life to creating dances that I find compelling and the things that keep my attention often are moving very quickly. So, I create work that moves at rapid fire speed to keep your attention and to move through movement at a pace that is similar to the wings of a hummingbird or the speed of an Amtrak train. It’s like the poetics of movement I suppose. Part of it is who I am, but a lot of it is also trying to craft movement situations that are compelling within themselves and then it provides meaning from that. There’s a lot of metaphors in my work. There’s a lot of visual imagery. It’s not story driven, but it definitely is interpersonal. It’s about community and the kinetic and physical relationships that we experience all the time.

Your solo, I’m Going To Explode, has been a signature piece in your repertoire for many years. What makes the work so appealing to mass audiences?

I do occasionally call it my signature solo because I have had it now for seven years. This is the longest I have done a piece so far and I am the only one who has performed it. I actually made it in this tiny little space in New York. This was just a really introspective, creative period for me. I usually focus my attention on my company so, it was unusual for me to focus my time on a solo. It was a turning point for me as a choreographer and over the last seven years it has become a work that people automatically associate with me.

I had a costume designer that I have worked with before create the suit that I wear. Like most of my pieces I started with the choreography and then went back and read the piece. Once I grasped the physics and physicality of what’s going on than I constructed these movement sequences that resemble a tidal wave of motion. Then I match the movement with different music and find ways to heighten the different themes that are coming through. Regarding the solo, it is quite convulsive and violent and then I paired with a song that is hilarious. The contrast of those two things together lightened the piece and made it really self-aware and tongue in cheek. And I feel the suit really humanized the work.

You have been performing your solo for seven years. How has time affected the way you perform the piece?

I like aging. Every time I perform the solo it’s like revisiting this physical practice that is similar to going to yoga. I am still doing the same positions and the same breathing pattern, but through this process I can reflect on what has changed in my body over the years. And the more time passes the more interesting that piece becomes to me. I have had offers from people who want to buy it, but I am not ready to give it to anyone just yet. I still have a lot of mileage left.

How do you balance your role as choreographer and performer?

A lot has changed within the last three years of my career. I am working full time as a choreographer now and touring most of the year. That change has been really astounding to me. But this is the time that I have also been having more trouble being in the work and making the work. So, in this show I perform two pieces. One is my solo and the other is the duet excerpt from my work Motor. I am very dedicated to performing. Doing something very deep and personal like my solo and having that be a work that people are interested in seeing is really reaffirming to me. It made me realize where to keep my focus when making new work.

Tell me about the newer works in the program, Division and Torrent?

You will be some of the first audiences to see these new works and I am very excited about presenting them. These pieces came out of intense work with the dancers over a period of months where we felt like we discovered a movement language. The form you will see in my pieces pulls a lot of influences together. You might see hints of line, shape, form and interaction that may remind you of other choreographers, but they kind of come-and-go and get bent as they need to be. Intricacy and partnerships are at the fore-front of these pieces. The teamwork is unbelievable. I have a nice group of dances right now and it’s special to watch them getting better at working together.

Division and Torrent share some similarities such as the way I make groups dependent on one another. So, the construction of the group works follow that co-dependency and cause and effect mentality. There’s also no traditional gender spilt in my work. In a lot of these pieces I have the women partnering the women and the men partnering the men so the action shifts your understanding of the relationship.

Torrent is to Max Richter’s recomposed score of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. You can’t recognize the Four Seasons in the piece. He used it as source material and literally cut it all up and selected which parts he wanted to use. So, the phrases and melodies are cut down and used very intelligently. It’s for the eight dancers in the company and it closes the show. It’s very fluid and momentous. It really sweeps you away. Division has an original score by Jerome Begin that is very different from Torrent. It’s not melodic at all. He’s taken the sound recording of the movement in the dance and has added in keys and chords. He has really orchestrated physical action. I feel that the variety in the program allows you to keep looking at things differently as the evening goes.

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

 

Preview: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s NICE

Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson
Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group prepares for the premiere of its new evening-length dance-theatre work, NICE, at the Wyly Theatre as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Dallas — “I bet you thrift shop real well,” one dancer says as he walks past me in the small, intimate space on the sixth floor of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District Tuesday evening. Before I can react another dancer passes by pausing to look me up and down before stating, “Wow, you look so comfy in those clothes.” The performers’ overly sweet demeanor paired with Paul Slavens’ reminder to be nice in his Mr. Rogers voice takes the sting out of the back-handed compliment I just received, making me laugh instead.

Danielle Georgiou then has the group stop and run through the section again while the tech crew adjusts lighting cues, music volumes and mike stand placement. The 11 dancers that make upDanielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) stand patiently on the outskirts of four ceiling-to-floor panels of white paper that add some dimension to the otherwise sparse room. This time around the dancers walking past comment on my striped top and an invisible audience member’s shoes. Meanwhile, Georgiou and her crew, including musician Slavens, conceptual artist Justin Locklear, set and lighting designer Lori Honeycutt, stage manager Liz Metelsky and light board operator Kayla Anderson quickly address any issues and give the Okay for the dancers to move on.

Georgiou’s new work NICE, running Nov. 13-23 as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s new Elevator Project, toes the line on what individuals and society consider to be nice behavior through the use of etiquette verbiage, poignant movement choices and audience participation. (Read more about the Elevator Project in our story here.)

The work is divided into various situations (i.e. the wild girl scene, mob scene and debutante ball) depicting what society deems nice behavior with respect to women. Georgiou cleverly blends traditions and stereotypes such as coming out parties and 1950s’ housewives etiquette with today’s more loose manners to produce an effect that is both disturbing and amusing. In between these sections the performers take turns reading from an etiquette book or reciting lines while executing purpose-driven movement reflecting their words. This includes jerky gestures and sequential whole body movement that parallels the ebb and flow of the speaker’s voice.  For example, one performer chooses to sing his lines while another recites his in a British accent.

Georgiou, who writes a monthly column for TheaterJones, also uses traditional dances like the waltz and polka to depict a time when women were cherished and protected. The four couples glide around the space with ease and end in tender embraces. The other side of this coin is addressed when two female dancers enter in their bras and underwear and begin flinging their bodies onto the ground and frantically try to escape the arms of their male keepers to no avail. The darker scenes involve the men whistling and catcalling at the ladies and the women yelling at the men to pay to attention to them. Georgiou’s movement choices in these parts are pretty risqué, but have been crafted to serve a purpose and therefore come across more edgy. The men roving their hands down the whole length of their female counterpart, basically demeaning the female body, would have lost some of its meaning if done in overabundance. What makes Georgiou’s work so collective is her ability to edit herself and therefore push her audience to its limits without turning them away.

This preview was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Q&A: Choreographer Shen Wei

Shen Wei's Near the Terrace. Photo: Stephanie Berger
Shen Wei’s Near the Terrace. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Choreographer Shen Wei on his creative process, honesty in movement and his company’s upcoming performance at the Winspear.

Dallas — Painter. Visual Artist. Dancer. Choreographer. But the title Shen Wei cherishes the most is that of “human being.” “I am a human being who loves art,” he says. His humility and honesty is embedded in all his work which has been mesmerizing audiences around the world since starting Shen Wei Dance Arts (SWDA) in 2000. Wei will be bringing his vibrant imagination and exquisite movement quality to Dallas on June 19 at the Winspear Opera House, ending TITAS’ season on a very high note.

The evening will feature two of Wei’s earlier works: Map (2005) and Near the Terrace (2001). With music by Steve Reich, Map explores a range of movement principles, including rotation, bouncing, internal isolation, internal circular movement and internal individual movement. On the other end of the spectrum is Near the Terrace with its slow controlled movements inspired by a series of paintings by Belgian artist Paul Delvaux. An exhibition of Wei’s own paintings is also on display at the Crow Collection of Asian Art from through Sept. 29.

Born to a couple of Chinese Opera professionals in China’s Hunan province, Wei was trained from youth in Chinese Opera performance, traditional ink painting and calligraphy. He was a performer with the Hunan State Xian Opera Company from 1984 to 1989. He also studied Western visual art which lead him to modern dance. In 1991 he co-founded the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the first of its kind in China. Wei moved to New York City in 1995 to study with the Nikolais/Louis Dance Lab and founded Shen Wei Dance Arts 5 years later. To date SWDA has performed in 138 cities in 28 countries and on four continents.

Wei has commissioned works for American Dance Festival, Het Muziektheater Amsterdam, Lincoln Center Festival, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Hong Kong’s New Vision Arts Festival, to name a few. He has also earned numerous accolades, including a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship (2007), the U.S. Artists Fellow award and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. He also choreographed the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. In 2010, he was a named a winner of the Meadows Prize at Southern Methodist University, where he worked with the dance students.

TheaterJones caught up with Shen Wei to talk about his creative process, blending Eastern and Western dance styles and what audiences can expect at his Dallas performance.

TheaterJones: You have many titles: choreographer, dancer, painter, director. What do you see yourself as?

Shen Wei: I think it’s a human being who loves art. That’s it.

Is painting your first passion?

I have loved painting since I was a little boy. I remember being at home by myself painting at 5 or 6 years old. No one really taught me how to paint. And that has been non-stop up till now. I feel that painting is one of those things I will do no matter where my life takes me.

What inspired you to start dancing?

Like painting I started dancing as a young boy. It fits my personality. In China I was born in the year of monkey which means one who likes to be really active and physical. I do have that monkey side in me. I like to express myself through physical movement. I am naturally coordinated and can learn things fast physically. I never thought many years later I would still be doing the two things that I love.

What motivated you to move to the U.S. in 1995?

There comes a point in your life when you hunger for more learning and more exposure. As an artist and human being I wanted to grow more and I knew I could do that in New York City. I wanted to discover everything I didn’t know and to grow more.

How was it adapting to New York City and the Western dance culture?

Before I came to the U.S. I spent many years studying modern dance and the Western culture through visual and performing arts, but you can only learn so much from books and teachers. It’s so different when you are living it. It took me many years to really understand the roots of Western culture and New York City.

Was it always in the cards to start your own company?

I never planned to start a company or to be a choreographer in the U.S. In some ways you think things just suddenly change. But in other ways it’s because you are concentrating so hard on doing well for yourself and educating yourself that things just happen naturally. Being a freelance artist in the city in not easy. But somehow things changed and my work developed to a certain place where people started welcoming it.

What is it about your work that makes it so relatable to mass audiences?

Photo: Stephanie Berger
Photo: Stephanie Berger

I think it’s my focus, passion and research. I only do one or two projects a year. I do this because I want to be reliving the work I am doing which means I do spend a lot adjusting everything and conducting my research. I never do two projects at one time. This way I have nothing distracting me from my work.  My traveling, education and childhood has also helped me understand the sensitivities of both Eastern and Western cultures. This has made me who I am today. My travels have lead me to communicate with many different people and that helps me to grow and appreciate the different cultures and human beings. So, my work may in some ways relates to people on a spiritual level, but it’s hard to say. I am just trying to touch you by communicating honestly through movement.

Can you tell me about the process you went through when creating Map and Near the Terrace?

Both pieces are earlier works and were built in different periods of my life. So, if you experience the whole evening you will see how modern dance can be so different and unique in its own ways. Map is more active, musical and abstract. It’s about discovering new ways of moving and what happens to our movement when universal elements such as gravity are introduced. Near the Terrace showcases the human form and touches more on the spiritual side of human nature. It’s a slower, more visually appealing number.

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

 

Cultural Connections

Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Photo: Uri Nevo
Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Photo: Uri Nevo

For the first time, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company brings its stunning technique and savvy choreography to Dallas, part of the TITAS 2013-14 season.

Dallas — TITAS’ exhilarating 2013-14 season continues with one of Israel’s most prominent dance groups,Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC). Led by Artistic Director Rami Be’er, KCDC will be bringing its raw energy and cultural themes to the Dallas City Performance for two performances on March 1, at 2 and 8 p.m.

The Israeli dance scene has been growing over the past couple of decades thanks to companies like Batsheva Dance Company, Inbal Dance Theater, Bat-Dor Dance Company and Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. While Be’er says dance isn’t necessarily the first option for art enthusiasts compared to music and theater, it is certainly developing.

KCDC International Director Yoni Avital largely attributes this growth to the fact Israel is situated at the crossroads of three major continents. “Thousands of years ago the region was the crossroads and home to the ancient Spice Trade Route, connecting the Roman empire and Africa with East Asia. Today, artists here in Israel also connect these regions via their own trade be it music or dance,” Avital says. “I believe here in Israel you find more fusion and artistic innovation more so than with any other country in the world.” In addition to his role as International Director, Avital is also a professional musician and performs regularly around the world with his group The Shuk. A native New Yorker, Avital moved to Israel with his dancer wife, Dorry Aben, who danced with KCDC from 2009 to 2012.

KCDC was founded by the late Yehudit Arnon in 1970. Born in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, Arnon was a Holocaust survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the war she traveled to Budapest before settling in Kibbutz Ga’aton, Israel in 1948. “The story of Yehudit Arnon is quite exceptional and moving,” Avital says. “For one woman to survive such atrocities and then see one of her young students develop into one of the leading choreographers and become artistic director of one of Israel’s premiere contemporary dance companies is really quite extraordinary.”

“She had an enormous passion for dance and she had such a unique ability to positively influence those around her,” Be’er says. “I think that passion for dance, creativity and creation are the things that Yehudit found in me early on in my own career as a dancer and artist.”

Growing up in Kibbutz Ga’aton, Be’er began taking dance classes with Arnon at the age of three. He studied a variety of styles including Graham, Cunningham, jazz, contact improvisation and dance theatre. He joined KCDC as a dancer in 1981 and was asked by Arnon to take over as artistic director in 1996. “This has been a natural process for me to develop this unique project of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and our International Village here in Kibbutz Ga’aton,” he says.

Photo: Uri Nevo
Photo: Uri Nevo

Arnon created the International Dance Village as part of her mission to bring dance and the local community together. Today, the Dance Village is home to the KCDC main company, second company, 5-and 10-month International Dance Journey program and other year-round programs. “It’s a true dance village and dance community in every sense of the word,” Avital says.

“KCDC’s Dance Village is quite an impressive place to visit for both dance enthusiasts and those who haven’t seen contemporary dance,” Be’er adds. “We currently have nine dance studios, dormitories and a professional 150-seat theater. We are looking to build a new structure in the future that will include more studios and accommodations for international tourists.”

“I love that they live and work in Kibbutz,” says Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS. “It’s a part of their lifestyle and not just a name which I think is great.” Santos came across KCDC on a trip to Israel in December 2012 and was immediately drawn to Be’er’s choreography. “I really liked Rami’s vision, the company’s performance quality and the fact they use their technique instead of just showing us tricks.”

Avital had a similar reaction the first time he saw KCDC perform. “From the first time I sat in KCDC’s Zichri Theatre in the International Dance Village and viewed Rami Be’er’s masterpiece Aide Memoire I was simply blown away. I quickly learned that Rami is a complete artist who not only choreographs, but also works on the set design, music, lighting and essentially every aspect of the polished and finished product.”

Santos adds, “They are really right at the top of the TITAS mission statement. They are international, high quality, somewhat boundary pushing and I think people are really going to like them.”

Dallas audiences will get their chance to experience KCDC for themselves when they come to the Dallas City Performance Hall on March 1, 2014. The company will be performing If At All, a 65-min piece created by Be’er in 2012. “The general theme of this work relates to our human existence in our own relationships; the relationships between the individual to the community; the individual to society, individuals in a two-person relationship and the individual with him or herself.”

In addition to the performance KCDC will also be holding auditions for its Dance Journey program at Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts. “We are looking for talented dancers who have a passion to dance and want to see themselves as professional dancers,” Avital says. “We also want dancers who are creative and are looking for new experiences.” Dancers can register and reserve an audition spot at www.kcdc.co.il/en/auditionregistration

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.