Tag Archives: AT&T Performing Arts Center

Q&A: Emily Molnar, AD of Ballet British Columbia

The artistic director of Ballet British Columbia on starting conversations through dance and performing in Dallas as part of TITAS/Dance Unbound this weekend.

Emily Molnar working with members of Ballet British Columbia. Photo: Michael Slobodian
Dallas — TITAS/Dance Unbound’s 2019-20 season continues with the innovative, intelligent and dynamic Ballet British Columbia (BC), Nov. 8-9, at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Moody Performance Hall. This is Ballet BC’s second time appearing in Dallas, the first occurring in June 2017, and the program looks to be just as bold, beautiful and strange as the last with the Company performing in Aszure Barton’s BUSK (2009) and Johan Inger’s B.R.I.S.A. (2014).

Ballet BC is an internationally acclaimed collaborative and creation-based contemporary ballet company that is a leader and resource in the creation, production and education of contemporary dance in Canada. The Company’s continuing success can be attributed to Artistic Director Emily Molnar who, since her start in 2009, has developed a repertoire of more than 45 news works by acclaimed Canadian and international choreographers, including William Forsythe, Cayetano Soto, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, Medhi Walerski, Ohad Naharin, Crystal Pite and Johan Inger, among many others.

Molnar’s illustrious dance career includes being a member of the National Ballet of Canada, a soloist with the Ballet Frankfurt under director Forsythe and a principal dancer with Ballet BC. Molnar is also a critically acclaimed choreographer and has created works for Alberta Ballet, Ballet Mannheim, Ballet Augsburg, Cedar Lake Dance, ProArteDanza, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company and New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute.

Her numerous artistic accolades include being named The Globe and Mail’s 2013 Dance Artist of the Year, the 2016 recipient of the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award, BC Community Achievement Award and the YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Art Culture & Design. It was also recently announced that Molnar will be leaving Ballet BC to become the new dance director of Netherlands Dance Theater.

We ask Molnar about the journey Dallas audiences will take, the dancers’ daringness on stage and how she feels about the next phase of her career with Netherlands Dance Theater.

TheaterJones: When putting together a program like the one you will be presenting in Dallas what factors do you consider?

Emily Molnar: There are so many different people and levels of conversation that I keep looking at whenever I am trying to put anything together. One of the first things is that there is a choreographer that really has something to say. That is really investing in where dance is today. And I know they are going to bring that into the studio first, and work with our dancers on that conversation to help develop an artist, develop a performer and develop a comment through dance on society.

And then I look at the other side of it, which is when I put anything together what is the experience that our audience is going to go through. What can we offer them as a journey? What can we offer them as a reminder of our humanity or a conversation? But, of course, it’s not up to us to decide that because as you know the performing art is about a conversation. We all can enjoy dancing in and moving in our kitchen. That’s a beautiful thing and it’s very much about being alive. But once you ask someone to be on the other side of that and be in the theater with you then the responsibility you have as a dancer and a choreographer is to really say something with that. To really speak to the people and share ideas through dance with someone. And so I’m always looking at how the whole evening will create something that may raise questions or move an audience to a different observation.

The other gorgeous thing about dance is of all the art forms we are the least documented. The minute that show is over it is a residual. It’s something that echoes in each of us and that’s what’s left. And so that is also a very beautiful thing. A very unique thing about dance. So when I try to put an evening together I’m very aware of diversity. Of variations on ideas that will as a whole create an experience for our audience and create an experience for the artists within the work. And, one that will also help move a choreographer’s artistic vision forward as well.

Photo: Michael Slobodian
Ballet BC Dancer Kirsten Wicklund

For those coming to see Ballet BC for the first time how would you describe your dancers to them?

I can speak from the point of view of what I look for when I am hiring someone, which I do think is what the audience feels at the end of the day, and the responses I get from them. I hear things like generosity and daringness. They can absolutely see the training because we have a classical root that is evident in the type of virtuosity of the body and of the daringness within the way the dancers approach the work.

When we went to Europe last year, I kept hearing audience members say ‘You know, I see a lot of really great dancers, but what we don’t always see is a collective of people that are so clearly on the same path. That are so clearly with the same intention.’ And I think that is really the first thing people feel with our dancers is that they collectively are on the same page. That they are together with a clear intention and then each of them can rise to their own occasions as individuals within that.

I also think people appreciate the virtuosity. That we have a group of dancers who can walk through many different styles of work fluently, and that is very much the hallmark of what the company is about. That we can essentially, as much as possible, be a company that would be every choreographers’ company. That we could go deeply into each person’s process with this type of openness and a toolbox that’s wide enough that we can jump to a different style. And with each year we get stronger in that. Of course, it’s always a big learning curve, but I do think we have very opened and curious artists inside the company. Also, energetically the dancers break down that fourth wall. We really focus on the idea of who’s sitting on the other side is as important as those people that are on stage.

How would you describe Ballet BC’s dance aesthetic?

As far as stylistically what they will see, whether it’s ballet or contemporary, I will say that it’s all of it. It’s a woven tapestry of the very first of the training of that classical dancer, which is the person that’s in the company, but with a lot of training and contemporary aspects of dance. So, what you are going to see stylistically is really the appetite of contemporary ballet today or contemporary dance I would say.

There are so many different ways to go around it, but at the end of the day what you’re seeing more than ever is that the body is an enormous vehicle for expression and we have choreographers today who are able to tap into that. And we have dancers who can tap into that more than ever because every year in schools and companies and choreographic processes around the world we are getting wiser and more sophisticated each time we make a work. You can see that there has been an evolution from what we were able to do 30 years ago, and I think that’s very exciting and what I do like about what we are offering audiences is that we are still making the body the most important expression out on the stage.

At what point in your career did you begin exploring the business side of running a dance company?

It kind of came into my life as early as probably when I was still training in the National Ballet School. I started asking a lot of questions, and I’d often think I was the most challenged dancer in the room because I was fascinated with the creative process and making new work and all of the things that are involved in collaborating with a choreographer. So from the age of 12 I was hypnotized by working with choreographers, but at the same time when I started dancing in companies what I also started looking at was how are we coming together as a company? How are we coaching dancers? How are people being cast? How are we talking to audiences? How are we curating evenings? And I didn’t realize what I was doing, but I started to become very curious about the mechanics of a company. The mechanics of developing a dancer and developing work and I kept thinking ‘Hmm why do I find those as interesting as myself dancing’ and I used to use those questions to help me better myself as a dancer.

By the age of 26 I started to realize I needed other things to come into my life so I could still mature as a performer. I started teaching creative process classes at that point. I also started running a company for youth, and then I started to want to bite off different responsibilities. I just wanted more information, and I wanted to take on more responsibilities. And I went freelance at one point where I was writing all my grants and putting projects together and developing myself as a freelance choreographer. And that’s when all of the management side per say came in and I realized it was starting to complement those other questions I had about the mechanics of running things. That’s when I realized that I have always wanted to direct from a very young age, but I needed certain pieces of the puzzle to come together through my own various experiences in order to help me do the job I am doing right now.

Were there many females in leadership roles in other dance companies when you started working with Ballet BC a decade ago?

I’ll speak specifically to Canada because our ballet companies were founded, most all of them I think, by women — ironically, [they were] not run by women all of the time. We are a female-dominated profession so you would think if anywhere in any profession you would be seeing more female leaders it would be in dance. That was definitely something I was aware of when I started, but I am a person in the way I live my life where again I tend to not put boxes around anything. I am eager for the day where we don’t have to identify ourselves as male or female or anything. Where we can literally be a unique version of ourselves and so I look forward to fewer labels and not more.

So, I never really saw myself as a female or a female trying to be a leader. I just thought I have an idea. I want to try to do this. I do know that the roadblocks getting there were different for me not just because I was a female, but I also didn’t walk out of a ballet company as a principal dancer. So, there are certain politics around directing and I knew I was asking very important questions and I didn’t have the solutions, but the fact that I was even asking them I would hope would make me a positive young leader. But whether I’d ever get an opportunity to exercise those I was absolutely very aware that may never happen. Unless I was willing to start my own company from scratch, which I questioned for many years, because if what I want to build already exists then it shouldn’t be built. There needs to be a need for what I would be building and I didn’t want a company that was just about my own work. I wanted a company that was about many peoples work. And so I felt already that Ballet BC existed and I felt there were other companies that existed in that manner. So it wasn’t about me making a company. It would have to be about me coming into a company that needed a new director.

What can we do to help nurture female leaders in dance going forward?

I think this issue is more prevalent in the ballet world than the contemporary dance world. We have a lot female choreographers and female directors at their own companies in the contemporary dance world. But in the ballet world I would agree there’s an enormous intelligence in the female voice that is, thank goodness, now being more observed. But I also think it starts much earlier if you ask my opinion, which is how are we as leaders using our platform to really make this an initiative. I don’t think it’s a lack of talent. We need to start at a very young age at addressing people’s questions. So, when you see a young person whether they’re male or female if they have a desire we need to start to give them opportunities much earlier on. And allow them to build confidence so that when they do develop in their careers that they feel like they can try.

Congrats on your new role as dance director of Netherlands Dance Theater. What prompted this move?

I am definitely in the early stages of this transition and so what I can say is it’s a great time for a new director to come in to Ballet BC. We’re healthy and things are much different than they were 10 year ago so I feel very excited for the company. There’s also a lot of directors that have an interest in the company, so I think it is also a beautiful opportunity for a new leader to come in. I wasn’t searching this out to be completely honest. I did know that if I was going to do my job well as a leader I need to look at just not what I do within an organization, but also how I leave an organization. So, I was aware that in the next few years it would probably be a positive choice for me to move on so that someone else can come in and refresh the button, and just bring me a new point of view within the organization and also for our audiences.

My decision has nothing to do with not wanting to stay at Ballet BC. This opportunity with Netherlands Dance Theater was just something I couldn’t turn down. It is also an opportunity for me to take a new step and I am excited about that. It is a gorgeous company and it still falls in line with a lot of the things that I’ve been working on and I am excited to see what I can bring to that beautiful legacy of the company and also to their future potential. And I am also excited to see what’s going to happen Ballet BC.

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

 

Preview: DBDT 2019 Director’s Choice Series

Fire Within

Dallas Black Dance Theatre digs deep to find their fire in Nijawwon Matthews’s new work, From Within, part of the company’s Director’s Choice this weekend.

Photo: Courtesy DBDT
Nijawwon Matthews

 

Dallas — Edgy, exhilarating and athletic are some of the words that come to mind while watching a video teaser for Nijawwon Matthews’ new work, From Within, on Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Facebook page. In the video clip the dancers execute a series of pendulum floor swings in sequence before suddenly shifting direction and then changing direction again. I couldn’t help but marvel at the dancers’ strength and stamina as well as that special communal bond that is always present when this group dances together.

In talking with Matthews about this moment I learned that the pendulum swings are meant to symbolize a grandfather clock to remind us of how we are always fighting against time. And if you look closer you will also noticed that Matthews has set up the movement so that the dancers’ rhythm goes against the music instead of with the music.

When asked about this choice, Matthews says, “I did not want them to count because when we get into dance and do counts we start thinking and moving in such a mechanical way. I’m more into artistic freedom and artistic expression, and the artistic exploration of timing without being timed.”

He continues, “I just had them go and then I would say ‘ok the rhythm is going to go here, and Xavier you will start by doing four and you’ll add in on the next four’ and so every four someone will add in.”

Growing up Matthews trained in many dance forms, including ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, African, partnering methods and social dances. His performance credits include Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Cecilia Marta Dance Company, Philadanco! and Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company. He has also worked with prominent artists such as Donald McKayle, Christopher L. Huggins, Milton Myers, Otis Sallid, Kevin Iega Jeff, Gary Abbott and George Faison.

As a dance instructor and choreographer, Matthews has traveled nationally and internationally to instruct master classes and choreograph for a host of academic schools, dance studios and professional companies as well as institutions in the British Virgin Islands, Germany, South Africa, China, Bermuda, Curacao, Peru, Helsinki, Italy and Taiwan.

Matthews is also the founder and artistic director of his own project-based company, XY Dance Project. He is also on staff at The Joffrey Ballet School and Broadway Dance Center in New York where he has been living for the last ten years.

Even through their paths have crossed a few times at the International Association of Blacks in Dance annual conference, Matthews says that this was his first time really getting to know DBDT. “I saw the dancers perform last year at Alvin Ailey and they just blew me away. They are probably one of the top companies that is giving you pure art, dance and technique. No one’s lazy, and everyone is passionate.”

He adds, “You see the soul of who they are on that stage and it made me want to jump on stage with them and it made me want to create on them.”

Fast forward a year and Matthews’s wish came true when he was invited to come create a work on DBDT for its Director’s Choice performance Nov. 1-3 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Matthews’s From Within will be performed alongside Stephen Mills’s Bounce and Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance.

Reflecting on his time working with DBDT, Matthews says, “It was so much fun! Everybody was working hard. I was inspired and I hope I inspired them. I am just so thankful and blessed to be given this opportunity.”

Matthews notes that he wouldn’t have had this chance if it wasn’t for the recommendations by Melanie Person and Christopher L. Huggins of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Huggins in particular has had a profound impact on Matthews’s life both personally and professionally.

“Christopher has been a huge part of my life since I was 19 years old. And I am just thankful for him and everything that he has contributed to my life and my love of dance. He has always had my back and he doesn’t just say it. He puts it to action. And the fact he is willing to do that shows me that not only is he a master as an artist and a choreographer, but he is also the master of his own humanity.”

Matthews says what also made his experience with DBDT enjoyable was Artistic Director Melissa M. Young’s warm and endearing personality. “She is such a down to earth, open and loving artistic director. She’s just so humble. So cool. And she get the work done.”

Matthews says the concept for his piece, which includes excerpts of Maya Angelou’s narration of “Still I Rise,” was born out of a dark place and is about being able to find the fire within to keep fighting against life’s constant hurtles.

“For me, it’s an experience of how do you leave the trauma and the drama that had happened to you behind and how do you allow that to not dictate the path of your life. And so fighting and striving toward the better good of what you want for your life and how do you fight the negativity to always stay on that positive lane.”

He adds, “It’s a fight for one’s soul. It’s a fight to ensure that you find the power and the fight from within to be the person that really showcases your best self no matter what situation you’re put in or you’re going through.”

And what better individual to draw inspiration from to broadcast this message than Maya Angelou, Matthews tells me. Matthews also notes that while this work is inspired by Angelou, it is not about the life of this prolific figure.

“The fact that she did not speak for such a long time says a lot about this person who then became such a brilliant writer, motivational speaker, director and dancer, and such greatness even after all the trauma she’s been through. We have all been through this kind of similar experience and we all handle it differently.”

He continues, “So my hope for this work is that it serves the emotional spirit of the soul. It’s really to serve that and to see with curiosity what comes out when you watch the piece. What do you as an audience member and what do you as a dancer on stage feel, and what’s happening inside of you as this piece progresses along.”

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Launches Arts-Lab Residency in Dallas

DCCD Arts Lab
DCCDUSA Launches Arts-Lab Residency. Photo: Courtesy of DCCDUSA

Some great news from my friends at Dark Circles Contemporary Dance hit my inbox this weekend. The Dallas-based professional dance troupe has announced the launch of the DCCDUSA Arts-Lab Residency, which is in partnership with Dallas ISD and AT&T Performing Arts Center.

The e-mail states that this profound program for the 2019-20 academic year embeds DCCDUSA’s full artistic staff, including directors, composer, lyricist, actors and musicians into H. Grady Spruce High School to provide a hands-on look at the process for devising a brand-new work. Focusing on our neighborhoods as centers of art-making, DCCDUSA will be working on-site to promote the direct exchange of knowledge between artists, students and educators in order to foster a more authentic and wholistic understanding of art-making beyond the boundaries of traditional outreach and Artist-in-Residence programs.

Kudos DCCDUSA! Keep up the great work!

 

 

 

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Spring Celebration Series

Dance Vibes

 

Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Jasmine White-Killins on revealing a new layer of herself in Darrell Grand Moutrie’s Execution of a Sentiment, part of the Spring Celebration Series.

Dallas — A recent video posted to Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Facebook page (seen above) caught my eye for it sheds a new light on company dancer Jasmine White-Killins who, in the clip, is practicing her adagio solo in choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s new work, Execution of a Sentiment. Known for her powerful technical execution and poised stage presence, White-Killins surprised me with her quiet control and raw vulnerability.

I reached out to White-Killins to find out more about Moultrie’s new piece, which premieres at DBDT’s Spring Celebration Series, May 17-19, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. The jam-packed program also includes Jamal Story’s aerial duet What to Say: Notes on Echo and Narcissus; a new work by DBDT company member Claude Alexander III entitled A Tender Pardon; and a performance from special guests Ballet Hispánico.

Originally from Cincinnati, White-Killins moved to Dallas after high school to attend Southern Methodist University where she earned a B.F.A. in dance performance and a minor in Arts Management. Her dance training has also included The Ailey School, Martha Graham School and the Cincinnati Ballet Academy. White-Killins performed two seasons with DBDT: ENCORE! before joining DBDT where she has spent the last four seasons.

“It was a very refreshing thing to do. It feels almost like meditation,” White-Killins says about performing the short solo. “And I owe a lot of that ability to Darrell because he was very good at looking at each dancer and accepting where ever you were at that moment.”

Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Jasmine White-Killins

She continues, “He said I needed to just center myself and kind of find my inner strength and my vulnerability and being okay with going to that place. So, when I do the solo I always get very emotional because it really makes me look inward.”

While White-Killins makes every move in the solo look effortless she tells me that getting it to this point was harder than she initially thought. She explains, “There are a couple of moments were he has me holding some very technical balances like a passé or arabesque, but he’s like ‘just hold it and get to it with no wobbles and no shakes. Just be there.’ And I think that as a professional I got this and then you get up there and try to do it with all the emotion and you realize that you are not as strong as you thought,” she laughingly says.

One of the most challenging moments in the solo is where White-Killins is balancing on one leg and then she has to drop her body three times without wobbling. As for how she accomplishes this feat White-Killins says, “Darrell said you have to be invested so much in that space and that weight that you’re going down to, which is just taking you into a deeper and deeper place. And so, once I started to look at it from that perspective it’s so much easier to get wrapped up in that. And when I do it now I just feel so right there!”

Overall, White-Killins says it was a very refreshing experience working with Moultrie again. She had the pleasure of working with him in high school and then later at The Ailey School. “He treats us very much so like individuals and he was very clear that he wanted each person to express their individuality and that no one is going to look like the other person.”

She continues, “The experience was just eye opening for us. He literally gave us so many technical notes, but also just notes about being interested in what we are doing. He said that as artists and professional dancers it’s our responsibility to figure out what each step means and what each step represents. Even down to the smallest gesture. He was very big on that.”

She adds, “He also had us focus a lot on showing emotion through your body and not so much in your face. A lot of times he would tell us that our face is doing all this stuff, but he wasn’t seeing that in our body. So he was very big on the vocabulary coming through the movement and not necessarily putting it on like we would do in more theatrical pieces.”

White-Killins describes the work as physical demanding with a concept that doesn’t follow a particular narrative or chronological order. “There isn’t just one sentiment being shown. There are lots of sentiments being shown in the three sections of the work. We start out moving big and fast, which leads into an adagio section and then the pace picks up again.”

As for the feeling of the piece White-Killins says, “I think everybody is very individual and their journey is something completely different. Everybody’s path is different.”

She adds, “When Darrell taught us the movement he would always start out by saying ‘so the feeling is’ and then he would do all this movement and it would happen single time. So we would always start with the feeling of it and everybody’s feelings and steps were completely different.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Aladdin, Habibi

MAGIC MOVES

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance takes us to a whole new world in Joshua L. Peugh’s Aladdin, Habibi, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

DCCD Company Member Chadi El-Khoury. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas — Over the last seven years Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh has wowed us again and again with his insightful and unique perspective on the human condition as well as today’s social norms. He transfers this information to his dancers using a combo of classical and modern movements infused with his own special blend of grounded footwork, knee-bruising floor work and happenstance partnering. His aesthetic demands that the dancers be comfortable in their own skin, yet open and vulnerable on stage.

Peugh is asking this and much more from the company in his first evening-length creation, Aladdin, حبيبي, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, Oct. 11-14, at the Wyly Theatre. The immersive 75-minute production focuses on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures. The work is based on the folk tale of “The Story of Aladdin” or “The Wonderful Lamp,” first written in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights).

Peugh says this process all began while browsing through a book store one Sunday morning. “I found a copy of Arabian Nights and the first line in the book is once upon a time in China. See when most people think of Aladdin they think of the 1992 Disney movie, but Aladdin was actually Chinese and the story was added later on by Frenchman Antoine Galland.”

He continues, “This was one aspect of the work. The other being company member Chadi El-khoury’s personal story, which includes his mom bringing him and his brother to America when he was 11 years old. We go to his Mom’s house every Sunday and she always calls her children Habibi, an Arabic endearment like ‘sweetheart,’ and it’s why the title of the work is called Aladdin, Habibi. We put the term in Arabic to signal to these people that their voice is being represented here.”

Peugh also points out that the work will feature a new score from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a six-piece band. The production also includes costumes designed by Susan Austin and lighting by Bart McGeehon.

“I honestly didn’t know what the music was going to look like until I got started with the dancers, but we needed music before rehearsals began and so I ended up sending Brandon a list of plot points and asked him to make them musical numbers. We started off with 20 minutes of music and have gone back and forth a lot until we got to today’s product.”

In the work the dancers also double as stage hands, which was evident during the run through I saw at Preston Center Dance in Dallas last Wednesday morning. When not executing movement in the center, the dancers are constructing a tent out of canes and fabric, playing a game of cards and actively observing their surroundings, just to give a few examples.

Peugh explains, “We played a lot of theater games and one of them was about making yourself very present and aware and basing everything you do on things outside your circle so you are inviting things to happen instead of making them happen, which is already the principles that I run the company on in the first place, but we are now expanding that in different directions.”

The example he gives is in regard to the architecture of the room. Because this show follows a narrative, Peugh had his dancers do a lot of exercises that had to do with using what is there in the space. “Everything you see in the show is stuff that was laying around the studio. So, everything is sort of a found object and not a created one and that mirrors the world we are trying to create in this dance.”

There were a lot of moving parts just within the first 20 minutes that I got to see of the show, so I will try to break it down for you without giving too much away. Company veteran El-khoury portrays the role of Aladdin and we get to witness his inner struggle of questioning certain rules and customs of the culture that he was born into and then coming to America and trying to fit in here. El-khoury’s journey of discovery involves two genies: the genie of the ring played by Jaiquan Laurencin and the genie of the lamp played by Lena Oren.

El-khoury moves with laser focus and incredible control during rehearsal. Deep lunges, swirling arms and rhythmic hip isolations are at the crux of most of his individual movement phrases. Over the last two years he has put on some noticeable bulk and his technical execution and artistic depth continues to flourish with every new piece the company puts out.

“He works really hard to make this happen,” Peugh says about El-khoury’s artistic growth. “He still works a full time corporate job and he works really hard to dance the way he wants. He has grown incredibly in the last several years. He’s fighting for it and he really loves dancing and it give him pleasure so that’s ultimately where it all starts from in the first place.”

Peugh admits that the creative process for this show has been a completely new experience for him. He doesn’t like to give his dancers too many details because he likes to see how the dancers take the material and make it their own. So, sitting down with the dancers after every rehearsal to talk about the narrative is really a foreign concept for him. Peugh says on the second day of rehearsals he asked the dancers to bring in a list or make a presentation to the group about the question ‘What is Middle Eastern?’ and from there he had the dancers take their lists and make a movement phrase based off one plotline in the story, and that is how the choreography for the show came to fruition.

“It was a really organic process,” Peugh says. “This has been one of the most fun, creative processes I have ever had. I have learned a ton and I am super proud of the work everyone has done. Everyone has put in a lot more than a few hours of learning steps.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Princess in Training, Texas Ballet Theater’s Cinderella

Paige Nyman on becoming a princess for Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cinderella this weekend in Dallas.

Dallas — Every young girl dreams of one day becoming a Disney princess, including Texas Ballet Theater’s Paige Nyman who will get to live out her childhood fantasy in the company’s production of Cinderella at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House Aug. 24-26. “I have always related most to Belle and Cinderella,” says Nyman, who is celebrating her 10th season with TBT. “I relate to Belle because I love reading books too, and I have always admired Cinderella’s resiliency and her ability to find hope and make the best in every situation.”

Paige Nyman of TBT. Photo: Steven Visneau

Nyman started dancing at the age of 3 in her hometown of Kansas City. At 16, she received a scholarship to the Harid Conservatory where she trained under Svetlana Osiyeva, Oliver Pardina and Victoria Schneider. Nyman joined TBT in 2009 and since then has performed roles in Ben Stevenson’s DraculaSleeping BeautyPeer GyntRomeo and JulietCinderella and Four Last Songs, among others. She has also performed in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante, Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries, Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, Harold Lander’s Etudes and the title role in Carlos Acosta’s Carmen.

This production marks Nyman’s first time performing a lead role in one of Stevenson’s acclaimed story ballets, an incredible opportunity Nyman says she is more excited than nervous about. “This is such a fun legacy to be a part of and I am enjoying finding who I am in the character. Cinderella has this wonderful innate sense of hope, joy and happiness, but also experiences deep hurt and sadness and it has been a fun challenge to learn how to internalize everything.”

In rehearsals the dancers work equal parts on technique and acting, which Nyman says is really what separates Stevenson’s story ballet from other ballet companies. “He just understands what audiences want to see and what we, the dancers, want to do. He is always finding new ways to keep the story ballets fresh.”

These story ballets are just one of many aspects Nyman enjoys about being a part of TBT. “This is one of the most welcoming places I have ever encountered. From the start I was afforded the chance to work closely with the other company members and choreographers and it has been a wonderful journey for me these past 10 seasons.” She adds, “Ben continues to stretch our boundaries while also staying grounded in his story ballets and I just feel at home here.”

Nyman admits that the road to becoming Cinderella isn’t all tutus and tiaras. “Dancing with inanimate object like a broom can be hard. It doesn’t reason with you,” she jokes.

Nyman is referring to the kitchen scene where she is imagining she is at the ball dancing with a handsome prince when in reality she is covered in filth dancing with a broom. This dance segment led to one of Nyman biggest questions about the process, which was how to keep the role authentic through these quick emotional changes. She explains, “I wanted to know how to create a natural transition from the high of imagining I am at the ball to suddenly realizing I am at home dancing with a broom.”

Nyman has also had to shift her mindset from being one of many dancers in the corps to taking center stage. “There’s this wonderful sense of camaraderie in the corps because we all have the same goal, which is to be the picture frame for the lead dancers. But when you transition into doing a lead role you have to step outside that mindset of amenity. You have to face the fact that the goal is that everyone is looking at you, and maintaining that level of engagement is a beautiful responsibility.”

And like all dancers Nyman has a ritual she does before every performance that might sound kooky to some, but continues to work in her favor. “In the dressing room I have to put my left eyelash on first, my left earring and my right pointe. That is my secret recipe.”

 

The Texas Ballet Theater season also features:

  • Ben Stevenson’s Cleopatra (accompanied by Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) at Bass Performance Hall: Sept. 28-30, 2018
  • Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker at Winspear Opera House, Nov. 23-25 and Nov. 30-Dec. 2, before transitioning to Bass Performance Hall Dec. 7-9; Dec. 13; Dec. 15-16; Dec. 20-24. The Nutty Nutcracker, an unconventional take on the holiday classic, will be at Bass Performance Hall Dec. 14.
  • The first mixed repertoire, March 1-3, 2019, at Bass Performance Hall features the work of two renowned choreographers, William Forsythe and Christopher Bruce in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and Ghost Dances, respectively. TBT dancer Andre Silva will share his contemporary choreography in a world premiere called 11:11.
  • A collection of works by TBT Artistic Director, Ben Stevenson, O.B.E., is on the bill for the second mixed repertoire and includes Four Last SongsTwilightEsmerelda (pas de deux only) and L. The pieces will be performed at Bass Performance Hall March 29-31, 2019.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Elevator Project announces 2018-19 season and it includes two diverse dance groups!

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
The Big Bad Wolf from Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

Out of the eight arts groups and performers selected to participate in the Elevator Project’s 2018-19 season two of them are well known dance troupes! 

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) continues to reshape how we view contemporary dance with its Gaga-inspired movement choices and relevant narratives based on Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh’s life experiences and his limitless imagination. DCCD will present Aladdin, حبيبي  at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre Oct. 11-14. The new evening-length work is a meditation on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures, according to DCCD.

A new score for the work has been commissioned from composer and Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a five-piece band on a mixture of Arabic, African and western instruments. The production will feature lighting and scenic designs by Bart McGeehon. Susan Austin will provide the costume design.

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Indique Dance Company. Photo: Courtesy

On the other side of the dance spectrum is Indique Dance Company, a classical Indian performance company that was started in 2008 by Sarita Venkatraman, Shalini Varghese, Latha Shrivasta, Anu Sury, Kruti Patel, Bhuvana Venkatraman and Shilpi Mehta. The group’s goal has been to reach a broader, more diverse audience by blending modern, relevant themes with the story-telling artistry of Indian classical dance styles. They will be doing just with its newest production, SvaBhava,at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Hamon Hall Dec. 6-8.

SvaBhava is the intrinsic, essential nature of living beings. The post goes on to say human beings have the extraordinary ability and privilege to create meaning in their lives, but how do we give our lives meaning? Many cultures from around the world have aspired to rid the mind, body, and spirit of selfishness, pride, and dishonesty exemplified in the way we treat others. This Bharatanatyam dance production is based on these ideals and how it affects our daily life.

Congrats to these two dance troupes! Can’t wait to see their shows!

 

 

 

Q&A: Avery-Jai Andrews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avery-Jai Andrews. Photo: Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you explain Friday evening’s program to me?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Favorite New Dance Works in 2017

Donkey Beach from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. Photo: Mark Lowry

It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.

And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.

We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.

So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.

And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.

In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:

Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou

Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.

Meant to be Seen from Bombshell Dance Project. Photo: Lynn Lane

Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman

In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.

Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger

Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.

HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh

Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.

 

Albert Drake rehearsing Chasing Home for Bruce Wood Dance. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Chasing Home by Albert Drake

The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.

Interpretations by Sean J. Smith

Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.

Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate

Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.

This 2017 in dance review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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