You can always count on Avant Chamber Ballet to get you into the holiday spirit without sending you into a Christmas coma!
Known as a nutcracker rebel, Katie Cooper of Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) likes to steer clear of traditional Nutcracker productions. Instead she likes to focuses on other seasonal tales to create memorable holiday performances such as A Ballet Christmas Carol, Holiday Celebration and Nutcracker: Short and Suite.
ACB will once again be performing its Nutcracker: Short and Suite in Southlake, TX, on Nov. 15, but this time the company has a special treat for viewers. In addition to its Nutcracker rendition, ACB will also present the world premiere of Cooper’s Winter from Vivaldi’s “The Seasons.” The one-hour family-friendly performance will feature ACB’s 16 professionally-trained dancers, Cezanne String Quartet, plus new costumes and choreography. Cooper also points out that this will be the only professional dance production in the mid-cities area this year.
“This performance is a perfect introduction to live classical music and dance,” Cooper says in a recent press release. “Vivaldi’s ‘The Seasons’ is one of the most recognized pieces of music, but to see it with choreography and dance takes it to another level for the viewer. Nutcracker: Short and Suite is the second half of the evening with the best parts of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and all the characters that you love.”
AKA: Ballet offers up a unique experience for both viewers and performers at the Latino Cultural Center tomorrow night.
From left: Carter Alexander, Hailey von Schlehenried, and Albert Drake of aka: Ballet. Photo: AKA: Ballet
Dallas — Hailey von Schlehenried is one of many local choreographers reaping the benefits of the changes that have been made to the Dallas dancescape over the last several years. Von Schlehenried first caught the public’s eye at Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2017 Women’s Choreography Project (WCP) and then again at Dallas DanceFest (DDF) later that summer. She has also recently been asked to set a piece for Wanderlust Dance Project, which marks another first for the blossoming artist.
It was at DDF where von Schlehenried met Carter Alexander (associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts) who asked if she would be interested in doing a collaboration the following summer. One thing lead to another and von Schlehenried is currently in the final stages of two new works, which will be presented alongside new pieces by Alexander and Albert Drake of Bruce Wood Dance at AKA: Ballet’s premiere performance at the Latino Cultural Center this Friday.
The performance will feature many familiar dancers, including Kaitlyn McDermitt, formerly with Avant Chamber Ballet; Alyssa Harrington, formerly with Dallas Black Dance Theatre; Alizah Wilson, Adrian Aquirre of Bruce Wood Dance; and Riley Moyano, Amanda Fairweather and Alex Danna of Texas Ballet Theater.
“We are so happy to have these dancers and they have been working so tirelessly in preparation for the show,” von Schlehenried says.
For this performance von Schlehenried has created two pieces: a classical pointe number and a more contemporary work. She describes the pointe work as fluid and free, and in contrast the contemporary work is visually darker, which meshes well with its theme about sinning. “I was really inspired by the music for the contemporary piece which is really centered on the idea of sin. The dancers pass around this scarf throughout the dance, which represents this idea of passing off our sins to someone else,” von Schlehenried says. “And the pointe piece is all about letting go and getting the dancers outside their classical boxes so that they appear to be surrendering to a situation.”
Von Schlehenried says her dancers played a big part in the creative process for both pieces. “I really wanted this to be a collaboration so I had the dancers brainstorm with me, which really makes them feel like they have a say and also relaxes the dancers. They all possess this amazing creative energy which helped make the process so much easier.”
Von Schlehenried is especially close with McDermitt who has had a role in almost every work she has put out since 2013. She even goes as far as calling McDermitt her lucky charm. “It just seems that every time I am working on a special project Kaitlyn is always in it. She is such a lovely person and is so into what she is doing, which really makes her a positive force for me and the arts community.”
McDermitt has definitely been paving a way for herself in the Dallas arts scene with gigs, including a couple of seasons with Katie Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet, performances at local festivals such as Plano Dance Festival and DDF as well as partaking in local arts events, including Dallas RAW and AKA: Ballet. She also teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and is a member of Ballet North Texas. She graduated from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts with a BFA in dance performance in 2012.
You can see McDermitt and the other performers in von Schlehenried’s, still untitled, works this Friday evening at the Latino Cultural Center. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com. You can make a donation to the show at www.fracturedatlas.org.
Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2018-19 season includes a new family program and new collaborations with local musicians and singers as well as works by Paul Mejia, Christopher Wheeldon and George Balanchine.
Dallas – What I admire most about Katie Cooper is her tenacity when it comes to the business end of running a ballet company. It is very easy for artistic directors to get lost in their own heads and lose touch with what is happening right in their own dance communities. But that has never been the case for Cooper. Her eyes have remained opened to the Dallas dance scene and the global ballet industry. Her company continues to thrive because of her industry know how and fresh ideologies when it comes choreographing and presenting ballet works. She is definitely someone that future choreographers and directors in the area should get to know.
For its 2018-19 season Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) will be presenting David Lang’s the little match girl passion, Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses and world premieres by Cooper and by the soon-to-be-announced winner of the 2018 Women’s Choreography Project commission. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! The company will also be performing more works by George Balanchine and Paul Mejia.
The music for the season includes Vivaldi, Ragtime, George Gershwin, Astor Piazzolla local composer Quinn Mason and a collaboration with singers from the Dallas-based Verdigris Ensemble. And just like all of its performances ACB will be dancing to live accompaniment.
You better start marking your calendars now. You don’t want to miss any of these shows!
A copy of the official press release can be found below:
Avant Chamber Ballet’s artistic director Katie Cooper and music director David Cooper announce the company’s 2018-2019 season, featuring three subscription productions at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District and the launch of the new Family Saturdays series. The season includes world premieres by Katie Cooper and Women’s Choreography Project, as well as works by Paul Mejia, Christopher Wheeldon and George Balanchine.
“Our seventh season is our biggest yet with five new works, collaborations, and touring,” says Katie Cooper. “We are also excited about starting the Family Saturdays program, which will expose new audiences to the joy of live music and dance.”
The subscription season opens with David Lang’s the little match girl passion, a collaboration with the Dallas-based Verdigris Ensemble. Together on stage, the dancers of Avant Chamber Ballet and the singers of Verdigris Ensemble will bring to life Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning setting of the famous Hans Christian Andersen story. This will be the first time a contemporary choral work will be staged with ballet in Dallas.
In February, Avant Chamber Ballet returns to Moody Performance Hall with Romance and Ragtime. The performances will encompass four ballets with live music: a company premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, a world premiere by the soon-to-be-announced winner of the 2018 Women’s Choreography Project commission, and world premieres of Katie Cooper’s The Seasons with music by Vivaldi and Ragtime with music by Scott Joplin.
Closing the season will be Fascinating Rhythms – an exciting evening of dance and live music by George Gershwin, Astor Piazzolla, and local composer Quinn Mason. Returning to the repertoire will be George Balanchine’s Who Cares? – an audience favorite that perfectly pairs Gershwin’s toe-tapping melodies with Balanchine’s genius choreography. Paul Mejia’s Cafe Victoria, a company premiere, features Piazzolla’s alluring Contrabajissimo. The program closes with a collaboration between choreographer Katie Cooper and Dallas-based composer Quinn Mason. The performance will mark the world premiere of both Cooper’s choreography and of Mason’s String Quartet No. 2.
Family Saturdays is a subscription series for young audiences to experience live music and dance in an engaging and family-friendly environment. Each Family Saturdays performance will be one hour long and will feature the professional dancers of Avant Chamber Ballet accompanied by live music. The series will be held at 2:30 pm on December 8, February 23, and May 4 at Moody Performance Hall, and will offer area families a perfect introduction to the performing arts.
I was starting to wonder if Dallas DanceFest was even going to happen this year, but my reservations were laid to rest last week when the Dance Council of North Texas announced on its Facebook page the dance companies that will be participating in this year’s festival, which has been strategically renamed Dallas Dances.
The festival has received criticism from the beginning about its focus on mainly local dance companies and for its inclusion of pre-professionals from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Local Dance Critic Manuel Mendoza touched on these sore points in his review of last year’s Dallas DanceFest, which boasted the question “Why doesn’t Dallas have the dance festival that it deserves?”
In his review Mendoza basically says that by including the pre-professional dance studios, high schools and university programs in the area the festival is actually doing a disservice to the more established dance companies in the area.
He writes, “North Texas professional companies are the ones putting the area on the dance map even as they struggle to find suitable places to perform in a town starved of small, affordable venues. They are the groups competing for public and private grants so they can aim high, so they can someday pay their dancers something close to what their New York counterparts earn.”
He continues, “Most important, they are the ones doing the most complex, interesting work.”
What I think people are overlooking is that the mission of the Dance Council is not to exclusively support and promote just the professionals in the area, but also the up and coming professionals that stem from the local studios, performing arts schools and universites. And I think this is where the mission of Dallas DanceFest starts to get murky. Is the festival suppose to only highlight the professionals in the area? Or is its main target the young professionals and giving them a unique performance opportunity?
Apparently festival organizers have decided it’s a little bit of both if this year’s line up is any indicator.
I think the Dance Council has come to realize that they should stick true to their overall mission, which is fostering and promoting every type of dance and dancer in the Metroplex and I believe the name change better reflects the vibrancy and diversity of the Dallas dance community.
With that said, here are the dance companies performing at this year’s Dallas Dances:
AKA Ballet’s first performance will feature new works by Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander, but they need your help!
Summer is usually a slow time for dancers as most dance companies take a break during the hot summer months to prepare for the next season. And most dance schools have changed their schedule to focus primarily on dance camps, which leaves many teachers with less hours and a smaller income. It is especially hard for freelance dancers to find work during the summer as the job market comes to a standstill and won’t pick up again till September when Nutcracker preparations begin.
With all this in mind three local choreographers are looking to change things up this summer with a new choreography project!
Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander have joined forces to create AKA Ballet, a new choreographic endeavor which features six new works to be presented at the Dallas Latino Cultural Center in July. The catch is the three creators are hoping to raise the funds needed to pay the dancers, musicians and technical crew prior to show, thus making the event FREE to attendees.
A lot of dance companies in the area have turned to crowdfunding to finance certain projects, performances or specific individuals. I typically just scroll past these posts on Facebook, but something about AKA Ballet’s project made me pause and click on their link https://www.gofundme.com/akaballet
I ended up contributing to this project because I have seen work produced by all three choreographer so, I know they will give us something that is high caliber as well as aesthetically moving and stylistically diverse. If you are not familiar with these three individuals: Drake is a member of Bruce Wood Dance and has produced two works for the company, Whispers (2015) and Chasing Home (2017). Von Schlehenried teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and her choreography has been featured at Dallas DanceFest 2017 and Avant Chamber Ballet’ Women’s Choreography Project. Alexander is the associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts and has set work on local dance companies like Contemporary Ballet Dallas. He also served as school prinicpal at the Miami City Ballet School for seven years before returning to Dallas.
When asked about the idea of free admission von Schlehenried says, “We really just want people to embrace the art and come see what we are doing and tell us what they think. We also want to provide more job opportunities for those working in the arts community which is why we are asking for donations so we can also pay for the music and the lighting and the theater as well as the dancers.”
She adds, “Carter is really the one that got the ball rolling on this project. He approached me last year after Dallas DanceFest about doing some kind of collaboration next summer and of course I said YES! I just think this is an awesome idea and hopefully it can become something bigger in the future.”
Drake is also pumped for the opportunity to create work outside his comfort zone. He writes on this Facebook page, “I’m excited to challenge myself on a new front and dive into an experience I didn’t know was possible. The chance to work with some really talented individuals with the freedom of expression is the dream baby.”
Hailey also hinted that the three of them might be working on a piece together in addition to their own individual works. I am interested to see what a classical, modern and Flamenco dancer can come up with.
As the time draws closer I will be making visits to rehearses to see how the collaboration is going as well as get a sneak peak at the works, which I will then share on my blog. So, please mark your calendars for July 29th and don’t forget to donate!
Avant Chamber Ballet reaches new emotional depths in Kimi Nikaidoh’s latest work, The Face of Water, part of the company’s Women’s Choreography Project this weekend.
Dallas — If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching Kimi Nikaidoh’s choreography it is that she likes to take you on a journey either musically, emotionally or narratively speaking. Her first work, Find Me (2015), for Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) was a beautiful tribute to Wood’s aesthetic and evoked warm, happy feelings. Her second work, Bloom (2016), was more introspective and carried the theme of healing and recovery with more of a straight forward narrative. In Nikaidoh’s newest work, The Face of Water, she uses a range of emotions and the highs and lows within the music to drive the movement home.
“So, the piece doesn’t follow a narrative, but is more about an emotional journey,” Nikaidoh says. “In the music there are these beautiful moments that feel to me like new beginnings. I’m talking about these long, stretched out notes that felt like one thing has finished and a new thing is starting. In the music I hear a lot of activity, turmoil and what I started to frame in my head as work, and then what follows these sections are these sweeter, longer notes of hope and new beginnings.”
Watching Avant Chamber Ballet rehearse The Face of Water at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas last week I was surprised by the amount of ballet vocabulary and other classical elements Nikaidoh chose to use in the piece. But really I shouldn’t be surprised, since a ballerina was all Nikaidoh wanted to be until injuries and the advice of others lead her to audition for the Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) when she was 18. Leading up to this Nikaidoh had trained with Tanju and Patricia Tuzer, Canada’s National Ballet School, the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theater.
Nikaidoh danced with BWDC until 2004 when she moved to New York to have ankle surgery and earn a degree in neuroscience from Columbia University. During this time she also continued to perform with various groups, including Bruce Wood Dance, Thang Dao Dance Company, Columbia Ballet Collaborative and Emery LeCrone Dance. Nikaidoh also toured nationally and internationally with Complexions Contemporary Dance. After Wood’s death in 2014 Nikaidoh decided to return home and eventually took over the reins of BWD.
The Face of Water is one of two new works ACB will present as part of its Women’s Choreography Project (WCP),April 21-22, at Moody Performance Hall. The other work is Day Vignettes by former Ballet Austin dancer Michelle Thompson Ulerich with new music by composer Catherine Davis. ACB’s entire program, titled Moving Music, will also feature George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s The American Pas de Deux and Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A. Each piece will be accompanied by live music.
When asked about her decision to have Nikaidoh set a piece on the company, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says, “I’ve known Kimi since I was a teenager and I’ve always admired her as an artist both as a dancer and now as a choreographer and director. Her work is very balletic, but the center of gravity is lower like Bruce’s work so it’s a nice change from our more classical repertoire.”
Inspired by Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece Tenebrae, The Face of Water is an emotional rollercoaster that forces the dancers to delve deeper into their own psyche. In between trios and quartets Nikaidoh has incorporated standard pas de deux and corps work that feature the dancers’ gorgeous lines, pliable spines and supple feet, which will be adorned in ballet slippers for this number. Like Cooper, Nikaidoh preferred to keep the corps in motion with continuous formation changes and stage entrances that challenged both the dancers’ musical timing and spatial awareness. You can see Nikaidoh’s own personal touches sprinkled throughout the piece, but especially in the dancers’ port de bra arms and the quieter moments in the music where the dancers had to rely on smaller gestures and unlikely body shapes to convey their feelings.
When asked about her experience working with the dancers Nikaidoh says, “I loved working with ACB. The dancers are smart, quick and so willing to do the work.”
She adds, “This was also a great learning experience for me because I am used to working with a certain set of dancers who in general were approaching movement from Bruce’s perspective. I noticed that even though I share a classical vocabulary with ACB there were still things about how I wanted them to get from one classical step or space to another that were very influenced by my contemporary background and my work with Bruce. So, what I recognized during the process was that those were the moments I needed to spend time on.”
Now, unlike Cooper’s balletic works, Nikaidoh’s piece doesn’t include any petite allegro jumping sections or any grande jete jumping passes. You also won’t see any fouette turns. Instead, Nikiadoh focused on the dancers’ connections both physically and visually and how these connections change and evolve with the music. “We talked about connective tissue between them and for them to all feel like there’s this complex type of spider web that’s connecting everyone’s limbs together. I mean these dancers are used to working as an ensemble and they understand the importance of clean lines and the need to stay together, but when you have someone new come in and ask them to go off balance or run low instead of high sometimes a different image can be helpful.”
This year marks the fourth annual WCP, an endeavor Cooper started when she noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies’ seasonal programs. Since its inception WCP has featured new works from almost a dozen national and international female choreographers, including Shauna Davis, Janie Richards and Elizabeth Gillapsy. As far as where WCP goes from here Cooper says, “I’d love to get to a place where WCP isn’t needed anymore. In four years I’ve seen a shift across the country with a lot of discussion of the problem and many more ballet companies commissioning female choreographers. We aren’t there yet, but we are inching toward equity.”
Avant Chamber Ballet celebrates its artistic growth with three physically and musically challenging works in Beauty and Bach.
Dallas — One major sign of a business’s staying power lies in its ability to grow even when facing obstacles that are out of its control. Since its inception in 2012, Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has been sticking to its mission of reconnecting ballet with live music by providing live chamber music at every one of its performances, while also stretching audiences’ understanding of classical ballet with Artistic Director Katie Cooper’s bold choreographic choices and keen eye for interesting and diverse guest artists and local collaborations. Cooper will need to rely on these skills moving forward in the midst of The Arts Community Alliance’s (TACA) announcement last month that it will be cutting its funding to local arts groups. To try to counter this hit to ACB’s bottom line, Cooper has been busy applying for grants as well as promoting the heck out of their performances with the hopes of increasing ticket sales.
The silver lining in all this is that people have been talking about ACB’s upcoming Beauty and Bach performance, which takes place Feb. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall, since the company made the announcement back in the summer. The line-up includes George Balanchine’s musically challenging Concerto Barocco, the world premiere of Cooper’s Appalachian Spring featuring a 13-member orchestra and Cooper’s restaging of Aurora’sWedding from Sleeping Beauty with music from Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky’s score, which is arranged by Bryan English. Dallas native Brad Everett Cawyer will conduct the whole evening with the group of musicians he has hand-picked with ACB Music Director David Cooper.
When asked if ACB is ready for such an ambitious program Cooper replies, “Musically it is ambitious and I think the company needs to grow in that way because artistically we are the strongest we have ever been.” She adds, “I almost hate to use the word ambitious because I think it’s not ambitious in some ways because we have been working toward this since the beginning. Yes, it’s a bigger program that we have done before, but we are definitely ready for that.”
Cooper also notes that a program such as this one enables the audiences to see a variety of balletic styles in one setting. And with live accompaniment. “In this case we have a beautiful neo-classical Balanchine piece, my Appalachian Spring which is quite neo-classical and modern ballet, and then Aurora’s Wedding, which is the only super classical ballet we’ll do this season.”
With her strictly classical background you would think it would be challenging for Cooper to tap into the modern nuances of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring (1944), but Cooper says her lack of modern training actually worked in her favor. “It wasn’t hard for me to create something different because I am not a Graham dancer and therefore her work is not in my mind or body. I know Martha’s verision, but it’s so far apart from my vocabulary that I knew nothing was going to come out looking like hers.” Cooper adds that a lot of the movement for the piece was a testament to how fantastic the music is, which was composed by Aaron Copland and features a 13-member chamber orchestra.
“It’s such beautiful music and it’s easy to dance to because Copland wrote it for Martha Graham so, the counts are really clear and melodic sounding.” She adds, “There are also a lot of familiar themes like ‘Simple Gifts’ which is just really famous, so a lot people can sing the words to that song. So, in that I think Appalachian Spring is a very accessible piece for audience members who don’t get to see music concerts and dance pieces very often.”
Unlike other ballets of this time period, Concerto Barocco was created with no story or theme in mind. Instead, the choreography is a direct response to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, which will be performed by soloists Eleanor Dunbar and Lauren Densinger. The work is split into three movements with the third one being the allegro section featuring the entire ensemble, which ACB was in the process of cleaning when I stopped by the company’s rehearsal at Bruce Wood Dance’s studio in the Dallas Design District two weeks ago.
All 10 dancers hop on pointe into two parallel lines that extend diagonally across the space, their arms moving from fifth then alternating side lines, as they shift their focus from side to side to match the syncopated chords of the music. The dancers’ stamina and continuity are tested with the section’s many formation changes and complicated phrasing such as asymmetrical arm and leg movements as well as quick balances and constant weight changes on pointe. “Balanchine’s choreography is so incredibly clear and every note of the music has a step, so really the dancers never stop moving for the whole 18 to 19 minute ballet.” Cooper adds, “It’s all about clarity and stamina.”
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.
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.
It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.
And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.
We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.
So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.
And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.
In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:
Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou
Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.
Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman
In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.
Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger
Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.
HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh
Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.
Chasing Home by Albert Drake
The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.
Interpretations by Sean J. Smith
Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.
Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate
Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.
Around the Holidays the NorthPark Mall in Dallas turns into a zoo thanks to the upscale mall’s unique holiday attractions which include Santa Claus, the trains and Sights and Sounds of the Season, which is a FREE performance series featuring the musical and movement stylings of schools, churches, synagogues and community and professional dance troupes from around North Texas. The performance series runs Nov. 28 through Dec. 22nd and the Dillards’ Court and North Court and again this is FREE!!!
With two little ones at home I am well versed with the trains and Santa Claus attractions at the mall, but I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have never stopped to watch any of the dance performances presented by the many well-known professional and pre-professional companies in the area. That is going to change this year especially since the only way to see Bruce Wood Dance’s Mistletoe Magic will be through this performance series. (Bruce Wood Dance performs tomorrow at 1pm in the North Court area.)
Looking at the performance line up online, I am amazed with the number of dance companies both professional and pre-professional that will be presenting in these 30-60 time slots as well as the variety of movement styles that will be showcased. I mean this Saturday alone starting at 10am you can catch some of the most popular names in the Dallas dance community, including 8&1 Dance Company, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Contemporary Ballet Dallas.
After checking in with some of these companies on social media, I can tell you that Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will perform Joshua L. Peugh’s Les Fairies as well as a section of a new work that Peugh is planning to introduce in the spring. OK! that alone has me hooked! Danielle Georgiou Dance Group will also give us a sneak peek of a new creation and perform Colby Calhoun’s Bedtime Stories. And Contemporary Ballet Dallas will perform to some holiday classics along with the school’s student ballet, tap and hip hop youth ensembles.
And while I have already included a link to the full line up, I wanted to pull out some special dates for all you dance lovers out there so you can go ahead and mark your calendars:
Dallas Black Dance Theatre Academy Performance Ensembles
The Hockaday School Dance Department
Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School
Collin County Ballet Theatre
Chamberlain School of Ballet
Avant Chamber Ballet
The Ballet Conservatory
Bombshell Dance Project
Dallas Ballet Company
I hope to see you all there!!! Get there early to find a parking spot and claim a front row seat!