Tag Archives: Ballet Conservatory

Preview: Bombshell Dance Project

Both Headshot - Photo credit Katie Bernet
Photo: Katie Bernet

Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project on their unique partnership and creating their first program in Dallas.

Dallas — Together, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tenderly cup their faces before slowly moving their hands down their bodies in a mildly seductive manner to the sweet sound of Marilyn Monroe’s voice as she answers a reporter’s question about whether or not she is happy. “If anything I am genuinely miserable,” Monroe states as Bernet and Rodman walk, glide and jump from one side of the space to the other, stopping intermittently to engage each other in catch and release action and simple gesturing such as a hand to the chest or a head on the other person’s shoulder. As the music changes so does the dancers’ movement quality, which becomes more aggressive and robust before once again slowing down and eventually fading out.

Meant to Be Seen showcases both Bernet and Rodman’s classical and modern dance backgrounds as well as their curious nature and instinctual approaches to movement, which they explored deeper during their time with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The eight-minute duet also features the dancers’ penchant for more explosive and full-bodied movement, which the dance partners and best friends point out is the main reason they formed Bombshell Dance Project in 2016. “The name has an ironic ring to it since neither of us are blonde or very curvaceous,” Bernet says.

Rodman adds, “I just feel like the word ‘bombshell’ in itself is pretty universal and empowering, which ties in nicely with what we want to achieve with the company.”

So, it seems quite fitting that the two would gravitate to text and music by their movie icons Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn in their first company work, Meant to Be Seen. The piece will be presented along with There I Said It and Kismet in the Bombshells’ first Dallas program at the Sammons Center for the Arts on Oct. 20. When asked what ties these three works together Bernet says it’s not so much a theme as it is a feeling. “For the last year we have been caught up in this feeling of angst, but it’s contrasted,” Bernet explains. “We talk a lot about contrast and underlying feelings such as what something looks like versus what it is or how it feels. And also what people look like on the outside versus what’s on the inside.”

Bernet and Rodman met their sophomore year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, but say they didn’t get close until their junior year when they joined the repertory dance company. “We just clicked right away as friends and creatively speaking,” Bernet says. “We are both pretty easy going and are drawn to movement that is big and powerful more so than soft and structured.”

Meant to Be Seen. Photo: Lynn Lane

The two say that they never saw themselves as the balletic type—instead preferring the challenges and artistic freedom associated with modern and contemporary movement. “I never really saw the ballerina in me,” Bernet says. “I started in a competition studio, but the second I found modern and contemporary in high school and later in college, I knew that is where I belonged.”

Rodman shares a similar story. “My body is just not meant for ballet, which I am totally fine with because I think it has helped me find different pathways and areas that I can use my body and challenge myself in various ways, which really became evident in high school. I just always wanted to be moving really BIG!”

During high school both dancers also found the same mentor in Professor Kyle Richards. “He definitely helped me to trust in what I was creating and to not be afraid to make work,” Bernet says. “One of the first things I learned from him was that the work doesn’t have to be perfect.”

She adds, “He was also big on starting from text and using feelings for inspiration, which has definitely influenced our work.” Nodding in agreement Rodman adds, “He was always really good about telling us not to take ourselves too seriously because in high school you know all the pieces in the shows are going to be super dramatic and intense and he really pushed us to see the lighter side of creating movement.”

After graduation the dynamic duo parted ways, Bernet heading to Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, where she focused on modern dance and performance; with Rodman moving up north to attend Boston Conservatory, where she studied improvisational techniques and choreography. Bernet credits their diverse college experiences with adding more depth and intrigue to their rehearsal process, which she says has made the work something that it wouldn’t be without the two of them.

Explosive, aggressive and full-bodied are just a few of the choice terms Bernet and Rodman use to describe their movement, which the duo says they haven’t been able to do until now. Both dancers learned early on that opportunities to move in such a forceful way would be limited due to their gender, a realization that strongly irked Rodman. “The seed was planted in high school because I always seemed to be in a dress or standing in the wings wanting to do the men’s section because it was so full-bodied and aggressive, yet soft at times and very textured.” This archaic approach to the female’s role on stage really started to bother Rodman in college where she remembers learning the men’s sections on the side just to fulfill that void for more demanding movement.

For those unfamiliar with the general rules of classical and contemporary dance, Rodman explains that in a lot of the roles she has performed since high school she has either been asked to play the damsel in distress or the femme fatale. “I was either made to feel like I couldn’t complete this task without a partner by my side or asked to be overtly sexual in a non-sexual kind of way, whereas the men’s sections were always extremely big, exciting and used the entire stage.”

Walking into Preston Center Dance where the Bombshells were rehearsing a couple of weeks ago I knew I was in for a very relaxed and fun experience if the dancers giggling from down the hall was an indicator. Bernet and Rodman were very considerate of each other during the rehearsal, taking turns answering questions and later taking turns with suggestions or critiques when going over movement. The two could also communicate with one another using just a look, which they say is one of the advantages of being such close friends.

“As far as creating movement I think it has been easy for us because we know each other so well,” Bernet says. “When we work collaboratively a lot of the time I will do a move and then she will do a move and eventually it kind of blurs together.”

Rodman adds, “Just being the two of us in the room this first year has been great because we work so well together that most of the time we don’t need to talk we just keep moving.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Dracula

A behind-the-scenes look at LakeCities Ballet Theatree’s upcoming performance of Le Ballet de Dracula in Lewisville.
Dracula
Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

Lewisville — If you are looking for something frightfully fun to do with the kiddos this Halloween, I suggest checking out LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) fall production of Le Ballet de Dracula at the Medical City of Lewisville Grand Theater, Oct. 13-14. Complete with stellar set designs, creepy costuming, vibrant dancing and an easy to follow narrative thanks to a ghoulishly charming MC (Art Director Tom Rutherford), LBT’s Dracula has become a Halloween tradition for many families in the area, including mine. Having been a fan of the production for the last 6 years, I was excited to receive an invitation to LBT’s studio, which is located inside the Ballet Conservatory in Lewisville, to watch some rehearsal. While I was there, I got a behind the scenes look at the second half of the show, which features the brides of Dracula, and I also got the chance to talk to two of the lead performers.

I walked into rehearsal a few weekends ago while the company was going through spacing for the brides of Dracula section of the show. Known for her clean and creative choreography, it was no surprise Lannin spent most of the time tweaking the dancers’ formations and going over specific body nuances such as how the dancers should hold their hand over their hearts and where their eyes should be focused in their diagonal lines. Timing and musicality are especially important in this section as the music is very slow and purposeful so any mistakes the dancers make would be easily noticed by the audience. And with no make-up or costuming to hide behind, the dozen or so dancers really had to amp up their performance quality in order to make the scene more believable, which they accomplished with some encouragement from Lannin and artistic staff members Janet Waters and Deborah Weaver who also sat in during the rehearsal. For example, toward the end of the scene Lannin told the dancers, “You really need to explore your characters here. You once loved this man (Dracula). Do you still love him? Or are you angry about what he has done to you? Just really feel that pain and make this moment your own.”

The instructors also had no qualms about calling out corrections during the run-through, which the dancers eagerly took in. I attribute the dancers willingness to take corrections to Lannin’s nurturing teaching method, which seems to be especially effective for the baby brides, as she calls them, who are as young as 12. Lannin would calmly say things like “your body can not show the landing,” “Oh, that was not a pretty picture” and most importantly “you must be performing as you learn. We don’t have time to learn and then perform.”

Guest Artist Adrian Aguirre, a newcomer to the production, says he has really enjoyed working with Ms. Lannin in the studio. “Her critiques are always very constructive and uplifting. She also has a great sense of humor which I appreciate a lot.” He adds that he is the type of dancer that likes it when the music takes control of the movement and he found that to be true in this production, which he says made learning his role that much easier. Aquirre is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts and is also the founder of the dance group, Uno Mas, which made its debut at Dallas DanceFest last month.

During rehearsal I also got to sit down with LBT Company Member Carley Greene who plays Aurelia, the love interest of both Marius and Dracula. Now a high school junior, Greene has been steadily rising through the ranks of LBT, but it wasn’t until last spring that she had her breakout moment in Lannin’s And The Things That Remain at LBT’s Director’s Choice performance. She came out the gate then with a dynamic solo showcasing impressive body control and a new level of artistic maturity that I had yet to see from her. I was glad to see that her confidence and joy of dancing are still present in her Dracula performance. As for how Greene feels about playing the lead character in the ballet she says, “It has been a great challenge for me to portray a lot of different emotions while also dancing and interacting with everyone on stage. Aurelia is so special to me because of the various emotions I need to express and because I get to dance to music that is so climactic and nuanced.”

Lannin made a wise decision years ago to record every performance so the dancers can reference it to learn their new roles as well as to refresh their memories of group dances such as the maypole dance in the first half and the brides of Dracula in the second. By watching the videos Greene says she is able to determine how much she has grown from year to year. “I am a completely different dancer today than I was last year,” Greene says. “I think every year I get more comfortable with the material, but this year particularly I feel I am able to express myself more freely.”

>> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: Music In Motion, LakeCities Ballet Theatre

LakeCities Ballet Theatre performs a season finale program called Music in Motion. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography
LakeCities Ballet Theatre performs a season finale program called Music in Motion. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

LakeCities Ballet Theatre closes its season with fresh moves and dexterous classical technique during its spring performance.

Lewisville — Don’t let the name fool you. LakeCities Ballet Theatre (LBT) is much more than a pre-professional ballet company, and they proved that Saturday night with Music In Motion at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville, ending their season on a high note. Known for their exuberant story ballets and exquisite technique, it may have surprised some to see the company attacking other dance styles such as modern, jazz and contemporary with the same boldness they do classical ballet.

The show opened with a flirty, baroque-fashioned pointe number choreographed by LBT staff member and Juilliard alum Deborah Weaver called Les Oiseaux de Ville. Weaver’s trained ear picked up on all the instrumental nuances in Aram Khachaturian’s composition which added new vigor to the art form’s unchanging technique. For example,pique arabesques finished with flexed palms and bourrees executed with fluttering hands drew attention to the music’s various instrumental phrases. The gold-laced, fingerless gloves which matched the 12 dancers’ gold and white knee-length tutus boosted the visual appeal of these movements. Weaver’s expanding and contracting formation changes and explosive cotangent sequences were also visually stunning.

Shannon Beacham’s Urban Perfume was the biggest surprise of the evening. Set to music by Sven Helbig this contemporary jazz number, performed in soft shoe, featured daring leaps, aggressive runs and simultaneous head and body isolations. The piece started with the six dancers stepping into second position with a contracted torso and arms thrusting down and away from the body. The phrase was repeated as the dancers switch places. As the music built the running became more frantic till the dancers exploded into fouette arabesque leaps and head-whackingbattements. Beacham’s time with Texas Ballet Theater and the Bruce Wood Dance Company showed through his quirky, yet controlled body movements and the opposing tempos he assigned each dancer during certain sections. The dim lighting and shimmering biketards added to the suspense of the piece. Even through the ending was a little underwhelming with the dancers simply running off stage, the core material of the work was still edgy and inspiring.

LBT in Shannon Beacham's Urban Perfume. Photo: Nancy Loch Photogrpahy
LBT in Shannon Beacham’s Urban Perfume. Photo: Nancy Loch Photogrpahy

Pulling double duty as choreographer and performer, Beacham and his wife Christa were phenomenal in their roles as Romeo and Juliet in the ballet’s balcony Pas de Deux. Every caress and assisted lift exuded passion. The trust between the two was undeniable as Christa catapulted herself into Beacham’s arms only to be pressed up into a standing position above his head. The traveling steps for the pair may have been simple but the assisted pirouetteturns and alternating ponche arabesque holds were anything but. Sergei Prokofiev’s heart-wrenching composition only enhanced the couple’s star-crossed love for one another.

LBT 2 Director Shannon Tate’s Where the Sun is Silent challenged the dancers with its modern verbiage and dramatic storyline. Dressed in black liturgical dresses the 10-member group started clumped together arching back and reaching in different directions. The movement encompassed various modern dance techniques, including Martha Graham’s signature contractions and back hinges as well as Lester Horton’s lateral T’s and general ferocity.

The first act ended with LBT Assistant Director Nancy Loch’s rock ballet Move It! which the company premiered in 1998. Dressed all in black with music by Church of Rhythm this funky pointe number transported the audience back to the 90s’. This 17-person ensemble moved with The Rockettes precision as they shifted into a straight line and moved clockwise around the stage on pointe. The walking which made up a majority of the piece was accompanied by hand gestures resembling Madonna’s 1990 Vogue video.

In the second half LBT revealed what they do best in Joseph Mazilier and Marius Petipa’s Paquita. Known as one of the most technically challenging 19th century ballets, Paquita demanded serious control, technical brilliance and unending endurance from the LBT dancers. The first thing audience members noticed was that in many sections the corps mirrored the movement of Principal Dancer Mackenna Pieper. While one or two arabesque holds where not quite aligned with the rest overall the corp gave a strong unified performance. Ali Honchell, Michelle Lawyer and Beacham excelled in the multi-tempoed Pas de Trois. The female’s solos were filled with complex entrechats (a weaving jump from fifth) with multiple beats, double pique turns and grand jetes which they handled with poise. And Beacham seamlessly maneuvered both dancers through a series of composed arabesque and attitude holds.

Steven Loch and Mackenna Pieper in Paquita. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography
Steven Loch and Mackenna Pieper in Paquita. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

Guest Artist Steven Loch was a powerful force in the pas de deux, but the shining star of the evening was Pieper as Paquita. Tall and leggy Pieper gave each slow developpe arabesque its due. Pieper also managed the quickpirouettes and cabriole soutenu sections with exemplary control and fiery spirit. Overall Paquita was a great match for LakeCities Ballet Theatre. The ballet’s detailed classicism, specifically the proper epaulement (upper body positioning), is one of the many skills Artistic Director Kelly Lannin has drilled into her dancers’ bodies with great results.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.