Tag Archives: Bass Performance Hall

Outside The Lines

Texas Ballet Theater expands its stylistic range in Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders, part of the company’s First Looks Series in Dallas this weekend.

Texas Ballet Theater rehearsing Val Caniparoli’s Without Borders. Photo: Ellen Appel

It’s not a coincidence that Texas Ballet Theater principal dancer’s Leticia Oliveira and Carl Coomer look like a pair of figure skaters just skimming the floor in a series of petite traveling lifts in American choreographer Val Caniparoli’s new work, Without Borders. “A lot of what I do has been inspired by ice skating or classical ballet or by working with African dance consultants in Lambarena and that has stuck with me over the years,” Caniparoli says.

Originally from Renton, Washington, Caniparoli opted for a professional dance career after studying music and theater at Washington State University. He received a Ford Foundation Scholarship in 1972 that allowed him to attend San Francisco Ballet School. He performed with San Francisco Opera Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet in 1973. He became resident choreographer there, and later with Tulsa Ballet. Today, Caniparoli is one of the most sought after American choreographers in the United States and abroad, having set works on more than 35 dance companies, including the Joffrey Ballet. Caniparoli has also choreographed for many notable Opera houses in the U.S., including Chicago Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Photo: Courtesy of Val Caniparoli

Caniparoli’s musical background plays a pivotal role in his creative process and is one of the most appealing aspects of his work. “I have studied music and theater all my life and fell into ballet when I was 20 so, it’s natural for me to create movement that is being dictated by the music.” I saw this firsthand back in September when I sat in one of his rehearsals with Coomer and Oliveira and later the full company for his piece Without Borders, which will have its world premiere at TBT’s First Looks Series May 6-8 in Dallas and May 27-29 in Fort Worth.

Most of the critiques Caniparoli gave to Coomer and Oliveira during rehearsal pertained to their musical timing and movement quality. “You have to fill out every count of the music,” Caniparoli tells the couple on one adagio section. “You also have to be very specific when counting the eights. This is a fast eight counts that moves into a slower tempo.” This last note was in reference to a particularly tricky lift where Oliveira coiled around Coomer’s upper body coming to a stop with her hips settled into the crease of his neck before slowly sliding down his body. Caniparoli switched places a few times with Coomer and Oliveira in order to help them get the right feel of the movement, which he illustrated with subtle head and arm gestures as well as slight weight changes during lifts. I found out later from Caniparoli that it is not unusual for him to get up and demonstrate certain choreography and partnering skills with the dancers he is working with. “I like to be very hands on with the dancers because as a dancer myself I liked working with choreographers who did allow the dancers to have a voice in the process. I learned early on that if you respect the dancers then they will respect you back.”

The music Caniparoli has chosen for the piece, a blend of tracks from Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’s 2013 album entitled A Playlist Without Borders, features a number of ethnic sounds, including African, Irish and Arabic and was also inspiration for the name of the work. “I wanted music with a lot of variety that would then be reflected in the movement as well as the costuming and lighting.” While the work doesn’t follow a particular theme, Caniparoli says he did use the musical explanations included in the CD, which described how the composers felt about each piece of music, as a basis for the choreography and inspiration for the dancers’ personal performances. “You don’t have to understand what my intentions were to enjoy this piece. I just want people to love the dancers, music, costuming, lighting and such, and not get too wrapped up in finding the meaning in everything.”

He continues, “I was just so inspired by Yo-Yo Ma’s ability to connect with all these traditional ethnic instruments and combine them in a unique East meets West way in these ensemble tracks. Whereas Lambarena focused more on war and unrest in other countries, in Without Borders I am trying to connect countries through music in a very uplifting and positive way.”

You can experience the music and movement of Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders for yourself when Texas Ballet Theater performs it at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend as part of the company’s First Looks Series. The program also includes Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries and the company’s premiere of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. TBT will repeat the program at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth later this month.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.



Colliding Worlds, Texas Ballet Theater

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

Texas Ballet Theater is revving up for Jonathan Watkins’ new work Crash, part of this year’s Artistic Director’s  Choice performance in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth — For most people the word “crash” brings up images of cars, buses, planes and trains. But for British choreographer Jonathan Watkins the word has a broader subtext and is the focus of his new work Crash, part ofTexas Ballet Theater’s Artistic Director’s Choice performance in Fort Worth this weekend. In this piece Watkins takes on various personal, technological and political crashes which are represented through solo, duet and large group numbers in this 25-minute circular tale that features original music by Dallas-based composer Ryan Cockerham and costumes by Austin-based Kari Perkins, who also did the costuming for Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film Boyhood.

In addition to these elements, Watkins uses abstract and neo-classical movements to shape the different situations and mindsets that he has laid out for us. “What I did is set up these different scenarios throughout the work that follow a similar pattern,” Watkins says. “There is a buildup of energy, a crash, and then the dancers have to collect the pieces and hopefully build a better foundation.

“And after the crash we need space to analyze and build the strength to help us deal with the crash going forward,” he explains further. “For this part I wanted the dancers to have a more pensive quality of movement.”

Watkins is an up-and-coming British choreographer who won the Kenneth MacMillan Choreography Competition at the Royal Ballet School when he was just 16 years old. He danced with the Royal Ballet for 10 years before leaving the company in 2013 to pursue his career as a freelance choreographer and director. Watkins made his international debut at the New York Choreographic Institute in 2008 with his workNow, set on New York City Ballet. His other international commissions include Eventual Progress for Russia’s Ekaterinburg Ballet Theatre in 2013 and Present Process for Ballet Manila, Philippines in 2014. His other choreographic credits include Beyond Prejudice and Free Falling created for The Curve Foundation, Abstract Balance with East London Dance and Together Alone for Ballet Black. Watkins also created his first short dance film called Route 67 in 2011. After Fort Worth, he heads back to Britain to work on a premiere evening-length work based on George Orwell’s 1984.

The pensive section Watkins mentioned earlier is at minute 19 of the dance and is what the company was working on when I sat in rehearsal a few weeks ago. For the next hour and a half the group learned four counts of eight of slow moving, forward progressing arm gestures and leg extensions. A deliberate button push with the right finger initiates the sequence and is followed with a half attitude turn into a side stretch. This leads into another leg whip and arm reach all executed in the same unhurried fashion. He then has the dancers retrograde the phrase so they end up in the same horizontal line they started in. I found out later from Watkins that the only preconceived movement was the button push. Everything else grew organically.

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

“I don’t always work like this, but in this case I wanted to do it with them and experience the choreography together,” he says. “Going in I was confident in the concept of moving slowly. I also knew I wanted to layer and experiment with the movement and that sort of detailing is best to be done then and there.”

These experiments included having two groups of 12 dancers stand in a straight line and begin the phrase on different counts. In some cases it was every four counts and in others it was every two counts. He then had the dancers clump together and move out and around each other creating this illusion of a living organism. Even without knowing the outcome, the dancers quickly adapted to each situation and problem-solved any traffic pattern issues as they moved. As a viewer I got to see the movement morph from a linear kind of tame visual into a cascade of complex shapes and bright pops of movement.

Throughout rehearsal Watkins uses different words, sounds and sometimes melodies to help the dancers align themselves with the pensive quality of the movement. “Shift it, step it, breathe it,” he says during one run through. Another time he mixes together words and sounds such as “Hwa, hwa, melt up, shift down, step to it, emphasize bah.” When I asked Watkins about his use of sounds instead of counts he says he will use whatever means necessary to communicate his intention to the dancers.

“Trust and communication are very important. Energy and being positive is what works for me because I don’t want people to dance through fear,” he says. “And, if I have to shout and sing to get my point across then I have no hang ups about doing it.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Watkins was still performing professionally so he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end. “You just have to respect the other person and embrace the dancers.” The same rule applies when working with composers, costumers and other members of production team.

When it came to putting together his team for this project Watkins decided to experiment locally with composer Ryan Cockerham and costume designer Kari Perkins, who has costumed seven Linklater films, including his breakout Dazed & Confused. He found Cockerham’s name on the Royal College of Music alumni list and it just so happened he was based in Dallas and had some previous ballet composition experience. “I like serendipity and so when it happens I just go with it. I then started looking for a costumer in the area and I came across Kari who did the costumes for the movie Boyhood.”

For the music Watkins wanted a lot of melodic and rhythmic themes with some soundscape elements mixed in. He describes the costumes as an everyday look, but with lots of fractured layers on top. “And underneath resembles bare bones which represents the clean slate after the crash and before the cycle starts again.”

Artistic Director’s Choice opens with Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, followed by Crash, and closes with Balanchine’s Rubies.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Shaping Dance


Photo: Shaping Sound
Photo: Shaping Sound

Travis Wall discusses his choreographic journey on So You Think You Can Dance, expanding the commercial dance industry and cofounding the L.A.-based contemporary dance company, Shaping Sound.

Fort Worth — The commercial dance industry has gone through a major transformation over the last 10 to 15 years. Being a professional commercial dancer in the ‘90s meant moving to L.A. and auditioning for music videos and TV commercials. The term ‘dance celebrity’ did not exist. The closest a commercial dancer would get to fame was dancing in the background of a Britney Spears video. Commercial dancers today has seen an increase in jobs and exposure thanks to TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With The Stars and Dance Moms. These shows have jump-started many dancers’ professional careers, including Travis Wall’s. The public first got to see Wall as a contestant on Season 2 of SYTYCD, but it wasn’t until Season 5 when he was brought back as a choreographer that we got to see the emotional storyteller underneath all that incredible technique.

Growing up in his mom’s dance studio in Virginia Beach, Wall always knew he was destined for more than just dancing at a very young age. He landed his first professional at age nine when he appeared in a Dr. Pepper commercial. And he was only 18 when he became a contestant on SYTYCD in 2006, a blessing and a curse he says. A blessing because his body was able to keep up with the grueling schedule, but he says he found it hard to open up to the camera. “I really didn’t know how to act especially with my sexuality (at the time noSYTYCD contestant had ever come out). So, instead I just made it about the dancing. I wasn’t going to make it about anything else.”

After the show Wall became more focused on creating work with the hopes of one day returning to the SYTYCDstage to show off his choreographic chops. “It was a passion of mine to become a choreographer in the commercial dance industry and I told the show’s producers that they would invite me back.” Wall got his chance in Season 5 with a contemporary routine featuring Jason Glover and Jeanine Mason. “I was actually assisting Wade Robson that week and the night before the show the producers called me and asked me if I wanted to do my first piece. I basically had 12 hours to pick music and set the routine on the dancers.” Having guest choreographed on the show for numerous seasons now, Wall is quick to point out that he usually only gets five to six hours to work with the dancers. Outside of the show Wall has worked with Florence and the Machine, Chelsea Handler, Eminem and Rihanna. He also choreographed the contemporary numbers in the film Step Up Revolution and currently teaches on tour with NUVO Dance Convention.

When asked how it feels to have his journey as a choreographer documented in such a public way Wall says it is simply amazing. “I think it’s really cool for people to feel like they are part of a journey.” Wall also gets the added bonus of having these clips of his work forever archived on the Web. “I can just randomly go on You Tube and watch the pieces and remember what I was going through at that particular time. I always put a lot of myself into the pieces I do on SYTYCD and so I’m really watching my life process through these videos.”

Having spent so much time in front of the camera it only seemed natural that in 2012 the camera would follow him as he and his buddy’s Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson launched their contemporary dance company, Shaping Sound. The trials and triumphs that occurred during the company’s first season were documented in the reality series All The Right Moves, which aired on the Oxygen channel. While Wall is thankful for the exposure the show provided he says if he had to do it over again he probably wouldn’t have agreed to do the show. “At times the cameras really stunted the creative process. I felt like what came out wasn’t the true version of ourselves. We were constantly nervous about what someone was going to say and how the work would appear on camera so we just decided we needed to keep our art separate from the other stuff. So, what we ended up presenting on the show was really a stage show which was the product of constantly having the stress of the cameras on us.”

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

Even with its bumpy start Shaping Sound has thrived over the past four years captivating audiences across the U.S. with its dynamic mix of energy, emotion and athleticism as well as its celebrated cast of dancers, including SYTYCDAll-star Jaimie Goodwin and Season 10 winner Amy Yakima. The 12-member company also includes Dallas native Skylar Boykin who trained at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX. The working dynamic between the four friends is quite cohesive according to Wall. “We are like brothers so we know how to work with each other and we know who pushes the other’s buttons.” As far as creating and choreographing Wall says it’s really a collaborative effort, but that over the past year he has taken more of a leadership role when it comes to the staging and directing aspects of the work.

Shaping Sound is produced by Break the Floor Productions and seeks to provide audiences with a greater understanding of contemporary dance through a fusion of jazz, modern and hip-hop choreography. North Texas audiences’ will get a chance to see Wall and the rest of the company when Shaping Sound comes to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

Wall describes the one-night only show as a dance theater experience in two acts. “You’re following this girl whose spirit is completely damaged and you watch her fall asleep and enter this dream where she learns how to love. She goes through all these experiences so she can take what she learns and apply them to her real life.” Wall adds, “There’s lots of different styles of movement and amazing music you’re going to love. The louder you cheer the harder we perform. We thrive off the noise.”

This article was originally published on TheaterJones.com.


Weekend Performances: Jan 24-26, 2014

If you have some free time this weekend make sure you check out these dance performances:

1. Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Jan.25 at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas presented by TITAS in association with the AT&T Performing Arts Center. LINES Ballet is a celebrated contemporary ballet company whose works draw on a diverse set of deeply rooted cultural traditions, imbuing classical ballet with new expressive potential.

2. SMU Dance Sharp Show – Jan. 25-26 at the Margo Jones Theatre on the SMU campus in Dallas. SMU Meadows School of the Arts presents the annual Sharp Show featuring works choreographed and produced by seniors in the SMU Meadows Division of Dance. Admission is FREE but tickets are required.

3. Dance Theatre of Harlem – Jan. 26 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. In revitalized DTH brings its innovative and bold new forms of artistic expression to audiences in New York City, across the country and around the world. Check out my interview with AD Virginia Johnson and Texas native Stephanie Rae Williams HERE!



The Comeback Kid

Photo: Rachel Neville Gabrielle Salvatta and Anthony Savoy of Dance Theatre of Harlem
Photo: Rachel Neville
Gabrielle Salvatta and Anthony Savoy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

The revitalized Dance Theatre of Harlem brings its resillient and versatile classical movement to North Texas.

Fort Worth — Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) has experienced some hard knocks across its expansive 44-year history, but in the end it has only made the company stronger. Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell, the first African-American dancer with the New York City Ballet, and his teacher Karel Shook, DTH quickly became known throughout the U.S. as the first black classical ballet company. Since its official debut in 1971 at the New York Guggenheim Museum, DTH has shown audiences all over the world that ballet is accessible to all races.

As the story goes, Mitchell was on his way to the airport in 1968 when he heard the news of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Instead of going to Brazil where he was to create a ballet company, he returned home to Harlem where he created a school to provide the children of the community opportunities in dance. DTH Artistic Director Virginia Johnson says the idea for starting the company came to Mitchell after he realized these young dancers didn’t have anyone to look up to in the world of classical ballet. So, he created the DTH Company to be a series of role models for these children.

“I was really fortunate in that I was a young dancer who had been told I couldn’t do ballet, even though I had trained my whole life in it, and I came to New York just at the moment Arthur Mitchell decided he was going to have a company,” Johnson says. “So, I was able to be part of that first group of dancers who were embodying the principle that given access and opportunity any human being can do anything.” During her 28 years dancing with DTH Johnson has performed most of the company’s repertoire, including principal roles in Concerto BaroccoAllegro BrillanteAgonA Streetcar Named DesireFall River LegendSwan LakeGiselle and Voluntaries just to name a few.

Unfortunately, the company was forced to take a hiatus in 2004 due to budgetary constraints. However, DTH returned to the stage, under the direction of Johnson, in 2012 and was met with great acclaim and encouragement especially from the Harlem community. “One of the best things about bringing back the company was the enthusiasm we got from all kinds of corners. It was tremendously difficult to put together the pieces that enabled us to do this and it was a lot of hard work, but the response and encouragement from people who really wanted to see DTH again made it worth it.”

Over the past couple of decades DTH’s message of empowerment has struck a chord within many aspiring black ballerinas, including DTH company member and Allen, Texas, native Stephanie Rae Williams. “I remember the first time I saw Dance Theatre of Harlem perform. I was 16 and my mom drove me to Tyler, Texas, on a school night to see them. I remember how shocking it was because I had never seen so many dancers of color onstage doing ballet before. It was a beautiful experience.” Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has dance with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012.

“When I first came to the company I was so intimated by Virginia,” Williams says. “I had been so many different places and finally felt like DTH could be my home, and I so wanted her to be that next mentor figure in my life. I would constantly push myself to my breaking point, and she has really taught me to calm down and go back to the basics of ballet.”

Johnson admits that today’s dancers, like Williams, are physically and technically stronger than the dancers of her generation. “Their physical embodiment of dance is so powerful. They’re technically strong, flexible and very hungry. In my day I was at the end of that generation where you were either a modern dancer or ballet dancer, but because we have such a diverse repertoire today this generation of dancers has got to be able to do all kinds of movement.”

Today, DTH consists of 18 dancers and currently has 16 pieces in its repertoire. In its first season DTH produced 12 works, which Johnson says was pretty exhausting, but also gave the dancers a real challenge. “It gave them diversity in style and gave them opportunities to perform many different pieces,” she says.

In regards to its second season Johnson says DTH remains committed to carrying forth this message of empowerment through the arts. “We are working in classical ballet, which is an incredibly demanding art form and you are always trying to reach new heights. I think dancers are the most powerful people in the world because we have such focus and attention to detail, and we don’t settle for second best.”

Williams adds, “We had a really great first year, but there is still a lot more growth and a lot more work to be done.”

DTH’s tenacity and talent will be on display for North Texas audiences Jan. 26 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth and Jan. 30 at the Irving Arts Center. The Fort Worth program includes the Act III pas de deux from Swan Lake, Ulysses Dove’s Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven and Robert Garland’s Gloria and Return. The Irving program includes George Balanchine’s Agon, Donald Byrd’sContested Space and Garland’s Gloria. 

Williams will be dancing in both Gloria and Return in the Fort Worth performance and all three pieces in Irving. “I haven’t toured back to Texas since I moved away when I was 18 so, this will be the first time that a lot of my friends and family will see me perform. I am very excited!”

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.