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:
Beckles Dancing Company demonstrates steady artistic growth and maturity in the company’s annual spring performance simply titled 21.
Dallas — Simple body lines. Subtle musicality. Intense emotional connections. These were the common threads that elevated Beckles Dancing Company’s spring show, 21, at the South Dallas Cultural Center last Friday evening. While there were some noticeable discrepancies among the works on the program mainly pertaining to the content and context or lack thereof in some of the pieces, it was an improvement from last year’s show which was a less consistent mix compared to this year’s more cohesive blend of professional and student-based choreography.
A few of the works that didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of concept and content, with content also pertaining to facial expressivity, were Loris Anthony Beckles’ group pieces Magical and Whispering Wolf as well as his solo Clifton-Bainbridge-Park set on long-time company member Tina Mullone. In Magical, dancers Lacy Brent, RoseMarie Sanders, Amaya Scoggins, Kaleb Smith, Angel Sparks and Taylor Townsend executed the Afro-Caribbean movements, including hip swirls, shoulder rolls and rhythmic foot stomping, with a natural ease and uniformity that comes from years of training and dancing together. And while the lively spirit of the dance was not reflected in the dancers’ expressions, which remained stoic throughout, the dancers fully embodied the steady drumming in Betty Carter’s composition with their playful gesturing (i.e. head bobs and open-close hand pulses) and deep leg lunges with swooping arms.
The dancers’ facial performances were also lagging in Beckles’ Whispering Wolf, but the dancers redeemed themselves with their competent technique, which featured rudimentary ballet steps layered with constantly changing arm movements and directional changes as well as luscious Graham torso contractions and weighted walks. One of things audiences can appreciate about Beckles’ choreography is that it never feels rushed. For him it’s about the journey, which is why when Mullone performed a series of simple plie tendues with proper epaulement in Clifton-Bainbridge-Park, viewers felt like they were seeing these well-known ballet steps for the first time. If the solo was meant to be ironic then the passive expression Mullone wore as Sam Cook crooned Nat King Cole’s I Love You For Sentimental Reasons was a clever choreographic choice.
Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, Alma Alvarado, Kyndall Ash, Kaleb Smith and Jacqueline Rea (members of Espie’s After School “Character Counts” Dance Company) did a phenomenal job of capturing the anxiety and urgency in Gonzalez’s Washed in the Blood with some dynamic movement choices and intense facial expressions. And while the lack of transitions between certain tricks (i.e. cartwheels to the knee, stag leaps, backward shoulder rolls and side leg tilts) minimized their shock value, the dancers’ intensity, both physical and emotional, stayed true throughout.
The other student piece on the program, Layla Brent’sStages, featured edgy pointe work and exciting partnering skills and a well-rounded structure. Both couples (Layla Brent and Jared Smith and guest artists Erin Brothers and Kade Cummings) displayed amazing control and technical fortitude throughout the fast-paced piece. Later on Layla Brent and Smith showed great stylistic diversity when they nailed the sustained movements and luxurious body contortions in Andre R George’s Du Lahka. When I saw these two dancers perform the piece at last season’s show I was enraptured with the couple’s beautiful lines and intricate counter balance poses. This time around I knew what to expect movement wise which gave me and others more opportunity to relish in the beautiful love story driving the movement.
Another highlight of the night was Beckles’ Benchmarks. Broken into five sections, the work featured a variety of dance styles from ballet and modern to African improvisation at the end, as well as various moods that were represented through the dancer’s bodies and the different colored fabrics the dancers peeled off the ever present bench. Beckles cleverly incorporated the bench in every section of the work by having it act as a physical support and in one section a barrier for the performers. In the first section Lela Bell Wesley and Mullone used the bench to accentuate their reactions to one another such as when Wesley bent Mullone backwards over the bench. Lacy Brent used the bench as a home base during her more balletic solo, while Sanders used the bench as barrier as she slowly revealed different body parts. The African dance jam at the end was engaging and gave each company member a moment to shine.
The Dallas native on finding her stride as a concert dancer and performing with Kyle Abraham’s Abraham.In.Motion which comes to town this weekend on the TITAS season.
Dallas — As the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship as well as a 2010 Princess Grace and Bessie award for performance and choreography, it’s no wonder Kyle Abraham was recently dubbed the darling of the dance world by Dance magazine. Abraham started his training at the Civic Light Opera Academy and the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School. He holds a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase and an MFA from the New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. His performing credits include David Dorfman Dance, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, The Kevin Wynn Collective, Nathan Trice/Rituals, Dance Alloy and Attack Theatre. For the last nine years his company Abraham.In.Motion has been captivating audiences across the U.S. and abroad with its provocative movement choices and strong social messages reflecting on current issues and attitudes.
Abraham’s raw approach to movement and eclectic dance background, which includes modern and hip-hop was a huge draw for Dallas native Catherine Ellis Kirk who joined his company two years ago. A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Kirk went on to earn her BFA in dance from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She has also studied with Movement Invention Project, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, the Gaga intensive in Tel Aviv and Springboard Danse Montreal, and has performed works by Fernando Melo, Ohad Naharin, Peter Chu, Andrea Miller, Robert Battle, Alex Ketley and Helen Simoneau. In addition to Abrham.In.Motion, Kirk also currently dances for Chihiro Shimizu and Artists and UNA Projects.
Kirk and Abraham.In.Motion will both make their Dallas debut Oct. 29-30 at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of TITAS’ 2015-16 season. The program includes Abraham’s The Quiet Dance (2011), The Gettin’ (2014) and the world premiere of Absent Matter with live music.
Catherine Ellis Kirk talks to TheaterJones about finding her artistic voice, Kyle Abraham’s creative process and her take on his new work Absent Matter.
TheaterJones.com: What initially drew you to concert dance?
Catherine Ellis Kirk: At Booker T. I took a lot of composition and improvisation classes so I knew pretty fresh off the gate that I wanted to join a modern company and be in New York if not Europe.
Why did you chose to attend New York University vs. pursuing a dance career after high school?
I never considered cutting off my education after high school. I have always loved dance, but I have also always craved more of an academic lifestyle. For my community of concert dancers it’s more of a conservation about whether you wanted to go to a university or conservatory. I tried a couple of conservatories, but I knew I needed something else aside from dance so I studied Political Science and Art History at New York University (NYU) as well. And looking back I definitely needed those three years of training at NYU to discover my voice in dance and how I wanted to move.
Can you give me some examples of individuals or classes that have helped you define your artistic voice?
Many of my “ah ha” moments came from being at Booker T. where I took composition classes with Kyle Richards and Lily Weiss as well as modern with Garfield Lemonius. While taking these classes I decided that I could put my life and my work and passion into these forms of dance, and going to NYU really seasoned that for me. I had so many amazing teachers at NYU, including Pamela Pietro, who taught me modern and composition my second and third year there.
What stood out to you the first time you saw Kyle Abraham perform?
The first time I saw Kyle dance was at Dance Space in New York where he performed an excerpt from one of his solos and I was immediately drawn to his unique movement style. He moves so organically and there’s a wide variety of techniques that he is influenced by such as house dancing, hip-hop, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. His movement is also very contemporary and looks very improv based, so it comes out of him very organically. There’s always an openness to his movement with lots of high arches and speed, but also just very human moments and almost a sense of acting that comes across very raw. I see all of this in Pavement, which I saw for the first time in fall 2013 right after superstorm Sandy hit. Pavement has a very direct purpose in that it talks about Kyle’s neighborhood growing up and that urban lifestyle in which race and economic classes play a pivotal role. Watching all these beautiful people dancing onstage together and having the same movement quality that Kyle does was really astonishing and I just fell in love with this work.
What is it like working in the studio with Abraham?
It’s super interesting! It is pretty improv based so he’ll start moving while someone films it and then gives us the tape and we’ll learn it from there. Other times he’ll do a catch what you can thing where he dances in front of us and we pick up what we can. He moves very fast and organically and habitually. It’s also nice to have us in the room because we all interpret the movement differently so we don’t use the same movement vocabulary over and over.
Do you and the other company members have similar dance backgrounds and training?
Our backgrounds are quite varied. I probably have the least technical training. I am much more composition and modern than balletic. There’s Tamisha Guy who went to SUNY Purchase College and is technically stunning with a background in ballet, pointe and modern. Penda N’Diaye went to NYU before I did and she also has a background in ballet and her and Guy both have beautiful lines. Connie Shiau also went to SUNY Purchase but she also trained in Gaga and works with Gallim Dance, which is just very wild, deep and grounded. The boys are also all very different. Jeremy Neal was a classical singer who started dancing in college, but had danced a lot in the club scene and house, which is very similar to Kyle’s journey. Matthew Baker went to the same college as Jeremy in Michigan, but he started out in gymnastics and then went into dance when he was younger to help him get more flexible. And then we have Vinson Fraley who is just stunning and started dancing when he was 16 at a competition studio so he is all legs and turns. Our careers and lives have taken us into different places, which kind of helps the variety, but it’s also nice because you look around the room and see different skin colors, heights and body types so the movement never gets too habitual or boring.
What is your interpretation of Abraham’s new work Absent Matter?
Absent Matter was actually choreographed before Kyle brought in the live music which includes songs by Kendrick Lamar and Kayne West. For the piece Kyle pulled a lot of inspiration from the Black Lives Matter campaign and also his feelings on cultural appropriation. Being in his late 30’s he has seen things that are just completely being lost in their origin. For example, cornrows which are just plaited hair that women in Africa wore to keep their hair out of the way is now being used on the fashion runways which is great, but it’s being renamed a French twist or French braid. That’s a lighter example, but it all goes back to cultural appropriation and Kyle feeling that as African-Americans we are losing our voice. So, there is definitely a nostalgia and a large sense of anger and riot in the work which feels much more present day than The Gettin’ which will come after. The Gettin’ feels more like a pre-riot gathering while Absent Matter feels more current to me with the Black Lives Matter Campaign and any culture aside from African American just getting lost or abused or not being recognized. Kyle’s very angry about that and it shows through this work.
The second annual Dallas DanceFest promises more variety and exceptional dancing from individuals and groups throughout the region.
Dallas – The perception of dance in Dallas has changed dramatically over the last five years largely due to the development of the Dallas Arts District; the rise in the number of professional dance companies based in the city; the restructuring of veteran dance groups like Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and the creation of local dance festivals, including Rhythm In Fusion Festival (RIFF) and Dallas DanceFest (DDF). All of these factors are helping to transform Dallas into a grand destination for dance. Keeping this in mind the Dance Council of North Texas (DCNT), in partnership with the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, is planning to deliver more vitality, diversity and excellence in dance with the second annual DDF which takes place September 4-6, 2015 at Dallas City Performance Hall. This prestigious event features performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and concludes Sunday afternoon with the Dance Council Honors.
The impact of the festival isn’t just felt around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex but across the region as well. Houston-based METdance (formerly Houston Metropolitan Dance Company), an original participant in the Dallas Morning News Festival, was disappointed when that festival disbanded in 2004 as it had looked forward to performing for Dallas audiences. But artistic director Marlana Doyle says, “We were grateful to be a part of DDF last year and had the thrill of enjoying the Dallas audiences and arts community in such an amazing venue once again. METdance appreciates the efforts of the Dallas Dance Council and looks forward to celebrating the arts in Texas.”
Kimi Nikaidoh, artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance Project here in Dallas, adds, “Given the all-consuming nature of running an arts organization, it’s impossible to see what all of the many other groups in the area are accomplishing. Dallas DanceFest brings us all out of our respective “workshops” and gives us the chance to be inspired and challenged by each other.”
Curated by top dance professionals Lauren Anderson, Fred Darsow, Bridget L. Moore and Catherine Turocy, DDF 2015 will feature 19 exceptional artists and companies from all across the region including – Houston, Austin, Oklahoma, Alabama, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Audiences can expect each performance to be a unique and thrilling display of dance styles including – classical ballet, modern, tap, hip-hop, traditional Indian dance and Ballet Folklorico. The programs will also feature performances by well-known and beloved Dallas institutions such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Bruce Wood Dance Project along with some new names including the Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers.
“It was incredible to see such a tremendous response to DDF 2014,” says DCNT President Kirt Hathaway. “The Dance Council made the decision to re-implement this wonderful dance event after it had sat idle for so many years. With the inclusion of the Dance Council Honors, DDF has immediately become one of DCNT’s marquis events. Producing such a wonderful weekend of dance would not have been possible if the organization had not experienced such growth over the past several years. It truly shows that there is a great commitment by the board and staff to support dance in North Texas and beyond. This year promises to be even more exciting.”
This year’s participants include:
Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX) – Formed in May 2001 under the leadership of Lisa Slagle, the company’s goal is to present quality ballet performances for the local communities and to provide advanced ballet students with the opportunity to prepare for a career in dance. It is the official company of the Ballet Academy of Texas.
Bell House Arts, Inc. (Owasso, OK) – Founded by Rachel Bruce Johnson, The Bell House is a collaborative dance and art cooperative dedicated to creating opportunity for artistic exchange. At The Bell House, we are interested in the collaboration of ideas, people and movement language that challenge the status quo and conventional ways of making art by elevating art as a process. Its fosters meeting points for artistic connection between people rather than elevating the art as product in order to activate the transformative nature of movement that can be experienced both in the practice, performance and witness of dance.
Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) Repertory Dance Company I & II (Dallas, TX) – BTWHSPVA is “the cradle of the Dallas Arts District.” In 2015, the school was awarded the Texas Commission of the Arts Medal of Honor for exemplary training in Arts Education. The department’s philosophy is to provide a broad dance education that challenges the students artistically, intellectually and physically and to prepare qualified students for collegiate and professional careers in dance and related professions.
Bruce Wood Dance Project (Dallas, TX) – BWDP was launched in 2011 to champion the vision, leadership and artistry of nationally acclaimed Texan dance-maker Bruce Wood. BWDP picked up where the successful Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company left off. Under Wood’s direction the company produced six word premieres and a TITAS Presents Commission for Command Performance Gala. Currently in its fifth season the company is now under the direction of Kimi Nikaidoh after Wood’s passing in May 2014.
Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX) – Established in 1984 by Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain as a student ensemble dedicated to providing students a stepping stone to professional dance careers. Chamberlain is dedicated to serving North Texas and the surrounding community by providing professional quality performances and outstanding outreach programs. The company takes great pride in the ongoing efforts to expand its cultural diversity through performance collaborations.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Dallas, TX) – Founded in 1976 by Ann Williams, DBDT consists of 12 full-time dancers performing a mixed repertory of modern, jazz, ethnic and spiritual works by nationally and internationally recognized choreographers. Over the years the company has grown from a community-based, semi-professional organization to a fully-professional dance company that is renowned in the U.S. and is noted for its rich cultural diversity, history of inclusion and high-level of artistic excellence in contemporary modern dance and educational programs
Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (Dallas, TX) – This semi-professional company created by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams in 2000 consists of eight aspiring artists from around the nation. Under the guidance of Nycole Ray, DBDT II provides an opportunity for young artists to develop their dance skills while serving the Dallas/Fort Worth community and touring across the nation. Going into its 16th season performing works by recognized and emerging artists, DBDT II performs a diversified repertoire of modern, jazz, African, lyrical and spiritual works.
Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers (Irving, TX) – Founded in 2009, DCRB is a high-energy co-ed hip hop dance team and drum corps. Lead by Jenny Durbin Smith DCRB brings an innovative, unique and exciting element to the Cowboys legendary game-day entertainment line-up. The dance teams dynamic routines feature breakdancing and hip hop-based movement requiring both strong musicality and level of dance ability. Presented by Miller Lite, DCRB was conceptualized under the direction of Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President of Brand Management Charlotte Anderson and is the first and only entertainment concept of its kind in the National Football League.
Dark Circles ContemporaryDance (Dallas, TX) – Originally formed in Seoul, South Korea by Joshua L. Peugh and Cho Hyun Sang, Peugh started the USA branch of the company in 2013 bridging the gap between East and West. DCCD is dedicated to bringing the progressive work of international choreographers and dancers to a worldwide audience. It strives to educate the public on the power of movement in communicating ideas.
AJ Garcia-Rameau (Austin, TX) -AJ Garcia-Rameau is an independent contemporary ballerina based in Austin. AJ trained at Houston Academy of Dance and Austin School of Classical Ballet. She received additional training under scholarship with Alvin Ailey School, Joffrey Jazz/Contemporary and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. AJ earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and Dance minor from the University of Texas. She has performed with Exclamation Dance Company, Austin Classical Ballet and BHumm Dance Company.
Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble (Houston, TX) – The ensemble is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, and is led by Artistic Director Amy Blake. This ensemble was designed for the dancer seeking collaboration with exemplary worldwide professionals in the industry to help them obtain greater levels of achievement in the arts through classical training in ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary. The ensemble provides dancers with a positive working environment and opportunities for master classes, private coaching, YAGP participation and multiple international showcases and performance venues.
METdance (Houston, TX) – Founded in 1995, Houston Metropolitan Dance Center Inc. strives to educate and revitalize a passion for dance through the finest instruction and performance. Under the direction of Marlana Doyle MET Dance Company has performed throughout the United States in dozens of theaters receiving high acclaim, performing works by some of the most influential and talented choreographers of our time. The company is the sister organization to the MET Dance Center. Mosaic Dance Project of Dallas (Dallas, TX) – Created in 2014 by Giovanna Godinez Prado, Mosaic Dance Project’s mission is to create, educate and inspire individuals that desire to grow not only as dancers, but as artists as well, along with our cultural and ethical awareness and values.
Natyananda: Joy of Dance (Birmingham, AL) – Founded in 1978 by Sheila Rubin, Natyananda performs both traditional and original choreographic works in the classical Bharatanatyam style of Southern India. Through student, professional and guest artist presentations Natyananda promotes understanding of universal artistic and cultural themes while showcasing the rich and unique heritage of Alabama’s Asian Indian-American community.
NobleMotion Dance (Houston, TX) – NMD was co-founded by Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble in 2009. Over the last five years it has distinguished itself as one of Houston’s most important dance companies. NMD brings a fresh perspective to their community with its mission of integrating technology and dance, and is a Resident Incubator at the Houston Arts Alliance and is currently on the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) touring roster.
LaQuet Sharnel Pringle DDF 2015 commissioned premiere(Austin, TX) – A Booker T Washington HSPVA alum, Pringle attending the North Carolina School of the Arts before making her Broadway debut in 2005 in Sweet Charity with Christina Applegate and Dennis O’Hare. She has also performed in productions of The Lion King and Memphis. Today, Pringle is an adjunct professor at Texas State University teaching Jazz Dance in the Musical Theater Department. She is also the artistic director and founder of Fearless Young Artists (FYA) and was the headliner of Dance Planet 19.
Rhythmic Souls (Dallas, TX) – This small company if wicked fierce rhythm tapper is captivating local audiences with their unique blend of style, charisma, innovative choreography and rapid-fire footwork. The company is on the cutting-edge of dance choreography with cross-genre repertoire that infuses rhythm tap dance with body percussion, sand dancing, contemporary movement, flamenco, swing dance and anything else that might lend itself to their rhythmic percussion. The company strives to bring the spirit of tap dance back to the stage and continue the legacy of an American art form.
Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts Dance Division (Dallas, TX) – The SMU Division of Dance offers both conservatory dance instruction and a liberal arts education. The dance program develops disciplined, versatile artists through professional training in ballet, modern and jazz techniques as well as theory. Undergraduates can earn a B.F.A. in Dance Performance or a minor in Dance Performance. Students perform masterworks of the great choreographers of the 20th century as well as works by contemporary masters.
Texas Ballet Theater School (Fort Worth, TX) – Training the next generation of dancers and arts patrons is the mission of TBT Schools. Starting with the very young, we nurture aspiring artists to discover their greatest potential and to develop a love of movement, a passion for creativity and an appreciation for the beauty and athleticism of classical dance.
Tickets for DDF 2015 available August 1 through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone (214) 871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201.
Indique Dance Company co-founder Sarita Venkatraman talks about the city’s growing Indian dance community and partaking in the reinvigorated Dallas DanceFest this weekend.
Dallas — From far away the Dallas dancescape appears to consist mostly of ballet and modern dance companies, but if you look closer there are also several cultural dance groups pushing their way to the forefront, including classical Indian dance group Indique Dance Company. Formed in 2008 by Sarita Venkatraman, Shalini Varghese, Latha Shrivasta, Anu Sury, Kruti Patel, Bhuvana Venkatraman and Shilpi Mehta, Indique Dance Company fuses Indian classical, folk and modern dance styles with contemporary themes to create an enjoyable and enlightening cultural experience.
And through its collaboration with the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation (ICHF), the company has had the chance to perform in some of the most popular venues in the Dallas Arts Districts, including Klyde Warren Park, the Crow Collection of Asian Art and Dallas City Performance Hall. “We are so thankful for all the opportunities Dallas has provided for Indique,” Venkatraman says. “Over the last six years we have been welcomed by both Indian and non-Indian audiences which has just been incredible.”
For Venkatraman dance has always been a calling. “Growing up in India my Dad was really into Indian classical music so I was exposed to the arts at a very young age. I joined a dance school in Mumbai at the age of 10 and have been dancing ever since.” Under the tutelage of Guru Shri Mani, Venkatraman began her Bharatanatyam dance training and after a couple of years moved on to learn Kathak from Smt. Guru Asha Joglekar. “In Sanskrit, guru means teacher and becoming a teacher is more of a calling than a profession. A teacher guides a student towards a margam or path. Some students choose to perform an Arangetram, also known as ascending the stage, which should not be considered a graduation performance but rather a beginning.”
Even moving to Dallas in 1995 to work on her doctorate in Physics at the University of Texas at Dallas couldn’t deter Venkatraman from continuing her Bharatanatyam training. Taking a friend’s suggestion Venkatraman went to take class at Arathi School of Dance where she met Guru Smt. Revathi Satyu. “My Guru Revathi Satyu is an amazing individual. As a guru she has taught me to love and appreciate the art not just as a student but also as a teacher. She is extremely patient, always smiling and most importantly always willing to share the art wholeheartedly.” Venkatraman has been teaching at Arathi for several years and her students have performed throughout the DFW area.
Venkatraman adds that if it wasn’t for Satyu Dallas audiences would know very little about Indian dance and the Indian culture. “Revathi is a pioneer in bringing the art of Bharatanatyam to Dallas. She started the Arathi School of Dance in Dallas in 1980 and has graduated over a 100 students. She has been responsible for spreading the awareness of Indian classical dance among Indian and non-Indian audiences. Through workshops, presentations and performances she continues to touch more and more people in the DFW metroplex.”
Since its conception, Indique Dance Company has presented several productions, including Roots, Maa: The Many faces of Motherhood and Jeeva: Synergy in Nature. The company will present a dance from Jeeva: Synergy in Nature called Thillana at the inaugural Dallas DanceFest happening this weekend at DCPH. The three-day event is being put on by the Dance Council of North Texas. Choreographed by Shalini Varghese and Bhuvana Venkatraman with music by Indian Rock band AGAM, Thillana features quick foot work, complex rhythms and intricate body poses. “Thillana is a classical Indian dance that has no storytelling. It’s a very happy, brisk dance that involves a lot of complex foot work and body movements.”
And while Dallas DanceFest will be the first time for many local dance companies to perform in the two-year-old City Performance Hall, that is not the case for Indique Dance Company who just performed there two weeks ago. “The DCPH is one of our favorite in-door performance spaces. The intimate setting is something we really enjoy. It makes it easier for us to have a conversation with the audience.”
» Indique Dance Company will perform at the Friday night showcase, 8 p.m. Aug. 29, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The other companies performing Friday are: Dallas Ballet Company, Ewert & Company, Rhythmic Souls, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
» Companies performing Saturday are: Chamberlain Performing Arts, Chado Danse, Houston METdance, Avant Chamber Ballet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Rep I and II companies, Tarrant County College Movers Unlimited, Mejia Ballet International, Bruce Wood Dance Project
» The Dance Council Honors are Sunday at 2 p.m., honoring Nita Braun, Ann Briggs-Cutaia and Joe Cutaia, Buster Cooper, Dylis Croman, Suzie Jary and Beth Wortley, with performances by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Bruce Wood Dance Project and 2014 Dance Council Scholarship Recipients.
Meadows Prize winner Jawole Willa Jo Zollar on collaborating with Southern Methodist University dance students and celebrating 30 years of her company, Urban Bush Women.
Dallas — Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was recently in Dallas at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, immersing its dance students in her movement style and rehearsal process. From Feb. 17-28, Zollar taught classes and worked with a select group of students on the restaging of her workChalabati, which will be performed at the Meadows’ Spring Dance Concert March 26-30.
Zollar originally developed Chalabati for students at Virginia Commonwealth University and it is currently in the repertoire of her company, Urban Bush Women (UBW). “Even though the movement is new for a lot of the dancers they are really hungry,” Zollar says. “In the end they all found what I was looking for.”
Zollar’s two-week residency is part of her reward for winning this year’s Meadows Prize from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. According to the school, the Meadows Prize is awarded to pioneering artists and scholars who are active in a discipline represented by one of the academic units within the Meadows School. Zollar will return for the second half of her residency Nov. 10-21 to stage Walking with ‘Trane… Chapter 3, a new dance suite inspired by John Coltrane’s formidable legacy and his seminal work A Love Supreme.
Growing up in Kansas City, Mo., Zollar trained with Joseph Stevenson, a student of the legendary Katherine Dunham. She earned a B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and a M.F.A. in Dance from Florida State University before moving to New York City to study with Dianne McIntyre at Sounds In Motion. “I was always a choreographer,” Zollar says, “Growing up I always enjoyed making up dances and scenarios, but I just didn’t really know or understood what it meant at that time.”
The Meadows Prize isn’t Zollar’s only cause for celebration this year. This season also marks UBW’s 30th anniversary which Zollar says she’s still trying to wrap her head around. “I don’t think I would have ever thought this could happen. This is just wonderful.” She adds, “There are so many companies out there that just come and go and I think the more unique you are the better chance you have in the long run.”
Zollar founded Urban Bush Women in 1984 as a performance ensemble dedicated to exploring the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change. “We are a company that, through our creative work onstage and our work in community, really looks at how we can bring out the ‘physicalization’ of stories that give perspectives that are not a part of the dominate culture.” In addition to her 34 works for UBW, Zollar has also created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, University of Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth University and has worked with collaborators including Compagnie Jant-Bi from Senegal and Nora Chipaumire.
Asked to sum up her experience at SMU, Zollar says she was very pleased with the Meadows School and its dancers. “The students are just fantastic. I really enjoyed working with them and watching them grow.” Zollar adds that she has also grown during her time at SMU. “As a teacher you are always striving to be more articulate and this experience has taught to be more articulate in class and in rehearsal.” And if there’s one thing Zollar would like the dancers to remember from their time with her, it’s how they distribute their weight. “It’s that shift of weight in the pelvis that enables dancers to get on and off the floor very quickly.”
The Meadows Spring Dance Concert will also feature Cold Virtues (2003) by Meadows Artist-in-Residence Adam Hougland; and D-Man in the Waters (1989) by Tony Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones. The Saturday evening concert will include a special tribute to Ann Williams, founder and artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Lily Cabatu Weiss, chair of the dance department at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, with performances by DBDT and Booker T. dancers.
For the first time, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company brings its stunning technique and savvy choreography to Dallas, part of the TITAS 2013-14 season.
Dallas — TITAS’ exhilarating 2013-14 season continues with one of Israel’s most prominent dance groups,Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC). Led by Artistic Director Rami Be’er, KCDC will be bringing its raw energy and cultural themes to the Dallas City Performance for two performances on March 1, at 2 and 8 p.m.
The Israeli dance scene has been growing over the past couple of decades thanks to companies like Batsheva Dance Company, Inbal Dance Theater, Bat-Dor Dance Company and Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. While Be’er says dance isn’t necessarily the first option for art enthusiasts compared to music and theater, it is certainly developing.
KCDC International Director Yoni Avital largely attributes this growth to the fact Israel is situated at the crossroads of three major continents. “Thousands of years ago the region was the crossroads and home to the ancient Spice Trade Route, connecting the Roman empire and Africa with East Asia. Today, artists here in Israel also connect these regions via their own trade be it music or dance,” Avital says. “I believe here in Israel you find more fusion and artistic innovation more so than with any other country in the world.” In addition to his role as International Director, Avital is also a professional musician and performs regularly around the world with his group The Shuk. A native New Yorker, Avital moved to Israel with his dancer wife, Dorry Aben, who danced with KCDC from 2009 to 2012.
KCDC was founded by the late Yehudit Arnon in 1970. Born in Komárno, Czechoslovakia, Arnon was a Holocaust survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the war she traveled to Budapest before settling in Kibbutz Ga’aton, Israel in 1948. “The story of Yehudit Arnon is quite exceptional and moving,” Avital says. “For one woman to survive such atrocities and then see one of her young students develop into one of the leading choreographers and become artistic director of one of Israel’s premiere contemporary dance companies is really quite extraordinary.”
“She had an enormous passion for dance and she had such a unique ability to positively influence those around her,” Be’er says. “I think that passion for dance, creativity and creation are the things that Yehudit found in me early on in my own career as a dancer and artist.”
Growing up in Kibbutz Ga’aton, Be’er began taking dance classes with Arnon at the age of three. He studied a variety of styles including Graham, Cunningham, jazz, contact improvisation and dance theatre. He joined KCDC as a dancer in 1981 and was asked by Arnon to take over as artistic director in 1996. “This has been a natural process for me to develop this unique project of Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and our International Village here in Kibbutz Ga’aton,” he says.
Arnon created the International Dance Village as part of her mission to bring dance and the local community together. Today, the Dance Village is home to the KCDC main company, second company, 5-and 10-month International Dance Journey program and other year-round programs. “It’s a true dance village and dance community in every sense of the word,” Avital says.
“KCDC’s Dance Village is quite an impressive place to visit for both dance enthusiasts and those who haven’t seen contemporary dance,” Be’er adds. “We currently have nine dance studios, dormitories and a professional 150-seat theater. We are looking to build a new structure in the future that will include more studios and accommodations for international tourists.”
“I love that they live and work in Kibbutz,” says Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS. “It’s a part of their lifestyle and not just a name which I think is great.” Santos came across KCDC on a trip to Israel in December 2012 and was immediately drawn to Be’er’s choreography. “I really liked Rami’s vision, the company’s performance quality and the fact they use their technique instead of just showing us tricks.”
Avital had a similar reaction the first time he saw KCDC perform. “From the first time I sat in KCDC’s Zichri Theatre in the International Dance Village and viewed Rami Be’er’s masterpiece Aide Memoire I was simply blown away. I quickly learned that Rami is a complete artist who not only choreographs, but also works on the set design, music, lighting and essentially every aspect of the polished and finished product.”
Santos adds, “They are really right at the top of the TITAS mission statement. They are international, high quality, somewhat boundary pushing and I think people are really going to like them.”
Dallas audiences will get their chance to experience KCDC for themselves when they come to the Dallas City Performance Hall on March 1, 2014. The company will be performing If At All, a 65-min piece created by Be’er in 2012. “The general theme of this work relates to our human existence in our own relationships; the relationships between the individual to the community; the individual to society, individuals in a two-person relationship and the individual with him or herself.”
In addition to the performance KCDC will also be holding auditions for its Dance Journey program at Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts. “We are looking for talented dancers who have a passion to dance and want to see themselves as professional dancers,” Avital says. “We also want dancers who are creative and are looking for new experiences.” Dancers can register and reserve an audition spot at www.kcdc.co.il/en/auditionregistration
Dancer Ida Saki on coming home to her native Dallas and performing with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.
Dallas — Dallas is truly a breeding ground for some of today’s most talented dancers. Just ask Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet company member Ida Saki. Born and raised in Dallas, Saki attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano before heading to New York to continue her training.
Saki was the only female dancer to be selected by the U.S. Presidential Scholar Program to meet President Obama and be named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts in 2010. She was also named modern dance winner by the National Foundation’s YoungArts, Texas Young Master, Iran’s person of the day as well as New York City Dance Alliance’s outstanding dancer of the year. This is Saki’s first season with Cedar Lake.
TheaterJones asks Ida Saki how it feels to perform with her dream company and how growing up in Dallas prepared her to dance in New York.
Saki and the New York-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will be making their triumphant returns to the Winspear Opera House on Saturday as part of the TITAS season. The one-night only performance includes works by famed Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, UK-based Hofesh Shechter and Canada’s Crystal Pite.
TheaterJones: How does it feel to be performing in your home town?
I can’t tell you how excited I am! To return to my hometown during my first season with the company, I am just ecstatic. My family, dance studio and peers at Booker T. are also really excited. We have a huge dance community in Dallas and I am so excited to show them what I have been up here in New York.
What was the audition process like for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet?
I actually started working with the company through workshops and master classes. Instead of auditioning through the company auditions I auditioned for the company’s summer intensive. That’s how I really got to know all the company members and the company director. So, when one of the dancers got injured last year I was asked to assist them in some performances in France and that was kind of my introduction into the company. Through that experience I got to know them better and they got to know me and we’ve just found it to be a really great fit.
How does Cedar Lake‘s movement fit on your body?
The interesting thing about the company is that it doesn’t focus on one particular movement style or movement genre. They bring in choreographers from all different realms so every single piece is a completely different world. And I think that’s why I’m so intrigued by the company. It wasn’t about doing one movement style that fit me really well and that I enjoyed doing, but it was more of a constant challenge trying to interpret all of these different choreographers’ works.
Did you get to collaborate with any of the guest choreographers?
Every choreographer works differently. We have worked with some choreographers who are very interested in what the dancers’ have to say through their movement, but we have also learned set works like Indigo Rose, which we are performing in Dallas. Another great thing about the company is that we get pre-set works as well as pieces that are created specifically for the company and its members.
How did growing up in Dallas prepare you for your dance career?
My dance studio and Booker T. were both very opened to any kind of career in dance and really any career in life. They prepare you to be a strong individual with self-discipline. They really cultivate all these characteristics that make a great employer or employee. Booker T. was super supportive and really encouraged me to do summer intensives and workshops even if it meant flying up to New York just for a weekend.
Through the dance industry I really found my calling with company work. Cedar Lake came to Dallas one year and that’s when I really fell in love with company work. So, the dance industry actually introduced me to Cedar Lake and through the company I got the education I needed to be successful in that world.
One of the hardest decisions a dancer has to make is whether or not to go to college. What factored into your decision to go to NYU?
That was an extremely difficult decision. I had half the people I was getting advice from telling me that a dancer’s career is short so I should go into it right away; while the other half was telling me there is nothing more important than getting an education. It was a huge dilemma for me, but in the end I decided to go to NYU.
I am a little bit of a nerd when it comes to academics so I knew that moving to New York I needed some structure in order to get acquainted with the city and my new life post parents and post Dallas. It ended up being the perfect fit for me because NYU is extremely opened to the individual just like Cedar Lake is. NYU have so many different individuals and they really cater to each one. So, it was a nice fit because I had structure, but I wasn’t babied at the same time.
What makes Cedar Lake stand out from other dance companies?
It’s a very interesting company and there is not another one like it in the world. You see these 16 individuals who look so completely different, they don’t look the same, they don’t dance the same and they don’t act the same, and cohesively it just works. It’s something you just have to see to believe.
We also have direct access to these European choreographers and the works that they do. A lot of companies especially in the U.S. don’t have that opportunity and so we are really becoming that bridge between Europe and the U.S.