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.
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:
Choreographer Yin Yue brings her unique style to Dallas in Begin Again, part of Bruce Wood Dance’s Harmony performance this weekend.
Dallas — Acclaimed New York-based choreographer Yin Yue is the latest name on the short list of artists who have been invited to commission work for Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) since Kimi Nikaidoh took over the reins of the Dallas-based troupe in 2014. Since then BWD has performed works by international choreographers such as Bryan Arias, Andy Noble, Katarzyna Skarpetowska and Bridget L. Moore as well as pieces by in-house talents like Nikaidoh, Joy Atkins Bollinger and Albert Drake. Yue’s new work, Begin Again, will premiere this weekend at BWD’s Harmony performance at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. The program also includes Wood’s poignant The Day of Small Things (2012) and the crowd pleasing Rhapsody in Blue (1999).
In regards to the program Nikaidoh says, “The title represents the variety of this program, and we have been fortunate with Bruce’s work because there is such variety from a single choreographer. Certainly that range expands when you add another choreographic voice to the program, and Yue’s work is a great fit because it is coming from a different place than Bruce’s.” She adds, “I also want our dancers to continue growing in their diverse abilities.”
Nikaidoh calls Wood’s The Day of Small Things a beautiful example of how he could make a quiet work very powerful. “It’s quiet and understated and yet it’s glorious and majestic at the same time. The inspiration for the piece was that these small interactions and moments between people are really meaningful and important. And we don’t need to look at those as though they’re inconsequential.”
Nikaidoh notes that Wood created the piece in honor of her grandma, whom he was very fond of. “He and my grandma had a really sweet relationship. He would let her come watch rehearsal and she was just such a sweet, compassionate and lovely person who really appreciated Bruce’s work.”
On the other hand is Rhapsody in Blue, which Nikaidoh describes as one big party. “It’s elegant, charming and just loads of fun. And that is one of his most classical pieces. There’s a lot of fun, flirtatious and an almost who cares feel to parts of it.”
The third piece on the program is Yin Yue’s Begin Again, which uses heavy electronic music and FoCo contemporary technique to support the cyclical nature of the work. FoCo is a contemporary folk style that Yue originated, which is inspired by the elements, including root, wood, water and metal. Nikaidoh got to experience this way of moving firsthand when Yue visited BWD back in May. In addition to creating a work for the company’s Harmony performance, Yue also taught several technique classes during her stay.
It was during these classes where Nikaidoh says Yue began to create movement for her new work. “She would do some warm up in place and then she would just start a choreographic phrase and what I ended up realizing is that a lot of the movements that she generates for a piece come from these phrases that she uses in her classes.”
Nikaidoh also learned that Yue’s movement style is driven by an internal rhythm instead of a musical melody. Nikaidoh explains, “So, she feels inspired that the first movement should be slow and thick and then the second two movements need to be staccato and coming quicker. And that’s interesting because even though some parts of the dancing end up going exactly with the music the movement itself and the rhythm you’re supposed to do the movement with are really coming from inside her and not from the music.”
Originally from Shanghai, Yue studied classical ballet, Chinese classical and folk dance at Shanghai Dance School. She continued her education at Shanghai Normal University where she had the opportunity to appear in many festivals and dance performances throughout China. Yue moved to New York City in 2004 to pursue a MFA in contemporary dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Yue’s distinct movement style has earned her many accolades over the last couple of years, including winner of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago International Commissioning Project in 2015, BalletX’s 2015 Choreographic Fellowship and Northwest Dance Project’s 5th annual Pretty Creatives International Choreographic Competition in 2013. She was also selected as an emerging choreographic at Springboard Danse Montreal in 2015 and was a finalist of The A.W.A.R.D Show 2010 put on by New York The Joyce Theater Foundation. She currently resides in New York where she is the artistic director of the Yin Yue Dance Company. She also holds the position of artistic director and residency choreographer at Jiangxi Zhongshan Dance School.
In a video on BWD’s Facebook page Yue expresses her amazement with how quickly the dancers were able to pick up her movement in a very short timeframe. “The first couple of days are just about getting your body into what you are doing and there is a learning and questioning like why and how and then we can already see the dramatic change about Thursday Friday,” Yue says. “So, then I create a phrase in front of them and I look back and they are already doing it so we are already 80 percent there and for me it is just way fast.”
You can see Bruce Wood Dance perform Yin Yue’s Begin Again at the company’s Harmony performance at 8 pm. June 15 and 16 at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas.
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.”
Bruce Wood dancer Emily Drake on partnering with Houston-based METdance in Bridget L. Moore’s new work, Following Echoes, part of the Lone Stars performance on Friday.
Dallas — Emily Drake is not hard to spot on stage amongst the other members of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD). Her fiery red hair and petite statue will always draw your eye, but it’s the way she lives in the movement that keeps us from being able to look away. “Emily is a really gifted performer and an intelligent mover,” says BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh. “She can make just about anything work. So, say you ask her to make a turn go into something else that goes to the floor or in the air and she can very quickly find a way to make that happen. Her musicality is also really remarkable. …There are dancers who can do something on the note and there are dancers who can do something with the feeling of the note in the music and Emily can do with the feel of the note immediately. It’s this emotional intelligence too that makes her performance so satisfying to watch.”
Originally from Nashville, Drake grew up studying modern, ballet and jazz and attended summer programs at The Rock School of Ballet. She came to Dallas in 2010 to attend Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where she had the opportunity to perform in works by renowned choreographers Martha Graham, Adam Hougland, Jessica Lang, Billy Siegenfeld, Bill T. Jones and local dancemaker Bruce Wood. She met Wood toward the end of college and worked with him on a project basis till she graduated in 2014 and officially joined the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP), now Bruce Wood Dance. Today, Drake is one of the few remaining company members that got to work with Wood directly before his passing in May of 2014.
“He was very intense,” Drake says about her first time working with Wood in the summer of 2013. “He did not let me go under the radar. He pushed me and really laid into me and it was all because he was trying to get something out of me that I wasn’t aware of yet. He just had this energy about him that made the people around him want to be great for him.”
Drake laughs as she reflects on RED, the first piece she learned with the BWDP, and one of the two Wood works the company will be presenting at its Lone Stars performance with special guests Houston-based METdance this Friday evening at Moody Performance Hall. “I was blown away by the physicality of it and at the time it was the hardest dance I had ever done.” Drake explains, “I didn’t know how to balance my energy yet so, I just pushed myself to go 100 percent the entire time and you just can’t do that in this piece. After I learned how to control my energy the piece feels so different now and I definitely get more enjoyment out of doing it.”
In addition to RED, BWD will be doing another Wood favorite, Lovett! and Drake and David Escoto will perform in Bridget L. Moore’s new work Following Echoes alongside METdance company members Danielle Garza and Kerry Jackson. The program also features METdance’s Mario Zambrano’s Volver, Paralyzed by Fear by Houston-based Courtney Jones and Snow Playground by New-York based choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska.
“This show is all about celebrating dance in Texas,” Nikaidoh says about the program which she collaborated on with METdance Artistic Director Marlana Doyle. “At first it was just going to be a shared show and then we thought how great it would be for someone to come in and set a work using dancers from both companies.”
The choreographer they chose is Texas native Moore, who at the time was the head of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She has since been released from her position for reasons that are still unknown. It’s the organization’s loss as Moore has continued to find ways to share her creativity within the Dallas community and her most recent work, Following Echoes, will be making its debut in Lone Stars. “The only directives we had for Bridget was length, the number of dancers and that we would like the work to have emotional weight and be athletic,” Nikaidoh says. “We appreciate her coming in and giving our dancers this opportunity to learn from her.”
As one of the four dancers in the piece Drake was able to give me some behind the scenes information about Moore’s creative process and what is was like working with the dancers from METdance. Drake says Bridget started off the process by talking to them about her feeling for the piece. That it would be her way of showing appreciation toward Bruce as well as delve into the different transitions we go through in life.
“She then used the different images we have of Bruce in the studio to create a motif based off of how each image made her feel,” Drake says. “Some of the movement was planned while other times she would just give us a directive like right leg developpe in a circular motion.”
Drake adds that the structure of the piece is a mix of ensemble work with solos plugged in, but in the ensemble sections the dancers are rarely doing the same things at the same time. She also says there is not a whole lot of partnering involved in the dance. “Bridget likes to keep your eyes moving around the space. She likes filling up the stage so big, full lines of energy are very important to her.” Drake describes the piece as, “Kind of like being on a rollercoaster because there are these moments of high energy and others when the movement calms down, which is represented through the highs and lows in the music.”
The cast learned the piece in a very short time at the BWD Gallery back in December and then to keep things balanced went to Houston to rehearse at METdance’s studio space a few weeks ago. “It has been a really nice collaboration,” Drake says. “Everyone was so easy going and honestly we were just enjoying each other’s company.”
As for Drake’s future as a dancer she says, “BWD is home for me. It has given me everything I didn’t know I was looking for and there has never been a moment that I felt like I wasn’t growing as a dancer.” She adds, “From the start everyone was so supportive and I never really felt like I was in this alone and that’s what I like about the company. BWD has always been first and foremost about the group so, if you don’t love it then this is not the place for you.”
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!
Bruce Wood Dance prepares for the physically taxing elements in Joy Atkins Bollinger’s Hillside, part of the company’s RISE performance this weekend.
Dallas — Against what will be a backlit stage, Kimi Nikaidoh slowly walks across the space in Bruce Wood Dance’s (BWD)main studio with a pensive expression on her face. Her left arm habitually reaches out to brush across the other dancers’ feet, which are swaying haphazardly as the dancers lay prone on a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside made of dense Styrofoam and reinforced with half inch plywood. As Nikaidoh moves further downstage, the dancers start a series of quick lower body exercises, including flex and pointed toes, turned out feet and crisscrossing legs, which they perform in tandem as well as off time. Even without the lighting this image is striking thanks to the dancers’ simplistic movements, which stir up a wealth of emotion, and are also recurring themes in choreographer Joy Atkins Bollinger’s new work, Hillside, for the BWD’s RISE performance this weekend.
Bollinger began her dance training at the age of 7 at the Fort Worth School of Ballet with Victoria Fedine and Paul Mejia. During her time there she performed in productions of The Nutcracker and Cinderella with the Fort Worth Ballet Company. She eventually was invited to the Cedar Island Summer Intensive for two consecutive years where she lived and studied with Suzanne Farrell, who was one of George Balanchine’s muses at the New York City Ballet during the 1960s and ’70s. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a B.F.A. in ballet, Bollinger joined the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) in 2002. She worked with BWDC for four years while also dancing as a guest artist for Irving Ballet, Metropolitan Classical Ballet and Madison Ballet. Today, Bollinger is an artistic associate with Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance where she is restaging Wood’s works and starting to make some of her own, including Carved In Stone, which was her first full-length dance for BWD and was met with critical acclaim at the company’s SIX performance last year.
Bollinger says the inspiration for Hillside came from an image she kept seeing in her head of just a slope.
“I just couldn’t shake this image of an abstract hillside that looks like someone just took some marley and squished it from the sides so it just has a ripple in it,” Bollinger says. “And I could also see the dancers starting out with their legs in the air and a figure just walking by and brushing their hand against that.”
To bring this idea to life, Bollinger had her brother who happens to be an architectural engineer help her create an architectural file, which is what the Styrofoam factory referred to when cutting the material. From there the prop had to be assembled and then reinforced so the dancers would be able to run across and perform on it. “So the meat of it is actually a dense foam that weighs between 200 and 300 pounds that we then covered with a thin carpet and marley flooring.”
In addition to the even, smooth look on top, Bollinger also needed the prop to be light enough to slide around the stage, which the dancers do a couple of times throughout the piece. Bollinger explains that the prop begins up stage and will move to mid stage during Nikaidoh’s personal struggle before being shifted to a diagonal, which will represent Nikaidoh’s new perspective on life. She adds, “The first transition will have these flashes of light and as the music changes the downstage will be lit, but the upstage will be dark so all you can see is the front edge of the prop creeping into the light.”
If you had to opportunity to see Carved In Stone, you will be able to see some similarities between that piece and Hillside, most obviously Bollinger’s penchant for large casts and captivating stage design and lighting techniques. She has also taken a page out of Wood’s book with the use of understated movement and silky smooth partnering sections. Like Wood, Bollinger also relies heavily on instinct so that her movement always has a continuous flow to it, but keeps in context with the piece’s narrative and imagery.
This is most clearly seen in the large group section near the end when all 14 dancers run into the space, including three dancers on the hillside, to perform a breathtaking series of body arcs and under-curves, which Bollinger layers with balletic legs and textured arm movements to fast-paced instrumentals. With the use of creative pathways and musical timing, Bollinger avoids the clutter and chaos that generally comes with such large dance works; instead making smart choices that add more dimension and emotional depth to the already deeply empowering work.
And as for why Bollinger decided to work such a large cast she says, “There is just something so satisfying and fulfilling about seeing a lot of bodies on stage. The piece reads stronger with more bodies and the music is so big and powerful, and there are so many layers at the end that I just wanted there to be a moment where everyone can see the big picture.”
Hillside makes it premiere at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance at Moody Performance Hall Nov. 17-18. The program also includes Wood’s Lay Your Burdens Down and The Only Way Through Is Through. This program will be dedicated to two choreographer/instructor Kim Abel; and to former BWDC dancer Doug Hopkings, both of whom passed a way in recent months.