Tag Archives: Charles Santos

Q&A: Jonathon Young, Electric Company Theatre

The ensemble of Betroffenheit. Photo: Wendy D Photography

The director of Electric Company Theatre on working with Choreographer Crystal Pite to explore the effects of PTSD in Kidd Pivot’s Betroffenheit, presented by  TITAS at Dallas City Performance Hall.

 

Dallas — Audiences are in for something different when TITAS presents two of Canada’s most groundbreaking performing arts companies, Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre, in a one-of-a-kind dance theatre experience this Thursday and Friday evening at Dallas City Performance Hall. The name of the work, Betroffenheit,is a German word that describes the shock or bewilderment that often follows in the wake of a violent or distressing event. In English it is loosely translated to mean “shock” or “a loss for words.” By combining text, design, story and dance, renowned choreographer Crystal Pite and Electric Company Theatre Artistic Director Jonathon Young hope to heighten the emotional state of their audiences as it pertains to the troubling aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The 120-minute work also features strobe-like effects, non-toxic theatrical haze, adult themes and coarse language.

Crystal Pite is a Canadian choreographer best known for her keen wit, brazen movement choices and theatrical flair. A former company member of Ballet British Columbia and William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, Pite made her choreographic debut in 1990, and since then has created more than 40 works for dance companies all around the globe, including Nederlands Dans Theatre, The National Ballet of Canada and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, to name a few. Pite is associate choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theatre I and Associate Dance Artist of Canada’s National Arts Centre. She was also appointed associate artist at Sadler’s Wells in London in 2013. Since 2002 her dance troupe, Kidd Pivot, has been racking up critical acclaim both nationally and internationally with its unique blending of classical and contemporary movements, breathtaking physicality and strong theatrical sensibility.

Jonathon Young is a Canadian actor best known for his role of Nikola Tesla on the SyFy show Sanctuary. His other acting credits include The Fog, Eureka and Stargate Atlantis. He is a graduate of the Studio 58 theatre school at Langara College and is a multiple Jessie Richardson Theatre Award Winner. Young is currently the artistic director of the Vancouver-based Electric Company Theatre, which he formed alongside fellow theatre school peers Kim Collier, David Hudgins and Kevin Kerr in 1996. What started out as a creative outlet for these young actors, directors and playwrights has quickly grown into one of Canada’s leading creators of live theatre. Over the last two decades Electric Company Theatre has created 21 original productions, including BetroffenheitTear the Curtain!, No Exit, Studies in Motion, Brilliant! and the feature film The Score. The Company has toured throughout Canada, to the U.S. and the U.K., and is also the co-founder of Progress Lab 1422, a 6,000-square-foot theatre creation space in Vancouver.

TheaterJones asks Jonathon Young about the evolving performing arts scene in Vancouver, coming up with the concept for Betroffenheit and bringing all the visual and technical elements together with the help of Crystal Pite.

Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian

TheaterJones: What does Betroffenheit mean? How did you come up with the concept for the production?

Jonathon Young: I found the word in a book called “Then We Act” by American Theatre Artist Anne Bogart. Betroffenheit is a German word that describes a state of being in the wake of a traumatic event.  In English we say “shock” or “speechless” or “being at a loss for words.” In Anne Bogart’s definition of the word she said it’s “a fertile and palpable silence….where language ceases and only the limits of language can be taken in.” So, on one level the word describes a tension between speech and action, which seemed perfect for a dance/theatre hybrid. Also, because there is no equivalent word in English, because it doesn’t translate, it seemed a very good title for a show about PTSD. It’s a big, mysterious word; bewildering and foreign, and that’s one of the troubling aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder: people who suffer from it feel “outside” life, they become cut off from others, it feels foreign and it’s very hard to describe to others what’s happening. I’ve never had it though, this is all from my research.

Can Dallas audiences expect to be taken on a more sensory or emotional journey during the production?

I would hope that the show would provide both a sensory and emotional experience for audience members. It is a personal and human story with thrilling technical elements.

All art forms struggle to find a balance between artistic expression and general accessibility. Do you think you and Pite found that balance in Betroffenheit? Can you give me a couple of examples?

Audiences who have seen the show so far seem to be “getting it” if that’s what you mean. It’s communicating a very specific story and yet, because it relies heavily on the more abstract expression of pure dance, there is plenty of room for interpretation. We’ve tried to stage the bewildering experience of PTSD, which involves something called “re-experiencing” (basically flashbacks that come without warning and seem very real). We’ve attempted to disorder the narrative structure in the same way that trauma can disorder reality. All this to say that there are some passages of Betroffenheit where an audience member who is expecting a very linear experience might feel lost or confused. But I suspect much of our audience is coming prepared to see a work of contemporary dance, and thus, isn’t going to be looking for a traditional scripted narrative.

Have you worked with Crystal Pite on previous projects? What makes her and her dancers such a good fit for this production?

I have worked with Crystal twice before. Electric Company hired her to do choreography for a play and a feature film that had dance sequences. This is the first time we’ve made something from scratch together. The Kidd Pivot dancers are not only rock star contemporary dancers, they’re also really good actors. I’m in awe of them all. I’d trust them with my life.

How did you and Pite go about blending the story, text, theatrics and movement in the show? Did you have any say when it came to Pite’s choreographic choices and vice versa?

Crystal and I just started talking. I sent her some writing that depicted a kind of dramatic zone disordered by an event in the past. She asked questions, responded with images, thought about design ideas and various characters, and then asked a bunch more questions. I would go away and write some more. Sometimes dialogue, sometimes stage directions that described specific action. We wanted to create a world where language and physicality were two essential halves of one whole. I started recording dialogues I’d written very early on and Crystal started using those recordings as a kind of music for the dancers to move to.  We worked together every step of the way to find the right balance between text, design, story and dance. She collaborated on all the writing and there is even one scene written by her. The choreography is all Crystal, but we talked endlessly about the overall shape and structure, the progression of events. It was probably the most thrilling and daunting collaborations of my career. The material is quite dark, but the process was often quite joyful.

The ensemble of Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian

How would you describe the movement inBetroffenheit? Pedestrian? Modern-based? Athletic? Lyrical?

There’s contemporary dance, salsa, tap dancing, clown, soft shoe numbers, slapstick routines, puppetry… and then some straight up acting too.

What led you along with Kim Collier, David Hudgins and Kevin Kerr to form the Electric Company Theatre?

We got out of theatre school in Vancouver in the mid 90’s and had some very specific ideas about what we thought theatre could be, and I guess we felt like we weren’t seeing it being done anywhere, so we decided to do it ourselves. We were young and brimming with energy and ideas, and also the four of us had really different skill sets so together we were able to carve something out of nothing. I really learned to write from Kevin and David. Kim became a director by doing it. We just made it up as we went along. And I guess in many ways we still are.

How competitive is the performing arts scene in Vancouver today?

It’s a relatively small city, so there isn’t a whole bunch of opportunity for actors and directors and designers. A handful of companies to work for, and no real commercial scene to speak of, but there is a strong indie scene and the city still has that kind of DIY spirit that produces a really eclectic, smart, outlandish brand of theatre.

How has the performing arts scene in Vancouver evolved since starting Electric Company Theatre in 1996?

The city is constantly growing and changing. There’s many, many extraordinary artists living here working in visual arts and music and there’s a strong film and television industry. We have a thriving Shakespeare Festival, a fantastic annual performing arts Festival called PUSH that brings in shows from all over the world, and a great annual dance series called Dance House. It’s a cool place to live and produce work, but I also feel that it’s so important to leave, go elsewhere and see what other people are up to.

>> This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

>> For more background on the evolution of dance theatre, check out Danielle Georgiou’s most recent Sixth Position column.

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Q&A: Catherine Ellis Kirk, Abraham.In.Motion

Kyle Abraham dancer Catherine Ellis Kirk. Photo: Breton Tyner-Bryan
Kyle Abraham dancer Catherine Ellis Kirk. Photo: Breton Tyner-Bryan

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.

This Q&A was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Q&A: Adam Sklute, Ballet West

Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley
Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley

Ballet West’s Artistic Director on participating in the reality series Breaking Pointe and what the company has in store for its first Dallas performance.

Dallas — As in any other industry, rising competition and the ever-changing economy have forced ballet companies across the nation to step outside the box when it comes to broadening their audience base and exposing more people to the art form. So when Ballet West’s Artistic Director Adam Sklute heard that BBC Worldwide Productions was looking for a ballet company to be the focus for a new reality series he jumped at the opportunity. After several interviews and screen tests Ballet West was chosen to star in the CW’s reality series Breaking Pointe, which premiered in 2012. Even though the show only lasted for two seasons, Ballet West is still feeling the impact with sold out shows and an expansive touring schedule.

The Salt Lake City-based company was formed in 1963 by Willam Christensen and is currently run by former Joffrey dancer Adam Sklute. At age 17 Sklute began training with the Oakland Ballet and San Francisco Ballet schools. He was one of the last two artists hand-picked by Robert Joffrey and spent 23 years with the Joffrey Ballet before joining Ballet West in 2007. During his time as a dancer Sklute got to perform leading roles in works by Gerald Arpino, Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Agnes DeMille and Robert Joffrey, to name a few. In addition to Breaking Pointe, Sklute’s other TV credits include The Joffrey Ballet’s Dance in America filmings of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Arpino’s production of Billboards as well as Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. In 2003 he assisted with and appeared in Robert Altman’s The Company and in 2012 appeared in The Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of Dance, a documentary chronicling the history of The Joffrey Ballet.

Since joining Ballet West Sklute has expanded the company repertoire and visibility through numerous world premieres, increased touring and greater focus on the Ballet West Academy. Over the last eight years Ballet West has presented more than 55 world/Utah premieres. The company has performed works by historical choreographers, including Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine and Michel Fokine as well as contemporary masters such as Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp. Sklute also oversees Ballet West’s Academy and is a guest teacher and coach for dance programs and workshops around the world.

Dallas audiences will get to see Ballet West in all its classical glory when they come to the Winspear Opera House May 29-30, closing TITAS’ 2014-15 season. The company’s diverse program will include George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) by William Forsythe and Jodie Gates’ Mercurial Landscapes (2013).

TheaterJones asks Adam Sklute about the changes he has made to Ballet West, bringing dance to larger audiences through reality T.V. and some of his fond memories working with Robert Joffrey.

TheaterJones: You have such a long rich history with the Joffrey Ballet. What convinced you to move to Salt Lake City and join Ballet West?

Adam Sklute: I had been with the Joffrey Ballet for 23 years starting as a dancer and eventually moving to the position of associate director. The company was going through a transition in 2006-07 where one of the founders, Gerald Arpino, was moving to the position of emeritus and they were going to do an international search for a new artistic director. I was told I would be in the running and I was very interested in the position, but I was also curious to see my market value would be outside of Joffrey. So, when I received a request to apply for Ballet West I thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out my market value. I went through the interview process and was asked to fly out to meet and work with the dancers and the staff, and while I was there I feel in love with the city and the company. I just thought that this was a place where I could really make a difference and I could be really happy living. In that moment my whole perspective changed and I knew it was time for a change and I have never regretted it.

Looking back over the last eight years are you satisfied with what you have been able to accomplish with the company?

Going in I knew I was joining a company that had a great legacy and history itself. I mean it was founded by one of the pioneers of American dance, Willam Christensen, and following him as artistic director was Bruce Marks, Sir John Hart from the Royal Ballet and Swedish dancer Jonas Kåge. And all of them had brought a unique and individual stamp to the company. I am a perpetual student so I enjoyed learning and understanding the company that I was going to be a part of and was going to lead artistically.

I set some very strong goals about what I wanted to do in terms of repertoire and expansion and I worked very hard to get them moved forward. On the other hand, you have to kind of move with the tide. I mean things would happen. Opportunities would come up and changes would occur. My goodness the economy fell out from beneath us just as I was hired. The best laid plans are always there to be modified and changed. What I would like to attempt to be is very much a forward thinker and an intense planner for the future, but then be able to move with the tide and go where its obvious things are happening. With that said I have been very proud of the accomplishments of Ballet West over the last eight years and yes, not a little surprised about some of it, and then also quite gratified.

How does Ballet West’s classical style differ from other ballet companies in the U.S.?

I like to use a poetic phrase to explain our dancers, which is they are as tall and dramatic as the Rocky Mountain region that we represent. What I mean by that is first of all I love long-limbed dancers and very linear kind of looks. What people are going to see is that very lengthy and expansive type of movement that comes from these long-limbed dancers. And even the shorter dancers have that same sort of length and expansion because that’s how we move and it’s how we dance. But on top of that we have a great deal of intensity and theatricality and the dancers understand who they are on the stage. They have a stage presence and the knowledge of how to captivate an audience. So, I think what’s special about us is that we are once a very linear company, but we are also a theatrical company and all that mixed together I think creates a very beautiful and unique look and style.

Do the three pieces on the program, Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) and Mercurial Landscapes (2013), clearly capture the company’s versatility and unique style?

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling

Absolutely, and I have to say Charles Santos was a big part of the decision making process for the programming because he really knows his Dallas audience and he also wanted to represent us in our best light. And I appreciated that tremendously. So yes, the program does show off so many of the facets of what we have done and in a number of ways what I have done since I have been here with Ballet West.

How did you get involved with the reality series Breaking Pointe?

How it came together was BBC Worldwide Productions had been experimenting and shopping around this idea for a reality Television show all about ballet for several years. They had gone to a lot of companies that were bigger than ours who either said no they didn’t want to do it or said yes, but in the end they couldn’t work it out with all their company members and union rules. We were on a long list of companies that they were interviewing and they also wanted us to do a screen test where they would come and spend a week with us filming as many classes, rehearsals, meetings and social gatherings as possible. And also interview all of the dancers interested in being part of the show. We did that and they put together a promo for our company and shopped it around to the networks and the CW picked it up. Now, we were very specific about contracts and time such as when they could film us and when they couldn’t. Each individual had control over what they were allowing people to film and what not to. For instance, I said I was not going to have any cameras in my home. With that said, yes, what you are seeing is the real us and yes, every single situation that happened was real. What you have to remember is that how it is presented on the screen had a lot to do with how pieces were edited together.

When it came to the dance scenes in the show did you have a hand in the editing process?

So, what I was able to do was say “you can film this, but you can’t film that.” I wasn’t there in the editing room so I had to trust BBC a great deal. BBC told me they had two members of the Royal Ballet who would be viewing all of dance scenes in the editing process and would not let any less than desirable dancing go onto the screen. The thing that I can say is for a myriad of reasons we never had as much dancing in there as I wanted. A lot of that had to do with the various trusts and foundations for the choreography that we worked with who either did not want that much of it shown or who were charging a lot of money for that shot. And that also went for the music that we used in the show.

Are you happy with the way you and the company were portrayed on the show?

All of the drama and everything else aside, what I know is that every clip of the dancing came out good. Ultimately, the company showed itself well as a group of dancers and we showed the world the highest caliber of dancing. So, even if the show was based more on the drama stuff what was always there was the quality of the dancing. And I know it sounds cliché, but we also had loftier aspirations than just what the show could do for Ballet West. We felt like we were doing something for the world of dance and for ballet in general. We did not do this show for the thousands of people that know and love ballet. We did this show for the millions of people who know nothing about ballet.

Can you talk about some of your favorite moments working with Robert Joffrey?

By the age of 19 I was a professional dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. I was in class one day when Robert Joffrey showed up and invited me to one of his personal workshops in San Antonio, Texas. He said I needed to go to this and work with him personally. He would give these three hour technique classes and they were the most amazing things I have ever experienced in my life. I had never met anyone who was so meticulous, so detailed orientated and yet so inspiring. I never felt like the details were bogging me down. He hired me after very little study.

Robert Joffrey also had a quirky sense of humor. When he hired me he said to me “Adam, I am going to hire you for my company against my better judgment.” And I said OK what does that mean and he said that “you are smart so I know you are going to succeed. Now you just have to learn how to dance.” He knew that’s how I needed to be spoken too. I am not one for a lot of ego stroking. I respond better to a challenge. And he was right. I had the right proportions for ballet and could do the movements, but it didn’t look like anything because I had no sense of technique. And I spent my entire dance career learning and understanding technique. Like how to stand in fifth position and how to create lines. But Robert Joffrey saw that in me and that was a huge inspiration for me.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Dance Council of North Texas Unveils New Festival

A New Dance Festival is Coming to Dallas!

Dallas, TX – New Name! New Stage! New Vision! was the mantra of the Dance Council of North Texas’ (DCNT) luncheon Friday afternoon as the organization officially announced the new Dallas DanceFest Aug. 29-31, 2014.

According to the fact sheet, the festival will take place Friday and Saturday evening at the new Dallas City Performance Hall with Sunday reserved for the DCNT Honors which is typically held in September. Information about ticketing and the application process will be made available soon.

Friday’s luncheon drew about 75-100 people including choreographers, dance company heads, arts media, city council and arts organization members. I saw my buddy Josh Peugh (AD of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), my editor Mark Lowry (TheaterJones.com), TITAS Executive Director Charles Santos, dance critic Margaret Putnam (the lady I one day hope to be) and the lovely Ann Williams who be retiring as the AD of Dallas Black Dance Theatre at the end of this season. I also met Anne Bothwell of Art&Seek, Melissa DeGroat (AD Epiphany DanceArts) and Katie Puder (AD Avant Chamber Ballet).

DCNT Executive Director Pam Deslorieux said she was very pleased with the turnout and everyone appears to be very excited about the new festival.

I was just excited to see so many of the up and coming dance companies at the luncheon including Avant Chamber Ballet, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance and Epiphany DanceArts. These companies are the future and we as an arts community must do whatever we can to cultivate their talent. Sorry if that sounds preachy, but it’s true

More information about Dallas DanceFest 2014 is available at www.DallasDanceFest.org.

Q&A: Choreographer Danielle Georgiou, DGDG

Photo: Emily Loving
Photo: Emily Loving

Choreographer Danielle Georgiou discusses the concept behind her company’s latest production, Dirty Filthy Diamonds, plus her experiences with crowdfunding and the state of the local dance community.

Dallas — Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) may be one of youngest dance groups in Dallas, but they have certainly been grabbing the community’s attention with memorable showings at last year’s Aurora and this year’s Atopia. DGDG is hoping to keep that momentum going with its latest production, Dirty Filthy Diamonds, at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park, running Feb. 26-March 8.

Danielle Georgiou formed the DGDG in 2011 and describes it as a performance art dance group that works within the ideas of German expressionism and Tanztheater. Georgiou truly has a hand in every part of the dance community in North Texas. She is the Program Coordinator and Visiting Scholar in Dance at Eastfield College, the Director of University of Texas at Arlington’s Dance Ensemble, a guest choreographer for Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet, a performer with Contemporary Ballet Dallas and a local dance writer/critic who writes a monthly column,Sixth Position, for TheaterJones.

Dirty Filthy Diamonds was created by Georgiou in collaboration with Justin Locklear (script and set design), Jermy Elizabeth Johnson (composer), Hillary Holsonback (video, makeup and costume designer), Emily Loving (graphic design and set design) and the DGDG dancers.

TheaterJones asks Georgiou about the inspiration for Dirty Filthy Diamonds, her experience using Kickstarter to generate funds and the challenges facing the Dallas dance community today.

TheaterJones: You wear so many hats: dancer, teacher, choreographer, performance artist, dance writer. How do you manage to balance it all?

Danielle Georgiou: Well, I don’t sleep a lot and I drink a lot of coffee. But really I just love what I do and it’s all connected in a strange yet logically way. And I think the fact that I can connect my teaching to my writing and then to the performance part of it, it just makes everything simple in a way. There are days when I am just done with everything, but the next morning everything is all right and I just get back to work. I mean if I wasn’t doing this for a living I would be completely miserable.

Did you start out as a dancer turned choreographer or vice versa?

It started out with performance, but I was also interested in behind the scenes work like stage managing and lights and just the whole process of being in a performance. Then in college I was given the chance to choreograph and I just feel in love with telling stories and now I can’t get it out of my system.

I have always been interested in creative writing. In college I got into business writing which I didn’t really like so, I took a public policy class and got really interested in writing about education and the arts. In graduate school when I was writing my thesis about arts education and arts funding in Texas it got noticed by Anne Bothwell and Charles Santos and they gave me a chance. My first writing opportunity was with Art&Seek, a service of KERA.

Photo: Courtesy of DGDG
DGDG Artistic Director Danielle Georgiou. Photo: Karlo X. Ramos

You are very in touch with the local dance community. What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the community today?

I think its two-fold. I think the first part is funding. It’s how the smaller companies are going to raise money when there are larger companies with longer histories also vying for funds. When you are new, and by new I mean 10 years or younger, it’s hard to maintain that audience base as well as the donation and funder bases. So, I think it’s very important for the smaller companies to start thinking creativity about how to put on a show. It doesn’t have to be in the biggest theater. It doesn’t have to be in a theater at all. I think a lot of the most interesting work is coming from people and/or companies that are seeking out alternative spaces.

And the other part is the competition aspect of the dance community and it’s not just in Dallas, but a national occurrence. Dance is about community. Fundamentality that’s how we used to communicate because we didn’t have a written language so, we’d communicate through our bodies and through movement. And I think that idea has gotten lost along the way. That we are really a family and that we are all speaking the same language. And if we are going to survive then we need to support one another and not fight against each other. And these challenges really go hand in hand because we are all fighting for the same money and audience. So, instead of pitting ourselves against one another I really think we need to have that camaraderie and that family spirit.

I know you used Kickstarter to help raise funds for Dirty Filthy Diamonds. What was the process like?

For me, it was just learning the process and doing it all. It’s very simple and they pretty much lay it out for you. I think my biggest challenge was just overcoming my nervousness about it. I have never asked for money before so, I was putting myself out there in this very vulnerable way. In the end I was so humbled by the amount of support we received from the Kickstarter community and people here in Dallas. I had a really positive experience with Kickstarter and with using a crowdfunding platform and I would definitely recommend it for other people.

Did you encounter any challenges during the collaboration process with Locklear, Johnson, Holsonback and Loving?

It’s been pretty smooth. We’ve all worked together in some capacity or another on other things. It helps that we all have the same way of thinking. We approach concepts differently, but ultimately we aesthetically view things in a similar manner. But it is also challenging. We are all really strong willed people and we have to work together to make everyone is happy and to make the work make sense. We also have to constantly remind ourselves that it’s not personal. I am just really lucky that I’m able to work with people who are like my family.

What is performance art?

I would describe performance art, in the dance sense, as taking a dance company out of the theater and then flipping the table and putting it back in. So, we are in a theater space, but it’s not a theater anymore. We’ve created an installation. We’ve created an environment. So, it’s not a traditional set and it’s not staged. You walk in and you become part of the show. Performance art is a happening. We’re living our lives in this place that we’ve created for you to come in and live with us. That is what Dirty Filthy Diamonds is about.

How did you come up with the idea for Dirty Filthy Diamonds?

My boyfriend Justin and I were talking about these vignettes that he was sketching out one day and I said it would be really great to tell that through movement instead of a traditional script and he agreed. Justin is an avant garde performer and works a lot with puppets and clowning so, movement comes naturally to him as well. And we thought this would be a great way to continue working together and really push both of ourselves because he has never worked on a dance project and I have worked on theatrical performances before, but have never streamed a performance together or written an original script. Then we just started developing the script based on the idea of growing up in America and then coming of age and dealing with sexuality and gender. And also that competitive aspect of becoming an adult and how we are basically still who we were in high school, but just with larger bank accounts and rules and responsibilities. The show really deals with the themes and concepts of being young in America and in a culture that is dealing a lot with social media, distraction and sex. Those are the things we are confronted with every day.

In the promotional photos the dancers are wearing similar black wigs and blue tops with blue lipstick. What is the idea behind this?

One of the main aspects of the show is finding individuality. How we fight constantly to present ourselves as individuals while we end up eventually conforming. This is something that just naturally happens. It’s just the social order of life and that’s the idea behind the wigs and identical looks of everybody. And throughout the show everyone’s constantly struggling with it and trying something else on so they eventually end up looking one certain way. This causes something to happen, but you will have to go see Dirty Filthy Diamonds to find out what.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Cultural Connections

Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Photo: Uri Nevo
Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Photo: Uri Nevo

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.

Photo: Uri Nevo
Photo: Uri Nevo

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

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Arts District Announces Newly-Elected Officers

Check out this press release from the Dallas Arts District announcing its new officers for the 2013-2015 term, including Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS and Zenetta Drew, Executive Director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Arts District CEOs Boost Collaboration Among Organizations

DALLAS, TX — May 7, 2013 — The Dallas Arts District announced Tuesday its new officers for the 2013-2015 term with a common goal of strengthening collaboration both among Arts District organizations and with the surrounding community. The group represents CEO-level leadership as the District gears up for the national conference of the Theater Communications Group this June, and in 2014 the Association of Art Museum Directors Annual Meeting and U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The Dallas Arts District organization is a catalyst for cultural activity within the Dallas Arts District recognizing artistic excellence and the role arts organizations play in the ongoing development of North Texas’ social, educational and economic development.

“This group represents a wealth of knowledge and experience,” says Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson, Chair of the Dallas Arts District nonprofit board and Eugene McDermott Director of The Dallas Museum of Art. “With the completion of the Dallas City Performance Hall, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and Klyde Warren Park, we are now seeking ways that we can actively work together to reach our ultimate goal of inclusivity and community engagement crucial to the success of the Arts District.”

With Dr. Anderson as Chair, the 2013-2015 officers also include Vice Chair Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director at Dallas Theater Center; Secretary Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS; Treasurer Zenetta Drew, Executive Director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and Past Chair Amy Hofland, Executive Director of the Crow Collection of Asian Art.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the Arts District and for Downtown Dallas,” said Catherine Cuellar, Executive Director of the Dallas Arts District. “We can outline and achieve common goals to spark momentum and enhance the vibrancy of the city so that everyone — not just in our neighborhood — wins.”

The Dallas Arts District is no stranger to collaboration. This month, The AT&T Performing Arts Center opens the District’s first coffee shop inside its new Ticket and Information Center, partnering with local vendor The Pearl Cup. Last week, TITAS announced its new season, including the Dallas debut of Shen Wei, the lead choreographer for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics; in conjunction, The Crow Collection of Asian Art will present an exhibition and salon discussion series. Next month’s Theater Communications Group national conference has received support from the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau to be presented at the Dallas City Performance Hall, the AT&T Performing Arts Center and the Latino Cultural Center in Deep Ellum.

About the Dallas Arts District

Dallas Arts District was created in 2009 as a nonprofit organization that advocates for the 68-acre Dallas Arts District and stimulates the economic and cultural life of the region. The Dallas Arts District is funded by grants, voluntary membership dues, sponsorships, donations and operational support from Downtown Dallas, Inc. For more information on memberships and sponsorships, please visit www.thedallasartsdistrict.org.

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Media Inquiries:

Catherine Cuellar
Executive Director, The Dallas Arts District
cuellar@downtowndallas.org
214-744-6643