Tag Archives: Christopher L. Huggins

Southern Hospitality: Preview of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2018 Cultural Awareness Series


Michelle N. Gibson. Photo: Omar Ramos

Choreographer and Hurricane Katrina survivor Michelle N. Gibson shares her story in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series.

Dallas — In August 2005, Michelle N. Gibson and her family, including her newborn son, piled into their car and drove away from their New Orleans home. A home they would never return to due to the flooding and destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With very few supplies and no means to contact family and friends, Gibson and her family drove all the way to Dallas where her boyfriend at the time had recently resided. It was in a hotel lobby where Gibson got her first look at the devastation caused by Katrina. “We had no idea what was going on because we didn’t even have electricity in the hotels so, we didn’t know about the conditions of the convention center or the whereabouts of our family and friends. Let me tell you! When I watched the TV for the first time and saw the people in front of the convention center looking like it was a third world country, I just lost it. I have never felt so helpless.”

That first year after relocating was a tough one for Gibson, who knew nobody in the area. She chose to stay home with her young children instead of finding a job as a dance educator. She says at the time she didn’t even want to dance. All that changed the day Vicki Meek called her out of the blue and told her to get down to the South Dallas Cultural Center. “Now, if you know Mama Vicki then you know when she speaks you better listen. She said she heard that I had been in Dallas for a year and she had not laid eyes on me so I needed to make my way down to the South Dallas Cultural Center.”

DBDT rehearsing Displaced, Yet Rebirthed.  Photo: Melissa Young

Gibson soon found herself at the South Dallas Cultural Center where she met Meek who, to this day, has been a source of comfort and support for Gibson. “The South Dallas Cultural Center was the space that gave me a new start. It gave me a new place to create and a new home and I am forever grateful to Vicki and the center.” She adds, “Vicki also enabled me to pick back up with Exhibit Dance Collective, a dance company I started in New Orleans which is kind of like the Urban Bush Women of the south in that the work was all about the feminist empowerment movement and women of color.”

Today, in addition to running Exhibit Dance Collective, Gibson also teaches dance at Brookhaven College and Mountain View College in Dallas. She also holds an artist in residence position with the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans. Over the last 12 years Gibson has also taught dance for the Dallas Independent School District and has conducted numerous dance intensives and workshops for universities and cultural centers across the U.S. and in Germany. Gibson earned a B.F.A in dance from Tulane University and her M.F.A in dance and performance studies from Hollins University/American Dance Festival at Duke University.

Gibson’s choreographic works include New Orleans Second Line: Takin It To The Roots performed at the American Dance Festival in 2001; Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters with the Dallas Children’s Theater; Krump accompanied by the LoneStar Wind Orchestra at the Meyerson Center; 2008 South Dallas Dance Festival premiere of I Made It, But Some Didn’t, a tribute to souls survivors of Hurricane Katrina; and the Dallas premiere of Evolution: Honoring, Recognizing, and Uplifting Women of Color and Sisters of the Yam at the South Dallas Cultural Center in 2012.

This weekend Gibson will be sharing her Katrina evacuation story using some traditional New Orleans dance moves and music in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, which is part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Cultural Awareness Series at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. It was recently announced that the dancers will be accompanied by The Kickin’ Brass Band and New Orleans trumpeter Thaddeus Ford in the grand finale. The program also includes Christopher L. Huggins’ tribute to South African President Nelson Mandela in His Grace.

After receiving the call from former DBDT Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore asking if she would be a part of the performance, Gibson spent a week with the company exploring her movement aesthetic which she calls a fusion of jazz, contemporary, Afro modern and New Orleans second line, a style Gibson says she has been cultivating since graduate school.

“Second line is not something you learn in a dance studio. For me, second line is kind of the traditional dance of New Orleans so for my thesis I began to look at a dance that’s done from an impulse and then started creating a language so the movement could be taught.” She continues, “In my classes I will usually have a live brass band there because the music cannot be separated from the movement. Like when you go church and the spirit hits you it’s like a buildup of adrenaline that needs to release. So, that’s what I try to maintain in my second line aesthetic.”

Gibson created Displaced, Yet Rebirthed during her residency at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign last year and says the process was like a therapy session with herself. “It has taken a while for me to creatively through dance do a work about Katrina because I’m still wearing it. We ALL are still wearing it. And this piece is about what we are still living through every single day.”

When it was time to go into the studio with DBDT Gibson says she knew the dancers were technically good, but that this work was not just about the movement. “It’s about the dancers being able to embody a real life experience such as the loss we all felt after Katrina. Because Katrina was a loss for us all emotionally, mentality and spiritually. So, I went in thinking of the work as a compositional piece and focused on getting the dancers to understand how to allow the human experience to be the movement and not the movement being the movement.”

Gibson also points out that there is a fine line between being authentic and acting when creating a piece on such an emotional topic like Katrina, and so to keep the piece from becoming overly dramatic she would sit down with the dancers before every rehearsal to just talk. “You see, I always wanted them to know where I was in my spirit as a human being and not just as a choreographer and talk about my intentions for the work. We would talk about different parts of Katrina and how it happened for me so then they could take my experience and make it their experience.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.



Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice Series

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The ladies of Dallas Black Dance Theatre strut their stuff in Margo Sappington’s Step Out of Love, part of the company’s Director’s Choice Series.

Dallas — Just when you think you have seen everything in Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) movement arsenal the company comes out with something bigger and bolder. Last season DBDT soared to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial work What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus at its Spring Celebration Series. This year the ladies of DBDT are getting down and physical in Margo Sappington’s hard-hitting, jazz funk piece, Step Out of Love, part of the company’s annual Director’s Choice Series, Nov.6-8, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District.

A Texas native, Sappington began her professional dance career when she joined the Joffrey Ballet at the age of 17 and her choreographic career at the age of 21. In the U.S. her choeography has been used by companies such as Joffrey Ballet (New York/Chicago), Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Ballet Jazz de Montreal. In 1975 Sappington was nominated for a Tony Award for her work on the play Where’s Charley? and in 2005 received a Lifetime Achievement Award for choreography from the Joffrey.

Sappington is most well-known for using popular music on the concert stage, including songs by Prince, William Shatner, Indigo Girls and Carlos Santana. Her opera credits include Live from the San Francisco Opera, La GiocondaSamson and Delilah and Aida. On Broadway, she was the dance captain in the original Promises, Promises and has choreographed revivals of Pal JoeyOh! Calcutta! and Where’s Charley?

Originally set on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 1987,Step Out of Love follows five women who don’t know each other, but are sharing the same story, which in this case is a bad break up. Each dancer’s story is told through various solos that then morph into duets and trios and eventually into a climactic group section. When asked about the structuring of the work Sappington explains, “The piece begins with each woman in her own thoughts, and as the piece progresses they realize that they are sharing an experience, each in her own way, at the same time. By the end of the piece they are all in the same place at the same time, all five of them in step with one another.”

Sappington’s use of classic jazz techniques in the work, including Fosse and Luigi are a welcome reprieve from the typical contemporary moves that are currently dominating the dance industry. Head whips and staccato hand gestures are paired with continuous leg lifts, hip swirls and foot flicks. Sappington repeats many of the same arm gestures, leg kicks and body poses throughout the piece, but she layers them with directional, level and speed changes to keep the movement from feeling redundant. The dancers’ varying emotional triggers also help keep the movement fresh and interesting. “It is important for each woman to internalize her thoughts and then show them through the movement. The movements are designed to help this process for each character.”

For example, Alyssa Harrington showcases her uncertainty about the break-up through a series of soft and hard body shapes and various controlled leg extensions. Michelle Herbert’s anger is palpable in her explosive barrel turns, sudden falls to the ground and aggressive hand gestures, including claps, flicks and jabs. Hana Delong and McKinley Willis (who was standing in for Jasmine White-Killins) let out their frustration with large traveling steps, frantic arms swings and sudden stop action moments. Unlike the others, Kayah Franklin appears to be the one initiating the break up as is evident through her dismissive body language and the sly smirk on her face.

Stephen Forsyth’s rock score by the same name adds more tension to the dance’s already heated tone and draws attention to the many gestural quirks in the choreography. When asked if this was intentional Sappington says, “The movement reflects not just the sentiment of the song, but also the abrasiveness of the music. Stephen used construction tools as part of his instrumentation such as drills and electric saws to give a dense and agitated quality to some of the instruments.”

Sappington says the complex movement sequences and the speed in which they are performed was a challenge for the dancers during the rehearsal process, but she is pleased with how quickly they embodied the movement and their characters. “We had a very short rehearsal period and the women were very focused and used every minute to absorb all the details.” Sappington adds, “Being a small group they know how to dance together and help and encourage each other, which creates a wonderful working atmosphere.”

Audiences can see Sappington’s Step Out of Love along with Alvin Ailey dancer Hope Boykin’s in·ter·pret, Christopher L. Huggins’ Night Run and Talley Beatty’s A Rag, A Bone, and A Hank of Hair at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 6-8, at the Wyly Theatre.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.