Tag Archives: Christopher L. Huggins

Dallas Black Dance Theatre Presents Online Petite Performance This Friday

petit-performance-2-01-2

Like so many local dance organizations Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) has been adjusting to the new normal brought on by COVID-19 by going virtual. Through the organization’s website and social media outlets audiences can view snippets of past repertoire from both the main company and DBDT! Encore as well as view past conversations with company members and visiting choreographers. I personally enjoy watching the dancers take class in their kitchens, living rooms and front yards.

Ahead of DBDT’s live Petit Performance online tomorrow night, I thought I would repost my preview of Jamal Story’s What to Say? Sketches on Echo and Narcissus, which premiered at the company’s Spring Celebration Series in 2015. Claude Alexander III will be reprising his role in this mesmerizing aerial duet alongside company member Hana Delong. The online performance also includes Asadata Dafora’s Awassa Astridge/Ostrich and Christopher L. Huggins’s Essence.

DBDT’s Petit Performance will take place July 10 at 7:30pm. Ticket information is available here!

Enjoy this look back on the making of Story’s sensational duet!

New Heights

Dallas — Once in a while you see a dance that leaves you so raw and vulnerable you’re still feeling the effects days later. Jamal Story’s aerial work What to Say? Sketches on Echo and Narcissus is one of those pieces. Unlike other aerial and silks works that just go for the WOW factor, Story uses the fabric to accentuate the dancers body lines and enhance the plot which is based off the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Echo has her voice taken away for a crime she didn’t commit by Zeus’ wife Hera. One day she spots Narcissus in the woods and falls madly in love with him, but when she tries to talk to him she can only repeat what he says. Narcissus rebuffs Echo and winds up falling in love with his own reflection and basically starves himself to death. “It’s really tragic and wrong, but then I thought you know, nobody ever deals with the Echo part of the story,” Story says. “Then I thought wouldn’t be interesting if we told the story from Echo’s perspective. How would that work and what kind of nuances would come out of her trying to manipulate his language to say what she wants to say.”

Photo: JamalStory.com
Choreographer Jamal Story

Story started his dance training with Lula Washington and the Lula Washington Dance Theatre before earning degrees in dance performance and TV/radio communications at Southern Methodist University. During his time at SMU he would also guest perform with Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) before continuing on to perform with Donald Byrd/theGroup, Madonna’s 2001 Drowned World Tour, Complexions Contemporary Dance and with Cher as an aerialist and dancer on Cher’s Living Proof: The Farewell Tour. Most recently Story was a dancer on Cher’s Dressed to Kill Tour and has also performed on Broadway in the original casts of The Color Purple and Motown: the Musical. He has also written two novels, 12:34 A Slice Novel and Toss In The Ether, a fictitious work for which he used DBDT as a template.

When it came to the music Story says he has been waiting for the right time to use Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” ever since he heard it while watching the movie Shutter Island. “What was amazing and heartbreaking for me was when you get to the end the movie and you understand what is going on that’s when this track gets played. And it was this kind of cathartic and real experience that made me think there had to be a way to set this up in choreography to have the same kind of impact. It was important to me that this piece of music be used in that way

I had the opportunity to see DBDT company members Claude Alexander III and Alyssa Harrington rehearse What to Say? late Monday afternoon at the company’s studio in downtown Dallas. (Alexander and Harrington will be performing on Friday and Saturday with a different cast on Sunday.) Watching the piece I definitely felt that emotional release Story described earlier. It was similar to how a person might feel after a good crying jag. The music and movement come at you in waves so one minute it’s building and the next it’s climaxing. The cycle keeps repeating, but each time it grows in intensity, which is demonstrated through the violins. In terms of the movement, once Harrington makes eye contact with Alexander (who is cocooned in the fabric) her body language becomes more agitated as she transitions from forward motion reaches and leg extensions into fragmented gestures and inverted leg positions. Using the fabric for support, Alexander rotates himself upside down just in time to catch Harrington’s upper body in an aerial spin as the music peaks. Harrington then climbs up Alexander’s body so that their positions are reversed as the fabric continues to rotate. Watching this exchange you would have no idea that this was the couple’s first time working with a piece of fabric in this fashion

Story says the most challenging part of the process was helping the dancers find their balance in the air. “It required a lot of focus from them and a lot openness from myself and my partner in terms of how to impart the information. And because the dancers didn’t have any aerial training they weren’t aware of what their bodies felt like in the air.” He adds, “Dancers are used to having the ground as their frame of reference so, in this cases they were trying to find lines that they had mastered over the years in a context where there was no physical grounding reference point.” Even though Story had spent three to four months working on the concept for the piece the actual material was hastily put together for an upcoming gala performance, so this time with DBDT really helped Story to rediscover the work and understand it better.

Alexander adds that while his strength is still the same when he is suspended upside down his focus has to remain on Harrington’s core to prevent himself from getting dizzy. Audiences will also see a different side to these dancers as they reach for new emotional depths. Harrington explains, “For me, these feelings come out of nowhere. Whenever I look at him it’s with these feelings of lust and obsession. The dance has a real push and pull quality to it. “

Preview: DBDT 2019 Director’s Choice Series

Fire Within

Dallas Black Dance Theatre digs deep to find their fire in Nijawwon Matthews’s new work, From Within, part of the company’s Director’s Choice this weekend.

Photo: Courtesy DBDT
Nijawwon Matthews

 

Dallas — Edgy, exhilarating and athletic are some of the words that come to mind while watching a video teaser for Nijawwon Matthews’ new work, From Within, on Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Facebook page. In the video clip the dancers execute a series of pendulum floor swings in sequence before suddenly shifting direction and then changing direction again. I couldn’t help but marvel at the dancers’ strength and stamina as well as that special communal bond that is always present when this group dances together.

In talking with Matthews about this moment I learned that the pendulum swings are meant to symbolize a grandfather clock to remind us of how we are always fighting against time. And if you look closer you will also noticed that Matthews has set up the movement so that the dancers’ rhythm goes against the music instead of with the music.

When asked about this choice, Matthews says, “I did not want them to count because when we get into dance and do counts we start thinking and moving in such a mechanical way. I’m more into artistic freedom and artistic expression, and the artistic exploration of timing without being timed.”

He continues, “I just had them go and then I would say ‘ok the rhythm is going to go here, and Xavier you will start by doing four and you’ll add in on the next four’ and so every four someone will add in.”

Growing up Matthews trained in many dance forms, including ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, African, partnering methods and social dances. His performance credits include Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Cecilia Marta Dance Company, Philadanco! and Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company. He has also worked with prominent artists such as Donald McKayle, Christopher L. Huggins, Milton Myers, Otis Sallid, Kevin Iega Jeff, Gary Abbott and George Faison.

As a dance instructor and choreographer, Matthews has traveled nationally and internationally to instruct master classes and choreograph for a host of academic schools, dance studios and professional companies as well as institutions in the British Virgin Islands, Germany, South Africa, China, Bermuda, Curacao, Peru, Helsinki, Italy and Taiwan.

Matthews is also the founder and artistic director of his own project-based company, XY Dance Project. He is also on staff at The Joffrey Ballet School and Broadway Dance Center in New York where he has been living for the last ten years.

Even through their paths have crossed a few times at the International Association of Blacks in Dance annual conference, Matthews says that this was his first time really getting to know DBDT. “I saw the dancers perform last year at Alvin Ailey and they just blew me away. They are probably one of the top companies that is giving you pure art, dance and technique. No one’s lazy, and everyone is passionate.”

He adds, “You see the soul of who they are on that stage and it made me want to jump on stage with them and it made me want to create on them.”

Fast forward a year and Matthews’s wish came true when he was invited to come create a work on DBDT for its Director’s Choice performance Nov. 1-3 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Matthews’s From Within will be performed alongside Stephen Mills’s Bounce and Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance.

Reflecting on his time working with DBDT, Matthews says, “It was so much fun! Everybody was working hard. I was inspired and I hope I inspired them. I am just so thankful and blessed to be given this opportunity.”

Matthews notes that he wouldn’t have had this chance if it wasn’t for the recommendations by Melanie Person and Christopher L. Huggins of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Huggins in particular has had a profound impact on Matthews’s life both personally and professionally.

“Christopher has been a huge part of my life since I was 19 years old. And I am just thankful for him and everything that he has contributed to my life and my love of dance. He has always had my back and he doesn’t just say it. He puts it to action. And the fact he is willing to do that shows me that not only is he a master as an artist and a choreographer, but he is also the master of his own humanity.”

Matthews says what also made his experience with DBDT enjoyable was Artistic Director Melissa M. Young’s warm and endearing personality. “She is such a down to earth, open and loving artistic director. She’s just so humble. So cool. And she get the work done.”

Matthews says the concept for his piece, which includes excerpts of Maya Angelou’s narration of “Still I Rise,” was born out of a dark place and is about being able to find the fire within to keep fighting against life’s constant hurtles.

“For me, it’s an experience of how do you leave the trauma and the drama that had happened to you behind and how do you allow that to not dictate the path of your life. And so fighting and striving toward the better good of what you want for your life and how do you fight the negativity to always stay on that positive lane.”

He adds, “It’s a fight for one’s soul. It’s a fight to ensure that you find the power and the fight from within to be the person that really showcases your best self no matter what situation you’re put in or you’re going through.”

And what better individual to draw inspiration from to broadcast this message than Maya Angelou, Matthews tells me. Matthews also notes that while this work is inspired by Angelou, it is not about the life of this prolific figure.

“The fact that she did not speak for such a long time says a lot about this person who then became such a brilliant writer, motivational speaker, director and dancer, and such greatness even after all the trauma she’s been through. We have all been through this kind of similar experience and we all handle it differently.”

He continues, “So my hope for this work is that it serves the emotional spirit of the soul. It’s really to serve that and to see with curiosity what comes out when you watch the piece. What do you as an audience member and what do you as a dancer on stage feel, and what’s happening inside of you as this piece progresses along.”

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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.