The first time I spoke to Nicolina Lawson, the artistic director of Ballet North Texas (BNT), was last winter when I interviewed her about the company’s first Nutcracker production, which the company performed at venues in Dallas, Terrell and Palestine. She impressed me with her drive and clear focus regarding her plans for the company as well as her ability to multi-task with two young kids in tow. And I believe she is expecting baby #3 this fall.
Lawson also knows her way around a sewing machine. I know this because I recently talked to her about making BNT’s Nutcracker costumes for a piece I wrrote for the Dance Council of North Texas’ DANCE North Texas publication.
During this conversation Lawson told me she had some big news to announce in the next couple of weeks. The big news turned out to be the lineup for BNT’s second season, which runs from Sept. 2019 to July 2020.
Leading off the season will be BNT’s annual production of Night on the Trinity. It will feature Associate Artistic Director Anna Sessions’ Mélange d’épices, Arthur Saint-Léon and Fanny Cerrito’s classic La Vivandière, two world premieres by Lawson and Cindy Michaels as well as a guest performance by Ballet Frontier of Texas. Performances will be held Sept. 19-20 at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas and Oct. 12 at the Scott Theater in Fort Worth.
BNT’s Nutcracker will return to the stage for two productions on Nov. 24 and Dec. 20-21. Close to 60 children’s rolls are cast to join BNT’s Nutcracker, which is choreographed by Lawson to Tchaikovsky’s famous score.
In April 2020 BNT will present Cinderella at the Irving Arts Center. The Company will venture into Prokofiev’s haunting score to transport the lonely heroin from her wistful fireside dreams to a dazzling palace ball where she will meet her prince.
The season will conclude with Shakespeare’s comedic romance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Moody Performance Hall in July. The ballet follows the quarrels of King and Queen of the Fairies and the mayhem of mismatched lovers, abetted by mischief-maker Puck. All coming to a resolve with the infamous “Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn.
Join Ballet North Texas as we embark on our next step to becoming one of the top tier ballet companies Dallas/Fort Worth has to offer.
We are holding this fundraiser to secure assets for the construction of our brand-new facility. When this new space is complete, we will be introducing North Texas Conservatory to serve as the premier school of Ballet North Texas. North Texas Conservatory will offer world class dance and music lessons for students of all ages and abilities. It is with your commitment and dedication that enables us to take this next step towards building the conservatory as our founders have envisioned.
All funds from this event will benefit Ballet North Texas and North Texas Conservatory in the buildout and furnishing of the Conservatory, outreach and special needs programs, as well as the upcoming 2019-2020 season.
After years of borrowing space from other dance studios in the area Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has taken the leap and found itself a home base in the Dallas Design District where the company is currently holding its summer intensive series.
ACB is the second professional dance company to settle down in the Design District. The Bruce Wood Dance Gallery is just a couple miles south of ACB’s new home. Since opening its doors about five years ago, the Bruce Wood Dance has held many classes, fundraisers and choreographic sneak peeks at this location.
To celebrate this grand accomplishment, ACB will be hosting an open house and mini performance at the newly named Avant Chamber Ballet Center, 2408 Farrington St., on Aug. 25 at 3:30p.m.
The performance will include excerpts from the season opening mixed repertoire program Morphoses, which the company will present, Sept. 7-8, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.
The full press release is included below:
AVANT CHAMBER BALLET ANNOUNCES NEW STUDIO HOME
DALLAS, TX (July 16, 2019)
Avant Chamber Ballet Artistic Director Katie Cooper announces the opening of the new Avant Chamber Ballet Center in the Dallas Design District. The studio space will be the rehearsal home for the professional company but will also house a new training program for young dancers this fall.
“This is an incredible step forward for the company. Having our own home studio means that we will be able to rehearse and train consistently for performances, but also have a pipeline for training young dancers who may eventually join the company,” says Katie Cooper.
To celebrate the new studio, the company will host an open house and mini performance at the Avant Chamber Ballet Center, 2408 Farrington Street, Dallas Design District, August 25th at 3:30pm. The performance will be excerpts from the season opening mixed repertoire program “Morphoses” which ACB will perform at Moody Performance Hall September 7-8th.
“I am so proud of where the company has gone in the last 7 seasons,” says Music Director David Cooper. “The new studio represents Avant Chamber Ballet establishing itself firmly in the future of arts in Dallas.”
Subscriptions for the full Avant Chamber Ballet season are now at TicketDFW.com. Single tickets go on sale August 1. Subscribers will receive a 40% discount on all four productions.
Avant Chamber Ballet goes bigger and bolder for its 2019-20 season with an added mixed rep in the fall, its first full-length Nutcracker production and new works and company premieres by George Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon.
ACB will open its season in Setpember with Morphoses, a mixed repertoire program featuring Wheeldon’s Morphoses, Katie Cooper’s Sisterhood and a world premiere by Cooper to the famous Brahms Horn Trio. David Cooper, ACB’s musical director and the newly appointed horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, will be lending his talents to the Trio alongside musicals Anastasia Markina and Alexander Kerr.
I will miss Cooper’s clever take on a holiday classic like she had done previous years with A Ballet Christmas Carol and Little Match Girl Passion, but I am eager to see how she manages her first full-length Nutcracker. With choreography by local ballet legend Paul Mejia and a live orchestra, this Nut is already at the top of my list to see this year.
Mejia’s name appears again on ACB’s February program with his rendition of Romeo & Juliet. The company will also present Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations (a first for the company) in addition to a world premiere collaboration between Cooper and local Composer Quinn Mason. Mason also composed the music for Cooper’s Sisterhood.
The program I am most looking forward to is ACB’s Beauty and Beyond in April because of these three names: Cooper, Kimi Nikaidoh and Jennifer Mabus. Their voices and disciplines may be different, but I feel they share a common thread when it comes to storytelling and choreographic intent. Can’t wait to see what they do!
Avant Chamber Ballet’s artistic director Katie Cooper and music director David Cooper announce the company’s 2019-20 season, featuring four subscription productions at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District and the return of the Family Saturdays series. The season includes four world premieres by choreographers Katie Cooper, Kimi Nikaidoh, Jennifer Mabus, as well as five company premieres by Paul Mejia, Christopher Wheeldon, and George Balanchine. “This season is an incredible expansion for us in so many ways,” says Katie Cooper. “We are adding a fall mixed repertoire program and for the first time presenting a full-length Nutcracker with live music!”
The subscription season opens with Morphoses in September, a mixed repertoire program of three ballets: Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, Katie Cooper’s Sisterhood and a world premiere by Katie Cooper to the famous Brahms Horn Trio. The Trio will be performed by internationally known musicians Anastasia Markina (piano), Alexander Kerr (concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) and David Cooper (principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).
In December, Avant Chamber Ballet presents a full-length production of The Nutcracker for the first time designed and choreographed by Paul Mejia with live orchestra accompaniment conducted by Brad Cawyer. This holiday classic is designed to take the whole family on a magical trip to the Land of Sweets through Clara’s eyes with Tchaikovsky’s rich score and ACB’s professional production.
Paul Mejia’s romantic and tragic Romeo & Juliet is the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The performance features live music which brings the famous Tchaikovsky score and this timeless story to life. Opening the performance is George Balanchine’s beloved Raymonda Variations (company premiere) which celebrates the beauty of classical ballet and the sparkling score by Glazunov. Next is a world premiere collaboration between ACB director Katie Cooper and local composer Quinn Mason. The ballet marks the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote and is inspired by the women who made it happen. Also featured will be a guest company appearance by Ballet Frontier from Fort Worth.
Closing the season will be Beauty and Beyond featuring four ballets with live music: the company premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats which includes the famous “This Bitter Earth” pas de deux, world premieres by Kimi Nikaidoh and Jennifer Mabus- commissions of the 2020 Women’s Choreography Project, and Katie Cooper’s staging of Aurora’s Wedding: Sleeping Beauty Act III.
This season also marks the return of the Family Saturdays Series. This year all four performances are free. The shows are a family-friendly one hour designed to introduce the performing arts to kids of all ages.
Subscriptions go on sale now at TicketDFW.com. Single tickets will go on sale August 1. Subscribers will receive a 40% discount on all four productions.
THE 2019-2020 SEASON OVERVIEW
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas, TX
September 7th, 2019, 7:30pm
September 8th 2019, 2:30pm
Morphoses – Christopher Wheeldon/Ligeti, Company Premiere
Brahms Horn Trio – Katie Cooper/Brahms, World Premiere
Sisterhood – Katie Cooper/Quinn Mason
December 20th, 2019, 7:30pm
December 21st, 2019, 7:30pm
December 22nd, 2019, 2:30pm
Paul Mejia/Tchaikovsky, Company Premiere
ROMEO AND JULIET
February 14-15th, 2020, 7:30pm
Romeo and Juliet – Paul Mejia/Tchaikovsky, Company Premiere
Raymonda Variations – George Balanchine/Glazunov, Company Premiere
New Katie Cooper/Quinn Mason
Guest company Ballet Frontier
BEAUTY AND BEYOND
April 17-18th, 2020, 7:30pm
Five Movements, Three Repeats – Christopher Wheeldon/Richter, Company Premiere
Kimi Nikaidoh – Women’s Choreography Project Commission, World Premiere
Jennifer Mabus – Women’s Choreography Project Commission, World Premiere
Aurora’s Wedding: Act 3 Sleeping Beauty – Katie Cooper after Petipa
FREE FAMILY SATURDAYS SERIES:
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas, TX
Peter and the Wolf
September 7th, 2019, 2:30pm
The Nutcracker Suite
December 21st, 2019, 2:30pm
I Heart Ballet
February 15th, 2020, 2:30pm
Aurora’s Wedding: Sleeping Beauty Act III
April 18th, 2020, 2:30pm
NUTCRACKER: SHORT AND SUITE
November 21, 2019, 7:30pm
White’s Chapel, Southlake, TX
Presented by Apex Arts League
Programming and casting for all productions are subject to change without notice.
Avant Chamber Ballet’s mission is to bring exceptional live dance and chamber music together for audiences in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Our ensemble of classically trained dancers presents a diverse repertoire of classical and contemporary works from local choreographers, as well as internationally acclaimed artists. Since our inaugural season in 2012, ACB has presented over twenty world premiere ballets. The organization is in its eighth season, and is led by artistic director Katie Cooper and music director David Cooper.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Jasmine White-Killins on revealing a new layer of herself in Darrell Grand Moutrie’s Execution of a Sentiment, part of the Spring Celebration Series.
Dallas — A recent video posted to Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Facebook page (seen above) caught my eye for it sheds a new light on company dancer Jasmine White-Killins who, in the clip, is practicing her adagio solo in choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s new work, Execution of a Sentiment. Known for her powerful technical execution and poised stage presence, White-Killins surprised me with her quiet control and raw vulnerability.
I reached out to White-Killins to find out more about Moultrie’s new piece, which premieres at DBDT’s Spring Celebration Series, May 17-19, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. The jam-packed program also includes Jamal Story’s aerial duet What to Say: Notes on Echo and Narcissus; a new work by DBDT company member Claude Alexander III entitled A Tender Pardon; and a performance from special guests Ballet Hispánico.
Originally from Cincinnati, White-Killins moved to Dallas after high school to attend Southern Methodist University where she earned a B.F.A. in dance performance and a minor in Arts Management. Her dance training has also included The Ailey School, Martha Graham School and the Cincinnati Ballet Academy. White-Killins performed two seasons with DBDT: ENCORE! before joining DBDT where she has spent the last four seasons.
“It was a very refreshing thing to do. It feels almost like meditation,” White-Killins says about performing the short solo. “And I owe a lot of that ability to Darrell because he was very good at looking at each dancer and accepting where ever you were at that moment.”
Photo: Brian Guilliaux
She continues, “He said I needed to just center myself and kind of find my inner strength and my vulnerability and being okay with going to that place. So, when I do the solo I always get very emotional because it really makes me look inward.”
While White-Killins makes every move in the solo look effortless she tells me that getting it to this point was harder than she initially thought. She explains, “There are a couple of moments were he has me holding some very technical balances like a passé or arabesque, but he’s like ‘just hold it and get to it with no wobbles and no shakes. Just be there.’ And I think that as a professional I got this and then you get up there and try to do it with all the emotion and you realize that you are not as strong as you thought,” she laughingly says.
One of the most challenging moments in the solo is where White-Killins is balancing on one leg and then she has to drop her body three times without wobbling. As for how she accomplishes this feat White-Killins says, “Darrell said you have to be invested so much in that space and that weight that you’re going down to, which is just taking you into a deeper and deeper place. And so, once I started to look at it from that perspective it’s so much easier to get wrapped up in that. And when I do it now I just feel so right there!”
Overall, White-Killins says it was a very refreshing experience working with Moultrie again. She had the pleasure of working with him in high school and then later at The Ailey School. “He treats us very much so like individuals and he was very clear that he wanted each person to express their individuality and that no one is going to look like the other person.”
She continues, “The experience was just eye opening for us. He literally gave us so many technical notes, but also just notes about being interested in what we are doing. He said that as artists and professional dancers it’s our responsibility to figure out what each step means and what each step represents. Even down to the smallest gesture. He was very big on that.”
She adds, “He also had us focus a lot on showing emotion through your body and not so much in your face. A lot of times he would tell us that our face is doing all this stuff, but he wasn’t seeing that in our body. So he was very big on the vocabulary coming through the movement and not necessarily putting it on like we would do in more theatrical pieces.”
White-Killins describes the work as physical demanding with a concept that doesn’t follow a particular narrative or chronological order. “There isn’t just one sentiment being shown. There are lots of sentiments being shown in the three sections of the work. We start out moving big and fast, which leads into an adagio section and then the pace picks up again.”
As for the feeling of the piece White-Killins says, “I think everybody is very individual and their journey is something completely different. Everybody’s path is different.”
She adds, “When Darrell taught us the movement he would always start out by saying ‘so the feeling is’ and then he would do all this movement and it would happen single time. So we would always start with the feeling of it and everybody’s feelings and steps were completely different.”
The world-renowned choreographer on breaking dance traditions using movement and visual arts and his company’s Dallas debut on the TITAS Presents series.
Dallas — Since its inception in 2014, Ezralow Dance has garnered a reputation both in the U.S. and abroad for its explosive physicality, original thought and playful humor, which all stem from the mind of artistic director and choreographer, Daniel Ezralow. The Los Angeles-based company is comprised of nine dancers performing works that mingle contemporary dance with humor, provocative ideas and impressive video projections. The company also aims to collaborate with performers, composers, visual artists and filmmakers to transport audiences to new dimensions, exploring and questioning the ideas of dance and humanity, according the Company’s website.
Ezralow’s performance résumé reads like a who’s who of contemporary dance. He has danced with 5×2 Plus, MOMIX, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Paul Taylor Dance Company. Throughout his career Ezralow has created 15 original dance theatre plays, including Pearl, Flying Bodies, Soaring Souls and a reinterpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
His work has also been seen in Julie Taymor’s film Across the Universe, Cirque du Soleil’s Love and in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
His most recent show Open, had its U.S. premiere at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles in 2016 and is also the program the Company will be presenting in Dallas, March 29-30, at the Moody Performance Hall. Described as surprising, comical and fun, Open is a series of dynamic vignettes that are woven together using classical music, inventive concepts, playful movement and striking visuals
TheaterJones asks Ezralow about creating movement for film and theater, collaborating with his dancers and what audiences can expect to see this weekend.
TheaterJones: How would you describe Open, the work you will be presenting in Dallas this weekend?
Daniel Ezralow: You’re obviously going to see movement. You’re going to see fun concepts paired with classical music. And you’re going to see a fun show that is available to everybody. So I try to in a sense demystify the work and not put it up on a pedestal. I think it has to really play for everyone. Those who love dance and those who have never seen dance before as well.
So many contemporary choreographers today choose to go deep and heavy with their work. What made you want to create something light and humorous?
Generally speaking, choreographers today take themselves too seriously. Everyone is important in this world, including the janitor, the trash collector and the street sweeper. Everyone is important and they’re as important to appreciate your work as a well-developed artist who has been around the world or someone whose graduate summa cum laude from a university. I think it’s really important that we pay attention to everybody because as artists our responsible is to somehow have a positive effect on the world.
So, sometimes I get a little fed up, as you do, with the doom and gloom and the seriousness and the politicization of contemporary work. And I say you know what? I would just like everyone to really get their money’s worth. In other words, they have to come to the show and reach into their pocket to buy a ticket and spend 75 minutes of their life watching what I do on stage. I would like them to walk out feeling inspired. Feeling happy. Feeling a sense of joy. And I say this a lot and it’s a silly thing, but just that they want to live another day of their life because what’s important is that we inspire. And this work was very much meant to be that. I was meant to be accessible and that pretty much anybody could come a watch it and they wouldn’t have to say ‘oh, what does that mean?’ I just want them to accept it and get it.
There’s a fine line between comical and cheesy. In Open how did you keep from going over the top with the humor?
I think of it as more ironic than anything else. In my life I feel like I am very respectful of everybody, but I am respectful in a way to the rules in order to break them. So there is a big part of me that wants to look at something and if the rules are not working then I want to show people that it can be broken. I want to show that there is irony behind the rule. So a lot of the humor that I play with it really comes from my childhood. In my childhood I felt capable of joking around. There’s times that I do see my work and I think ‘Oh my God’ that’s just too silly. And then other times I see the dancers uplift the choreography to the point where I say “Wow they pulled it off!”
You see, I get overjoyed when I see someone walking down the street and they start jumping up and down on the sidewalk. Usually children and puppies do that, but adults never do that. So to see someone so overjoyed that they jump up and down is a very unique ironic break our society. And I think that is an important thing to see all the time. In a way I am very serious with the humor I use. But I believe also there is a very powerful thing that you can say once you make someone laugh.
Do you typically collaborate with the dancers during the creative process?
I am always collaborative. I come in with a strong idea, but I don’t actually believe that I can make anyone believe anything or do anything. So, both with the dancers and the audience I let the audience have the final word. I don’t want to tell them they’re supposed to believe what I am saying. If they believe it I am really happy and if they don’t then I need to work on my work.
It’s the same with my dancers. You see, I never believed that the dancer was just a color that the artist paints with. I think the color has an energy to it. I think dancers have their own unique energy. Ultimately, I think from a long time ago when I founded MOMIX with Moses Pendleton the whole belief system was that the dance is greater than the dancer and the dancer is greater than the choreography. Meaning to say that inside of our bodies we have dance. We are born with it. We keep moving our bodies because moving your body is what keeps you young and what keeps the flow of life going through you.
So, I believe that the dance is inside of you. The choreography is designed for which to hold the dancer or which to hold the dance. The dance is like a Greek spirit. It’s beyond all of us. And then the dancer takes that energy into their body and then the choreographer takes the energy of the body of the dancer and decides to organize it in a certain way.
So, I don’t really feel that at any point choreography should be stronger than the person performing it. In that sense I try to involve the dancers from a very early stage.
What type of dancers do you like to work with?
For a long time when I did commissions on companies and I tended to gravitate toward the black sheep. I wanted the dancer that the director told me was trouble and to not work with them, but that was the person I wanted to work with. Because they always had some unique issues right under the surface and that gave me fantastic material to work with.
And with my own company there is a lot of turnover, but only because my company is a project-based company. So, when we have a show we get together, but they all work commercially as well. I tend to like dancers who can do a music video or T.V. show and then they come and do concert work. I feel those dancers are very well-rounded. But the dancers I am working with, I call them all the time and some of them have been working with me for more than 10 years.
How hard is it for you to switch gears from concert work to commercial work?
Even when we were doing MOMIX, David Bowie would call or U2 would call us because they liked the work we were doing. So I wouldn’t call it commercial. You could come at that work from a commercial point of view or you could come at it from an artistic point of view. And I always come at it from artistic even when I did films like The Grinch with Ron Howard. That still is an artistic project for me. All the commercial things I do like Television even in Italy. Though seemingly it looks like just a TV show, I always try to change the dynamic and change the parameter to feel more artistic and that’s what I love about it.
So I kind of hop skip and jump between film, TV, Broadway, commercial work and artistic work, and because I am flexible in my mind I don’t see that it’s a problem. I’m sure for some people it would be a big problem. But my mind is flexible and these are very different worlds. The timing on an artistic project is not at all the timing on a Television project. In Television you have to move fast. You have to change fast. And you have to be willing to give up your idea and compromise all the time. Whereas with an artistic project you’re really backing your idea. So, I just shift with the projects and I don’t see that it’s difficult.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates singer and Civil Rights activist Odetta Holmes in Matthew Rushing’s Odetta, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series at the Wyly Theatre.
Dallas — The moments that have stayed with me days after watching Dallas Black Dance Theatre rehearse Matthew Rushing’s Odetta (2014) were, interestingly enough, not the full bodied-movements, grandiose jumping passes or powerful partnering skills, though these elements were incredible and well suited for the dancers. No, it was the quieter moments where the dancers relied on basic instinct and human connection to fulfill their roles that have left an imprint on me.
A perfect example is the opening scene when company member Kayla Franklin (who shares this role with Lailah Duke) slowly walks toward the audience as she cuts through the space with her arms and curves her spine over. As the opening notes of Odetta Holmes’ rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” fill the space, a joyous expression crosses Franklin’s face as she circles her hips and bounces from heel to heel to an internal beat that soon takes over her entire body.
Another memorable instance is the section where Jasmine White-Killins and De’Anthony Vaughan use mainly arm gestures while sitting on side-by-side stools in center stage to “There’s a Hole in The Bucket” sung by Holmes and Harry Belafonte. The song is fun and playful and White-Killins and Vaughan do an admirable job of conveying the emotions in the catchy tune. For example, as White-Killins begins to lose her patience, her arm movements become sharper and more pronounced, such as when she demonstrated how to sharpen an ax by rubbing her forearm intently across her right thigh.
And yet another picturesque moment occurs as Sierra Noelle Jones and Zion Pradier dance on a self-made dock to Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water” while the rest of the dancers watch attentively from their seated positions. At first I thought the couple was dancing on a stage, but as Jones cups her hand and extends it over the edge of the stage it transforms into a dock. The dock is actually six benches constructed of different-sized squares, which enables the benches to interlock with one another to appear as train seats as well as add a cool visual affect when they are placed vertically in other sections of the work.
“I wanted to work with something that was interchangeable and from scene to scene could kind of morph into whatever the scene was about,” Rushing says about the set. “I knew I would be dealing with a lot of different sections because Odetta Holmes’ work was so huge that I would be working with Blues and Jazz, protest songs and works from musical theatre so I knew it would be very layered within itself. So, whatever the set would be it would have to be able to morph and change in these different environments and settings.”
Come to find out, the idea for the set was actually a miniature I.Q. test that Rushing says he found while on tour in Germany and what we see onstage today is a much larger replica of these wooden Lego-like parts of this cubed puzzle.
This work also requires a high level of maturity, vulnerability and trust, which, when watching the dancers rehearse, it’s obvious to see DBDT possesses these qualities in spades. These ingrained abililties can also be attributed to why DBDT is the first company to perform Odetta outside of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
“They are extremely versatile dancers,” Rushing says about DBDT. “They are able to go in and out of different genres of dance and that skill is required for the ballet Odetta so I just felt it was an easy fit.”
He adds, “They are incredible artists who are also extremely expressive as well as technically strong in different styles of dance. And just like Odetta’s work was extremely diverse and layered I feel that the artists of Dallas Black Dance Theatre are exactly that as well. They are extremely diverse and they have many layers to their artistry.”
This is not the first time Rushing has worked with DBDT. The rehearsal director for the Ailey Company choreographed Tribute for DBDT in 2016, which was also when he first brought up the subject of DBDT possibly doing Odetta sometime in the future.
“I remember being in tech rehearsal sitting next to Ms. (Ann) Williams and it hit me at that point. I could really see the dancers of Dallas Black Dance Theatre performing Odetta,” Rushing says in a press release from DBDT.
As for Rushing’s inspiration for this work, singer and actress Odetta Holmes, he says, “One of the biggest “aha!” moments I had with choreographing this piece was finding out just how Odetta Holmes used her gift as an instrument and as a weapon for social justice. That spoke to me directly and it encouraged me and challenged me that I could do the same with choreography and with being a dance artist.”
He adds, “She might not have been the person leading the marches, but she was the person who led the rallies before the marches and I was like WOW how amazing that we all in a sense have a piece in this puzzle about making this world a better place. And she was very confident and clear that her place fell into using her gift as a singer and musician and I really connected with that when I found out about her work and how she literally changed the world with her gift.”
Odetta makes its Dallas premiere at DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 15-17, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Dianne McIntyre’s Nina Simone Project, an evening-length work DBDT premiered back in 2011.
This year saw the creative juices flowing from well-known local dance artists, including Joshua L. Peugh, Katie Cooper and Kimi Nikaidoh as well as guest artists who brought styles that had yet to be seen in Dallas such as Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary dance style and Gabrielle Lamb’s bird-like quality and theatricality. We also saw the resurgence of authentic jazz technique from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Artist-in-Residence Brandi Coleman and the expansion of Bombshell Dance Project’s technical fortitude in a new piece by visiting choreographer Amanda Krische.
A few of the works on my list this year also featured live accompaniment, including Cooper’s The Little Match Girl Passion, Nikaidoh’s The Face of Water and Peugh’s evening-length work Aladdin,حبيبي. We also saw more musical collaborations with local talent such as Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet with Verdigris Ensemble and Peugh with SMU alum Brandon Carson who worked on both Aladdin and Lamb’s Can’t Sleep But Lightly.
Relatability also played a big part in my decision making for this list, and while every piece made me feel something, the one that spoke to me the loudest was Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you! He managed to address a number of issues affecting individuals with humility and an uninhibited movement quality.
As far as what I’m looking forward to in the coming year I am excited to see what Bridget L. Moore is cooking up with her new company, B Moore Dance, as well as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s winter showcase, Avant Chamber Ballet’s Romance and Ragtime and Bruce Wood Dance’s gala fundraiser entitled Dances from the Heart. I am also looking forward to seeing Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs at the Winspear Opera House in March.
And my wonderful husband got me tickets for both Anastasia and Hamilton at Dallas Summer Musical in Fair Park. I am already counting down the days!!!!!
My dance writing goals for 2019 include talking and visiting with even more local dance companies and choreographers as well as attending some shows outside the dance realm, including plays, musicals and opera. Can’t wait to get started.
Until then, here are my favorite new works made in 2018:
The Little Match Girl Passion by Katie Cooper
Avant Chamber Ballet and Verdigris Ensemble
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Always one willing to break the mold when it comes to classical ballet, Katie Cooper paired her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the vocalists of choral outfit Verdigris Ensemble for a very sobering and elegantly danced performance of David Lang’s A Little Match Girl Passion at Moody Performance just a few weeks ago. Cooper took a very different approach for the choreography in this performance. Instead of bouts of group allegro and adagio movements Cooper had the corps act as scenery and story imagery, which only added to the balletic lines and character portrayal of lead dancer Juliann McAloon. ACB took a risk with such a somber show, but while the show brought to the surface the feelings of loss and sadness, it also presented airs of beauty and spiritual awakening.
Aladdin,حبيبي by Joshua L. Peugh
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Sixth Floor Studio Theatre, Dallas
Peugh stretched his artistic boundaries with his first evening-length work, Aladdin, Habib, which Dark Circles Contemporary Dance performed back in October as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Known for giving very few details about his pieces to his dancers, Peugh admitted Aladdin was a completely new experience for himself. He stepped outside his comfort zone with repurposed set design, strong character portrayals and live music. The movement was a blend of Peugh’s signature heavy-footed walking steps, twisty curvy floor work and subtle gesturing with more accented hips, body ripples and staccato movements typically associated with Middle Eastern dance cultures. The narrative is based on “The Story of Aladdin” as well as company member Chadi El-koury’s own personal story of coming to America with his family as a young boy, which he approached with calm determination and an emotional intensity we had yet to see from him.
And One More Thing… by Brandi Coleman
Meadows Dance Ensemble
Southern Methodist University, Bob Hope Theatre, Dallas
One of the few jazz choreographers in the U.S. trained in Jump Rhythm Technique, Coleman wowed the audiences with her funky and loud jazz number, And One More Thing…, at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert in October. Originally created in 2015, Coleman added on three new sections with a grand finale that featured a large group of females dressed in casual street clothes moving and grooving to “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The piece played between the juxtaposition of stillness and hotness, which the dancers demonstrated through subtle gestures and sassy expressions as well as their sudden bursts energy and scat-singing, a fundamental element of Jump Rhythm Technique. It was fun and rambunctious and definitely a work worth seeing again.
LUNA by Amanda Krische
Bombshell Dance Project
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Repetitive phrases that travel every which way was the foundation for New York-based choreographer Amanda Krische’s LUNA, which was part of Bombshell Dance Project’s Like A Girl performance at Moody Performance Hall last June. Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tapped into their inner beasts in order to maintain their energy levels throughout the 10-minute work which started out with the two of them walking a specific number of steps before the monotonous phrase was broken up with gestures, pauses and abrupt floor work. The girls described the piece as a slow burn and they definitely had to dig deep as the intensity continued to build and the music switched from meditative to pulsating. It was a pleasant departure from the bombshells signature robust movement style.
Can’t Sleep But Lightly by Gabrielle Lamb
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
WaterTower Theatre, Addison
New York-based choreographer Gabrielle Lamb challenged the dancers’ mathematical skills as well as their artistic sensibilities in her piece for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s showing at WaterTower Theatre’s Detour Festival back in March. Methodical walks, balletic lines and alien-esque body shapes are woven throughout this cleverly crafted piece. What I liked most about this piece is its lack of physical partnering; instead the dancers relied on simple human contact to produce authentic connections with one another. It was a very trippy ride indeed and a complementary pairing of artistic minds.
The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh
Avant Chamber Ballet
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Nikaidoh used a range of emotions and the highs and lows within Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece Tenebrae to drive the movement in her new work for Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2018 Women’s Choreography Project last April. Nikaidoh described the piece as more of an emotional journey focused primarily on hope and new beginnings, which was depicted in the longer, sweeter notes in the music. The combination of classical movements such as pas de deuxs and standard corps body lines and formations with Nikaidoh’s penchant for subtle musical gesturing and unlikely body shapes was a delightful juxtaposition for these talented dancers. Add in the dancers’ emotional conviction and you had a winning work.
Begin Again by Yin Yue
Bruce Wood Dance
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Bruce Wood Dance did an admirable job of presenting New York-based choreographer Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary techniques to audiences at its Harmony performance last June. The cyclical nature of the piece is an extension of Yue’s movement style that features liquid body rolls, continuous arm circles and wide, sweeping leg lifts and floor work. The piece showcased the bond of the group, a staple of many of Bruce Wood’s works, in which the dancers appeared as one living organism before breaking off into smaller pairs and individual movement sequences. A musical mover Yue’s choreography came across as one continuous line of thought that dips, daps, weaves and loop-de-loops around an individual’s personal space, which led to some unexpected and visually pleasing moments.
Face what’s facing you! by Claude Alexander III
Dallas Black Dance Theatre
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Dallas
Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackled their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series back in May. As a rising choreographer Alexander delivered a strong voice in this work, which centered around some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process. The piece was cathartic and heart pounding at the same time as the dancers meshed smooth walks and sustained lines with explosive jumps and multiple turns. Alexander didn’t waste any time getting to the theme of the piece and the action-packed stripped-down choreography was a breath of fresh air.
Emily Dixon Alba of Avant Chamber Ballet on dancing to live vocalists in The Little Match Girl Passion, featuring Verdigris Ensemble at Moody Performance Hall.
Dallas — As one of the hardest working female choreographers in Dallas, Katie Cooper is always looking for new ways to elevate the local ballet bar and increase exposure of the 300-year-old art form. She did it when she started her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the goal of bringing ballet and live music back together; when she created the area’s first Women’s Choreography Project; and now she is doing it again with the addition of live vocals courtesy of Dallas-based Verdigris Ensemble at ACB’s showing of The Little Match Girl Passion Dec. 7-8 at Moody Performance Hall.
The dancers of ACB and the singers of Verdigris Ensemble will be bringing to life David Lang’s choral setting based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, “The Little Match Girl.”
The collaboration marks a new challenge for Cooper who is known for breaking boundaries when it comes to classical ballet traditions. “Creating dance to almost acapella voice is a much different process than what I have done in the past,” Cooper says. “It has breath to it in a very literal way, plus David Lang’s score is quite modern and tells the story in a very different way than if I had picked more traditional dance music for the choreography.”
The task has also proved challenging for some of the dancers such as Emily Dixon Alba who told me during our phone conversation earlier this week that the Verdigris Ensemble recording they were using in rehearsals sounded a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher at first. “But then the more I listened to the recording the more words I heard.” Alba notes that the lyrics will be printed in the program for the audience to follow along.
Alba also points out that the movement in The Little Match Girl Passion isn’t what you’d typically expect from ACB. “It’s abstract in terms of dancing, but it’s literal in terms of all of us dancers are flushing out the story around Julianne McAloon who is playing the main character. So, we’re all in black and we’re all becoming the words that are being said. For example, in one part we are walking across the stage really fast and we are supposed to resemble the street cars that she’s trying to dodge around.”
A native Texan, Alba trained at the Ballet Academy of Texas under the direction of Lisa Slagle before joining Tulsa Ballet II after graduating from high school. In 2009, Alba was accepted into the corps de ballet with The Sarasota Ballet. During her five seasons with the company Alba had the opportunity to perform a wide variety of repertoire, including works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Matthew Bourne, Dominic Walsh, Peter Darrell, Agnes De Mille, Johan Kobborg, to name a few.
Alba was with Colorado Ballet while also guesting with ACB till her move to Dallas in 2017 to dance full time with ACB in addition to settling down with her husband and being closer to family and friends. Alba says making the decision was terrifying as she had spent the last 10 years with union companies where she had no fear about salary or health insurance. But Alba says Cooper wooed her with the repertoire she had planned, which included works by Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon.
“I remember looking at ACB’s season and then looking at Colorado Ballet’s season coming up that year and it was a no brainer as to where I wanted to dance,” Alba says. “Looking at ACB’s season and what they were bringing in I wanted to see what my full potential was and be pushed to do that, and I knew this repertoire would do it.”
She adds, “Just in this one year I feel like I have grown and the company has grown. I feel like we have been pushed in ways you may not pushed in a company that has 30 or 40 people in it.”
One of Alba’s brightest moments with the company so far was when she was asked to perform one of the principal roles in Balanchine’s Who Cares? at ACB and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s joint performance in the spring of 2016. Alba says she still gets emotional every time she performs the role because there was a time in her career where she didn’t think she was capable of dancing a principal role. “I had reached a place where I thought I was a great demi soloist and soloist, but I cut myself from ever being able to do the bigger roles. So, when Katie asked me to come in and guest in Who Cares? I was half terrified because I had already told myself I was below that principal role, but then I was also excited to get a chance to tackle it.”
Alba continues, “And so that was such a victory for me not so much physically, but mentally and emotionally pulling through Who Cares? because it was one of those moments where you realize WOW there is more in me then I thought there was and that gave me a lot of confidence to come back the next year.”
Alba also links her increase of self-confidence to her time spent with local Balanchine Repetiteur Michele Gifford during rehearsals for Who Cares? “For the past two to three years Michele has been one of my dearest mentors on and off the stage. I can talk to her about anything. She helped me navigate my move back and just getting to work one on one with her through all of the Wheeldon and Balanchine works has been amazing.”
I couldn’t end the interview without asking Alba how she feels about portraying such a sad story right around the holidays. “Well, at first I was confused about why we were doing such a sad story, but I read a recent interview of Katie and it brought to light again that Katie is always reaching beyond what’s normal and I think there is an audience that actually connects to grief in the holidays.”
She adds, “The holidays can also evoke a different side of emotions. It is not wrong to feel grief or loss and that is not a bad thing. That is being human. And so I think Katie is going to connect with a side of the audience that is very real and very human through this experience.”
You can see Emily Dixon Alba in The Little Match Girl Passion at the Moody Performance Hall this weekend. The evening also includes The Nutcracker Suite choreographed by Katie Cooper and Paul Mejia with live music by Cezanne Quartet.
Bruce Wood Dance celebrates the many sides of the trailblazer in its fall performance, All Bruce, at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.
Dallas — It has been four years since his death, but Bruce Wood’s philosophy that “It is about the work” continues to drive Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) forward, which is apparent by the title of the company’s upcoming performance, All Bruce, Nov. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall. The program features four memorable Wood works, including Echoes of Enchantment (1999), Bolero (2001), Local 126 (2001) and The Edge of My Life So Far (2010), featuring Nycole Ray of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The performance also marks a first for Joy Atkins Bollinger in her new role as BWD’s artistic director and is really a reunion of sorts for those of us who were in the audience at the Montgomery Arts Center for Wood’s triumphant return to the Dallas dance scene in June 2011. Viewers were in awe of the talent of company veterans Kimi Nikaidoh, Harry Feril and Albert Drake who would later band together to help keep Wood’s memory and movement aesthetic alive after the choreographers untimely passing in 2014. Today, most of the company veterans have moved on and a new batch of talent is now working to maintain Wood’s legacy.
I got the chance to sit down with Bollinger a couple of weeks ago at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery and talk to her about how she is adjusting to her new role and how the newer dancers are acclimating to company culture.
“I was a little concerned when I saw how many new company members we have this season,” Bollinger says. “I just knew we had so many changes ahead of us with our infrastructure and our staff and then losing some of our veteran dancers, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by the intelligent, hardworking and earnest nature of these dancers.”
She adds, “We’re to the point now where almost the entire company is working toward this man’s legacy who they have never meet and it’s just their understanding of what was important to him and how that affected others that draws them in.”
The new company members include Lauren Hibbard, Lauren Perry, Chad Vaught, Seth York and apprentice Arden Leone. They will be dancing alongside Adrian Aguirre, Jillyn Bryant, Olivia Rehrman, Gabriel Speiller and Megan Storey. Emily Drake, the most senior company member, will only dance in Bolero for this performance.
So, the responsibility of articulating Wood’s movement really falls on Bollinger’s shoulders. An incredibly daunting task, as anyone who had seen Wood in the studio can tell you. “Bruce had this uncanny way of not speaking,” Bollinger says. “And the feeling in the room or the feeling coming off him was enough for the dancers to understand where he was headed with choreography. And then when you weren’t sure about that from him you could turn to the veteran dancers that had worked with him for many years and ask them for help.”
Watching Bollinger give notes to the dancers after they ran through Local 126 it’s obvious she has a gift for words when it comes to telling the dancers what she needs from then. “A more crisp arrival,” “sharpen your focus” and “brighter energy through the legs” were a few of the corrections Bollinger gave as well as the ever present “have fun.”
But what Bollinger says she spent the most time discussing with the dancers was Wood’s emphasis on the group dynamics within his works. “The one thing I was focused on for this performance was the importance he placed on the group. If you look at Local 126 there is no partnering in the entire thing. Bruce would say he could choreograph to Bach in his sleep pretty easily so he wanted to challenge himself by doing no partnering for this entire piece.”
Bollinger adds, “The dancers needed to understand that you don’t get the lift and fly relationship. They’re going to have a different feeling of their bodies working in unison and as one and in sculpture and line and the architecture of the piece is going to have to create that. That’s been something we talked about a lot for this show because we’re going to need that in every dance, especially in Bolero.”
Before starting Bolero Bollinger says she and Nikaidoh sat down and talked through their memories of the dance and what they remembered Wood expressing so clearly. And through this conversation they were able to reconnect with the feeling and the finer details of the work. “It’s hard because in this day and age, when the second generation perceives something as sensual they automatically think it’s a celebration of sexuality, but it’s not. Bolero is very dark, almost that to the detriment of every person on stage.”
She explains, “At the same time as these women are wielding the power over the men and manipulating each other it’s also building toward a chaos. Everyone is walking in these courtship manners and the women are wearing ball gowns and the men are in tuxes, yet in complete irony the dancing women are in lingerie.”
Bollinger adds, “There’s so many layers here as to what is happening and at the start of this piece Bruce told us, ‘You know, this isn’t the party. This is 3 a.m. and the party has already happened’.”
Come experience Bolero and other Wood works at Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce performance at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre explores the fleeting nature of time and memories in Joy Bollinger’s new work, This Time, part of the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre.
Dallas — It has been a fall to remember for Joy Bollinger who not only will be presenting her first program as artist director of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) this month, but also showcasing her first commissioned piece at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 2-4, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. Bollinger’s new work, This Time, will be performed alongside works by Tommie-Waheed Evans, Lily Cabatu Weiss and Elisa Monte and David Brown.
“I have choreographed on BWD. I was asked to choreograph a piece on my alma mater Texas Christian University,” Bollinger says. “But this was the first time an outside professional dance company has asked me to choreography on them and that was just an exciting milestone.”
She adds, “I love being a choreographer and I hope in the future I can continue down that path in whatever way. I am just really thankful for this opportunity to work with DBDT.”
Bollinger was contacted over the summer by DBDT’s newly-appointed artistic director Melissa Young about setting a piece for the company’s Director’s Choice performance at the beginning of November. Young says she was blown away when she saw BWD perform Bollinger’s Carved in Stone in 2016, and began to wonder how her movement language would translate onto DBDT’s dancers.
“Since we are a repertory company, in my opinion our dancers do an amazing job of morphing into every style put before them,” Young says. “We didn’t have any works in our repertoire with Joy’s distinct movement language and overall tone. I knew whatever she chose to create would be a perfect fit. So, by adding This Time into our programming, our audiences will get to know Joy and her beautiful work as we travel across the country as well as get acquainted with another facet of how DBDT dancers move.”
Young adds, “The best part of this collaboration was the ease of how everything came together. From start to finish, I would consider it all Joy.”
Young and Bollinger’s history actually goes back almost 15 years when they danced alongside each other as part of a Bruce Wood Dance Company and DBDT collaboration in 2003. “There’s something about her calm energy that has always drawn me in. I really admired Joy as a person and her artistic abilities. The special care and attention to detail that she puts into her own dancing resonated with me over the years.”
If you have seen Bollinger’s previous works, Carved in Stone and Hillside, then you have probably noticed her penchant for large scale visuals, dynamic groups sections and musically-driven movement phrases. As we sat talking at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery last Friday Bollinger notes that this piece for DBDT is very different from anything she has done before.
“For this piece I am using a much smaller group, only seven dancers, and since they will be performing in a smaller space I kept the architecture of the dance pretty simple. She jokes, “Plus, I don’t think we have any storage space left [at BWD’s studio] for another one of my props.”
What didn’t change this time around is Bollinger’s need to find music before jumping into the choreography. Bollinger already had a piece of music on her mind going into the process, but due to its length, she had to do a quick pivot and find something else, which she admits was a little challenging. “Finding music is crucial for me because I like to choreograph musically. So when I realized the first idea wasn’t going to work I was like “okay” what do I do now, but I just had to go with it.”
She laughingly adds, “I now realize I have a love affair with Olafur Arnalds because I start searching for music and when I realize I like something guess who it is. So, the three tracks I picked were done in collaboration with someone else and there is the sound of water in the music but also violence and sweeping and piano. You know, music you want to move too.”
This Time was inspired by Bollinger’s relationships with her children and grandmother and how over time these images become fractured and blurry, thus increasing our desire to hang on to these precious memories. To help the dancers find more personal meaning within the work Bollinger says, “I tell them what it means to me and then I say that’s not what it has to mean to you, but I want you to find what in your life connects and resonates with what that means to you.”
The most challenging part of the process for the dancers was learning a new movement vocabulary, Bollinger says. Audiences are very familiar with Bruce Wood’s unique aesthetic which features a strong balletic core so the dancers can effortless execute his off-axis turns, quick changing body positions and pendulum-like arm and leg movements.
“There were definitely a few things in the vocabulary that were new to them and probably countered how they often do things such as running low and in the floor and also the group aesthetic within the work. They are such dynamic performers, and I know every one of them has the capability to be a fantastic soloist, so they now have to keep that but also feel the group.”
You can see Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Joy Bollinger’s This Time at the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre this weekend.