And here is another profile on one of the local pre-professional ballet companies performing at Dallas DanceFest this weekend! This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Ballet Ensemble of Texas Artistic Director Allan Kinize on the benefits of dance festivals for aspiring professionals and what the company has in store for Dallas DanceFest 2017.
Dallas — Formed in 2001 by Lisa Slagle, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) goal is to present quality ballet performances for the local communities and to provide advanced ballet students with the opportunity to prepare for a career in dance. Over the last 15 years BET has done just that with its tight knit group of fiercely driven and gifted dancers and the company’s refreshing renditions of classic story ballets such as The Firebird, Coppelia, The Nutcracker, and Aurora’s Wedding. The company spends countless hours in the studio (Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell) honing their musical aptitude, technical execution, stylistic versatility and performance quality, which typically result in packed performances throughout the year. Many of BET’s former dancers have gone on to dance professional with American Ballet Theater, Texas Ballet Theatre, Sarasota Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Colorado Ballet, just to name a few.
For this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DDF), BET will be stepping outside its comfort zone slightly in Tammie Reinsch’s Generation#.Featuring the entire company, the work blends ballet, contemporary and modern movements with props, including oversized emojis created by Wendy Lamar, to tell a light-hearted tale of how modern technology is affecting the personal relationships among today’s youth. “Generation# is a fun-filled, but contemplative look at how all our ever evolving technology is affecting our lives, and specifically young lives,” says BET Artistic Director Allan Kinize.
Kinize has been an advocate for DDF from the beginning and BET has been fortunate to have presented work in three out of the last four events, including this year’s performance of Generation#. “As a director, I see many benefits in participating in these types of festivals. First and foremost such venues give our dancers another opportunity to show their talents to the viewing public. The dancers also get to see other companies perform, and they get the chance to meet those dancers in a supportive artistic setting.” He adds, “These festivals also give the choreographers of BET the opportunity to either choreograph a new work or to set something that deserves additional exposure.”
Kinize also notes that his dancers are always very enthusiastic about participating in DDF, and have expressed those thoughts to him this year and in the past. “DDF gives the dancers a chance to see what we are accomplishing and that of the other groups in the area. Also, performing in such a beautiful theater is a special bonus for them because the pieces look and feel professional and are managed by professionals.”
» BET will perform on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall as part of DDF 2017.
» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:
Here is the first of several profiles I am doing on companies performing at this year’s Dallas DanceFest. This one was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Dallas — Since stepping on to the Dallas arts scene six years ago Danielle Georgiou has had the opportunity to present her work in some pretty interesting spaces, including warehouses, art galleries, Klyde Warren Park, the Wyly Theatre, Hamon Hall, Bath House Cultural Center and the theater at Eastfield College. As one of the performance companies chosen to present at this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DFF), Georgiou will soon get to add Moody Performance Hall to this eclectic list of venues. “I have never presented any of my work on this stage before so, I am looking forward to this new experience and working with the facility’s technical and production crews. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
Created in 2014 under the guidance of arts patron Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas, DDF strives to provide local and regional dance performance companies with the opportunity to showcase their work to a wider audience base while also giving them the chance to connect with their peers and experience work outside their own genres. This includes Georgiou’s own dance theater style, as she calls it, which is influenced by German choreographer Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater performance style and those of modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. Together with her creative partner Justin Locklear, Georgiou has been able to produce work that is frank in nature, uninhibited in movement quality and thoroughly entertaining.
Regarding the couple’s working relationship Georgiou says, “Justin has brought out in me a new understanding of my own creative process. He constantly pushes and challenges me, and he is not afraid to ask the questions that I don’t really want to answer. He has given my work a particular context that wouldn’t necessarily be there without him.”
For DDF 2017 Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) member Colby Calhoun will be performing, Chatter, a solo work Georgiou created for him two years ago. “Colby and I have a special connection in that we both have the same approach to dance making and other creative artistic processes, and we can understand each other without actually communicating.” She adds, “I was very lucky to find somebody who is also willing to throw themselves physically into movement, because as a performer my comfort area is to physically assert myself in order to find what the choreography is supposed to be, and Colby works much like me in that regard.”
An extremely physical work, Georgiou says the movement in Chatter represents the ongoing dialogue and many voices she hears inside her head all the time. “I find that my body and mind have a hard time resting and that is where Chatter started from, which was dealing with the push and pull of daily life and finding moments to try and quiet down, but never really being able to and just having this internal struggle with myself.” Georgiou adds that creating the piece was a cathartic experience for both her and Calhoun. “It felt good getting it out of my system and Colby has even said that after he performs it he feels relieved that he finished it. Watching him perform the piece, it’s a different experience each time.”
As far as what Georgiou is most looking forward to at this year’s DDF she says, “I know the festival’s audience base is going to be very different from our audience base so, I am interested to see what their reactions are to the type of work I make. A lot of times people are not sure what type of work I make so, I think this will be a great way for people to find out that yes I make dance, but I also make theater.” She adds, “And maybe this will encourage them to want to see some of the other works that we do that is this collaboration between different genres, and maybe it will help expand their knowledge of what dance can be. That it doesn’t have to be something very classical and traditional in nature. That it can explore new realms of movement and story.”
» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group captures the essence of the 1960s’ beach movies in Donkey Beach, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Dallas — As an artist Danielle Georgiou has always been a rule breaker. Looking over her portfolio of work these last few years, which includes Dirty Filthy Diamonds, NICE, and The Show About Men, you will notice that the only time she follows the rules is when she is about to break them. Georgiou is also not shy about addressing social taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism in her work, but she does it in such a way that you don’t know whether to laugh or cringe. You typically end up doing both at the same time, which is one of the main draws of a Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) show. The other being Georgiou’s ability to gather so many gifted local musicians, singers, actors and dancers in one place. This is something no other dance performance company has come close to doing here in Dallas.
Needless to say the expectations were high for DGDG’s newest production Donkey Beach, which premiered this weekend at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. A well-suited collaborative effort among Georgiou, Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script), Donkey Beach is a parody of the 1960s beach party movie genre, which includes films like Gidget (1959), Beach Party (1963), Pajama Party (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Like the movies that inspired it, Donkey Beach seamlessly blends live surf rock played by Locklear, Trey Pendergrass and Cory Kosel (also known as the Beach Bums); popular dance moves at the time such as The Twist, The Shimmy and The Mashed Potato; and meticulously timed dialogue that includes a copious amount of ’60s slang like “can you dig it” and “hang ten” to create one totally awesome beach bash.
The insanely happy beach vibe is carried throughout the entire production, including the moving sets featuring fabric on wheels which unveil multiple life-size 3D ocean waves, a camp cabin that becomes a lifeguard stand and a small stage in an upstage left corner where the band is situated. Locklear keeps the surfer theme going with the costumes, which feature bold-patterned swim trucks for the men and brightly colored cover-ups for the women. And Lori Honeycutt does a dynamic job with the lighting which transitions from muted purples and flashes of white light in the camp scene to warm yellows and oranges during the beach party.
Known for its borderless performances, DGDG had to get creative when it came to the rectangular-sized space of Hamon Hall as well as the fact the audience would not be on a rake when viewing the show. DGDG solves the first problem right away by having some of the members enter from the back of the room in a militant-styled dance sequence, which welcomed us to Camp Walla Bang-Bang. The 14-member cast wears army green t-shirts over black biking shorts with plastic head pieces that resemble raincoats.
Georgiou uses simple movements such as heavy walking, pivot steps and repetitive arm gestures to represent the campers’ dull and monotonous state of being. As the campers are directed to state their name, bunk number and favorite color, viewers notice that some voices are clear as a bell (Hannah Brake, William Acker, Curtis Green and Carrazana) while others, including De’Ja Farr, Omar Padilla and Colby Calhoun, are harder to hear due to the speed at which they speak—they all adjust this by the next scene.
The second problem of the people in the back not being able to see some of the action up front is addressed by Locklear, who describes the action the same way a sports caster would—so not to exclude anyone from the fun.
Locklear and the band are the glue that holds the show together. Locklear sets the mood in his opening monologue, which is a combination of Dick Clark, Humphrey Bogart and Vincent Price rolled into one as he tells audiences how Donkey Beach came into existence. It started with an enchantress and evil gin (or genie), Locklear says with a wicked smile and a wink. To sum it up the two creatures get together and then break up, and in his heartbroken state the genie banishes the enchantress to the sea, but not before she turns him into a donkey. In order to cope with his new image, the donkey creates a place at the end of the world where the sun is always shining and the party never stops. Locklear’s delivery is kind of creepy yet inviting, with a hypnotic cadence that the audience can’t help but follow.
Georgiou’s modern dance background and tanztheater influences are scattered throughout the show, including the fluid body shapes and springy footwork of Gabe King, Green and Calhoun in one of their trios and Debbie Crawford and Matthew Clark’s jerky body isolations after drinking out of a bottle containing rain water. She even makes dancing bushes appear musical and exciting. Georgiou has a knack for tackling issues like such gender roles in non-confrontational ways with the aid of irony and humor. An example would be when Carrazana rubs up on the lifeguard (Brian Witkowicz) dressed in grass skirt, coconut bra and blonde wig as Witkowicz sings about young, soft bodies in bikinis.
Spoiler Alert: Near the end it is revealed that Witkowicz is the donkey and he must be punished for tricking the teenagers into drinking his magic water and basically brainwashing them to be happy all the time. Becki McDonald’s hauntingly beautiful solo (she’s wearing a seahorse mask; both it and the donkey mask, designed by Locklear, are fantastic) is a sweet note in the show as the performers manipulate strips of blue fabric stretched across the stage while she sings about coming out of the water. The dialogue between McDonald and Witkowicz hits home when he mentions the terrors and tragedies happening across the world as well as more personal tragedies such as heartbreak and rejection. And this is where Georgiou’s twist happens—but you’ll have to see it to find out what happens.
You can still see Donkey Beach today at 2 or 8 p.m. at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group returns to its zany storylines and feminist roots in Donkey Beach, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Dallas — Over the last six years Danielle Georgiou has made a name for herself in the Dallas arts community for her unique collaborations with local singers, actors and musicians as well as for putting out work that is real and relevant and always pack a punch. Her use of originxal music, tanztheater (expressionist dance) and dark humor to bring attention to taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism is both disconcerting and engaging at the same time. You can see all these elements at work in Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) newest production, Donkey Beach, which premieres June 22-25 at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Inspired by the beach party movies of the 1960s featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Georgiou and her team, including Justin Locklear and Ruben Carrazana, have created a similar setting where the sun always shines, the songs are about bikinis and surf boards and the teenagers say things like “gee whiz” and “cowabunga” while busting out classic ’60s dance moves like The Swim and The Mashed Potato. The concept for the show came to Georgiou while watching Disney’s Teen Beach 2 one evening. “I really liked the idea of being transported to a different time and place,” Georgiou says. “I also love the ’60s because it was the first time that women really had a voice in society and were comfortable in their own skin.” Georgiou adds that she’s also a fan of the femme fatale characters in the movies from the ’40s and ’50s.
The structure of the show is a musical with songs and dances woven in between dialogue and modern dance techniques such as weight sharing, concaved body shapes and pedestrian movements. “This is definitely a musical, but it doesn’t have the typical happily ever after at the end. I mean boy meets girl and the two of them kind of fall in love, but then everything starts to fall apart. There is no happy ending in this musical.” Georgiou doesn’t tell me this to spoil the ending of the run through I was about to see of Donkey Beach at Eastfield College in Dallas last Saturday afternoon. Actually, Locklear alludes to this fact multiple times in his opening monologue, which explains how Donkey Beach came into existence.
To sum it up, a seahorse enchantress and an evil gin—“it’s an evil genie,” band member Trey Pendergrass shouts out multiple times throughout the show—had a falling out and in her anger the enchantress turned the genie into a donkey. Heartbroken and looking like a literal ass the donkey creates a magical place where everyone is happy all the time. Locklear and the band then lead us into the opening scene, which depicts a bunch a miserable teenagers at a summer camp where it rains all the time. With Locklear’s urging the lead characters Jimmy (Matt Clark) and Susie (Debbie Crawford) drink from a bottle of donkey water that then opens up the portal to Donkey Beach. You can definitely draw some parallels between this story and that of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which also includes magical beings and a remote island.
The music for the show has a Beach Boys vibe with lyrics about bikinis, surf boards and beach parties, which will be performed live by Locklear (vocals and bass guitar), Pendergrass (percussion) and Cory Kosel (vocals and guitar). Like all of Georgiou’s productions, she uses these original tunes as a means to poke fun at specific societal norms and stereotypes with the ultimate goal of opening up the audiences’ eyes to certain issues in a non-threatening and usually ridiculously funny way. An example would be Crawford’s solo with a ukulele, “because of course she can play the ukulele,” Pendergrass states as he brings the instrument over to her. The song starts off light about young love, but then turns heavy when she questions why society makes excuses for men when it comes to domestic abuse and how society typically looks the other way when it happens. The song ends and the performers are quiet for a minute, allowing for the viewers to absorb the message, before Will Acker jumps up and says, “Dude you killed the mood. This is a bonfire!” With that cue the band starts playing and dance madness ensues. You also have to appreciate the irony of Carrazana portraying a woman complete with a grass skirt and coconut bra in a movie genre known for its plastic images.
Later in the show you will notice the performers make vague references about world events such as mass tragedies and natural disasters as well as smaller, more personal tragedies. When asked why she didn’t name specific tragedies like the recent bombing in Manchester, England, Georgiou responded that she didn’t want to limit the show to just the here and now. “I want it to represent all time periods, not just what is happening today. I want the show to mean something in a universal way.”
Georgiou loosely describes the show as having three acts: the first being the gloomy camp scene where we meet the teenage characters; the second on Donkey Beach where the characters are transformed into 1960s talking and dancing beach kids; and the final scene between the enchantress and the donkey, which Georgiou says contains the meat of the show. “This is where the bottom just drops out of the show. Everything before this is just pretense.” I don’t want to give the twist away, but I left the rehearsal pondering to myself if given a choice would I rather live in miserable reality or in a joyful lie.
Dallas DanceFest has announced its 2017 line up which shows a lot of hometown pride.
Wow! It is hard to believe that this year marks the 4th installment of Dallas DanceFest (DDF) which was created in 2014 under the guidance of arts patron Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas. It looks like the festival’s mission of presenting high caliber and well-rounded dance performances will continue this year with a program that features all the major local players as well as the largest showing of pre-professional companies to date and a handful of relatively unknown dance companies from around and outside the Metroplex.
Let’s start with the bigwigs in Dallas dance. For the fourth straight year Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre will be featured at DDF as well as their smaller counterparts DBDT: Encore! and the Texas Ballet Theater School.
We will also see pieces from some repeat dance companies, including Dark Circle Dance Company, Contemporary Ballet Dallas, Indique Dance Company, Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble and Houston-based NobleMotion Dance.
DFF 2017 will also feature a number of first timers, including Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Center for Ballet Arts, Impulse Dance Project, Uno Mas and Grandans. Southern Methodist University Meadows dance student’s Kat Barragan and Arden Leone will also be showcasing work for the first time at this year’s festival.
I am also pleased to see so many familiar pre-professional ballet companies on this year’s roaster, including Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX), Ballet Frontier of Texas (Fort Worth, TX), Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX), Dallas Ballet Company (Dallas, TX) Royale Ballet Dance Academy (Dallas, TX) and LakeCities Ballet Theatre (Lewisville, TX). I have seen these companies perform a variety of dance styles from classical and neo-classical to more contemporary and jazz movements and I am eager to see how these aspiring professionals handle the pressure of sharing the stage with the more seasoned artists on this year’s program.
We have also seen a surge in the number of dance festivals occurring around Texas over the last couple of years so, it didn’t surprise me to see the Rhythm and Fusion Festival and Wanderlust Dance Project in this year’s line up. If you’re interested in reading more about the rise of dance festivals in Texas then you should read Nichelle Suzanne’s 2015 article for Arts+Culture magazine entitled Talent, Training, Festival & More: Fueling Contemporary Dance in Texas.
The 2017 Dallas DanceFest will take place Sept. 2-3 at the Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. More information about the festival can be found on the Dance Council of North Texas website.
Bruce Wood Dance Project humanizes the refugee crisis in Albert Drake’s Chasing Home, part of the company’s Journey’s performance this weekend.
Dallas — Emily Drake tenderly cups David Escoto’s face in the palm of her hand before he scoops her up and spins her around in childlike glee while the rest of the dancers quietly celebrate in the background. As the duet progresses, the two twist, duck and arc around one another while always maintaining their connection through physical touches and eye contact. This marriage ceremony is just one of many poignant moments viewers get to witness in Albert Drake’s new work Chasing Home, which depicts the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps as they seek to reclaim their identities. The work features an original score by Joseph Thalken, which will performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Bruce Wood Dance Project’s(BWDP) Journeys performance June 16-17 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s Schmetterling (2004) and Zero Hour (1999).
Out of the full 20-minute piece, it’s the duet with Emily Drake and Escoto where we really get to see who Albert Drake, Emily’s husband, is becoming as a choreographer. Yes, Wood’s aesthetic is visible in the dancers’ swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing, but there is a vulnerability and sensuality in the couple’s partnering that is uniquely Albert Drake. “It is not sexual at all,” Albert Drake says. “It’s sensual in that it’s more about seeing, touching, hearing and feeling. It was about finding those intimate connections between the dancers.” Wood’s influences can also be found in the couple’s silky smooth transitions and momentum-driven partnering and floor work, whereas the dynamic bodying shaping and contrary movement phrases showcased in the dancer’s individual moments cater more to Albert Drake’s artistic sensibilities.
When asked about his evolving movement tastes Albert Drake says, “There are definitely a lot of influences from Bruce in my work just because I adore and respect him. I have also found a lot of connection to his work from my concert training at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.” Before attending SMU in the fall of 2008 Albert Drake says his knowledge of concert dance was limited. It wasn’t until he took Graham technique with Professor Myra Woodruff that he fell in love with the art form. It was also during this time period that he met Bruce Wood who came to SMU looking for dancers to perform in the first concert of BWDP.
(Woodruff’s teaching methods were recently praised on Dance Teacher magazine’s website by former student Corinna Lee Nicholson. Check it out here.)
“There were a lot of connections between my Graham classes and Bruce’s work, so I never felt as if I was starting over with a new aesthetic,” says Albert Drake about his first year with the BWDP after graduating from SMU in 2012. “And these connections definitely and heavily translated in my first work Whispers. That piece kind of came out of nowhere and so, I definitely played from what I knew.” Since the premiere of Whispers last season, Albert Drake says he has been trying to find more of his own self in the movement. “Dynamic range has always been important to me. Also, suspension, release, contraction, expansion, soft and aggressive. I like playing around with all these elements and I hope this comes across in my work.”
Circling back to the marriage ceremony mentioned earlier, Albert Drake says the idea came from one of the multiple documentaries he has watched pertaining to the refugee crisis. He was particularly touched with a story about a couple that had met, fell in love and gotten married while living in a refugee camp. “I was inspired by the fact that even with everything else that was going on people came together and found items like pieces of fabric and makeshift flowers to adorn the bride and groom in. It’s these moments of hope and of being able to move forward and progress while still living in this situation that is really what this piece comes down to for me.” A wedding isn’t the only communal activity featured in the piece. Albert Drake also brings soccer and the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, into the fold with movement sequences dedicated to fast, syncopated foot work similar to an Irish jig and rhythmic soccer drills performed by the men.
After watching Albert Drake and Joseph Thalken converse at the end of rehearsal about the music for the final section it’s clear the two have an amicable working relationship and seem to be on same page in terms of the bigger picture. When I mentioned this to Albert Drake later he chuckled and admitted it has taken a lot of time and mind mapping for them to get to this point. “In our first meeting we wrote a lot of stuff down on paper in terms of content, tune and mood and then we just starting tying all these things together.” He adds, “Joseph and I broke everything into sections with working titles, so there really is no beginning, middle or end to the piece. Instead I created different chapters or vignettes with the hope audiences will focus more on the dancers’ connections than following a narrative.”
Dallas Black Dance Theatre leaps into a new era with Stephen Mills’ Bounce and two works by new Artistic Director Briget L. Moore at its annual Spring Celebration Series.
Dallas — A rollercoaster of emotions, movement that changes in texture, weight and dimension, and jumps – lots of them. With its strong classical foundation and pas de deux like couplings, Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills’Bounce is a detour from what we normally see from Dallas Black Dance Theatre(DBDT). Well known for presenting works that honor the African American culture and related dance styles, it’s easy to forget that DBDT is also well-versed in modern, jazz and classical dance forms. The dancers prove this in Bounce, which will be performed alongside works by Twyla Tharp and DBDT’s new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore at the company’s annual Spring Celebration Series, May 19-21, at the Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre in the Arts District.
In Bounce, the dancers’ strong classical training can be seen in their port de bras, controlled arabesques and jumps with deep plies, which Mills cleverly fused with grounded foot work, curvaceous spine movements and elastic body positions for a more contemporary look. And with no plotline or hidden messages to decipher the audience can just sit back and enjoy the way the dancers’ bodies interpret the music, which is an original score by Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds. Reynolds’ work has been featured in numerous movie soundtracks, including Before Midnight, Bernie and A Scanner Darkly and he is one of Mills’ favorite collaborators for original dance music.
Mills has always had a penchant for all things musical. Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, Mills’ extracurricular activities included piano lessons and drama club. It wasn’t until his first year of college when one of his theater requirements included him taking a ballet class that he discovered his passion for the art form. From there he jumped into every class he could find, including ballet, modern, jazz, tap and even African dance at the Ailey School. He would later join The Harkness Ballet and The American Dance Machine in New York before moving on to work with Ohard Naharin, Katherine Posin and Mark Dendy.
Since becoming artistic director of Ballet Austin in 2000, Mills has created a number of innovative and memorable works for the company, including Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew and Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, his two-year, community-wide human rights collaboration. Most recently, Mills was awarded the Steinberg Award, the top honor at Le Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition for One/the body’s grace.
Mills’ sophisticated understanding of music can be seen throughout Bounce from the opening sequence where the dancers bounce side-to-side to the syncopated beats of a xylophone; to his visually compelling use of movement canons and moments of stillness in the quartet with Claude Alexander, III, Zion Pradier, Sean J. Smith and De’ Anthony Vaughan accompanied by the harmonious tinkering of a piano. While I didn’t get to see Mills at the rehearsal of Bounce I attended last week at DBDT’s main studio in downtown Dallas I did get to see international choreographer and Dallas native Bridget L. Moore in the studio – an opportunity I have been looking forward to since it was announced she would be taking over as artistic director earlier this year.
I was eager to see how she would interact with the dancers now that she has become a permanent fixture in the organization. She has worked with the company on many different occasions, but it has always been in a visiting artist capacity. While I wasn’t surprised with her straight-forward, hands-on approach during notes, I was inspired by her thoughtful individual critiques, which were focused on helping the dancers continue to growth artistically for the long haul and not just in the moment.
A prime example was her feedback for Alyssa Harrington regarding one of her duet sections with Alexander. “You have such beautiful lines, but there’s still more you can do to bring us in,” Moore says. “Push to elongate more and reach behind that knee. Don’t just rely on the lines you have.” The movement phrase Moore was referring to is when Harrington developes her right leg up as she leans into Alexander before she springs back onto that leg in an arabesque hold with her arms reaching forward. Harrington’s mind/body connection was much stronger after hearing Moore’s comments. She was able to stretch through her movement more, which did indeed draw my eye in.
One of the things Moore wanted the group as a whole to continue working on is their performance quality. Because the work keeps bouncing back and forth between various emotions and moods such as anger, longing, flirtation and joy, it’s imperative that the dancers remain in the zone if they want the piece to keep the audience engaged from start to finish. “You have to continue building your performance quality while also executing the movement at the same time. You need to figure out how to connect more with the movement and your partner so the piece reads well.”
The artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre on her new role and the world premiere of her Uncharted Territory at the TITAS Command Performance this weekend.
Dallas — Bridget L. Moore is no stranger to the Dallas dance scene. She was born and raised here, and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) in 1989 before heading to The Ohio State University where she earned a B.F.A dance and a concentration in choreography. She would later go on to earn a M.F.A in dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2006.
As a professional dancer Moore toured with New York-based Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE/Dance Company from 1999-2008. She was the first recipient of Project Next Generation, a commission to an emerging female choreographer by Urban Bush Women Dance Company. She was also commissioned by the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography to work with Philadanco Dance Company in a creative residency. She also co-directed This Woman’s Work with colleague Princess Mhoon Cooper and was listed as one of Dance magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2006.
Throughout her professional career Moore has returned to Dallas numerous times to teach and set works for many arts institutions, including Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT), University of Texas at Dallas and BTWHSPVA where she was also the artistic director of the World Dance Ensemble. In May of 2016 a group of Moore’s students from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, were asked to perform at DBDT’s Spring Celebration. All of these experiences as well as her close rapport with DBDT Founder Ms. Ann Williams make her an ideal candidate for the artistic director position. The selection committee obviously agreed because at the beginning of this year it was announced that Moore would take over for Ms. Williams effective Feb. 1.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Moore’s work then you are in luck because her new work Uncharted Territory, which was commissioned by TITAS, is on the roster for the annual Command Performance Gala at the Winspear Opera House this Saturday. The piece includes music by Kangding Ray and features DBDT Company Members Claude Alexander III and Kimara Wood, who is filling for Matthew Rushing of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The evening’s program also includes works by Alvin Ailey, Wang Yuanyuan, Moses Pendleton and Dwight Rhoden, just to name a few.
TheaterJones asked Bridget L. Moore about coming home to Dallas, her plans for DBDT’s main company and working with Matthew Rushing and Claude Alexander, III on her work Uncharted Territory for this year’s Command Performance Gala.
TheaterJones: How are you settling into your new role as artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre?
Bridget L. Moore: It’s been going very well. I’ve had some time to learn about the day-to-day operations, but of course you are talking about 40 years of history and commitment to the field so there is still a lot that I have to learn. Fortunately, I have been able to shadow Ms. Williams which is really great and it has been very special to have her there with me. I have really appreciated her advice and guidance.
What type of growth would you like to see within the main company under your leadership?
What I really want and I’m planning to do is to build on the legacy and the excellence that is already present at DBDT. Now, I would like to continue to expand our national and international touring as well as enhance and continue to push our educational outreach program through our academy. As well as foster relationships through our community and connect our community through culture, dance and innovative programming. And also put forth initiatives that ensure the mission and the structure of the organization and that also empower our next generation of artists.
What made you decide to come home to Dallas?
Well, I have spent that last three years in South Korea teaching at Sungkyunkwan University as a visiting professor and it was such a wonderful opportunity, but I love Dallas and I was ready to come home. And now I have the opportunity to share those experiences with others.
What motivated you to apply for the position?
One of the main things that attracted me to DBDT is their mission statement which is to create and produce modern dance work at its highest level of artistic excellence. And because they also have the arts and education program as well as the educational outreach program that really support my overall personal and goals. It just seemed like a great fit for me and it’s something I was already thinking about doing while I was in Korea. I was trying to come to an agreement with myself in terms of what I wanted to do in the next phase of my career. I absolutely love teaching and choreographing, but to be able to do all of it and support the professional dancers on that level is definitely something I am excited to do.
What changes in the Dallas dance scene have you noticed since returning home?
I would say that particularly in the Arts District I am noticing a lot more collaborative projects and community engagement projects that really involve the people that they serve. And I think it’s so important that we are involving and working with our community because that truly drives the economy and also just really connects us. So, I am seeing a lot of collaborative projects that I didn’t necessarily see as much before.
What was your inspiration for your piece, Uncharted Territory, for the TITIS Command Performance?
Conceptually, a lot of the piece comes from my travels while I was in South Korea. I was able to venture out to several neighboring countries, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Japan. And I travelled alone to these countries which was very unusual and awkward at times, but still very enjoyable yet unfamiliar. So, I wanted to choreographically challenge myself with this new work by finding new ways to approach the movement. I tried to take a very experimental approach to creating the work. It is a duet with two men and I eventually want to make it a larger work for the company.
Why did you select Matthew Rushing and Claude Alexander III to be in the number?
Charles Santos has always liked the idea of connecting dancers from different companies such as Alvin Ailey and DBDT, which both have rich history and are very dynamic. So, Charles thought it would be great to have Matthew and then I decided on having Claude from DBDT. They are both dynamic dancers and have such beautiful artistry and sensibility when it comes to movement that I knew they would look great together. But unfortunately Matthew is injured so Kimara Wood of DBDT will go into his place. I think it’s going to be fantastic and I can’t wait!
Choreographers Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky have received a lot of heat recently for their responses to a question in a New York Times article asking them why most of the major choreographers in classical dance are male. As a female choreographer who has travelled around the world what are your thoughts on this imbalance? Where should the change begin?
First, we need to recognize and acknowledge that there is indeed a problem and that there is definitely a disproportion between women and men choreographers in terms of equal opportunities. There is a lack of presence of women, but we are doing the work and we definitely have women choreographers that are clearly capable and are just as technically capable as the men. In 2003 a college of mine, Princess Mhoon Cooper, and I created and designed a performance work as a response to that notion as a platform for women to present their work. And so, how do we solve the problem. I think the first initiative would be to come together and have dialogue to continue to talk about why there is an imbalance among women and men choreographers. I think we just have to support each other and lift each other up by using our platforms and our resources to empower one another.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates 40 years through video clips, audio recordings and dance in Sean J. Smith’s Interpretations, part of DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series.
Dallas — “This is just magical! I had never been in a theater before…!” As Ms. Ann Williams reflects in a pre-recorded interview about her first visit to the opera and seeing dance for the first time, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) Company Member Claude Alexander III leisurely makes his way to the center of the large rehearsal space, which occupies most of the second floor of DBDT’s home on Ann Williams Way in downtown Dallas. As Ms. Williams’ voice fades, it is replaced with the bright and powerful sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet in Birth of the Blues, which Alexander emulates through his explosive jumps, smooth leg circles and cutting arm movements.
A dance hall vibe ensues as the rest of DBDT’s main company enters and exits from different parts of the stage sometimes singularly and other times in pairs or trios while performing a lush variety of jazz, ballet and contemporary moves in the first section of DBDT’s Company Member Sean J. Smith’s newest work, Interpretations. The approximately 30-minute work tells the story of the company’s 40-year legacy using dance, video clips and audio recordings that feature DBDT alums and faculty members, including Deena Chavoya-Ellis, Darrell Cleveland, Nycole Ray, Kathleen Sanders, DeMarcus Williams and Melissa M. Young, just to name a few. The piece also features music by Smooth Jazz All Stars, Les Miserables Brass Band, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sarah Vaughan and Chris Botti.
In addition to acting as the thread tying all seven dance sections together, the audio recordings also serve as a reference point for each dance break. For example, prior to the second section Ms. Williams talks about the company’s early days and its founding members. As the audio is playing Hana Delong, Kayah Franklin, Alyssa Harrington, Jasmine White-Killins and McKinley Willis enter with a black folding chair. The dancers proceed to lean, stand and droop across the chairs, and as the ladies move circularly from chair to chair you get this feeling of time passing which is intensified when the men join in. The choreography in this section flows seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with a couple Fosse-inspired moves thrown in for some added zing, including head bobs, shoulder shimmies with elbows close to the body and walks with tilted hips.
“I use a multitude of styles, not just one,” Smith says about his movement choices for Interpretations. I have a couple sections that are jazz orientated, but also contemporary. I also incorporate some fast foot work and some adagio movement that celebrates DBDT’s diversity, which I don’t think I could’ve done by sticking to just one style.”
Smith has a diverse dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and contemporary techniques. His dance idols include Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Michael Jackson. He has trained at many well-known dance institutions such as Toronto Dance Theatre, Ballet Creole and The Ailey School before joining DBDT in 2010. Over the last six years Smith has performed featured roles in works by Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle and Jamal Story. As a choreographer he has produced 11 works for the last seven Black on Black performances and created his first full-length piece entitled Monologues for the company in 2013.
When Ms. Williams approached Smith about making a piece showcasing the evolution of DBDT for its 40th anniversary season Smith says he was honored to work on a project of this magnitude. “I am appreciative to Ms. Williams for giving me this opportunity. Anyone can go to the website and read our history, so the challenge is how do I make this material more engaging and interesting. To me we are not Dallas Black Dance Museum. We are Dallas Black Dance Theatre and so it is important to make this a special experience as you get all this wonderful information from the last 40 years.”
When asked about the meaning behind the title Interpretations, Smith says it speaks to the true nature of being a member of a repertory dance company. “Interpretations is an important title because that is what we do as dancers; we interpret. We have a 40-year history of diverse and challenging repertory that spans many different genres and we as dancers have the responsibility to maintain the integrity of the work. So, the idea is when you step on stage the steps are the same, but the person conveying the message will always change as every body and spirit carries with it a different set of experiences that they will convey through the choreography.”
As the piece comes to a conclusion in a rip roaring big band number featuring the men performing a series of leaps, turns and slides while holding on to canes that they periodically extend out as if passing the baton to the next generation of DBDT dancers, a female voice suddenly cuts through the noise. She says something along the lines of “This is what I have been waiting for! I am in awe of the company now!” The finale, which features the entire company dancing in unison for the first time throughout the whole work, gives us a glimpse into DBDT’s future and will hopefully leave you feeling uplifted and inspired.
The premiere of Interpretations was made possible in part by an award from the MidAmerica Arts Alliance. You can experience the work for yourself during Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 17-19, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. The program also includes an excerpt of Bruce Wood’s Smoke (2001), Asadata Dafora’s Awassa Astrige/Ostrich (1934), Darryl Sneed’s …And Now Marvin (1995), and Wood’s solo The Edge of My Life…So Far (2010) performed by DBDT: Encore! Artistic Director Nycole Ray.
Avant Chamber Ballet puts its classical technique and acting skills on trial in Alice in Wonderland at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend.
Dallas — One by one the eight dancers place their hands on the waist of the person in front of them as they step into a wide second position. After a slight pause, the group slinks off stage as one using small, synchronized steps. If you are familiar with the characters in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which follows a girl named Alice after she tumbles through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures than you can probably tell that the eight dancers are personifying Absolem, the Hookah-smoking caterpillar.
It was clever of Artistic Director Katie Cooper to use multiple dancers to depict the caterpillar in Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) presentation of Alice in Wonderland which comes to Dallas City Performance Hall Feb. 11-12. Not only do the dancers get to show off their exemplary adagio skills, including sustained balances, graceful arm placements and fluid movement transitions, but the human-made caterpillar also gives Cooper the opportunity to play around with the dancers’ musical timing, something that Cooper is well known for along with her meticulous attention to technical details and imaginative use of space and movement patterns.
A prime example of Cooper’s artistic attributes can be found in the Flower dance, which resembles the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker both in costuming and the dancers’ fluid movement quality. But unlike most traditional ballets Cooper doesn’t like to use the corps as stage ornaments; instead she prefers to have them moving on the sides of the stage at all times. She also likes to feature the corps in in various geometric traveling patterns and opposite movement sequences that pay homage to Cooper’s Balanchine roots.
Cooper’s balletic interpretation of the classic children’s tale sticks close to the original story with Alice chasing the White Rabbit into Wonderland where she encounters a host of eccentric beings, including Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and of course the Queen of Hearts, who sentences Alice to death after she insults the Queen during a game of croquet. Cooper puts her own spin on the story with the addition of a human-made caterpillar, dancing mushrooms, a tea party gone haywire and a Greek chorus representing jurors in the trial scene.
While Cooper says little has changed choreographically since ACB first presented Alice in Wonderland back in 2014, she points out that viewers will notice substantial changes in both the venue and cast size. “Dallas City Performance Hall is quite bigger than Bank of America Theater in the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts,” Cooper says. “This allows us to have larger casts and do a few effects and stagings the way I really wanted to do last time, but there just wasn’t enough space.” She adds, “The Company has also grown so there will be more professional dancers and children in the show this time around.”
Today, ACB has more than 15 company members from all across the U.S., including California, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Texas and Virginia as well as a few international members hailing from Russia, Ukraine and Japan. The production also feature 60 young dancers from studios across the Metroplex, including Park Cities Dance, Mejia Ballet and Legacy Dance Center.
Company members Madelaine Boyce and Yulia Ilina will reprise their lead roles as young Alice and the Queen of Hearts, which not only suit their physical appearances, Cooper says, but also their individual personalities and technical tendencies. “Physically Madelaine looks like the almost perfect Disney Alice, but I also choreographed it just for her so it is very suited for her. And I can’t picture anyone else doing the Queen as well as Yulia Ilina. She is tall and long limbed so she literally towers over Alice. But Yulia is also a great comedian and actor, which might surprise you if you’ve only seen her in tradition ballerina roles.”
I got to see Boyce in action when I sat in ACB’s rehearsal of Alice in Wonderland at Park Cities Dance in Dallas last week. (Ilina was unable to attend this rehearsal). Boyce was very quiet and focused as she stretched her limbs before practice. Even the way she adjusted her hair and tightened her ballet skirt was accomplished in a calm lyrical manner. Cooper has wisely chosen movement phrases for Boyce that complement these individual traits, including long, sustained reaches, smooth shifts in epaulement, complex foot work and thoughtful gesturing.
Like the rest of the company Boyce also exhibits an excellent ear for music, a skill Cooper put to the test in rehearsal by switching out the musical recording for one with a slightly faster tempo. Boyce barely blinked an eye before speeding up her turns and battements to match the new tempo. The score is written by Chase Dobson (now Mikayla Dobson) and features the piano and strings, and will be performed live by members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Brad Cawyer.
Working on this ballet has also given Cooper the opportunity to reflect on her own artistic growth and that of her dancers over the last three years. “When we did Alice the first time I spent almost half a year on it. I still have my big binder of all the steps I wrote out and meticulously planned. At this point, I trust my own ability and creativity more. I don’t go into each rehearsal for a new ballet with quite so much structure.” She adds, “My dancers have also grown tremendously. At a small company like ours everyone has opportunities in casting that are sometimes few and far between in large groups. That can push you as a dancer in a very good way.”
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Alice in Wonderland Feb. 11-12 at Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.