I was starting to wonder if Dallas DanceFest was even going to happen this year, but my reservations were laid to rest last week when the Dance Council of North Texas announced on its Facebook page the dance companies that will be participating in this year’s festival, which has been strategically renamed Dallas Dances.
The festival has received criticism from the beginning about its focus on mainly local dance companies and for its inclusion of pre-professionals from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Local Dance Critic Manuel Mendoza’s touched on these sore points in his review of last year’s Dallas DanceFest, which boasted the question “Why doesn’t Dallas have the dance festival that it deserves?”
In his review Mendoza basically says that by including the pre-professional dance studios, high schools and university programs in the area is the festival is really doing a disservice to the more established dance companies around Dallas.
He writes, “North Texas professional companies are the ones putting the area on the dance map even as they struggle to find suitable places to perform in a town starved of small, affordable venues. They are the groups competing for public and private grants so they can aim high, so they can someday pay their dancers something close to what their New York counterparts earn.”
He continues, “Most important, they are the ones doing the most complex, interesting work.”
What I think people are overlooking is that the mission of the Dance Council is not to exclusively support and promote just the professionals in the area, but also the up and coming professionals that stem from the local studios, performing arts schools and universites. And I think this is where the mission of Dallas DanceFest starts to get murky. Is the festival suppose to only highlight the professionals in the area? Or is its main target the young professionals and giving them a unique performance opportunity?
Apparently festival orgnaizations have deicded its a little bit of both if this year’s line up is any indicator.
I think the Dance Council has come to realize that they should stick true to thier overall mission, which is fostering and promoting every type of dance and dancer in the Metroplex and I believe they have changed the festival’s name to Dallas Dances to reflect the vibrancy and diveristy of the Dallas dance community.
With that said, here are the dance companies performing at this year’s Dallas Dances:
Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackles their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series.
Dallas — Over the last couple of years Claude Alexander III has grown into an even more magnetic and mindful performer thanks to roles in unforgettable dance works such as Bridget L. Moore’s original version of Uncharted Territory for the TITAS Command Performance in 2017 and Jamal Story’s aerial duet, What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus (2015), which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite pieces. Now, this Dallas Black Dance Theatre company veteran is making his transition into the world of choreography with his first dance work,Face what’s facing you!, part of DBDT’s annual Spring Celebration Series at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas this weekend.
For his first choreographic piece Alexander is coming to terms with some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process, which he says is the underlying theme of the whole work. “I wanted to create something that is authentic and true to who I am right now,” Alexander says about his inspiration for the piece. “So, I just started thinking about things in my life which lead me to consider some things that I felt like I had to deal with as child and as I came into being an adult and this made me realize that I operate a certain way because I never quite addressed these issues when I was younger.” He adds, “I literally just wanted to be able to have a cathartic point to deal with a few issues in my life and I felt like this work was going to be the beginning of the process for healing.”
Once he had a clear idea of what he wanted the piece to be about Alexander and the other DBDT dancers met in the studio where he had the group create some improv movement based off a series of prepared questions. “I first asked them to identify what their issue is. Then what does it affect in your life. Then I asked them where it hurts you the most. And lastly, I asked them what would it look like to become free from whatever that thing is.” He continues, “And so, we used those four questions to formulate some improv and create some really authentic movement or motifs and from there is just all came together.”
A recent opinion piece on dancemagaine.com entitled “Dancers are Choreographers, Too. It’s Time for Dance Criticism to Reflect That” led me to ask Alexander exactly how much of the dancers improv material did he wind up using. He responds, “Oh, a lot of it! The improv material is probably where we developed the bulk of our motif. Now, I created most of the actual movement, but I would say hey, let’s use the arm from this person’s improv or let’s use that step from this person’s solo. And what I did was each person has a solo within the piece and it’s not always a featured solo, but they all have something that maybe only they do and I siphoned that movement, if you will, to use in other places in the work.”
While the inspiration for the work is based on specific moments in his life, Alexander says the narrative of the piece is not autobiographical. “Well, for one thing, the lead in the piece female,” he says. “At first I thought it was going to be a man because I thought it was going to represent me, but it actually turned out to be a female and she doesn’t necessarily represent me at all. It’s more about what her struggles are, but I certainly used movement and motifs that represent my struggles as well.”
The piece is broken up into five section with the first section focusing more on movement than the actual storyline. The second section is where the main character is introduced and Alexander explains that the three women dancing alongside her represent the three issues she is struggling with. He describes the third section as mostly a duet with a lot of partnering which gives the main character the opportunity to look at how someone else deals with their issues. The fourth section involves a group of dancers and each person is assigned one of the lead’s issues. And the final section is all about the lead realizing her strength and finally addressing a person/issue that she meets in the beginning, but never acknowledges until this last section.
As far as what Alexander wants this piece to say about him as a choreographer he says, “More than anything I want the work to be accessible to everyone. And accessible doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to like it, but that they can still relate to it.” He adds, “My biggest goal is to get the audience to have a reaction so that they leave and say that they understood what they watched or that made mef feel something or that challenged me in a new way. And I think if that goal is reached then I have done my job.”
You can see Face what’s facing you! at DBDT’s annual Spring Celebration May 18-20 at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Ray Mercer’s Undeviated Passage, Ulysses Dove’s Vespers and Joshua L Peugh’s Rattletrap.
Choreographer and Hurricane Katrina survivor Michelle N. Gibson shares her story in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series.
Dallas — In August 2005, Michelle N. Gibson and her family, including her newborn son, piled into their car and drove away from their New Orleans home. A home they would never return to due to the flooding and destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With very few supplies and no means to contact family and friends, Gibson and her family drove all the way to Dallas where her boyfriend at the time had recently resided. It was in a hotel lobby where Gibson got her first look at the devastation caused by Katrina. “We had no idea what was going on because we didn’t even have electricity in the hotels so, we didn’t know about the conditions of the convention center or the whereabouts of our family and friends. Let me tell you! When I watched the TV for the first time and saw the people in front of the convention center looking like it was a third world country, I just lost it. I have never felt so helpless.”
That first year after relocating was a tough one for Gibson, who knew nobody in the area. She chose to stay home with her young children instead of finding a job as a dance educator. She says at the time she didn’t even want to dance. All that changed the day Vicki Meek called her out of the blue and told her to get down to the South Dallas Cultural Center. “Now, if you know Mama Vicki then you know when she speaks you better listen. She said she heard that I had been in Dallas for a year and she had not laid eyes on me so I needed to make my way down to the South Dallas Cultural Center.”
Gibson soon found herself at the South Dallas Cultural Center where she met Meek who, to this day, has been a source of comfort and support for Gibson. “The South Dallas Cultural Center was the space that gave me a new start. It gave me a new place to create and a new home and I am forever grateful to Vicki and the center.” She adds, “Vicki also enabled me to pick back up with Exhibit Dance Collective, a dance company I started in New Orleans which is kind of like the Urban Bush Women of the south in that the work was all about the feminist empowerment movement and women of color.”
Today, in addition to running Exhibit Dance Collective, Gibson also teaches dance at Brookhaven College and Mountain View College in Dallas. She also holds an artist in residence position with the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans. Over the last 12 years Gibson has also taught dance for the Dallas Independent School District and has conducted numerous dance intensives and workshops for universities and cultural centers across the U.S. and in Germany. Gibson earned a B.F.A in dance from Tulane University and her M.F.A in dance and performance studies from Hollins University/American Dance Festival at Duke University.
Gibson’s choreographic works include New Orleans Second Line: Takin It To The Roots performed at the American Dance Festival in 2001; Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters with the Dallas Children’s Theater; Krump accompanied by the LoneStar Wind Orchestra at the Meyerson Center; 2008 South Dallas Dance Festival premiere of I Made It, But Some Didn’t, a tribute to souls survivors of Hurricane Katrina; and the Dallas premiere of Evolution: Honoring, Recognizing, and Uplifting Women of Color and Sisters of the Yam at the South Dallas Cultural Center in 2012.
This weekend Gibson will be sharing her Katrina evacuation story using some traditional New Orleans dance moves and music in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, which is part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Cultural Awareness Series at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. It was recently announced that the dancers will be accompanied by The Kickin’ Brass Band and New Orleans trumpeter Thaddeus Ford in the grand finale. The program also includes Christopher L. Huggins’ tribute to South African President Nelson Mandela in His Grace.
After receiving the call from former DBDT Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore asking if she would be a part of the performance, Gibson spent a week with the company exploring her movement aesthetic which she calls a fusion of jazz, contemporary, Afro modern and New Orleans second line, a style Gibson says she has been cultivating since graduate school.
“Second line is not something you learn in a dance studio. For me, second line is kind of the traditional dance of New Orleans so for my thesis I began to look at a dance that’s done from an impulse and then started creating a language so the movement could be taught.” She continues, “In my classes I will usually have a live brass band there because the music cannot be separated from the movement. Like when you go church and the spirit hits you it’s like a buildup of adrenaline that needs to release. So, that’s what I try to maintain in my second line aesthetic.”
Gibson created Displaced, Yet Rebirthed during her residency at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign last year and says the process was like a therapy session with herself. “It has taken a while for me to creatively through dance do a work about Katrina because I’m still wearing it. We ALL are still wearing it. And this piece is about what we are still living through every single day.”
When it was time to go into the studio with DBDT Gibson says she knew the dancers were technically good, but that this work was not just about the movement. “It’s about the dancers being able to embody a real life experience such as the loss we all felt after Katrina. Because Katrina was a loss for us all emotionally, mentality and spiritually. So, I went in thinking of the work as a compositional piece and focused on getting the dancers to understand how to allow the human experience to be the movement and not the movement being the movement.”
Gibson also points out that there is a fine line between being authentic and acting when creating a piece on such an emotional topic like Katrina, and so to keep the piece from becoming overly dramatic she would sit down with the dancers before every rehearsal to just talk. “You see, I always wanted them to know where I was in my spirit as a human being and not just as a choreographer and talk about my intentions for the work. We would talk about different parts of Katrina and how it happened for me so then they could take my experience and make it their experience.”
It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.
And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.
We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.
So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.
And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.
In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:
Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou
Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.
Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman
In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.
Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger
Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.
HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh
Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.
Chasing Home by Albert Drake
The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.
Interpretations by Sean J. Smith
Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.
Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate
Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.
Around the Holidays the NorthPark Mall in Dallas turns into a zoo thanks to the upscale mall’s unique holiday attractions which include Santa Claus, the trains and Sights and Sounds of the Season, which is a FREE performance series featuring the musical and movement stylings of schools, churches, synagogues and community and professional dance troupes from around North Texas. The performance series runs Nov. 28 through Dec. 22nd and the Dillards’ Court and North Court and again this is FREE!!!
With two little ones at home I am well versed with the trains and Santa Claus attractions at the mall, but I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have never stopped to watch any of the dance performances presented by the many well-known professional and pre-professional companies in the area. That is going to change this year especially since the only way to see Bruce Wood Dance’s Mistletoe Magic will be through this performance series. (Bruce Wood Dance performs tomorrow at 1pm in the North Court area.)
Looking at the performance line up online, I am amazed with the number of dance companies both professional and pre-professional that will be presenting in these 30-60 time slots as well as the variety of movement styles that will be showcased. I mean this Saturday alone starting at 10am you can catch some of the most popular names in the Dallas dance community, including 8&1 Dance Company, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Contemporary Ballet Dallas.
After checking in with some of these companies on social media, I can tell you that Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will perform Joshua L. Peugh’s Les Fairies as well as a section of a new work that Peugh is planning to introduce in the spring. OK! that alone has me hooked! Danielle Georgiou Dance Group will also give us a sneak peek of a new creation and perform Colby Calhoun’s Bedtime Stories. And Contemporary Ballet Dallas will perform to some holiday classics along with the school’s student ballet, tap and hip hop youth ensembles.
And while I have already included a link to the full line up, I wanted to pull out some special dates for all you dance lovers out there so you can go ahead and mark your calendars:
Dallas Black Dance Theatre Academy Performance Ensembles
The Hockaday School Dance Department
Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School
Collin County Ballet Theatre
Chamberlain School of Ballet
Avant Chamber Ballet
The Ballet Conservatory
Bombshell Dance Project
Dallas Ballet Company
I hope to see you all there!!! Get there early to find a parking spot and claim a front row seat!
Booker T. Alum Rebecca Troyak makes her choreographic debut at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice performance this weekend.
Dallas — Walking into Bridget L. Moore’s composition class freshman year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA), Rebecca Troyak was immediately drawn to the worldly choreographer’s energy and teaching methods.
“She has such a power about her and she is just a beautiful person inside and out,” Troyak says about her dance mentor. “She is so thoughtful about her work and is so willing to bring something new out of you. I didn’t know I had the ability to choreography until she brought it out of me. She also has had an amazing career and it is refreshing that someone so talented is willing to be so opened about her experiences and share her knowledge.”
Moore shares with TheaterJones that her first choreographer opportunity occurred in college at The Ohio State University with the late Jeraldyne Blunden, founder of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. “Jeraldyne saw something special in me and invited me to workshop choreography on the dancers in the company,” Moore says. “That was a rare and unique opportunity and was the catalyst for honing my craft as a choreographer. I also had wonderful teachers who continued to push me as an artist even after I had long graduated. These same teachers are now my friends and colleagues and continue to support me and the work that I do. I now offer the same support that was given to me as a young aspiring artist and choreographer.”
Moore’s passion for nurturing the next generation of dancers and performers is just one of the many refreshing characteristics she brings into her role as the new artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT), which is evident in the lineup for her first Director’s Choice performance Nov. 3-5 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. Along with an expanded version of Moore’s Uncharted Territory, the program also features Andy Noble’s Tower and a duet by newcomer Troyak.
“Bridget has this kind of mindset where she wants to nurture young artists, which is so wonderful and I am so grateful that she wants to help nurture me still at this time in my life,” Troyak says. “I mean it is definitely scary walking into a room knowing that I am younger than most of the dancers, but everyone at DBDT was so responsive and supportive that it made the process really easy.”
“I have always been impressed with Rebecca,” Moore says about her decision to have Troyak work with the company. “But I was extremely pleased to see her sensibility and approach to working in a professional setting with DBDT. The dancers were very receptive to her process, and she being a college student had no bearing on her artistic integrity, information shared with the dancers or the professionalism she brought to DBDT.”
“Rebecca is exceptionally gifted, both as a performer and choreographer, and is a young artist with considerable promise. There is a level of maturity and sophistication about her work and that is essentially the reason why Monophonicwas selected to be a part of Director’s Choice.” (See a video of a previous performance of Monophonic above.)
Originally from Ontario, Canada, Troyak and her family moved to Dallas when she was 12. She attended BTWHSPVA where she was a member of the Repertory Dance Ensemble I. During her four years there she had the opportunity to work with various renowned choreographers, including Jessica Lang, Dwight Rhoden, Sidra Bell, Lar Lubovich, Takehiro Ueyama, Clifford Williams, Troy Powell, Adam Houghland and Andy Noble. Troyak has also trained at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Batsheva Dance Company, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet School. Troyak is currently a junior at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance under the direction of Jodie Gates and William Forsythe.
Troyak will be presenting her work Monophonic, which is a duet she created alongside her best friend during her senior year at BTWHSPVA. The piece explores the couple’s unique relationship using a blend of contemporary and modern movement devices. “I say we are an unlikely duo because we are complete opposites. He is super outgoing and I am on the shy side, but what makes are relationship work is that he has given me so many qualities of him and vice versa and we have become better people because of each other.” She adds, “The piece is really just about exploring the give and take of relationships and human interaction and connection in general, and what we have to offer one another.”
Troyak points out that name of the piece, Monophonic, is a musical term meaning one sound. She says the dancers demonstrate this idea by staying separated in the beginning, but as the work evolves they come together to be one person or one sound. “So, they are not individuals by the end. There are two people who have given and taken so much of each other that they are in harmony with one another.”
The music Troyak selected is a dramatic opera piece that she says fits her choreographic personality. “I am an emotionally driven person so, I like music that is emotionally charged and that is what I found in this opera piece.” She adds, “When I am dancing I like to feel the music. I don’t want to just do shapes in the space. I want to feel every moment that I am making in space and feel the intention and purpose of what I am doing and I think music is so powerful and it definitely drives my movement a lot of times.”
After teaching a company class and watching the dancers improv for a bit, Troyak chose DBDT company members Claude Alexander III and Jasmine White-Killins to perform her piece with Zion Pradier and Hana Delong acting as their understudies. Known for his dynamic stage presence, lyrical athleticism and effortless partnering, it’s no surprise why Troyak chose to work with Alexander. What is surprising is that Alexander will be dancing with White-Killins after being paired up with Alyssa Harrington for multiple seasons. (Harrington moved on from DBDT at the end of last season.) “Because I didn’t really know the dancers going into this process I relied on my instincts when it came to matching up the couples. I just kept switching them around and I just kept going back to Claude and Jasmine.” When asked what drew her to these two dancers Troyak says, “During company class Claude caught my eye right away. He has something really unique to offer, which this piece definitely requires. And what is awesome too is that Claude and Jasmine are actually really good friends and so they could really connect to the work.”
Troyak also says this experience has taught her a lot about herself, including how to take ownership of the room and how to share her knowledge in terms that the dancers could easily understand. “It was a different task for me and I am thankful to Bridget for allowing me to have complete control from beginning to end. Troyak adds, “What has surprised me the most about myself during this process is my ability to take ownership and lead the space. Because I’ve been so used to the other role where I listen and don’t talk, I surprised myself by being able to take charge and go up to the front of the room and say exactly what I wanted. And what was really amazing for me was watching the dancers’ change how they were moving to fit the demands of the dance.”
Stephanie Rae Williams of Dance Theatre of Harlem returns home for the Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival and the Dance Council Honors this weekend.
Dallas — As the oldest of six siblings, Stephanie Rae Williams says her parents had to get creative when it came to financing her love of dance, especially classical ballet. Williams credits her mom with discovering the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which also happens to be where she will be performing this weekend, along with attending the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence by the Dance Council of North Texas. “My mother is such an amazing woman and she just wanted me to have all these different opportunities in dance and so, she was really the one who sought out different scholarships that were available and helped me apply for them,” Williams says. Her mom’s hard work paid off in 2005 when Williams was awarded the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which she used to attend Julliard’s summer intensive that same year. The scholarship also gave Williams the opportunity to perform at the SSDF, which was a big deal for the 16 year old at the time. “I think I performed a classical piece, which is nothing like the solo I will be performing this time.”
The event, newly renamed Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival in honor of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), runs Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School and includes performances by Williams, Sydney Winston (2017 SDDF scholarship recipient), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. The schedule also features a master class with former Bruce Wood Dance Company member Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase and an industry roundtable. The event is made possible by Arga Nova Dance with the support of Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center.
For SDDF, Williams will be performing José Limón’s Chaconne, courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Out of the four casts, Williams was the only female chosen for the solo, which she describes as modern-based and challenging, yet extremely satisfying to perform. “There’s something really gratifying about the way Jose Limon choreographed this piece. It feels like you evolve as a human being throughout it and by the end of it you’re like dead, but alive at the same time.”
Growing up in Allen, Texas, Williams started her dancing at Texas Ballet Theater School (formerly Dallas Dance Academy) when she was 8 years old. She grew up training in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and hip-hop with Joyce Seaborne Bader, Lyndette Bader and Fiona Fairrie. After graduating from Allen High School, Williams joined Ben Stevenson’s Texas Ballet Theater for a season before heading to New York City. There she worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden at Complexions Contemporary Ballet before joining DTH’s ensemble company in 2010. After DTH returned from hiatus with Virginia Johnson at the helm in 2012, Williams was then asked to join the revived company and has spent the last five years here gaining more confidence in herself and her craft. “It’s the first company that I was able to make my home and really feel like I could grow and be nurtured there. What’s interesting is that half that dancers that came with us to Dallas in 2014 have moved on and yet I am still here. It’s surreal being one of the veterans that the new company members now come to show them the ropes.”
When asked if she ever gets the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, Williams responds, “Yes, I do sometimes get the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, and I have done that with Virginia’s approval, but DTH remains my home base.” Williams mentions that she just completed four shows with the Seattle-based Arc Dance Company, which she says Johnson was nice enough to allow her to do. “It a lot of fun because for once I wasn’t the seasoned dancer. I was the new girl and I feel like it’s really important to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable anywhere, and so I am really thankful I have a director that encourages these types of opportunities.”
As far as what Williams is looking forward the most at SDDF, she says, “Just mingling with everyone there and also seeing so many smaller dance companies from professional to the local high schools perform. And because it’s not just the professionals performing this really does feel like the whole South Dallas community is coming together to celebrate dance throughout these three performances.” Williams adds that she is also looking forward to seeing the kids attending the festival as she believes there are not enough black dancers for them to look up to in the industry today, especially in classical ballet. “I was the only black girl in my entire dance school, but I just thought that this was the norm. It wasn’t until I walked into DTH to audition that I noticed there was this whole other side missing from my dancing because at DTH when we dance there’s this whole other type of soul that we bring to the stage.”
While in town Williams will also be attending the DC Honors where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence. The event takes place at Dallas Black Dance Theater on Sunday afternoon and will include food, a silent auction and performances by local companies and scholarship recipients. In addition to Williams, this year’s honorees also include Kathy Chamberlain, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy. As far as Williams’ reaction to the award news she says, “I was both humbled and excited when I heard I would be receiving this honor. It’s just really nice knowing that I have so much support here in Dallas and it means so much to me to be recognized in this way.”
Formerly the South Dallas Dance Festival, the new Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) is dedicated to the memory of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), whose vision and support were integral to the success of SDDF in years past.
Entitled Spreading Our Wings, the new SDDF features performances from Stephanie Rae Williams (Dance Theatre of Harlem), Sydney Winston (who attends Point Park University), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. To note, Williams was the SDDF Scholarship recipient in 2005 and Winston is this year’s recipient.
Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has danced with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012.
I spoke to Williams back in 2014, two years after DTH was reformed under long-time
DTH dancer Virginia Johnson, when the company was touring in Texas and she shared with me what is was like seeing the legendary dance company for the first time. “I was 16 and my mom drove me to Tyler, Texas, on a school night to see them,” Williams reminisces. “I remember how shocking it was because I had never seen so many dancers of color onstage doing ballet before. It was a beautiful experience.”
Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has dance with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012. Williams will also be receiving the Natalie Skelton Award for artistic excellence at the end of this month at the Dance Council Honors, which will be hosted by the Dance Council of North Texas and held at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The schedule for SDDF also includes a master class taught by Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase, a industry roundtable and many opportunities to see some dancing! The festival takes place Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School in Dallas. Go check it out!
See the press release below for more information:
ARGA NOVA DANCE with support from Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center present [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival – Spreading Our Wings
WHAT: SDDF 2017 “Spreading Our Wings”
WHEN: Friday, 27 October 2017, 8:00 pm, Saturday, 28 October 2017, 3:00 pm & 8:00 pm
WHERE: Ann Richards Middle School, 3831 N. Prairie Creek Rd, Dallas TX 75227, cor. Military
The Dance Council Honors has thankfully split from Dallas DanceFest and will return to its more intimate setting at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
I know I am not the only person happy about the fact the Dance Council Honors(DC Honors) will no longer be squeezed into Dallas DanceFest (DDF). For the last few years the DC Honors has occurred in conjunction with DDF and unfortunately has suffered as a result with the main complaint being the length of each evening’s program.
The presentation of the awards also lacked the comradory and celebratory atmosphere that has always been a part of the DC Honors, which is why I am glad that the event has split from DDF and will be returning to Dallas Black Dance Theatre on Oct. 29 for some food, fun and fantastic dancing. And, of course, we will hear from this year’s DC Honorees, which include Kathy Chamberlain, Stephanie Rae Williams, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy.
Over the last couple of decades, these incredible individuals have made huge strives to better our local dance community thanks to their passion, dedication, knowledge, cultural awareness and above all love for the art form of dance. Because God knows we are not in it for the money!
I know I will be there to watch Kathy Chamberlain as she receives the Mary Bywaters Award for her lifetime contribution to dance.
I met Kathy one day at Sandy’s Shoes and Dancewear back in the summer of 2009. I had just moved to Dallas from Cleveland and knew absolutely no one in the local dance community. She took me under her wing and she and I had multiple phone conversations about the ins and outs of the Dallas dance scene. She is the one who lead me to local dance writer Margaret Putnam. I started off by reading a lot of Margaret’s reviews, which at the time were published in the Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones.com (TJ). This eventually lead me to contact TJ where I have now been writing dance previews, Q&As and reviews for the last six years.
Kathy was ultimately the one who jump-started my career here in Dallas and I will forever be grateful to her. And her willingness to help me is also one of the things I like most about our local dance community. Although everyone is technically in competition with one another they are always willing to lend a helping hand and offer up support when needed. So, I recommend offering your support to the dance community by coming to this year’s DC Honors. Even if you don’t know any of the honorees you should still come. I did when I first moved to Dallas and it taught me a lot about the city’s dance culture and the wide range of work being made here as well as the wealth of talent being fostered in our city schools and studios. You should definitely check it out!
I have included the official press release below:
For Immediate Release:
WHAT: Dance Council of North Texas 2017 Honors
WHEN: Sunday, October 29, 3:00 P.M.
WHERE: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 2700 Ann Williams Way, Dallas, TX 75201 in Dallas Arts District
Dance Council of North Texas is pleased to honor five people within the area dance community who have made a significant contribution to world of dance.
Kathy Chamberlain is receiving the Mary Bywaters Award, which recognizes a person who has made a lifetime and significant contribution to dance. Dance Council of North Texas is delighted to join with Chamberlain School of Ballet, (CSB) Plano, as itcelebrates its 40th Anniversary. Chamberlain School of Ballet is the supporting school for Chamberlain Performing Arts, a leading North Texas pre-professional dance company founded by Ms. Chamberlain. She received the prestigious Ford Foundation Scholarship for study at the School of American Ballet, NYC.
Stephanie Rae Williams is the recipient of theNatalie Skelton Awardhonoring a person who is currently performing. Ms. Williams was featured in Dance Magazine’s “On the Rise” in 2013. In 2005, she received the South Dallas Dance Festival Scholarship from DCNT. Stephanie was a Fellowship recipient at the Ailey School, a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Winner as well as a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Finalist. As part of DC Honors, Stephanie will perform My Funny Valentine, choreographed by Darrell Mourie. She appears through the courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem, NYC.
The Mary Warner Award for service in dance recognizes Patty Granville, who exemplifies
the individual whose vision is essential to the dance community. Ms. Granville has been the Director of the Garland Center for the Performing Arts since its opening in 1982. As one of the founders, she has served as producer for Garland Summer Musicals since 1983. In 2003, the Garland City Council unanimously voted to rename the Performing Arts Center to the Patty Granville Arts Center. Patty provides countless opportunities for performers, musicians and craftsmen to participate in musical theatre.
Larry White Educator Awardrecognizes Alpana Kagal
Jacob for her inspiring and innovative contributions to her students’ development. After her Arangetram and graduation, she has been teaching Bharata Natyam to young children and adults. Alpana has been a guest lecturer at both UNT and TWU and has served as choreographer and teacher for Dallas Theater Center Summer Workshop projects. Alpana has taught at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Brookhaven College and Richland College. She is a disciplined and loving teacher to all her students.
Buster Cooper Tap LegendAward celebrates the exemplary contributions of Malana Murphy to America’s original dance form: tap. Malana began her professional career at the age of 14 while performing in the production of Calling All Kids, choreographed by Gracey Tune. In addition to graduating from Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Malana has performed commercially and in industrials. Malana’s love for tap dancing has inspired her to share her passion and knowledge with students locally and across the United States. She is also the head of the local tap dance festival RIFF, which stands for Rhythm and Fusion Festival.
DBDT: Encore! will perform as well as Dance Council 2017 scholarship recipients. The opening number is generation# (sic) choreographed by Tammie Reinsch of Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Doug Voet of Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie will serve as the event’s emcee with Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran Nycole Ray providing production assistance. Reception, refreshments and a silent auction will complete the afternoon’s agenda.
$35 – ADULT
$30 – MEMBERS, Dance Council of North Texas
$20 STUDENTS, ages 13 through 18.
STUDENTS, ages 12 and under: Free when accompanied by an adult
Nycole Ray working with the dancers for Dallas Opera. Photo: Celeste Hart
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran on stepping into the opera world as choreographer for Dallas Opera’s production of Samson et Dalila.
Dallas — Nycole Ray is a prime example of what it takes to maintain a career in the ever-changing dance field. For the last 20 years she has made a name for herself within the Dallas Black Dance Theatre organization first as a company member and later as the artistic director of the second company, now DBDT ENCORE! Ray is also the director of DBDT’s Summer Intensive program and has served in the past as assistant rehearsal director for DBDT and the director of Bloom, Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Preforming Ensemble. But over the years Ray’s dance talents have exceeded beyond DBDT as is evident through her collaborations with other Dallas arts organizations such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art as well as various performance opportunities with the Dallas Opera and Bruce Wood Dance. Ray is also a certified Dunham technique instructor and has been a teaching assistant and adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University. Her choreography has been featured at the ninth FINTDAZ festival in Iquique, Chile, the 10th annual Choreographers Choice Series in Dallas and at Vienna’s 2003 International Black Dance Festival.
As a performer Ray has danced with Bruce Wood Dance, Walt Disney World Entertainment, Christopher and Friends directed by Christopher L. Huggins, the Lula Washington Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II and the Zadonu African Dance Company. She has also worked with noted choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Dianne McIntyre, Alonzo King, Donald Byrd, Rennie Harris and Camille A. Brown. In addition to her concert work, Ray has also appeared in music videos and industrials in the U.S. and Europe.
Always open to new opportunities Ray did not hesitate when the Dallas Opera approached her about choreographing its production of Samson et Delilah, which is performed Oct. 20, 22, 25, 28 and Nov. 5 at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The opera, which runs in repertory with Verdi’s La traviata, is based on the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah found in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. The story tells of the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Philistines and when Samson urges them to resist their masters the High Priest of Dagon sends Delilah in to destroy Samson. The Dallas Opera’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ three-act French opera is directed by Bruno Berger-Gorski with conductor Emmanuel Villaume, costumer designer Carrie Robbins, set designer Peter Dean Beck and lighting designer Alan Burrett. The cast includes Clifton Forbis, Olga Borodina, Richard Paul Fink, Michael Chioldi and Ryan Kuster as well as eight dancers of Ray’s choosing.
TheaterJones caught up with Ray in between rehearsals to ask her how she is enjoying this experience as well as her inspiration for the movement and how choreographing for an opera differs from setting work on a dance company and the challenges that come with it.
TheaterJones: How did you get involved with Samson et Dalila?
Nycole Ray: The Dallas Opera was looking for a choreographer for the production of Samson et Dalila and they reached out to me and I was eager to step up to the plate!
How did you get along with the director on this project?
With this being my first time choreographing for this art genre (though I have danced in opera productions before), it has definitely been an interesting process and very different than just creating a work how I see fit, but it has been a really good challenge for me. I mean, you’ve got so many people on stage at the same time and just navigating through that has been quite challenging. But what has been so wonderful is the director, Bruno Berger-Gorski, has been so much fun to work with. He is high energy all the time and he knows what he wants, so trying to create those visions for him has been fun and interesting. He is sure in his ideas, but he is also open to my creativity. He has very specific things he is looking for and things that he wants to happen, so I have been charged with making those things happen within in his vision as opposed to just creating whatever I want. Collaborating with him has been a lot of fun; we have had no dull moments in this process.
What exactly was Bruno’s vision and how did he convey this to you?
Before we started rehearsals, he and I had a five-hour meeting where we were able to watch and talk about the opera, and he was able to give me more insight about the opera itself and his vision for this production. He didn’t want to go mainstream with it. He wanted it to be this beautiful production, but he wanted it to be real in what was really happening at that time. So, for the bacchanale, which is usually this beautiful ballet, he said he didn’t want it that way. There is some sensuality in it, but he didn’t want this huge ballet production. He also has the chorus and the supers [extras] really involved along with the dancers in creating all of these little vignettes that happen in that piece of music. You’re going to have to shift your eyes all over in order to see all these things happening at the same time.
Was it difficult adapting to this new environment?
I did learn a lot about the process of the opera and I continue to learn in rehearsals. When I go to rehearsals for dance it is me, my assistant and the dancers. Here, you’ve got the stage manager, the assistant stage manager, the union reps, wardrobe, props. All of these people and how they work in tandem is so awesome to see and it is an experience for sure. I mean you’ve got the assistant stage manager telling people what to do while they’re singing. He has Bruno’s notes on the way he wants things to happen and he’s telling them what to do and where to go while they’re singing. It’s fascinating, absolutely fascinating and watching the inner workings of it has been really insightful for me. I really enjoyed doing this and the process of it.
What challenges did you come across in the rehearsal process?
At the rehearsal hall everything is taped out on the floor, but you truly don’t get a sense of what it is such as a platform or some stairs until you get into the theater with the sets and see what changes we need to make. Also, the dancers do not have much room to move, and so navigating through stepping off the platform and into the dancing while the supers and chorus are all around them, it is a challenge making sure everyone is safe. I tell the dancers just to be cautious and keep moving.
What was your time frame on this project? How did it differ from the time you usually get in the dance studio?
I did have a longer time to think about the choreography than I usually do. After I was approached, which was very early in the year, I then had a Skype conservation with Bruno in probably June where he gave me some of his ideas. I then thought about these ideas while listening to the opera and started having some choreographic ideas that went along with his vision. So, I had a little bit of time and then we had our five hour meeting, which was two days before our first rehearsal. Despite this, I would say that I probably didn’t get as much time with the dancers as I would in a dance studio.
What types of feelings or ideas for movement did listening to the opera bring out of you?
From the start I wanted to do something a little bit different than this opera’s previous productions, and I am mostly speaking about the bacchanale, which is this big beautiful scene that usually involves a lot of dancing. And so I wanted to marry classical ballet technique with more grounded modern movements that also included some sensual elements as well. I wanted it to be very mixed in terms of movement and also include partnering, of course. I wanted it to be actually very rooted in its movement. I am not going to say African, but there is a little of that. I really pulled from a lot of different genres and styles of dance that I mixed in there and I hope it reads well to the audience.
What’s in store for those coming to see this opera for the first time?
As not really an opera goer, after listening to and seeing Samson et Delilah I thought, how could I identify and connect with this? Now that I have had a chance to delve deeper and truly understand the opera itself, I have a greater appreciation for the art form. When we got into rehearsal with the chorus and the singers for the first time they blew my mind! They had me sitting up in my chair and thinking this was so beautiful even with just a pianist for accompaniment. So, even with that simple instrumentation, I look forward to the orchestra itself as well as the voices of the leads and the chorus. They are just amazing! I think for people coming just seeing all these elements together, including the live musicians, the live singers, live dancers and the scenery and then having this story that involves a lot of drama and combining that with Bruno’s direction and how he has put it together: This opera’s going to be something else.