Tag Archives: Dallas Black Dance Theatre

Higher Ground

Dallas Black Dance Theatre pushes itself to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial ballet The Parts They Left Out, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series.

JamalStoryduet
Alyssa Harrington and Claude Alexander III in the Jamal Story dance The Parts They Left Out. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Dallas — Expectations were high as a small group of us gathered at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s main studio back in December to watch the company perform segments from Jamal Story’s new aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, a continuation of his duet What to Say? Notes on Echo and Narcissus, which the company performed at its Spring Celebration in May 2015. Looking around the space I had a feeling Story was going to surpass my aerial expectations when I saw three different apparatuses suspended from the ceiling versus just one last year.

Positioned upstage, stage right was a swing with a wooden seat where company member Sean J. Smith was testing his balance as he shifted from a standing to a seated position. Two long strips of red fabric were hanging unattended downstage, stage left while a familiar white hammock made of silk was situated in the center of the room. In an interview with Story the day before I learned that each aerial apparatus plays a significant role in his retelling of three well known Greek myths. “In this rendition I deal with Echo/Narcissus, Orpheus/Eurydice and Hades/Persephone, and all three of those duet relationships in a much bigger context.” He adds, “I knew there was no way I could tell all three stories with just the hammock so I added in two more. One of the new apparatuses is a swing made out of silk that will serve as a throne for Hades and the other is two strains of red silk that will serve as the pathway in and out of the underworld for Eurydice and Orpheus.”

Photo: Courtesy of Jamal Story

The preview began with a section from the underworld where Hades (Smith) remained perched on the swing while company member Kayah Franklin (Persephone) frantically tried to escape from his clutches. Smith’s movement on the swing was minimal, slight weight changes and body movements, which was in direct contrast to Franklin’s off-centered body lines and compulsive foot work. Story’s jazz and modern background showed through the dancers various body swings, back arches and pelvic tilts.

Audiences are going to be blown away when they see what Story has created with the two long red silks in Orpheus and Eurydice’s duet. As the music built two dancers manipulated the material around themselves while pulling the silks across the stage creating an incline, which Hana Delong than began to climb, strategically weaving and wrapping her body in the material as she made her way to the top where Keon K. Nickie was waiting for her. You don’t even realize Delong is prepping herself for aerial trick until she lets go of the material, unraveling to the ground in a heart-stopping death drop. It’s moments such as this one that emphasize Story’s uniqueness as an aerial artist. For him, it’s not about showcasing the build up to the tricks, it’s about creating smooth and cohesive transitions throughout the work.

“Most aerial work focuses on the ta-da moment and what I want to do, and what I did in the first duet is to eliminate the ta-da moment by creating a context for why the person does whatever he or she does. It is extremely difficult because in an ordinary apparatus circus presentation you’re just doing the tricks for the ta-da effect. I’m not interested in that here.” He continues, “So now I have to think about why she does that wrap and the drop and what does that have to do with the story we are telling. As long as I stay focused on what I am trying to do, then it works out.”

When it came time to teach certain aerial skills to the company members using the three different apparatuses Story says the challenge this time was the fact he didn’t have a lot of time to workshop the material on the actual silks. But he says this challenge was balanced out by the fact he was creating the movement on the dancers unlike the Echo and Narcissus duet that was created on him, which he later transferred to DBDT. And speaking of the duet, audiences will be excited to hear that Claude Alexander III and Alyssa Harrington will be reprising their roles as Narcissus and Echo in this continuation.

The couple has put the extra time they have been given to work on the duet to good use which was evident through their clean and confident handling of the material and more pronounced emotional connection with one another during this rehearsal. In the continuation audiences will get to see more of the couple’s backstory that eventually leads to their climatic duet. “What I am doing this time around is creating material with the other Greek characters that give Echo and Narcissus their context. What you saw last season is a duet about a stunning individual who would eventually fall in love with his own reflection thanks to a curse put on him by one of the gods. And this particular person happens to be pined after by a person who doesn’t have the ability to make her own words. What I am trying to give you in this ballet is the back story to how Echo got into this position.” He continues, “And not just that story, but also the development of these other Greek myths including Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre will present Jamal Story’s aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, at this season’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 19-21, at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee & Charles Wyly Theatre. The program also includes the world premiere of former Alvin Ailey dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance and Bridget L. Moore’s new work Unearthed.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Dallas Black Dance Theatre DanceAfrica 2015

DanceAfrica at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Courtesy of DBDT
DanceAfrica at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Courtesy of DBDT

Dallas Black Dance Theatre kicks off its 39th season with an impressive showing of African dance styles and intricate drumming techniques at its annual DanceAfrica performance.

Dallas — Peace! Love! Respect! For Everybody! These values played a pivotal role in the African dances and rituals audiences were invited to be a part of Friday evening at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) annualDanceAfrica performance at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Special guests Dallas Black Dance Academy Ensembles, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts’ World Dance Ensemble, Giwayen Mata and Bandan Koro African Drum and Dance Ensemble enthralled audiences with their boundless energy, uninhibited movement quality and complex drumming skills.

As is customary, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Davis opened the show with a brief historical synopsis of DanceAfrica before handing it over to DBDT’s Council of Elders. With candles casting the only light a handful of individuals dressed in white stood center stage while Mama Diana Hughley lead them through a hauntingly beautiful chant honoring their ancestors. The venue’s intimate setting and special lighting capabilities that allowed images to be projected around the theater really added to the welcoming message of the event, and this scene in particular, which was not always the case when the festival was held at the more expansive Majestic Theater.

DBDT and DBDT II displayed great stamina and rhythmic skill in Davis’ Homage to the Source Africa. The movement was a fusion of balletic leg extensions and jumps and classic Katherine Dunham technique, which included articulated pelvis, flexible spine and polyrhythmic movements. The pinnacle of the dance was the individual solos where viewers got to see the dancer’s personalities come out through his or her choice movement. Main company member Michelle Herbert was all about the pelvis isolations as she bent over and walked backwards while Alyssa Harrington focused on her upper body with a series of torso pops and head swings. DBDT II dancers Lailah Duke and Christen Ashley Williams garnered applause when they combined chest isolations and hip shakes with fast foot work. The men of both groups also wowed the audience with their speed and athletic prowess throughout the entire number.

Fluctuating energy levels and costume mishaps were a distraction in the collaborative number performed by the Dallas Black Dance Academy Ensembles, but the technical foundation and musical awareness was there and it will be interesting to see how director’s Kayah Franklin, Michelle Herbert and Katricia Eaglin build on these strengths throughout the year.

Booker T.’s World Dance Ensemble surprised the audience with their authentic character portrayal and advanced African dance technique in Moussa Diabate’s Sofa (The Hunting Dance). In the beginning a male hunter scouts out the area, his movements slow and deliberate as he aimed his rifle in different directions. The other hunters entered crawling across the stage, pausing every so often to look down their rifles. As the drums behind them changed tempo the dancers’ movements became more exaggerated. As the piece progressed the dancers kept layering the movement with more hip isolations and upper body undulations till the hunt was over. The dancers’ sharp focus and ease with the props throughout the piece are a testament director Michelle Zada Hall’s time and diligence in rehearsal.

The first half ended with Bandan Koro Drum and Dance Ensemble letting it rip on a family of West African bass drums in Foli Kan 2.0 and showcasing their physical and musical fortitude in Dundunba. In both pieces the ensemble made the quick transitions from drumming to dancing appear effortless.

In the second half Giwayen Mata showed great range with five pieces that combined their exceptional drumming and joyous vocals with boisterous arm gestures and tricky foot stomping sequences. The group’s piece For Baba which honored Chuck Davis stood out with its deliberate and reverent movement choices. A single dancer explored the space through a series of opened-chest releases, shifting body shapes and moments of suspension as she slowly traveled across the stage. At the end she approached Davis who was also on stage and bowed her head while touching her chest and then the ground in a sign of respect and love.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Dallas DanceFest Profile: Dallas Black Dance Theatre II

Photo: Sharen Bradford, The Dancing Image
Photo: Sharen Bradford, The Dancing Image

Dallas Black Dance Theatre II pushes itself physically and emotionally in Artistic Director Nycole Ray’s Opaque, part of DanceFest 2015 this weekend.

Dallas — Starting out as a student-driven secondary company formed in 2000 by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (DBDT II) has flourished into a high caliber performance troupe made up of eight young and hungry semi-professionals from all over the place. This year’s troupe alone includes dancers from Washington, D.C., Chicago, Mexico and Jamaica. Every dancer has a unique story of how they became involved with DBDT II that they readily shared with me when I stopped by Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) main studio last Thursday to watch them prepare for the upcoming Dallas DanceFest.

Surprisingly only one company member comes from the Dallas Black Dance Academy while everyone else came in contact with DBDT through college workshops, summer intensives, tours in New York City and the International Association of Blacks in Dance conferences. Artistic Director Nycole Ray points out that these dancers are here voluntarily, working tirelessly toward the goal of one day moving up to the main company. “DBDT II is really the training company for DBDT,” Ray says. “Last year six out of the 12 main company members came from the second company.” Ray adds that this has always been Ms. Williams’ vision for DBDT II. “When I took over the second company six years ago Ms. Williams told me she wanted the group to have the same technical excellence and strength as the main company such that audiences wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two.”

With that goal in mind Ray is constantly challenging the dancers by introducing them to a variety of movement styles and choreographers, including Christopher L. Huggins, Bruce Wood, Ray Mercer, Dianne Grigsby, Cleo Parker Robinson and DBDT company member Richard A. Freeman, Jr. DBDT II’s touring schedule has included stops in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Virginia and Arkansas. Internationally the company has travelled to Ireland, South Africa, Austria and Peru, just to name a few. Ray says the company is very excited to add Mexico and Chile to their touring schedule this year.

When it comes to her own choreography Ray says she likes to challenge the dancers physically and emotionally, which comes across in abundance in her aptly titled work Opaque. “The piece is about things not always being transparent no matter how much you want them to be. The thought process stems from a person and not so happy feelings, which then evolved into something that made me feel good and positive.” You get a sense of this optimism through the dancers’ lifted upper bodies, unyielding trust in one another and purposeful use of each dancer’s (male and female) long, black skirts. “The skirts purposely cover the dancers’ feet to create this illusion that they are floating while also reflecting on the theme of transparency and what you can’t see.” The skirts are not just for ambiance. The dancers use them throughout the work as extensions of their bodies, links to one another in one section where they unravel across the stage and even for extra resistance in the partnering sequences. The effect is dramatic, yet not overdone.

» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

DESTINATION DANCE

The second annual Dallas DanceFest promises more variety and exceptional dancing from individuals and groups throughout the region.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA) founder Joshua L. Peugh and company dancer Alex Karigan Farrior in Critics of the Morning Song. Photo Robert Hart
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA) founder Joshua L. Peugh and company dancer Alex Karigan Farrior in Critics of the Morning Song. Photo Robert Hart

Dallas – The perception of dance in Dallas has changed dramatically over the last five years largely due to the development of the Dallas Arts District; the rise in the number of professional dance companies based in the city; the restructuring of veteran dance groups like Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and the creation of local dance festivals, including Rhythm In Fusion Festival (RIFF) and Dallas DanceFest (DDF). All of these factors are helping to transform Dallas into a grand destination for dance. Keeping this in mind the Dance Council of North Texas (DCNT), in partnership with the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, is planning to deliver more vitality, diversity and excellence in dance with the second annual DDF which takes place September 4-6, 2015 at Dallas City Performance Hall. This prestigious event features performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and concludes Sunday afternoon with the Dance Council Honors.

The impact of the festival isn’t just felt around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex but across the region as well. Houston-based METdance (formerly Houston Metropolitan Dance Company), an original participant in the Dallas Morning News Festival, was disappointed when that festival disbanded in 2004 as it had looked forward to performing for Dallas audiences. But artistic director Marlana Doyle says, “We were grateful to be a part of DDF last year and had the thrill of enjoying the Dallas audiences and arts community in such an amazing venue once again. METdance appreciates the efforts of the Dallas Dance Council and looks forward to celebrating the arts in Texas.”

Kimi Nikaidoh, artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance Project here in Dallas, adds, Given the all-consuming nature of running an arts organization, it’s impossible to see what all of the many other groups in the area are accomplishing. Dallas DanceFest brings us all out of our respective “workshops” and gives us the chance to be inspired and challenged by each other.”

Curated by top dance professionals Lauren Anderson, Fred Darsow, Bridget L. Moore and Catherine Turocy, DDF 2015 will feature 19 exceptional artists and companies from all across the region including – Houston, Austin, Oklahoma, Alabama, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Audiences can expect each performance to be a unique and thrilling display of dance styles including – classical ballet, modern, tap, hip-hop, traditional Indian dance and Ballet Folklorico. The programs will also feature performances by well-known and beloved Dallas institutions such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Bruce Wood Dance Project along with some new names including the Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers.

“It was incredible to see such a tremendous response to DDF 2014,” says DCNT President Kirt Hathaway. “The Dance Council made the decision to re-implement this wonderful dance event after it had sat idle for so many years. With the inclusion of the Dance Council Honors, DDF has immediately become one of DCNT’s marquis events. Producing such a wonderful weekend of dance would not have been possible if the organization had not experienced such growth over the past several years. It truly shows that there is a great commitment by the board and staff to support dance in North Texas and beyond. This year promises to be even more exciting.”

This year’s participants include:

Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX) – Formed in May 2001 under the leadership of Lisa Slagle, the company’s 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. It is the official company of the Ballet Academy of Texas.

Bell House Arts, Inc. (Owasso, OK) – Founded by Rachel Bruce Johnson, The Bell House is a collaborative dance and art cooperative dedicated to creating opportunity for artistic exchange. At The Bell House, we are interested in the collaboration of ideas, people and movement language that challenge the status quo and conventional ways of making art by elevating art as a process. Its fosters meeting points for artistic connection between people rather than elevating the art as product in order to activate the transformative nature of movement that can be experienced both in the practice, performance and witness of dance.

Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) Repertory Dance Company I & II (Dallas, TX) – BTWHSPVA is “the cradle of the Dallas Arts District.” In 2015, the school was awarded the Texas Commission of the Arts Medal of Honor for exemplary training in Arts Education. The department’s philosophy is to provide a broad dance education that challenges the students artistically, intellectually and physically and to prepare qualified students for collegiate and professional careers in dance and related professions.

Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Bruce Wood Dance Project (Dallas, TX) – BWDP was launched in 2011 to champion the vision, leadership and artistry of nationally acclaimed Texan dance-maker Bruce Wood. BWDP picked up where the successful Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company left off. Under Wood’s direction the company produced six word premieres and a TITAS Presents Commission for Command Performance Gala. Currently in its fifth season the company is now under the direction of Kimi Nikaidoh after Wood’s passing in May 2014.

Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX) – Established in 1984 by Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain as a student ensemble dedicated to providing students a stepping stone to professional dance careers. Chamberlain is dedicated to serving North Texas and the surrounding community by providing professional quality performances and outstanding outreach programs. The company takes great pride in the ongoing efforts to expand its cultural diversity through performance collaborations.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Dallas, TX) – Founded in 1976 by Ann Williams, DBDT consists of 12 full-time dancers performing a mixed repertory of modern, jazz, ethnic and spiritual works by nationally and internationally recognized choreographers. Over the years the company has grown from a community-based, semi-professional organization to a fully-professional dance company that is renowned in the U.S. and is noted for its rich cultural diversity, history of inclusion and high-level of artistic excellence in contemporary modern dance and educational programs

Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (Dallas, TX) – This semi-professional company created by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams in 2000 consists of eight aspiring artists from around the nation. Under the guidance of Nycole Ray, DBDT II provides an opportunity for young artists to develop their dance skills while serving the Dallas/Fort Worth community and touring across the nation. Going into its 16th season performing works by recognized and emerging artists, DBDT II performs a diversified repertoire of modern, jazz, African, lyrical and spiritual works.

Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers (Irving, TX) – Founded in 2009, DCRB is a high-energy co-ed hip hop dance team and drum corps. Lead by Jenny Durbin Smith DCRB brings an innovative, unique and exciting element to the Cowboys legendary game-day entertainment line-up. The dance teams dynamic routines feature breakdancing and hip hop-based movement requiring both strong musicality and level of dance ability. Presented by Miller Lite, DCRB was conceptualized under the direction of Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President of Brand Management Charlotte Anderson and is the first and only entertainment concept of its kind in the National Football League.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (Dallas, TX) – Originally formed in Seoul, South Korea by Joshua L. Peugh and Cho Hyun Sang, Peugh started the USA branch of the company in 2013 bridging the gap between East and West. DCCD is dedicated to bringing the progressive work of international choreographers and dancers to a worldwide audience. It strives to educate the public on the power of movement in communicating ideas.

AJ Garcia-Rameau (Austin, TX) -AJ Garcia-Rameau is an independent contemporary ballerina based  in Austin. AJ trained at Houston Academy of Dance and Austin School of Classical Ballet. She received additional training under scholarship with Alvin Ailey School, Joffrey Jazz/Contemporary and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. AJ earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and Dance minor from the University of Texas. She has performed with Exclamation Dance Company, Austin Classical Ballet and BHumm Dance Company.

Pictured: Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble
Pictured: Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble

Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble (Houston, TX) – The ensemble is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, and is led by Artistic Director Amy Blake. This ensemble was designed for the dancer seeking collaboration with exemplary worldwide professionals in the industry to help them obtain greater levels of achievement in the arts through classical training in ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary. The ensemble provides dancers with a positive working environment and opportunities for master classes, private coaching, YAGP participation and multiple international showcases and performance venues.

METdance (Houston, TX) – Founded in 1995, Houston Metropolitan Dance Center Inc. strives to educate and revitalize a passion for dance through the finest instruction and performance. Under the direction of Marlana Doyle MET Dance Company has performed throughout the United States in dozens of theaters receiving high acclaim, performing works by some of the most influential and talented choreographers of our time. The company is the sister organization to the MET Dance Center.
Mosaic Dance Project of Dallas (Dallas, TX) – Created in 2014 by Giovanna Godinez Prado, Mosaic Dance Project’s mission is to create, educate and inspire individuals that desire to grow not only as dancers, but as artists as well, along with our cultural and ethical awareness and values.

Natyananda: Joy of Dance (Birmingham, AL) – Founded in 1978 by Sheila Rubin, Natyananda performs both traditional and original choreographic works in the classical Bharatanatyam style of Southern India. Through student, professional and guest artist presentations Natyananda promotes understanding of universal artistic and cultural themes while showcasing the rich and unique heritage of Alabama’s Asian Indian-American community.

NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D. Photo: Lynn Lane
NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D. Photo: Lynn Lane

NobleMotion Dance (Houston, TX) – NMD was co-founded by Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble in 2009. Over the last five years it has distinguished itself as one of Houston’s most important dance companies. NMD brings a fresh perspective to their community with its mission of integrating technology and dance, and is a Resident Incubator at the Houston Arts Alliance and is currently on the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) touring roster.

LaQuet Sharnel Pringle DDF 2015 commissioned premiere (Austin, TX) – A Booker T Washington HSPVA alum, Pringle attending the North Carolina School of the Arts before making her Broadway debut in 2005 in Sweet Charity with Christina Applegate and Dennis O’Hare. She has also performed in productions of The Lion King and Memphis. Today, Pringle is an adjunct professor at Texas State University teaching Jazz Dance in the Musical Theater Department. She is also the artistic director and founder of Fearless Young Artists (FYA) and was the headliner of Dance Planet 19.

Rhythmic Souls (Dallas, TX) – This small company if wicked fierce rhythm tapper is captivating local audiences with their unique blend of style, charisma, innovative choreography and rapid-fire footwork. The company is on the cutting-edge of dance choreography with cross-genre repertoire that infuses rhythm tap dance with body percussion, sand dancing, contemporary movement, flamenco, swing dance and anything else that might lend itself to their rhythmic percussion. The company strives to bring the spirit of tap dance back to the stage and continue the legacy of an American art form.

Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts Dance Division (Dallas, TX) – The SMU Division of Dance offers both conservatory dance instruction and a liberal arts education. The dance program develops disciplined, versatile artists through professional training in ballet, modern and jazz techniques as well as theory. Undergraduates can earn a B.F.A. in Dance Performance or a minor in Dance Performance. Students perform masterworks of the great choreographers of the 20th century as well as works by contemporary masters.

Texas Ballet Theater School (Fort Worth, TX) – Training the next generation of dancers and arts patrons is the mission of TBT Schools. Starting with the very young, we nurture aspiring artists to discover their greatest potential and to develop a love of movement, a passion for creativity and an appreciation for the beauty and athleticism of classical dance.

Tickets for DDF 2015 available August 1 through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone (214) 871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201.

More information about the festival is available at www.DallasDanceFest.org.

This feature was originally seen in the Aug.-Oct. 2015 issue of DANCE! North Texas which is published by The Dance Council of North Texas.

New Heights, Dallas Black Dance Theatre

Jamal Story, left, with Cher in the middle. Photo: JamalStory.com.
Jamal Story, left, with Cher in the middle. Photo: JamalStory.com.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre takes to the sky with its first ever aerial work, What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus, at this year’s Spring Celebration Series, part of the Soluna Festival.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: JamalStory.com
Photo: JamalStory.com

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

Dallas Black Dance Theatre will present What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus at its Annual Spring Celebration Series, May 15-17, at the Wyly Theatre in conjunction with the inaugural Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival. The program also includes the world premiere of Daniel Catanach’s Surface, a return of Bridget L. Moore’s Southern Recollections: For Romare Bearden, a duet to the music of Duke Ellington by two principal dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a solo performance from Jamal Story.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Dallas DanceFest Profile: Indique Dance Company

Indique Dance Company. Photo: Courtesy
Indique Dance Company. Photo: Courtesy

Indique Dance Company co-founder Sarita Venkatraman talks about the city’s growing Indian dance community and partaking in the reinvigorated Dallas DanceFest this weekend.

Dallas — From far away the Dallas dancescape appears to consist mostly of ballet and modern dance companies, but if you look closer there are also several cultural dance groups pushing their way to the forefront, including classical Indian dance group Indique Dance Company. Formed in 2008 by Sarita Venkatraman, Shalini Varghese, Latha Shrivasta, Anu Sury, Kruti Patel, Bhuvana Venkatraman and Shilpi Mehta, Indique Dance Company fuses Indian classical, folk and modern dance styles with contemporary themes to create an enjoyable and enlightening cultural experience.

And through its collaboration with the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation (ICHF), the company has had the chance to perform in some of the most popular venues in the Dallas Arts Districts, including Klyde Warren Park, the Crow Collection of Asian Art and Dallas City Performance Hall. “We are so thankful for all the opportunities Dallas has provided for Indique,” Venkatraman says. “Over the last six years we have been welcomed by both Indian and non-Indian audiences which has just been incredible.”

For Venkatraman dance has always been a calling. “Growing up in India my Dad was really into Indian classical music so I was exposed to the arts at a very young age. I joined a dance school in Mumbai at the age of 10 and have been dancing ever since.” Under the tutelage of Guru Shri Mani, Venkatraman began her Bharatanatyam dance training and after a couple of years moved on to learn Kathak from Smt. Guru Asha Joglekar. “In Sanskrit, guru means teacher and becoming a teacher is more of a calling than a profession. A teacher guides a student towards a margam or path. Some students choose to perform an Arangetram, also known as ascending the stage, which should not be considered a graduation performance but rather a beginning.”

Even moving to Dallas in 1995 to work on her doctorate in Physics at the University of Texas at Dallas couldn’t deter Venkatraman from continuing her Bharatanatyam training. Taking a friend’s suggestion Venkatraman went to take class at Arathi School of Dance where she met Guru Smt. Revathi Satyu. “My Guru Revathi Satyu is an amazing individual. As a guru she has taught me to love and appreciate the art not just as a student but also as a teacher. She is extremely patient, always smiling and most importantly always willing to share the art wholeheartedly.” Venkatraman has been teaching at Arathi for several years and her students have performed throughout the DFW area.

Venkatraman adds that if it wasn’t for Satyu Dallas audiences would know very little about Indian dance and the Indian culture. “Revathi is a pioneer in bringing the art of Bharatanatyam to Dallas. She started the Arathi School of Dance in Dallas in 1980 and has graduated over a 100 students. She has been responsible for spreading the awareness of Indian classical dance among Indian and non-Indian audiences. Through workshops, presentations and performances she continues to touch more and more people in the DFW metroplex.”

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

Since its conception, Indique Dance Company has presented several productions, including RootsMaa: The Many faces of Motherhood and Jeeva:  Synergy in Nature. The company will present a dance from Jeeva: Synergy in Nature called Thillana at the inaugural Dallas DanceFest happening this weekend at DCPH. The three-day event is being put on by the Dance Council of North Texas. Choreographed by Shalini Varghese and Bhuvana Venkatraman with music by Indian Rock band AGAM, Thillana features quick foot work, complex rhythms and intricate body poses. “Thillana is a classical Indian dance that has no storytelling. It’s a very happy, brisk dance that involves a lot of complex foot work and body movements.”

And while Dallas DanceFest will be the first time for many local dance companies to perform in the two-year-old City Performance Hall, that is not the case for Indique Dance Company who just performed there two weeks ago. “The DCPH is one of our favorite in-door performance spaces. The intimate setting is something we really enjoy. It makes it easier for us to have a conversation with the audience.”

» Indique Dance Company will perform at the Friday night showcase, 8 p.m. Aug. 29, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The other companies performing Friday are: Dallas Ballet Company, Ewert & Company, Rhythmic Souls, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

» Companies performing Saturday are: Chamberlain Performing Arts, Chado Danse, Houston METdance, Avant Chamber Ballet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Rep I and II companies, Tarrant County College Movers Unlimited, Mejia Ballet International, Bruce Wood Dance Project

» The Dance Council Honors are Sunday at 2 p.m., honoring Nita Braun, Ann Briggs-Cutaia and Joe Cutaia, Buster Cooper, Dylis Croman, Suzie Jary and Beth Wortley, with performances by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Bruce Wood Dance Project and 2014 Dance Council Scholarship Recipients.

Dance Council of North Texas Announces 2014 Honorees

Dylis Croman. Photo courtesy DCNT
Dylis Croman. Photo courtesy DCNT

The Dance Council of North Texas recognizes the accomplishments of Nita Braun, Suzie Jary, Beth Wortley, Joe Cutaia and Ann Briggs-Cutaia, Dylis Croman and Buster Cooper.

Dallas — Every year the Dance Council of North Texas selects five individuals whose excellence in education, performance and community support for dance have greatly impacted the art form in North Texas. While the mission of the Dance Council Honors hasn’t changed, attendees are in for a few surprises at this year’s event. For the first time the Dance Council Honors will take place at Dallas City Performance Hall on Aug. 31, 2014, and will coincide with the inaugural Dallas DanceFest which runs Aug. 29-31. The Dance Council Honors has previously been held at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. The event begins with a reception followed by the presentation of awards and includes performances by 2014 DCNT scholarship recipients and professional companies.

“That Dallas Black Dance Theatre opened its doors to the annual Dance Council Honors was a wonderful gift,” says Honors Chairperson Janice LaPointe-Crump. However, “each year people had to be turned away because of the limited amount of seating. With more capacity and better sight lines the City Performance Hall is truly a contemporary, yet elegant environment. And becoming part of the Dallas DanceFest closes the space between our youthful scholarship recipients, professionals at the height of their careers and the presentation of the Honor awards to those who have preserved and excelled throughout their professional lives.”

Buster Cooper. Photo courtesy DCNT
Buster Cooper. Photo courtesy DCNT

The DCNT will also be honoring Dallas tap icon Buster Cooper, who passed away in March, with the final Texas Tap Legend Award. The award has been renamed the Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award. This year’s Dance Council Honorees are:

Nita Braun – Mary McLarry Bywaters Award for Lifetime Achievement

Nita Braun’s teaching career spanned nearly 35 years, 25 of which were spent running Nita Braun’s Talent Workshop in Farmers Branch. Braun’s passion for dance also extended beyond her studio. For many years she served as a Secretary and a Vice President of the Dallas Dance Council, working to expand the audience for dance in Dallas through education, outreach, and performance. In 1946 she married Philip Henry Braun, a chemical engineer and World War II veteran. Together they raised four children – Cathie, Mary, Lisa, and Griff – and were married for 56 years, until Phil’s death in 2003. Braun passed away in January 2012 at the age of 85.

Suzie Jary – Mary Warner Award for Service to Dance

For more than 20 years Suzie Jary LCSW, TEP has been providing psychotherapy and counseling in the areas of addiction, mental health, grief and loss and career development. She graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work, CUNY, in New York, and trained and worked in New York City before relocating to Fort Worth, TX. Jary is a recognized specialist in the issues faced by performing and creative artists. She has spoken internationally and domestically about artists’ career development and career transition issues. She was profiled in The New York TimesWall Street Journal, and New York Daily News for her work with Career Transition for Dancers, a national not-for-profit organization. As Client Services Consultant for the organization she travels nationwide presenting action-based career development workshops for professional dance companies, college dance major programs and dance conservatories. Jary’s background is as a professional musical theatre dancer having performed in Europe, in national tours and on Broadway.

Beth Wortley – Larry White Dance Educator Award

Growing up in Dallas, Beth Wortley studied classical ballet with Nikita Talin. She also has training in jazz and modern dance. Wortley received a BFA in Theater from University of Texas at Austin and a MFA in dance from Southern Methodist University in 1973. After graduation she served as Artistic Director of Ballet of Dallas for 5 years before moving to Boston where she taught ballet at Tufts University and Boston University. Wortley returned to Dallas in 1989 and was soon hired as Director of the Dance Department for the Hockaday School. In 2008 she was named the Chair of the Performing Arts Department. Outside of her Hockaday responsibilities, Beth has been directing, choreographing and acting in productions for the Rotunda Theater for the last 50 years. She has choreographed countless musicals for other local theaters and high schools throughout the Metroplex. Wortley also was a pioneer for Liturgical dance at First United Methodist Church Dallas.

Buster Cooper – Texas Tap Legend Award

Leonard “Buster” Cooper started dance lessons at the age of 10. At 17 he attended a workshop in Chicago where he was asked to stand in for Gene Kelly’s brother, Fred. His career as a dancer and teacher flourished from there. He was drafted for WWII in 1942 and afterward spent his summers dancing in Chicago and New York. Cooper moved to Dallas in 1951 to head up one of Fred Astaire’s dance locations. A year later he left the company and opened his own studio. For 52 years he owned and operated The Buster Cooper School of Dance and for more than 30 years served as the head of dance at Hockaday School. Scores of his alumni went on to dance in production at the Dallas Summer Musicals and on Broadway in shows, including The Music ManThe Pajama GameWest Side StoryA Chorus Line and Cats. Cooper passed away in March 2013 at the age of 90.

Joe Cutaia and Ann Briggs-Cutaia – Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award

Texas native Joe Cutaia has studied dance in Dallas, New York and Chicago. His professional experiences include the Broadway national touring companies of Little Me with Donald O’Connor, George M with Ken Berry and Hello Dolly with Carol Channing. As an actor, Cutaia studied with Adam Roarke at the Film Labs at Las Colinas, Lou Diamond Phillips and the DSM Musical Theatre School. He also has worked for the Dallas Children’s Theatre and has appeared in various television commercials. Cutaia is an active member of the Dance Council of North Texas and for the past several years has been a committee chairman of the National Tap Dance Day celebration in Dallas. He and his wife Ann are members of three Dallas ballroom dance clubs having presided as presidents for one group and are currently holding the position of President-Elect for another. They are also the owners of The Chaplin Cotillions LLC, and travel around the state of Texas conducting etiquette and ballroom classes for students in grades 2 through 9.

Ann Briggs-Cutaia studied dance in Dallas, TX with Texie Waterman and Buster Cooper. Briggs holds a BFA in dance from Southern Methodist University. She danced professionally as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and has appeared in various commercials, television shows and movies in the United States and Japan. Briggs also holds a Masters of Science in Counseling and is certified by the Texas State Board for Educator Certification as an instructor of dance and speech as well as a school counselor.

Dylis Croman – Natalie Skelton Award for Artistic Excellence

Dallas native Dylis Croman is best known  for her success on Broadway in shows, including Sweet Charity,FosseA Chorus LineApplauseOklahoma! and presently Chicago. A quintessential ballerina, Croman once danced with the renowned FeldBallets/NY (now Ballet Tech Company) before becoming Ann Reinking’s assistant and eventually a Fosse aficionado and legacy keeper, then launching her triumphant career on Broadway. Croman trained in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with Laura Price, Dana Davis Bailey, Dian Clough West, and TuzerBallet. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before moving to New York. This year Croman was the guest star for DCNT’s Dance Planet 18 festival.

Tickets for the 2014 Dance Council Honors will be available beginning August 1. Visit www.thedancecouncil.org for more information.

This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dream Maker

Ann Williams with DBDT company members. Photo: Robert Hart
Ann Williams with DBDT company members. Photo: Robert Hart

Ann Williams reflects on her time as artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the company’s impact on the Dallas community and her plans for the future.

Dallas — Teacher. Mentor. Dream maker. These are only a few of the titles Ann Williams has acquired over the past 37 years as founder/artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the oldest, continuously operating professional dance company in Dallas. But after the company’s Spring Celebration Performance at the Winspear Opera House this weekend Williams will hand the reigns over and take on a new title: retiree.

“Next year I am looking forward to completely stepping back and enjoying DBDT from afar,” Williams says. “I will travel some, play bridge and enjoy the company of my friends and relatives.”

The two-evening Spring Celebration includes performances by Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and Kirven Douthit-Boyd (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater). Dancers from DBDT will also be performing in new works choreographed Lily Weiss (Booker T. Washington HSPVA) and Christopher Vo (dancer on Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH).

And while Williams will no longer be a part of the day-to-day activities of the organization once she retires, she will remain supportive and continue to seek out new funding opportunities. And the company can still expect to see her at rehearsals, programs, master classes and workshops. “But only on a limited basis and only as a guest/friend.”

As for the task of uncovering DBDT’s next artistic director Williams say the search has been going quite well. “We have 11 applicants from several different cities and states including New York. We have a dedicated committee not just from the Dallas community, but people who are interested in getting the best possible person for DBDT. The committee will choose a finalist very soon.”

The outpouring of love and support Williams has received since making her announcement last May proves DBDT is indeed a Dallas institution. “I do feel honored with all the love and attention that has happened this year from the local community, especially the dance community. It has made me feel special.”

Since starting the company in 1976, Williams has established five performing dance troupes and currently employs 12 administrative staff and 12 dancers on an 11-month contract. DBDT has performed in 14 countries with tours in Peru, South Africa, Uganda, Austria, Japan, Italy and many more. Most notable venues include Lincoln Center in New York City, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the 2012 London Olympics. DBDT’s repertoire includes works by Alvin Ailey, Ulysses Dove, Talley Beatty, Christopher Huggins, David Parsons and Darryl B. Sneed, to name a few.

Like all dance companies, DBDT has experienced its highs and lows: economic declines, dancers leaving for other cities and housing complications (DBDT’s home is now 2700 Flora St.), but the company has managed to stay afloat thanks to careful planning and realistic goal setting. “DBDT also has a staff and board of directors that are dedicated to keeping the doors of the company open and support our mission of providing artistic excellence. We are supported by many individuals, corporations and foundations. Our audience and patrons have been with us during the highs and lows and we have rewarded them with great choreography and programs.”

When asked if she has any regrets Williams says, “I think I have accomplished the goals that were necessary and achievable. There can always be more, but I am grateful for our home in in the Arts District and the performance space we have with the Wyly Theatre. It would have been super to get that $1 million gift, but I believe that can happen with the next artistic director.”

As for her legacy, Williams would like to be remembered for the services she has provided to many dance students who would not have had the opportunity otherwise. “I believe I have opened doors of opportunity for many dancers, students, parents, organizations in the City of Dallas, the State of Texas and many parts of the nation and around the world. I have given from my heart and soul so that others can fulfill their dreams.”

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre Spring Celebration

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

Christopher Vo pushes Dallas Black Dance Theatre mentally in his new work touch (listen), part of the company’s Spring Celebration, honoring the legacy of Ann Williams.

Dallas – “Remember guys, calm, easy and mindful,” says choreographer Christopher Vo to the members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre as they prepare to run through his new work, touch (listen), last Friday afternoon. In this piece Vo challenges the dancers to be more impulsive and alert in their movement choices.

“I really wanted to create this sense of community,” Vo says. “The dancers are good at taking movement in and executing it, but they needed some help when it came to running and walking together. This was my gift to them.”

A Dallas native, Vo attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts before being accepted to the Juilliard School in New York. From  2008 to 2011 Vo toured and taught master classes across the country with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. He was also a principal dancer in Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Awaydance musical and was a featured dancer throughout Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH. In 2013 Vo performed in the world premiere of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s My Brother’s Keeper and also headlined Dance Planet 17, a free dance event the Dance Council of North Texas puts on every year.

Before heading into rehearsals Vo sent an e-mail to the dancers asking them what kind of piece they were interested in doing. “Half of them wanted to dance to an Ella Fitzgerald or Stevie Wonder song while the other half wanted something more instrumental. I decided to challenge them with a more classical piece of music.”

touch (listen) begins with six couples lounging stoically on the ground. At the start of the music they slowly inch backwards across the floor. One by one the dancers stand and begin running. As the violin swells and descends the dancers spontaneously break into pairs, trios and quartets creating visually pleasing lines and rotating formations as they go.

Vo is an impulsive mover. He doesn’t create movement ahead of time. Instead he prefers the dancers to discover what works for them in that moment. “I don’t want the movement to feel forced. I like when it happens organically.”

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

Vo adds that the choreography for touch (listen) was really a collaborative effort between him and the dancers. “I see myself more as the architect and the dancers as the lumber and the screws of the dance.”

While finishing the dance Vo asked the dancers several times to just go with the flow rather than give them specific pathways. “In this section I want you to be less creative here (Vo points to his head) and just go with the momentum.” But he still expects the dancers to be mindful of where everyone is spatially. This is especially crucial when there are two groups on stage rotating clockwise with the purpose of joining together in one straight line at the end. Viewers will certainly notice if one group’s timing is off.

Vo’s teaching style is firm yet encouraging, a combination the dancers respond well to. “I don’t want to discourage them. I want to motivate them to keep pushing for their best each time.” Vo is also a strong believer in repetition. He will run the same few phrases of movement at least five times, tweaking something each time. “I like repetition because I like to exhaust all the options in order to find the correct movement.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Spring Celebration Performance, which honors the legacy of founder Ann Williams, is May 16-17, 2014 at the Winspear Opera House. In addition to Vo, the program also includes DBDT performing works by Bruce Wood and Lily Weiss (Booker T. Washington HSPVA), and features guest performances by Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and guest performer Kirven Douthit-Boyd of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.