Tag Archives: Dallas Dance Events

Preview: LakeCities Ballet Theater’s Coppelia

Dancing Dolls

LakeCities Ballet Theatre serves up another kid-friendly ballet with Coppelia, featuring special guest Steven Loch at MCL Grand Theater in Lewsiville.

LakeCities Ballet Theatre Presents Coppelia. Photo: Nancy Loch Photography.

Lewisville — As I watched LakeCities Ballet Theatre (LBT) rehearse Act 1 of Coppelia Artistic Director Kelly Kilburn Lannin leaned over and whispered how this particular section of music always reminds her about the time their Franz injured himself mid-performance and Steven Loch, who was 12 at the time, was asked to step in and danced the final part of show perfectly.

Later, when I mentioned this story to Loch in the breakroom where we sat down to talk he laughed and says he gets acknowledged quite often for his ability to jump into roles at the last second—a skill that he says he learned from Lannin and her team at the Ballet Conservatory in Lewisville.

“There is so much supply and not enough demand so the high level of excellence gets even more exaggerated,” Loch says about what it takes today to become a professional ballet dancer. “You have to be the most valuable worker to have the best shot, and I think one of the great things about here is Kelly knew that from the beginning. She knew that if you want to make it as a dancer than you’re going to have to learn to do it all.”

Photo: Pacific Northwest Ballet
Steven Loch

He adds, “And also too, the standard that she puts on students are so high and you know have to hit those standards because there’s no forgiveness. Then, when you go the professional world you have good habits. You’re disciplined. You’re a good worker. You’re a professional and you’re a good human. And it’s actually surprising how valuable that is. And Kelly’s standard is such that even for understudies you have to be able to jump in and do it perfectly so that no one notices or you are going to be in trouble.”

But in the same breath Loch also says Lannin is very nurturing, which I saw firsthand during one of the company’s Coppelia rehearsals a couple of weeks ago. “She is so sweet and loving and gives so much of herself,” Loch says. “She gave me so much love and not only cared about me as a dancer, but also a person. She was my mentor growing up and she taught me everything in order to be ready for the professional world.”

After graduating from high school in 2009, Loch joined the professional program at Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). He joined the company in 2011 and was promoted to corps de ballet in 2012. He was promoted to soloist at the end of last season. Throughout his career with PNB Loch has returned home on numerous occasions to perform leading roles in LBT’s productions, including DraculaGiselleThe Nutcracker and Coppelia.

As for his reasons for returning, Loch says, “This place is my home and it has given me so much so I definitely want to return the favor.”

He continues, “I also get called in to do the leading roles, which when I was younger I didn’t get the opportunities to do. It also gives me more practice and experience in these roles so when I start performing lead roles in Seattle I will be more ready.”

Regarding his reaction to the news of his promotion last season, Loch says, “When I got promoted to soloist it was really satisfying because I had put so much work into it and to see the fruits of your labor turn in to something like this just felt really special.”

He adds, “As dancers we are all perfectionists so earning this title has also definitely given me more confidence.”

Watching Loch jump into rehearsal after just stepping off a plane I couldn’t help but wonder what he does to help prevent injury and illness. On this topic Loch says, “Recovery is so important so anything that can help me speed up recovery is great. I do cryotherapy. I have Norma Tec boots. I do a lot of stretching and roll out using a roller. I also do massage and work with this lady who does Trager Approach in addition to neuromuscular therapy.”

Of all the recovery methods that he uses Loch says the cryotherapy has been the most effective for him. “It’s so much more efficient than icing because you are put in such a cold environment that the blood goes to your core instead of your extremities. So it’s more nutrient rich, and it only takes three minutes, and you are able to move afterwards, so you can do it before working out or after working out. And it makes you recover three times faster than you normally would so, for me that has been a huge game changer.”

You can check out Loch in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s rendition of Coppelia, March 29-31, at the Medical City of Lewisville Grand Theater in Lewisville.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Preview: Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s Myth & Magick

Bewitching Ballet

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet explores the hierarchy of witches in its version of The Rite of Spring, part of the company’s Myth & Magick at the Sammons Center.  

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet presents Myth & Magick. Photo: Alisa Eykilis

Dallas — Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet (DNCB) has never been afraid to present works showcasing the darker side of ballet. If anything, the company thrives on performing work that is raw, dark and peculiar. Case in point, The Company’s annual Horror Series where the dancers are decked out in drab clothes covered in fake blood and crazy hair and makeup. Other works that come to mind include DNCB’s retelling of The Red Shoes in 2015 and Masque of the Red Death in 2016.

So, when I head DNCB was doing its own version of Vaslav Nijinsky’s and Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring at its Myth & Magick performance on March 22 at the Sammons Center for the Arts in Dallas, I couldn’t wait to find out what kind of twist Artistic Director Emilie Skinner would be adding to her recreation of the infamous ballet.

When she told me the nine female dancers would be portraying witches my first thought was that these characters were well-suited for the ballet, which is already steeped in pagan rituals, including a human sacrifice near the end. And second, what would make Skinner decide to take on such an ambitious project.

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet presents Myth & Magick. Photo: Alisa Eykilis

Skinner says the ballet wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Lane Harder, a professor at Southern Methodist University and the director of the music ensemble SYZYGY. She says Lane was the one who threw out the idea of doing The Rite of Spring at one of their brain storming sessions. “I remember the first time I saw the ballet live, which was when the Joffrey Ballet did it in Dallas in 2013. I was really impacted by it and so, it has stuck out in my mind ever since. When Lane brought it up he said we had the players so we decided to go for it.”

Going into the process Skinner says the most challenging aspect for her was taking a work that has a large number of dancers and translating it onto just nine female dancers. She goes on to say that she wanted to stick closely to the original choreography, but had to take into consideration the intimate space they would be performing in due to the frenzied nature of the ballet. “I don’t think our version looks as chaotic as others, like Joffrey, because I don’t have as many dancers doing as many different things. And because we are doing this at the Sammons Center and in a round I didn’t want it to be too much for the audience to take in when they are sitting right there at stage level.”

She adds, “I really like the setup at the Sammons Center. I think it’s a fun way to present the piece and it makes it a little more raw that it’s right there and it’s just so aggressive and weird and unfamiliar movement for a lot of people including us.”

The all-female cast was a purposeful choice made by Skinner to bring attention to the strength and femininity that she picked up on while researching the culture of witches. She did make it a point to say that while she is drawn to certain aspects of the culture she is not a practicing Wiccan.

“I am not a witch, but there is something about that style and aesthetic that fits really well and I can just plug that into The Rite of Spring. And when I think about the Pagan rituals and sacrifice in the piece I just automatically go to this Wiccan history.”

She continues, “This piece is more focused on the feminine side of that culture. It’s just seems so powerful and feminine and nice and beautiful, but also kind of scary and dark, which is kind of what our company is about.”

The all-female cast represents different degrees of witches, including the neophytes (lowest degree), second-degree witches and third-degree witches or high priestesses, which will be represented by long-time DNCB company member Lea Zablocki. The dancers will be wearing long black skirts and crops tops decorated by local artist Heather Lynn who says in a Facebook post that she was inspired by Pagan runes and celestial diagrams. Skinner says loose hair and body paint will complete the look.

“I wanted her to create different designs for each of those groups of witches,” Skinner says about the costuming. “And Lea is actually making herself this crazy huge head piece. So, this sort of barbaric nature, raw and down-to-earth kind of feel.”

The program on Friday will open with a re-staging of Erik Satie’s Mercure from 1924, which will also include live accompaniment by SYZYGY. Also featured in the first half will be an original work by a composition student of the Meadows School of the Arts Division of Music.

You can catch Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s The Rite of Spring at the company’s Myth & Magick performance at the Sammons Center for the Arts this Friday.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series

Below the Surface

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance reaches new artistic depths in Sidra Bell’s new work Nervosa, part of the company’s Spring Series in Addison this weekend.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance rehearsing Nervosa. Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

Addison — With only flesh-toned G-strings and dance belts covering their lower halves, one by one the dancers run into the space and execute an upper spinal curve that accentuates the muscular lines of their chests, thighs and glutes before being pulled off stage by some invisible force. This back and forth continues until, suddenly, all the dancers run on and form a circle in the right, upstage corner. Standing shoulder to shoulder the dancers remain motionless except for the heavy rise and fall of their bare chests and their eyes, which are actively searching the space.

This is just a taste of what New York-based Choreographer Sidra Bell has in store for Dallas audiences in her new work Nervosa, which premieres at Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series this weekend.

Bell is one of the hottest names in the dance world right now thanks to her unique style, which explores bodily forms through the modular lenses of flesh, bones, nerves, memory, site and history, according to her Web site. Her knowledge of visual art also plays an important role in her creative process. Bell’s work has been seen throughout the U.S. and abroad, including Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Slovenia, China, Canada, Korea and Brazil. Her company, Sidra Bell Dance New York, has rapidly garnered an international profile for work that reveals aspects of the human condition through a distinctly female lens.

After watching a run-through of Nervosa in February at Preston Center Dance, Bell sat down to talk with the small audience that was there about her creative process for this piece and answer any questions we might have for her.

Bell starts off by telling us that Nervosa is about making you and making me in two parts and is housed within a much longer work that her company is currently working on that focuses on the nervous system and how it affects the way a person feels and moves. “The piece is about relationships and what it means to really feel someone,” Bell says. “It’s also about what makes the nervous system tick and sensing the people around us with our eyeballs and skin.”

This statement definitely brings more clarity to that moment where the mostly nude dancers are standing in a circle watching one another as well as the following duet where Eric Lobenberg slowly walks around the space with Victoria Daylor draped over his shoulder. This is an extremely raw and tender moment between the couple, which thankfully isn’t diminished by their nudity; something Bell was hyper aware of when she made the decision for the dancers to be mostly nude for this part of the dance. (Note: The dancers wear black and gray long sleeved-unitards for most of the work)

“It was a late decision,” Bell says about the nudity. “It was made in an effort to export more of the human experience. The nudity in the duet feels natural and more innocent and does not conjure violence. It also brings attention to the lines of the body.”

“She made the decision with 30 minutes left to the end of our rehearsal the day before the preview,” Daylor says. So, we did it again with nudity and it just completed the work.”

Regarding the nudity in the duet Daylor says, “When Eric is holding me it feels comfortable. I feel close to him. His body feels like a layer of clothes against my back. I actually feel more vulnerable in the first part of the duet where we are not touching and the wind on my skin reminds me of my nudity.”

And as for working with Bell, Daylor says it was a wonderful experience and she was pleasantly surprised with how much personalized time Bell gave to them. “She gave us very individual things to work on that were not just about the choreography, but also things to help further our dancing going forward.”

Daylor uses her solo at the beginning of the dance as an example. After the group disperses, Daylor starts walking around the space and stops occasionally to contract her chest, which then ripples down into her hips and legs. Her movements remain fluid and evenly paced even when Nick Heffelfinger enters and begins convulsing on the ground.

“She gave me advice on things to do with my focus. She told me to think about the muscularity of my eyes and how deep set they are in my face. She also wanted me to be seeing everything around me in a way that is energetic.”

When I asked her if Heffelfinger’s frenzied movement ever made her lose her focus Daylor laughingly said, “I actually have no idea what he does because I am in my own world. For me, I am just here on earth and he is something on another planet and maybe we collide at some point, but I can’t give him too much attention.”

As for the control and stability Daylor exudes in her solo she says she has to give some of the credit to her outside training in the Gyrotonic method. “It has really helped me with my focus and stability of my breath when I’m dancing. Underlying it with my dancing has given me a good base.”

You can catch Daylor and the other members of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Bell’s Nervosa at the company’s Spring Series, March 22-24, at Addison Theatre Centre. The program also includes the premiere of Joshua L. Peugh’s Dialogue featuring Tejas Dance, a local Bharatanatyam Indian classical dance duo.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2019 Cultural Awareness Series

Justified Movement

Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates singer and Civil Rights activist Odetta Holmes in Matthew Rushing’s Odetta, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series at the Wyly Theatre.

Matthew Rushing. Anddrew Eccles

Dallas — The moments that have stayed with me days after watching Dallas Black Dance Theatre rehearse Matthew Rushing’s Odetta (2014) were, interestingly enough, not the full bodied-movements, grandiose jumping passes or powerful partnering skills, though these elements were incredible and well suited for the dancers. No, it was the quieter moments where the dancers relied on basic instinct and human connection to fulfill their roles that have left an imprint on me.

A perfect example is the opening scene when company member Kayla Franklin (who shares this role with Lailah Duke) slowly walks toward the audience as she cuts through the space with her arms and curves her spine over. As the opening notes of Odetta Holmes’ rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” fill the space, a joyous expression crosses Franklin’s face as she circles her hips and bounces from heel to heel to an internal beat that soon takes over her entire body.

Another memorable instance is the section where Jasmine White-Killins and De’Anthony Vaughan use mainly arm gestures while sitting on side-by-side stools in center stage to “There’s a Hole in The Bucket” sung by Holmes and Harry Belafonte. The song is fun and playful and White-Killins and Vaughan do an admirable job of conveying the emotions in the catchy tune. For example, as White-Killins begins to lose her patience, her arm movements become sharper and more pronounced, such as when she demonstrated how to sharpen an ax by rubbing her forearm intently across her right thigh.

And yet another picturesque moment occurs as Sierra Noelle Jones and Zion Pradier dance on a self-made dock to Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water” while the rest of the dancers watch attentively from their seated positions. At first I thought the couple was dancing on a stage, but as Jones cups her hand and extends it over the edge of the stage it transforms into a dock. The dock is actually six benches constructed of different-sized squares, which enables the benches to interlock with one another to appear as train seats as well as add a cool visual affect when they are placed vertically in other sections of the work.

“I wanted to work with something that was interchangeable and from scene to scene could kind of morph into whatever the scene was about,” Rushing says about the set. “I knew I would be dealing with a lot of different sections because Odetta Holmes’ work was so huge that I would be working with Blues and Jazz, protest songs and works from musical theatre so I knew it would be very layered within itself. So, whatever the set would be it would have to be able to morph and change in these different environments and settings.”

Come to find out, the idea for the set was actually a miniature I.Q. test that Rushing says he found while on tour in Germany and what we see onstage today is a much larger replica of these wooden Lego-like parts of this cubed puzzle.

This work also requires a high level of maturity, vulnerability and trust, which, when watching the dancers rehearse, it’s obvious to see DBDT possesses these qualities in spades. These ingrained abililties can also be attributed to why DBDT is the first company to perform Odetta outside of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

“They are extremely versatile dancers,” Rushing says about DBDT. “They are able to go in and out of different genres of dance and that skill is required for the ballet Odetta so I just felt it was an easy fit.”

He adds, “They are incredible artists who are also extremely expressive as well as technically strong in different styles of dance. And just like Odetta’s work was extremely diverse and layered I feel that the artists of Dallas Black Dance Theatre are exactly that as well. They are extremely diverse and they have many layers to their artistry.”

This is not the first time Rushing has worked with DBDT. The rehearsal director for the Ailey Company choreographed Tribute for DBDT in 2016, which was also when he first brought up the subject of DBDT possibly doing Odetta sometime in the future.

“I remember being in tech rehearsal sitting next to Ms. (Ann) Williams and it hit me at that point. I could really see the dancers of Dallas Black Dance Theatre performing Odetta,” Rushing says in a press release from DBDT.

As for Rushing’s inspiration for this work, singer and actress Odetta Holmes, he says, “One of the biggest “aha!” moments I had with choreographing this piece was finding out just how Odetta Holmes used her gift as an instrument and as a weapon for social justice. That spoke to me directly and it encouraged me and challenged me that I could do the same with choreography and with being a dance artist.”

He adds, “She might not have been the person leading the marches, but she was the person who led the rallies before the marches and I was like WOW how amazing that we all in a sense have a piece in this puzzle about making this world a better place. And she was very confident and clear that her place fell into using her gift as a singer and musician and I really connected with that when I found out about her work and how she literally changed the world with her gift.”

Odetta makes its Dallas premiere at DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 15-17, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Dianne McIntyre’s Nina Simone Project, an evening-length work DBDT premiered back in 2011.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Paul Taylor Dance Company

A Modern Celebration

The new artistic director of Paul Taylor Dance Company on following in his mentor’s footsteps and the company’s celebration tour which comes to the Eisemann on Saturday.

Michael Novak and Laura Halzack. Photo: Courtesy of Paul Taylor Dance Company

Richardson — It has been six months since the passing of American modern dance pioneer Paul Taylor, but the loss still sits heavy for many who have had some kind of connection to the iconic dance maker, whether it be through books, documentaries, dance classes, lectures, performances, or, for me, speaking to him on the phone for an article. These Taylor encounters are the reason why Paul Taylor Dance Company’s (PTDC) new Artistic Director Michael Novak has decided not to dance with the company at its performance at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, on Feb. 9.

“I am not dancing in Richardson because it’s important for me to be out in the house to mingle with a lot of the residents there,” Novak says. “It actually has been a really powerful experience to meet people especially as part of Paul’s passing away. There are a lot of people who come to me to introduce themselves and they almost always have some kind of relationship to Paul and it’s important that I hear those stories from different people and let them feel heard. I think Richardson is a great place to engage with people in that particular way and I am looking forward to doing that.”

Engaging with the audience is something Taylor requested that Novak do, along with continuing to dance with the company. “When I had met with Paul he had specifically requested that I keep on dancing. Obviously it meant that I had to refocus how often I was actually going to be dancing because one of the things that Paul also wanted me to do is not only be on stage performing as an artist. He also felt that it would be important for me to be out in the actual house meeting with audience members.”

Michael Novak. Photo: Bill Wadman

Novak adds, “It’s a balance that is new for me and one I am having a fun time figuring out.”

As far as what has been the most challenging part of his new job position Novak says, “taking a step back and looking at how much Paul Taylor actually did in his career and how do you celebrate that in a way that gives people who know his work so well an opportunity to be reminded of how great it was and gives them this massive overview. But also how do you do it in a way that entices new audiences to come in and to use this opportunity to really celebrate the company in a way that takes us forward?”

Originally from Illinois, Novak started dancing at the age of 10. In 2001, he was offered a Presidential Scholarship to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the following year he became an apprentice at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society. After an injury caused him to take some time off from dance, Novak decided to go back to school. He attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies where he was awarded scholarships for academic excellence. It was at Columbia where he became interested in the study of dance history, which ignited his passion for modern dance.

Novak started dancing at the Taylor School in 2007 and was asked to join the company in 2010. Since then he has danced 56 roles in 50 Taylor dances, 13 of which were made for him, including Three Dubious Memories(2010), which happens to be the focus of the Paul Taylor documentary “Creative Domain,” which will be shown at the Eisemann on Thursday following master classes with company members Robert Kleinendorst and Sean Mahoney.

On Saturday the company will perform four iconic works by Taylor: Aureole (1962), Three Epitaphs (1956), Piazzolla Caldera (1997) and Promethean Fire (2002).

In our discussion about these choices Novak says, “Aureole really established him as one of the emerging choreographers of the mid-20th century. It was also the first time in Paul’s career that he explored this notion of not only the Baroque music, but also this very fluid, beautiful and simple approach to dance making.”

He goes on to say that Three Epitaphs is well known for its costumes, which keep the dancers’ faces covered, and describes Piazzolla Caldera as a steamy, gritty and energizing tango piece that doesn’t have a single tango step in it. The final work of the night is Promethean Fire, which Novak says many audiences have associated with the events of 9/11 and centers around this idea of a community of people overcoming obstacles in order to maintain hope and move forward.

Looking back on his time working with Taylor, Novak says his experience was incredibly positive. He admits that in the beginning all he wanted was for Taylor to enjoy his dancing, but says that over time it became more about reading his mind and his physicality. “As a dancer who worked for him you were often waiting on him to tell you what to do or to give you an idea of what he was looking for and you tend to not respond verbally, but you tend to respond physically.”

“The relationship is built on trust and it’s based on this intuitive understanding of where the other person is at and trying to make art. So, over the course of my eight years, I got to know him very well in the sense of being able to read his mind a little bit and figuring out how best we could collaborate.”

The trust that Novak speaks about also played a major role in his appointment by Taylor as the next artist director of PTDC. “When Paul invited me over for a meeting where he told me that he wanted me to take over his company he said that he trusted me, and that was a huge moment for me because Paul was not a man of many words. Usually if he liked what you were doing he wouldn’t say anything. So when he would give a compliment or say something was beautiful it usually meant that it was almost transcendent.”

He continues, “So when he said that he trusted me it was very touching and probably the most profound thing he could ever say to any of his artists and to me in particular. It has also given me a great deal of confidence to know that he believed in me and what I bring.”

This confidence has also helped as Novak preps for the company’s future. His plan includes building off what Taylor started five years ago when he created Paul Taylor American Modern Dance at Lincoln Center. “It’s this three pillar approach to presenting modern dance that wasn’t just Paul Tayor and his repertory. It also included historic modern dance works from the entire cannon. Coupled with that are the contemporary choreographers that we bring in to work on the Paul Taylor Dance Company.”

Novak adds, “I am incredibly passionate about those three aspects and figuring out after we have this celebration dance maker tour how we can continue that going forward. I am determined to do both in the sense that there are important modern dance historical works that haven’t been seen in a long time both within the Taylor cannon and modern dance that I would love bring back and share with audiences. But I also believe in curating new artists to come in and make work. We really have to do both.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Winter Series

Out of this World

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance aims to resemble alien rock stars in Mark Caserta and Mikey Morado’s new work Dregs, part of the company’s Winter Series at WaterTower Theatre.

DCCD rehearses Dregs. Photo: Brian Kenny

Addison — “An alien dark underbelly vibe, but with a gentle tone,” is how Mark Caserta describes the mood of Dregs, a new piece he and fellow choreographer and boyfriend Mikey Morado have created for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s (DCCD) Winter Series, which boosts works made by queer choreographers centering on gay identity in America. The program will also feature Eoghan Dillon’s Boys Are and Joshua L. Peugh’s Bud, which he did in collaboration with multimedia artist Brian Kenny. The performance will be held Jan. 24-27 at Addison Theatre Center, DCCD’s new home for 2019 thanks to its new partnership with WaterTower Theatre.

“It’s quite gender confusing, but very sexy,” Caserta says about the approximately 22-minute work, which includes an original score by Pittsburgh-based slowdanger whom he says mixed the track in the studio while the dancers worked. “It’s alien and out there, but also has a relatable vibe.”

As for the choreography in the piece Morado says, “We like to work with images that are more chic and simplistic and less confetti and more latex. So, what we made at the end of the day was a very alien world that has its own rules and doesn’t really operate within this 2019 America vibe.”

Morado and Caserta are both products of reputable dance institutions. Morado received a BFA in dance at Marymount Manhattan College before joining Sidra Bell Dance New York in 2013. Caserta trained at the Ailey School and graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in ballet performance. He has danced with Eleone Dance Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz De Montreal and Camille A. Brown + Dancers.

Mikey Morado in Mark Caserta’s Good Boy. Photo: Matthew Caserta
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.

“I have known of Dance Industry since my time at Complexions,” Caserta says. “The kids would come to New York City to attend workshops, and through them I developed a relationship with Christy and Jamie Anderson. They had offered me a job a few years before, but I was working, so it wasn’t until 2015 when Mikey and I were looking for a change that I asked them if the offer still stood and we moved to Dallas.”

Morado says that his relationship with Dance Industry didn’t start until after the couple had made their decision to move. “I had never met either of them, but we came out in March to teach and see what the vibe was here and Jamie and Christy picked us up from the airport and the second we got in the car with them there was an instantaneous certainty that we belong here. So, they brought me on and gave me basically the same amount of role that Mark has in the studio.”

It was about a year later when Wolverton-Ryzman handed over the reins of the Thriving Artist Project to Morado and Caserta. “This was something she had started the year prior to hiring us,” Morado says. “It was a small scale project and really more about her connecting with the kids and giving them professional advice.”

He continues, “I think she knew she wanted to amp up the program and that she wanted to do something that would extend beyond the walls of Dance Industry in a very real and practical concert dance sense. So her bringing Mark and I on, she knew that she would be well-connected to the current dance world that is still happening in New York and all over the world.”

So far Morado and Caserta have been living up this promise as evident by the list of names they have on the Thriving Artist Project’s event calendar online. The list includes high end choreographers such as Sidra Bell of Sidra Bell Dance New York, Jonathan Alsberry of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Micaela Taylor of TL Collective and Christie Partelow of Nederlands Dans Theater.

When I brought up that these are names you typically associate with local dance institutions such as Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Morado replies, “There are a lot of shiny and glitzy things in Dallas and particularly around Booker T. and so it’s very easy for that to be considered the mecca of ‘shiny dance things,’ but I think it’s really meaningful and impactful for these kids that Mark and I work with that we work in a way that is very humble and we choose to work with artists who reflect that humility.”

He adds, “What sets us apart as individuals, but also as a couple is our level of consideration and really making sure that the quality and connection is genuine. That it’s never forced and we work with artists who we truly support.”

It was through the Thriving Artist Project where Morado and Caserta meet Peugh who was at the couple’s first performance back in 2016.  “He was super complimentary and we clicked with him right away,” Morado says.

“It was such a bold and loving move for him to reach out to us,” Caserta says. “He is a smart businessman and has become a great friend.”

Mark Caserta. Photo: Matthew Caserta
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.

The dance duo also had nothing but nice things to say about their time in the studio with the DCCD dancers. “We were super inspired by the dancers and just by that particular group that is with Dark Circles right now,” Morado says. “They have such a warm chemistry among them and the majority of them identity as gay or queer themselves, and I think particularly being in Dallas and connecting with people like that has a bit deeper of a ripple than it would in a place like New York because there is less of a demographic there for that.”

While discussing the creative process for Dregs, Morado says it was done in reverse order to what people generally consider normal. So, instead of giving the dancers specific movement phrases or specific motifs, he says they generated a lot of the movement based off of the tasks they had the dancers doing such as free writing and coming up with their own gesture movements, which they later combined into collaborative group phrases.

Morado explains, “The experience for them is very personal, and rather than giving them the details and having them form the piece around that we kind of had them form the piece and then said ‘oh that is a detail we want to put in.’” He adds, “We also made an effort to highlight each dancer individually and to not stick with one soloist. We wanted to equalize everyone and especially with a group this talented we would be short changing ourselves if we didn’t individualize the piece for them.”

For this work, DCCD has also paired with Youth First, a program of Resource Center and one of the only youth centers in the North Texas area aimed at meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth ages 12-18. The company has been teaching masterclasses for the teens which explore identity and self-expression through movement.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Preview: The Nutcracker presented by Ballet North Texas

New Nut In Town

For its premiere season, Ballet North Texas is taking its Nutcracker production on the road to venues in Dallas, Terrell and Palestine.

BNTNutcracker
BNT rehearsing The Nutcracker. Photo: Robert N. Johnson

Dallas — There’s a new professional ballet company in town and they’re upping the local Nutcracker game with a traveling production that will make stops in Dallas, Terrell and Palestine this holiday season. Ballet North Texas (BNT) is the brainchild of Nicolina Lawson, a classically trained dancer who had been traveling between her home in Wichita Falls and Dallas for the last five years for dance jobs before officially settling down in Dallas with her husband and kids last year.

Lawson grew up training at her mom’s dance studio in Redding, California. From there she went to San Francisco where she studied with Alonzo King, Summer Lee Rhatigan, Arturo Fernandez, Julie Tobiason and Meg Potter. In 2006 she moved to Venice to dance with Teatro De La Danza Italia under the guidance of Salvatore Gagliardi and Stefania Sandrin. She met her husband abroad and started freelancing to accommodate all the moving around they had to do with his job.

Throughout her professional career Lawson has danced classical and contemporary roles with Redding City Ballet, Alaska Dance Theatre and Momentum Dance Collective. In Dallas, she has performed in works presented by Contemporary Ballet Dallas (now Ballet Dallas) and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. She currently teaches and choreographs for The Hathaway Academy of Ballet in Plano; Studio C in Burleson; and is a teacher and rehearsal instructor for Wichita Falls Ballet. Lawson also holds two Bachelor’s of Science degrees in business economics and marketing from the University of Maryland.

So, what motivated her to start a ballet company in Dallas? Lawson says, “I know a lot of the ballet schools in the area do story ballets and other classical works, but unless you’re dancing with Texas Ballet Theater I find that a lot of the professionals don’t get the opportunities to dance these classical roles.”

She adds, “I also love ballet! I grew up in the studio and it was like this part of me that was just missing.”

Lawson admits that is was also a case of being in the right place at the right time because around then a friend of hers, the dance director of the Lakewood Conservatory of Fine Arts, was looking for new ways to expand upon its offerings and so the Lakewood Conservatory is now home for BNT. The company currently has 18 dancers, many of whom also perform alongside other local dance companies, including Ballet Dallas and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. Some names you might recognize include Whitney Hart, Hannah Rae Kleimeyer, Heather Dods and Tristan Rodney.

Lawson says the opportunity to perform in other Texas cities presented itself during her search for a venue for the Dallas performance. One of her phone calls was with a board member of the Terrell ISD Excellence Foundation who broached the subject of hosting BNT’s Nutcracker since the community hasn’t had a professional showing of the holiday classical come through in a while. Lawson says Palestine has a similar story in which the community hasn’t seen a professional company perform The Nutcracker in almost a decade.

To make these communities feel even more included, Lawson held auditions in each city and each performance will have a different cast of children from that community as well as a different company members in the lead roles such as The Sugar Plum Fairy, Cavalier and Nutcracker Prince. The role of Clara will also be performed by a company member, except for the show in Dallas where local pre-professional Amelia Dodson will be playing the character.

For someone with so much riding on these Nutcracker performances Lawson sounded very calm and focused during our phone conversation earlier this week. When I asked what is was like putting together her first Nutcracker production, and with three different casts no less, she replies, “It was a learning experience for sure. There’s all these things that I never had to think about when I was performing, such as what music is going to be playing when the audience walks into the theater so it is not silent.”

On the flip side, Lawson says creating the choreography for the show was a pretty organic process as the idea for how she wanted the story to go had been in her head for quite some time. “I took a little more of the original story with the Nutcracker and the Rat King and infused that into the version that most of America knows. So, in my production the Nutcracker turns into the Cavalier and my Clara is still Clara and doesn’t turn into the Sugar Plum Fairy. She’s actually on the journey with the Nutcracker/Cavalier to return him back to the Land of the Sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy is waiting for him because he has been cursed to begin with.”

Lawson is also well aware there are a number of professional dance companies already operating out of Dallas. So, as far as where she thinks BNT is going to fit into the local landscape Lawson says, “Originally I would have said we were for anyone that wanted that kid-friendly environment, but with all the opportunities that we’ve had to tour I really feel like that is going to be our niche moving forward.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Review: The Nutcracker, Dallas Ballet Company

Closing this week on Sunday Dec. 9. Next performance on Friday Dec. 7 at 7:30pm

Mice and Men

Dallas Ballet Company shows the value added with male dancers of all ages and abilities in its annual Nutcracker performance at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.
The Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker. Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames Photography

Garland — In addition to musically enchanting choreography and well-placed comedic moments, what Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performance—which has performances with a second cast Dec. 7-9—also had an abundance of talented young men playing pivotal roles in every scene of one of the best recreations of The Nutcracker I have seen from a local pre-professional ballet company in quite some time.

A fast-paced show that ended right on two hours, DBC’s Nutcracker was a whirlwind of bold colors, delicious looking props, splendid dancing and beautiful storytelling that brought new life to the 300-year-old ballet, which features movement by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and a score written by Pyotr Ilyich Tch Tchaikovsky. The DBC’s performance contained elements from the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann as well as moments from George Balanchine’s Nutcracker, which is the stage production that audiences are most familiar with.

The story begins at the Silberhaus home where the family entertains its close friends with a grand Christmas Eve celebration. The party includes a visit by Herr Drosselmeyer (local actor Randolph McKee) who sets the action for the rest of the performance when he gifts a nutcracker doll to his goddaughter Clara played by the charming Anna Speer. This makes Clara’s brother, the endearingly awkward Julien Pham-Davis as Fritz, unhappy, and he shows his displeasure by breaking her nutcracker doll near the end of the party.

This was the only somber moment in an otherwise jubilant scene that was made possible by the fun and technically fair dance sequences executed by both the young children, Clara’s friends and the adults. It was also made possible with some well-timed comedic moments such the side-eye Malcolm Miranda (Butler) gave to party guests, the assistant governess trying hopelessly to catch the coats being tossed her way and the adorable little party girl who tripped Fritz and then smiled gleefully to the audience.

After all the guest, leave Clara falls asleep, and when she awakens she is surrounded by numerous mice shaking their tails and cleaning their whiskers. At this point in the show the dancers began to integrate the set pieces into the action, which is something I have not seen done to this extent in other local Nutcracker productions. For example, mice jumped out of the grandfather clock, and four troublemaking rats ate cheese on the couch while watching the Nutcracker (Ciaran Barlow) and Rat King (Christian Otto) battle it out center stage. Benjamin Barr, Trey Hileman, Ashton Pham-Davis and John Scullion had the audience laughing out loud with their stage antics, which included playing a game of Whac-A-Mole with the little soldiers standing up in a straight line upstage and even added pop culture references with the Floss dance and Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown’s touchdown dance.

DBC’s Sophia Jackson and Chase Raine as the Snow Queen and King. Photo: David C. Harris/Times Frames Photography

Once the Rat King is defeated, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are led into the Kingdom of snow where the Snow Queen (Sophia Jackson) and the Snow King (Chase Raine) are waiting for them. It was a rough start for the couple with their first lift, where Raine was supposed to arm press Jackson over his head. The error created a beat of tension for the duo before they completed the phrase with a fishbowl dip. Still, the couple didn’t let the mishap affect the rest of their partnering, which included various assisted jete leaps and press up shoulder sits. Raine was mindful of his hand placement when he assisted Jackson through a number of pirouettes and promenade in attitude, while Jackson tended to purse her lips in concertation before any turn, leg extension or lift, but then completed every movement with refinement.

The snow corps was also elegant in their body lines and group formations and attacked the springy pointe work with matching enthusiasm. And while their footwork started out heavy with the opening bourrees, the sound of their pointe shoes lessened as the dance went on.
In the second act of the show, Clara and her Prince are welcomed to the Kingdom of Sweets by a troupe of angels in the form of the youngest company members dressed in floor length gold gowns and bright smiles. As the couple is guided to their candied-covered throne The Sugar Plum Fairy (New York City Ballet’s Sterling Hyltin) and her Cavalier (New York City Ballet’s Andrew Veyette) make a grand entrance to much applause.

The second half of the show maintained the quick pace of the first half with divertissements that played to the dancers’ strengths, including flexibility, stamina, control, musicality and self-expression. Miguel Falcon and Macy Wheeler with Luke Hileman, Carlie Jacobs, Christian Otto and Audrey Ratcliff kicked it off with a sassy, syncopated performance in the Spanish variation filled with skirt swishes, grand battements and musical partnering.

Terrence Martin returned as a guest artist for DBC in the Arabian dance again this year, where he showed off his athetic ability in a couple of back hand springs as Lydia Louder and Isabella Poscente rhythmically moved around him. The Chinese variation, led by Courtney Raine, featured intricate pointe work and matching fan work.

The show had not one but four Russian Babas who were then matched with four young ladies in a very loud and boisterous dance number filled with stomping, clapping and unexpected partnering sequences. The grandest moment came when the boys paired off and then linked arms with each other and then two girls on their outside arms and began to run in a circle until they had enough momentum to lift the girls off the floor.

In DBC’s rendition, Mother Ginger (Gloria Ewerz) directed over a dozen gingerbread children through a series of elementary ballet moves as they waved their wooden spoons in the air. The Pastry Chefs in the back waving the oversized gingerbread men on large sticks were also a nice touch.

The Reeds didn’t quite keep up with the punctuated nuances in their music, but Lead Reeds Veronica Britt, Kendyll Jacobs and Tatum Jenkins all delivered strong performances. Flower leads Charlotte Kelsey and Christian Otto lacked chemistry, which impacted some of the physical connections in their partnering sequences, but they were much more confidant in their solo sections. At the same time the flower corps were enchanting with their graceful arm placements, accented pointe work and picturesque ending pose.

All this glitz and glam paved the way for guest artists Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in the grand pas deux. The couple drew attention to the tender love story between the two characters with their purposeful hand and body connections as well as their expressive facials aimed at one another. Both sat in the pocket of the music, which heightened the audience’s admiration for the two professional dancers. Hyltin seems made for the Sugar Plum Fairy role with her breathy port de bra arms and risky pointe work. Veyette’s performance was a great example of what is expected from male ballet dancers in these classical roles.

In addition to his strength and dexterity in his solos, Veyette also showed the audinece what a strong support system he can be for Hyltin. Sometimes this meant stepping back while Hyltin performed a series of petit allegro jumps or simply walking in a circle while holding her hand. And of course Veyette was there to assist Hyltin when she jumped in the air and to effortlessly lift her over his head to the ooh’s and aah’s of the audience.

Audiences only get a taste of this type of partnering in most pre-  professional Nutcracker performances. But with a large cast that featured more than 20 young boys, teenagers and grown men, DBC’s Nutcracker performance gave the audience a unique opportunity to see traditional partnering moves in almost every dance sequence throughout the entire show, which then helped the female dancers to shine brighter.

» The second cast in Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performs Dec. 7-9 at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Beckles Dancing Company Announces Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival 2018

Kaleb and Lacy in Duettino April 2018
Beckles Dancing Company members Kaleb Smith and Layla Brent in Duettino. Photo: Supreme Dream Photography 

Mark your calendars! The 2018 [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) will take place Oct. 12-13 at Ann Richards STEAM Academy in Dallas.

Entitled Back Together AgainSDDF will feature a performance on Friday evening and master classes on Saturday with the Melissa M. Young, the newly appointed artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The whole week will include master classes at two public schools, plus an open master class, a roundtable discussion and performances. The performances will include several companies, groups and soloists, including Jordan Willis, currently at Point Park University and the 2018 recipient of the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship.

The goal of SDDF is to encourage collaborations between area artists and companies and to support each other’s growth and impact on the local community.

General admission: $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, members of Dance Council of North Texas and the Star System.

Master Class: $5.00 participants, $15.00 general

More information about the festival is available at www.becklesdancingcompany.org/events

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Aladdin, Habibi

MAGIC MOVES

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance takes us to a whole new world in Joshua L. Peugh’s Aladdin, Habibi, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

DCCD Company Member Chadi El-Khoury. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Dallas — Over the last seven years Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh has wowed us again and again with his insightful and unique perspective on the human condition as well as today’s social norms. He transfers this information to his dancers using a combo of classical and modern movements infused with his own special blend of grounded footwork, knee-bruising floor work and happenstance partnering. His aesthetic demands that the dancers be comfortable in their own skin, yet open and vulnerable on stage.

Peugh is asking this and much more from the company in his first evening-length creation, Aladdin, حبيبي, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, Oct. 11-14, at the Wyly Theatre. The immersive 75-minute production focuses on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures. The work is based on the folk tale of “The Story of Aladdin” or “The Wonderful Lamp,” first written in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights).

Peugh says this process all began while browsing through a book store one Sunday morning. “I found a copy of Arabian Nights and the first line in the book is once upon a time in China. See when most people think of Aladdin they think of the 1992 Disney movie, but Aladdin was actually Chinese and the story was added later on by Frenchman Antoine Galland.”

He continues, “This was one aspect of the work. The other being company member Chadi El-khoury’s personal story, which includes his mom bringing him and his brother to America when he was 11 years old. We go to his Mom’s house every Sunday and she always calls her children Habibi, an Arabic endearment like ‘sweetheart,’ and it’s why the title of the work is called Aladdin, Habibi. We put the term in Arabic to signal to these people that their voice is being represented here.”

Peugh also points out that the work will feature a new score from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a six-piece band. The production also includes costumes designed by Susan Austin and lighting by Bart McGeehon.

“I honestly didn’t know what the music was going to look like until I got started with the dancers, but we needed music before rehearsals began and so I ended up sending Brandon a list of plot points and asked him to make them musical numbers. We started off with 20 minutes of music and have gone back and forth a lot until we got to today’s product.”

In the work the dancers also double as stage hands, which was evident during the run through I saw at Preston Center Dance in Dallas last Wednesday morning. When not executing movement in the center, the dancers are constructing a tent out of canes and fabric, playing a game of cards and actively observing their surroundings, just to give a few examples.

Peugh explains, “We played a lot of theater games and one of them was about making yourself very present and aware and basing everything you do on things outside your circle so you are inviting things to happen instead of making them happen, which is already the principles that I run the company on in the first place, but we are now expanding that in different directions.”

The example he gives is in regard to the architecture of the room. Because this show follows a narrative, Peugh had his dancers do a lot of exercises that had to do with using what is there in the space. “Everything you see in the show is stuff that was laying around the studio. So, everything is sort of a found object and not a created one and that mirrors the world we are trying to create in this dance.”

There were a lot of moving parts just within the first 20 minutes that I got to see of the show, so I will try to break it down for you without giving too much away. Company veteran El-khoury portrays the role of Aladdin and we get to witness his inner struggle of questioning certain rules and customs of the culture that he was born into and then coming to America and trying to fit in here. El-khoury’s journey of discovery involves two genies: the genie of the ring played by Jaiquan Laurencin and the genie of the lamp played by Lena Oren.

El-khoury moves with laser focus and incredible control during rehearsal. Deep lunges, swirling arms and rhythmic hip isolations are at the crux of most of his individual movement phrases. Over the last two years he has put on some noticeable bulk and his technical execution and artistic depth continues to flourish with every new piece the company puts out.

“He works really hard to make this happen,” Peugh says about El-khoury’s artistic growth. “He still works a full time corporate job and he works really hard to dance the way he wants. He has grown incredibly in the last several years. He’s fighting for it and he really loves dancing and it give him pleasure so that’s ultimately where it all starts from in the first place.”

Peugh admits that the creative process for this show has been a completely new experience for him. He doesn’t like to give his dancers too many details because he likes to see how the dancers take the material and make it their own. So, sitting down with the dancers after every rehearsal to talk about the narrative is really a foreign concept for him. Peugh says on the second day of rehearsals he asked the dancers to bring in a list or make a presentation to the group about the question ‘What is Middle Eastern?’ and from there he had the dancers take their lists and make a movement phrase based off one plotline in the story, and that is how the choreography for the show came to fruition.

“It was a really organic process,” Peugh says. “This has been one of the most fun, creative processes I have ever had. I have learned a ton and I am super proud of the work everyone has done. Everyone has put in a lot more than a few hours of learning steps.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.