WOW! I can not believe two of the industry’s most in demand choreographers will be joining the dance faculty at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts for the 2017-2018 school year. Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden really started the contemporary dance movement with their founding of Complexions Contemporary Ballet in 1994. The idea was to reinvent dance using a mix of methods, styles and cultures, which have lead them to create some groundbreaking dance works, including Higher Ground (2001), Moody Booty Blues (2006), Cry Me a River (2009) and Moon Over Jupiter (2010).
I got to speak with Desmond back in 2013 for TITAS’ annual Command Performance, which also marked his last season of dancing on stage. I was blown away with his openness both in the interview and on stage. It’s no wonder he has been called one of the greatest dancers of his generations. His extensive dance career includes The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater and Ballet Frankfurt under the direction of William Forsythe. He has also appeared with the San Francisco Ballet, Royal Swedish Opera Ballet, Washington Ballet and many others. Desmond is a Tony-nominated actor and the first black American principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre.
Dwight Rhoden started dancing at the age of 17 and has performed with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Les Ballet Jazz De Montreal and as a principal dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Under his and Richardson’s direction, Complexions has become a dance institution that is much in demand. Their need to create work that delivers a profound passion for diversity has really framed its vision and become the company’s hallmark. Rhoden is a beneficiary recipient of various honors and awards, including the New Yor Foundation for the Arts Award, The Choo San Goh Award for Choreography and The Ailey School’s Apex Award in recognition of his extensive contributes to the field of dance.
I have meet both of them and I can honestly say they are the most down to earth individuals I have ever met in the dance industry. Both have strong viewers when it comes to presenting work and are very poetic with their descriptions of what they do. But, alas, I have never had the opportunity to take class with either one of them so you SMU dance students are pretty darn luckly!
I can’t watch to see the piece they set on the students!!
The duo will be teaching advanced ballet classes in the fall and spring and will also be choreographing a new work for the students.
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group returns to its zany storylines and feminist roots in Donkey Beach, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Dallas — Over the last six years Danielle Georgiou has made a name for herself in the Dallas arts community for her unique collaborations with local singers, actors and musicians as well as for putting out work that is real and relevant and always pack a punch. Her use of originxal music, tanztheater (expressionist dance) and dark humor to bring attention to taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism is both disconcerting and engaging at the same time. You can see all these elements at work in Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) newest production, Donkey Beach, which premieres June 22-25 at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Inspired by the beach party movies of the 1960s featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Georgiou and her team, including Justin Locklear and Ruben Carrazana, have created a similar setting where the sun always shines, the songs are about bikinis and surf boards and the teenagers say things like “gee whiz” and “cowabunga” while busting out classic ’60s dance moves like The Swim and The Mashed Potato. The concept for the show came to Georgiou while watching Disney’s Teen Beach 2 one evening. “I really liked the idea of being transported to a different time and place,” Georgiou says. “I also love the ’60s because it was the first time that women really had a voice in society and were comfortable in their own skin.” Georgiou adds that she’s also a fan of the femme fatale characters in the movies from the ’40s and ’50s.
The structure of the show is a musical with songs and dances woven in between dialogue and modern dance techniques such as weight sharing, concaved body shapes and pedestrian movements. “This is definitely a musical, but it doesn’t have the typical happily ever after at the end. I mean boy meets girl and the two of them kind of fall in love, but then everything starts to fall apart. There is no happy ending in this musical.” Georgiou doesn’t tell me this to spoil the ending of the run through I was about to see of Donkey Beach at Eastfield College in Dallas last Saturday afternoon. Actually, Locklear alludes to this fact multiple times in his opening monologue, which explains how Donkey Beach came into existence.
To sum it up, a seahorse enchantress and an evil gin—“it’s an evil genie,” band member Trey Pendergrass shouts out multiple times throughout the show—had a falling out and in her anger the enchantress turned the genie into a donkey. Heartbroken and looking like a literal ass the donkey creates a magical place where everyone is happy all the time. Locklear and the band then lead us into the opening scene, which depicts a bunch a miserable teenagers at a summer camp where it rains all the time. With Locklear’s urging the lead characters Jimmy (Matt Clark) and Susie (Debbie Crawford) drink from a bottle of donkey water that then opens up the portal to Donkey Beach. You can definitely draw some parallels between this story and that of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which also includes magical beings and a remote island.
The music for the show has a Beach Boys vibe with lyrics about bikinis, surf boards and beach parties, which will be performed live by Locklear (vocals and bass guitar), Pendergrass (percussion) and Cory Kosel (vocals and guitar). Like all of Georgiou’s productions, she uses these original tunes as a means to poke fun at specific societal norms and stereotypes with the ultimate goal of opening up the audiences’ eyes to certain issues in a non-threatening and usually ridiculously funny way. An example would be Crawford’s solo with a ukulele, “because of course she can play the ukulele,” Pendergrass states as he brings the instrument over to her. The song starts off light about young love, but then turns heavy when she questions why society makes excuses for men when it comes to domestic abuse and how society typically looks the other way when it happens. The song ends and the performers are quiet for a minute, allowing for the viewers to absorb the message, before Will Acker jumps up and says, “Dude you killed the mood. This is a bonfire!” With that cue the band starts playing and dance madness ensues. You also have to appreciate the irony of Carrazana portraying a woman complete with a grass skirt and coconut bra in a movie genre known for its plastic images.
Later in the show you will notice the performers make vague references about world events such as mass tragedies and natural disasters as well as smaller, more personal tragedies. When asked why she didn’t name specific tragedies like the recent bombing in Manchester, England, Georgiou responded that she didn’t want to limit the show to just the here and now. “I want it to represent all time periods, not just what is happening today. I want the show to mean something in a universal way.”
Georgiou loosely describes the show as having three acts: the first being the gloomy camp scene where we meet the teenage characters; the second on Donkey Beach where the characters are transformed into 1960s talking and dancing beach kids; and the final scene between the enchantress and the donkey, which Georgiou says contains the meat of the show. “This is where the bottom just drops out of the show. Everything before this is just pretense.” I don’t want to give the twist away, but I left the rehearsal pondering to myself if given a choice would I rather live in miserable reality or in a joyful lie.
Dallas DanceFest has announced its 2017 line up which shows a lot of hometown pride.
Wow! It is hard to believe that this year marks the 4th installment of Dallas DanceFest (DDF) which was created in 2014 under the guidance of arts patron Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas. It looks like the festival’s mission of presenting high caliber and well-rounded dance performances will continue this year with a program that features all the major local players as well as the largest showing of pre-professional companies to date and a handful of relatively unknown dance companies from around and outside the Metroplex.
Let’s start with the bigwigs in Dallas dance. For the fourth straight year Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre will be featured at DDF as well as their smaller counterparts DBDT: Encore! and the Texas Ballet Theater School.
We will also see pieces from some repeat dance companies, including Dark Circle Dance Company, Contemporary Ballet Dallas, Indique Dance Company, Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble and Houston-based NobleMotion Dance.
DFF 2017 will also feature a number of first timers, including Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Center for Ballet Arts, Impulse Dance Project, Uno Mas and Grandans. Southern Methodist University Meadows dance student’s Kat Barragan and Arden Leone will also be showcasing work for the first time at this year’s festival.
I am also pleased to see so many familiar pre-professional ballet companies on this year’s roaster, including Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX), Ballet Frontier of Texas (Fort Worth, TX), Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX), Dallas Ballet Company (Dallas, TX) Royale Ballet Dance Academy (Dallas, TX) and LakeCities Ballet Theatre (Lewisville, TX). I have seen these companies perform a variety of dance styles from classical and neo-classical to more contemporary and jazz movements and I am eager to see how these aspiring professionals handle the pressure of sharing the stage with the more seasoned artists on this year’s program.
We have also seen a surge in the number of dance festivals occurring around Texas over the last couple of years so, it didn’t surprise me to see the Rhythm and Fusion Festival and Wanderlust Dance Project in this year’s line up. If you’re interested in reading more about the rise of dance festivals in Texas then you should read Nichelle Suzanne’s 2015 article for Arts+Culture magazine entitled Talent, Training, Festival & More: Fueling Contemporary Dance in Texas.
The 2017 Dallas DanceFest will take place Sept. 2-3 at the Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. More information about the festival can be found on the Dance Council of North Texas website.
Choreographer Brian Brooks on his movement language, penchant for speed and the Dallas debut of his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, presented by TITAS.
Dallas — Many successful choreographers’ careers have started with a simple question. For Brian Brooks it was how to convey the emotions and experiences of running a marathon through the use of movement. By investigating the elements of running such as pace, duration and the feelings of inspiration and achievement commonly associated with the activity, Brooks has created a movement language that is fast-paced, compelling and uniquely human.
Originally from Hingham, Mass., Brooks moved to New York City in 1994. He started his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, in 2002, which has performed in venues throughout the United States, South Korea and Europe. While this is the company’s first time in Dallas (presented by TITAS), it is not their first show in Texas. The company has performed in Austin and San Antonio during previous seasons. The company has also enjoyed repeat engagements at Dance Theater Workshop, Wesleyan University, North Carolina State University, SUMMERDANCE Santa Barbara and Alfred University.
As a dancer Brooks has performed with choreographers Eun-Me Ahn, Christopher Williams and Elizabeth Streb for whom he has also worked as a rehearsal coach and technique instructor. His most recent honor was an award from the National Dance Project supporting the development and performance tour of his work, BIG CITY (2012). Brooks has been on the Dance Department faculty of both Princeton University and Rutgers University-Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has also been an Adjunct Associate Professor of Dance at Barnard College of Columbia University and a guest artist at the University of Maryland, Illinois State University and Rutgers University, among others.
TheaterJones asks Brian Brooks about his distinct movement style, the creation of his signature solo, I’m Going To Explode, and the diverse program he has put together for his company’s first appearance in Dallas. The Brian Brooks Moving Company makes it Dallas debut Nov. 21-22 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, part of TITAS’ 2014-15 season.
TheaterJones: How are you feeling about your company’s Dallas debut this weekend?
Brian Brooks: I am really excited to bring our show to Dallas. We have performed in San Antonio and Austin. Not exactly Dallas, but my artistic work in Texas has started growing and I can’t wait to present to audiences here in town. I have a group of eight dancers that I am bringing with me and two of them are actually Booker T. Washington HSPVA alums. I have these two performing in some of my newest dance works so it will be a nice homecoming for them.
What would you say distinguishes your work from other New York-based contemporary choreographers?
One of the things I am distinctly known for in contemporary dance circles is speed. We have five different pieces on the program and they are some of my favorites. Two are newer pieces, but most of them have been performed at different venues around the country. I think the variety and the breadth of the works in this collection is exciting and one of the things that stands out is my penchant for fast-paced movement. Three of the works are larger company works and I make very complex partnering sequences in them. The dancers’ joke that they can’t rehearse any of the material without everyone in the company there because they rely so heavily on interacting, touching, grabbing, catching, pushing, pulling into all the other company members several times a second. Without all the bodies there you can’t really practice the material. So, there’s an intricacy in my group work and a speed to it that is very distinct. I am also very interested in trying to expose effort in dance. So, rather than mask it I created an aesthetic that really pronounces the effort. I think it brings the effort and the intent of all the performers to your focus.
Do these qualities reflect your own personality?
I think I’m a fast-moving kind of guy. I like to have many projects, like many of us do, going on at one time. I also like being very active. You know, I struggled for years in both my classical and modern dance training with the question of what dance really means. For me, part of it is just my personality and I think the show represents the many different aspects of my interests and my being. I have also dedicated my life to creating dances that I find compelling and the things that keep my attention often are moving very quickly. So, I create work that moves at rapid fire speed to keep your attention and to move through movement at a pace that is similar to the wings of a hummingbird or the speed of an Amtrak train. It’s like the poetics of movement I suppose. Part of it is who I am, but a lot of it is also trying to craft movement situations that are compelling within themselves and then it provides meaning from that. There’s a lot of metaphors in my work. There’s a lot of visual imagery. It’s not story driven, but it definitely is interpersonal. It’s about community and the kinetic and physical relationships that we experience all the time.
Your solo, I’m Going To Explode, has been a signature piece in your repertoire for many years. What makes the work so appealing to mass audiences?
I do occasionally call it my signature solo because I have had it now for seven years. This is the longest I have done a piece so far and I am the only one who has performed it. I actually made it in this tiny little space in New York. This was just a really introspective, creative period for me. I usually focus my attention on my company so, it was unusual for me to focus my time on a solo. It was a turning point for me as a choreographer and over the last seven years it has become a work that people automatically associate with me.
I had a costume designer that I have worked with before create the suit that I wear. Like most of my pieces I started with the choreography and then went back and read the piece. Once I grasped the physics and physicality of what’s going on than I constructed these movement sequences that resemble a tidal wave of motion. Then I match the movement with different music and find ways to heighten the different themes that are coming through. Regarding the solo, it is quite convulsive and violent and then I paired with a song that is hilarious. The contrast of those two things together lightened the piece and made it really self-aware and tongue in cheek. And I feel the suit really humanized the work.
You have been performing your solo for seven years. How has time affected the way you perform the piece?
I like aging. Every time I perform the solo it’s like revisiting this physical practice that is similar to going to yoga. I am still doing the same positions and the same breathing pattern, but through this process I can reflect on what has changed in my body over the years. And the more time passes the more interesting that piece becomes to me. I have had offers from people who want to buy it, but I am not ready to give it to anyone just yet. I still have a lot of mileage left.
How do you balance your role as choreographer and performer?
A lot has changed within the last three years of my career. I am working full time as a choreographer now and touring most of the year. That change has been really astounding to me. But this is the time that I have also been having more trouble being in the work and making the work. So, in this show I perform two pieces. One is my solo and the other is the duet excerpt from my work Motor. I am very dedicated to performing. Doing something very deep and personal like my solo and having that be a work that people are interested in seeing is really reaffirming to me. It made me realize where to keep my focus when making new work.
Tell me about the newer works in the program, Division and Torrent?
You will be some of the first audiences to see these new works and I am very excited about presenting them. These pieces came out of intense work with the dancers over a period of months where we felt like we discovered a movement language. The form you will see in my pieces pulls a lot of influences together. You might see hints of line, shape, form and interaction that may remind you of other choreographers, but they kind of come-and-go and get bent as they need to be. Intricacy and partnerships are at the fore-front of these pieces. The teamwork is unbelievable. I have a nice group of dances right now and it’s special to watch them getting better at working together.
Division and Torrent share some similarities such as the way I make groups dependent on one another. So, the construction of the group works follow that co-dependency and cause and effect mentality. There’s also no traditional gender spilt in my work. In a lot of these pieces I have the women partnering the women and the men partnering the men so the action shifts your understanding of the relationship.
Torrent is to Max Richter’s recomposed score of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. You can’t recognize the Four Seasons in the piece. He used it as source material and literally cut it all up and selected which parts he wanted to use. So, the phrases and melodies are cut down and used very intelligently. It’s for the eight dancers in the company and it closes the show. It’s very fluid and momentous. It really sweeps you away. Division has an original score by Jerome Begin that is very different from Torrent. It’s not melodic at all. He’s taken the sound recording of the movement in the dance and has added in keys and chords. He has really orchestrated physical action. I feel that the variety in the program allows you to keep looking at things differently as the evening goes.