Tag Archives: Dallas Dance

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.

 

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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.

 

 

The Year in Dance

Here are my favorite new dance works of 2018!

Face What’s Facing You by Claude Alexander III for Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Anne Marie Bloodgood

This year saw the creative juices flowing from well-known local dance artists, including Joshua L. Peugh, Katie Cooper and Kimi Nikaidoh as well as guest artists who brought styles that had yet to be seen in Dallas such as Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary dance style and Gabrielle Lamb’s bird-like quality and theatricality. We also saw the resurgence of authentic jazz technique from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Artist-in-Residence Brandi Coleman and the expansion of Bombshell Dance Project’s technical fortitude in a new piece by visiting choreographer Amanda Krische.

A few of the works on my list this year also featured live accompaniment, including Cooper’s The Little Match Girl Passion, Nikaidoh’s The Face of Water and Peugh’s evening-length work Aladdin,حبيبي. We also saw more musical collaborations with local talent such as Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet with Verdigris Ensemble and Peugh with SMU alum Brandon Carson who worked on both Aladdin and Lamb’s Can’t Sleep But Lightly.

Relatability also played a big part in my decision making for this list, and while every piece made me feel something, the one that spoke to me the loudest was Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you! He managed to address a number of issues affecting individuals with humility and an uninhibited movement quality.

As far as what I’m looking forward to in the coming year I am excited to see what Bridget L. Moore is cooking up with her new company, B Moore Dance, as well as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s winter showcase, Avant Chamber Ballet’s Romance and Ragtime and Bruce Wood Dance’s gala fundraiser entitled Dances from the Heart. I am also looking forward to seeing Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs at the Winspear Opera House in March.

And my wonderful husband got me tickets for both Anastasia and Hamilton at Dallas Summer Musical in Fair Park. I am already counting down the days!!!!!

My dance writing goals for 2019 include talking and visiting with even more local dance companies and choreographers as well as attending some shows outside the dance realm, including plays, musicals and opera. Can’t wait to get started.

Until then, here are my favorite new works made in 2018:

 

The Little Match Girl Passion by Katie Cooper

Avant Chamber Ballet and Verdigris Ensemble

December

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Always one willing to break the mold when it comes to classical ballet, Katie Cooper paired her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the vocalists of choral outfit Verdigris Ensemble for a very sobering and elegantly danced performance of David Lang’s A Little Match Girl Passion at Moody Performance just a few weeks ago. Cooper took a very different approach for the choreography in this performance. Instead of bouts of group allegro and adagio movements Cooper had the corps act as scenery and story imagery, which only added to the balletic lines and character portrayal of lead dancer Juliann McAloon. ACB took a risk with such a somber show, but while the show brought to the surface the feelings of loss and sadness, it also presented airs of beauty and spiritual awakening.

 

Aladdin,حبيبي by Joshua L. Peugh

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

October

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Sixth Floor Studio Theatre, Dallas

Peugh stretched his artistic boundaries with his first evening-length work, Aladdin, Habib, which Dark Circles Contemporary Dance performed back in October as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Known for giving very few details about his pieces to his dancers, Peugh admitted Aladdin was a completely new experience for himself. He stepped outside his comfort zone with repurposed set design, strong character portrayals and live music. The movement was a blend of Peugh’s signature heavy-footed walking steps, twisty curvy floor work and subtle gesturing with more accented hips, body ripples and staccato movements typically associated with Middle Eastern dance cultures. The narrative is based on “The Story of Aladdin” as well as company member Chadi El-koury’s own personal story of coming to America with his family as a young boy, which he approached with calm determination and an emotional intensity we had yet to see from him.

 

Brandi Coleman’s And One More Thing… at SMU. Photo: Meadows Dance Ensemble

 

And One More Thing… by Brandi Coleman

Meadows Dance Ensemble

October

Southern Methodist University, Bob Hope Theatre, Dallas

One of the few jazz choreographers in the U.S. trained in Jump Rhythm Technique, Coleman wowed the audiences with her funky and loud jazz number, And One More Thing…, at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert in October. Originally created in 2015, Coleman added on three new sections with a grand finale that featured a large group of females dressed in casual street clothes moving and grooving to “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The piece played between the juxtaposition of stillness and hotness, which the dancers demonstrated through subtle gestures and sassy expressions as well as their sudden bursts energy and scat-singing, a fundamental element of Jump Rhythm Technique. It was fun and rambunctious and definitely a work worth seeing again.

 

LUNA by Amanda Krische

Bombshell Dance Project

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Repetitive phrases that travel every which way was the foundation for New York-based choreographer Amanda Krische’s LUNA, which was part of Bombshell Dance Project’s Like A Girl performance at Moody Performance Hall last June. Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tapped into their inner beasts in order to maintain their energy levels throughout the 10-minute work which started out with the two of them walking a specific number of steps before the monotonous phrase was broken up with gestures, pauses and abrupt floor work. The girls described the piece as a slow burn and they definitely had to dig deep as the intensity continued to build and the music switched from meditative to pulsating. It was a pleasant departure from the bombshells signature robust movement style.

 

Can’t Sleep But Lightly by Gabrielle Lamb

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

March

WaterTower Theatre, Addison

New York-based choreographer Gabrielle Lamb challenged the dancers’ mathematical skills as well as their artistic sensibilities in her piece for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s showing at WaterTower Theatre’s Detour Festival back in March. Methodical walks, balletic lines and alien-esque body shapes are woven throughout this cleverly crafted piece. What I liked most about this piece is its lack of physical partnering; instead the dancers relied on simple human contact to produce authentic connections with one another. It was a very trippy ride indeed and a complementary pairing of artistic minds.

 

The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

 

The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh

Avant Chamber Ballet

April

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Nikaidoh used a range of emotions and the highs and lows within Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece Tenebrae to drive the movement in her new work for Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2018 Women’s Choreography Project last April. Nikaidoh described the piece as more of an emotional journey focused primarily on hope and new beginnings, which was depicted in the longer, sweeter notes in the music. The combination of classical movements such as pas de deuxs and standard corps body lines and formations with Nikaidoh’s penchant for subtle musical gesturing and unlikely body shapes was a delightful juxtaposition for these talented dancers. Add in the dancers’ emotional conviction and you had a winning work.

 

Begin Again by Yin Yue

Bruce Wood Dance

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Bruce Wood Dance did an admirable job of presenting New York-based choreographer Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary techniques to audiences at its Harmony performance last June. The cyclical nature of the piece is an extension of Yue’s movement style that features liquid body rolls, continuous arm circles and wide, sweeping leg lifts and floor work. The piece showcased the bond of the group, a staple of many of Bruce Wood’s works, in which the dancers appeared as one living organism before breaking off into smaller pairs and individual movement sequences. A musical mover Yue’s choreography came across as one continuous line of thought that dips, daps, weaves and loop-de-loops around an individual’s personal space, which led to some unexpected and visually pleasing moments.

 

Face what’s facing you! by Claude Alexander III

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

May

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Dallas

Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackled their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series back in May. As a rising choreographer Alexander delivered a strong voice in this work, which centered around some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process. The piece was cathartic and heart pounding at the same time as the dancers meshed smooth walks and sustained lines with explosive jumps and multiple turns. Alexander didn’t waste any time getting to the theme of the piece and the action-packed stripped-down choreography was a breath of fresh air.

 

This list 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.

 

Preview: Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce Performance

Shades of Bruce

Bruce Wood Dance celebrates the many sides of the trailblazer in its fall performance, All Bruce, at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

Bruce Wood Dance in Local 126. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — It has been four years since his death, but Bruce Wood’s philosophy that “It is about the work” continues to drive Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) forward, which is apparent by the title of the company’s upcoming performance, All Bruce, Nov. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall. The program features four memorable Wood works, including Echoes of Enchantment (1999), Bolero (2001), Local 126 (2001) and The Edge of My Life So Far (2010), featuring Nycole Ray of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The performance also marks a first for Joy Atkins Bollinger in her new role as BWD’s artistic director and is really a reunion of sorts for those of us who were in the audience at the Montgomery Arts Center for Wood’s triumphant return to the Dallas dance scene in June 2011. Viewers were in awe of the talent of company veterans Kimi Nikaidoh, Harry Feril and Albert Drake who would later band together to help keep Wood’s memory and movement aesthetic alive after the choreographers untimely passing in 2014. Today, most of the company veterans have moved on and a new batch of talent is now working to maintain Wood’s legacy.

I got the chance to sit down with Bollinger a couple of weeks ago at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery and talk to her about how she is adjusting to her new role and how the newer dancers are acclimating to company culture.

“I was a little concerned when I saw how many new company members we have this season,” Bollinger says. “I just knew we had so many changes ahead of us with our infrastructure and our staff and then losing some of our veteran dancers, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by the intelligent, hardworking and earnest nature of these dancers.”

She adds, “We’re to the point now where almost the entire company is working toward this man’s legacy who they have never meet and it’s just their understanding of what was important to him and how that affected others that draws them in.”

The new company members include Lauren Hibbard, Lauren Perry, Chad Vaught, Seth York and apprentice Arden Leone. They will be dancing alongside Adrian Aguirre, Jillyn Bryant, Olivia Rehrman, Gabriel Speiller and Megan Storey. Emily Drake, the most senior company member, will only dance in Bolero for this performance.

So, the responsibility of articulating Wood’s movement really falls on Bollinger’s shoulders. An incredibly daunting task, as anyone who had seen Wood in the studio can tell you. “Bruce had this uncanny way of not speaking,” Bollinger says. “And the feeling in the room or the feeling coming off him was enough for the dancers to understand where he was headed with choreography. And then when you weren’t sure about that from him you could turn to the veteran dancers that had worked with him for many years and ask them for help.”

Watching Bollinger give notes to the dancers after they ran through Local 126 it’s obvious she has a gift for words when it comes to telling the dancers what she needs from then. “A more crisp arrival,” “sharpen your focus” and “brighter energy through the legs” were a few of the corrections Bollinger gave as well as the ever present “have fun.”

But what Bollinger says she spent the most time discussing with the dancers was Wood’s emphasis on the group dynamics within his works. “The one thing I was focused on for this performance was the importance he placed on the group. If you look at Local 126 there is no partnering in the entire thing. Bruce would say he could choreograph to Bach in his sleep pretty easily so he wanted to challenge himself by doing no partnering for this entire piece.”

Bollinger adds, “The dancers needed to understand that you don’t get the lift and fly relationship. They’re going to have a different feeling of their bodies working in unison and as one and in sculpture and line and the architecture of the piece is going to have to create that. That’s been something we talked about a lot for this show because we’re going to need that in every dance, especially in Bolero.”

Before starting Bolero Bollinger says she and Nikaidoh sat down and talked through their memories of the dance and what they remembered Wood expressing so clearly. And through this conversation they were able to reconnect with the feeling and the finer details of the work. “It’s hard because in this day and age, when the second generation perceives something as sensual they automatically think it’s a celebration of sexuality, but it’s not. Bolero is very dark, almost that to the detriment of every person on stage.”

She explains, “At the same time as these women are wielding the power over the men and manipulating each other it’s also building toward a chaos. Everyone is walking in these courtship manners and the women are wearing ball gowns and the men are in tuxes, yet in complete irony the dancing women are in lingerie.”

Bollinger adds, “There’s so many layers here as to what is happening and at the start of this piece Bruce told us, ‘You know, this isn’t the party. This is 3 a.m. and the party has already happened’.”

Come experience Bolero and other Wood works at Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce performance at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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.

 

Preview: Texas Ballet Theater’s Cleopatra

Dancing Queen

Carolyn Judson on her role as the Queen of the Nile in Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cleopatra in Fort Worth this weekend.

Carolyn Judson as Cleopatra. Photo: Steven Visneau

Fort Worth — With her girl-next-door looks and sweet disposition, Carolyn Judson is the obvious choice to play the female lead in story ballets such as GiselleCinderellaRomeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker. In addition to her physical attributes, Judson’s penchant for softer, more pliable body positions, delicate foot work and beautifully drawn out leg extensions also make for easy casting decisions. But this weekend she will be trading in these sweet roles for something more seductive in Texas Ballet Theater’s (TBT) Cleopatra at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

Transforming into this powerful temptress has been a fun challenge for Judson who also played the part in TBT’s 2009 production of Cleopatra. But because back then she only got the role last minute, Judson says she was more focused on learning the steps than working on the characterization, something she hopes to rectify this time around.

“This time around I really wanted to try and capture that strong woman human quality that I think is Cleopatra,” Judson says.

As to how she accomplished this task Judson says timing both in the literal sense and where she is artistically speaking played a pivotal role in the rehearsal process. “Well, for one thing I have had more time to devote to the character. I also have more experience to pull from and richer character development than I did years ago, which has really helped because this role is so emotionally draining.”

Judson is the type of dancer who learns by doing the movement as it materializes from the choreographer. So, when rehearsing for Cleopatra she says she retains movement best when she is copying what TBT Artistic Director Ben Stevenson is doing alongside her. But when it comes to understanding a certain feeling or emotion, Judson says she will usually watch Stevenson from the front so she doesn’t miss any of his nuances.

For this weekend’s performance Judson will be reunited with her former Cleopatra partner Andre Silva, whom she says she used to partner with all the time before he left the company only to return a couple of years ago. “Other than doing the sugar plum fairy variation in The Nutcracker last season this is our first full-length ballet together since he has come back, and we’re just really excited to be working together again. That we have been building on things that we’ve experienced in the past 16 years here has made our bond even stronger and we’re really enjoying our work together.”

Another beautiful bonus of TBT’s Cleopatra performance is the live accompaniment provided by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya. Judson points out that the majority of rehearsals have been to recorded music and it wasn’t until two weeks prior to the show that the conductor came to the studio to lay the music out on the piano.

“This way he can get used to our tempos and we can get used to doing something that’s not going to be always the same.” She adds, “This is important because it does takes quite a bit of rearranging your brain when dancing to live music since our minds kind of go on autopilot with a recording a lot of the time. So, it’s really helpful for us to have those two weeks before to get used to the music for both the dancers and the conductor.” She also notes that the company will not get to perform with the full orchestra until the Wednesday before the show.

A fun fact I learned about Judson is that during performances with live music she likes to find moments in the show to make eye contact with the conductor. “I think there are times when it’s appropriate to look at the conductor during a performance. For example, whenever I’m taking a bow I end up looking at him as sort of a thank you because this is such a nice collaboration between musicians and artists and so it’s much more enjoyable for us to feel like we are all working on the same project and not just two separate entities.” She adds, “I don’t look at the conductor all the way through the ballet, but I think there are times when you can really bring him in to the action on stage.”

It’s hard to talk to any professional ballet dancer nowadays without bringing up the lawsuit against New York City Ballet and Principal Chase Finlay and other scandals involving the company over the last year. With this in mind I wanted to know what steps, if any, has TBT taken to ensure that its dancers and staff feel safe and supported. “Actually at the end of last season we did have a company come in and work with us on just being mindful of how we talk to each other and how we treat each other. We also have our school here in the same building and just being aware of treatment of the children as well especially since some of the company dancers are also teachers at the school.”

She adds, “So yes we did go through a program with tests and educational information just to make sure that everyone is on the same page. And we are so lucky that we have a really great working environment here and we all consider each other family and in fact most of us are married to other people in the company.”

You can see Judson in Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cleopatra Sept. 28-30 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Choreographer Bridget L. Moore Establishes New Dallas-based Dance Company.

Bridget L. Moore has thrown her hat into the professional dance arena in Dallas with the announcement of her newly-founded contemporary dance company, B. Moore Dance!

1519375871-March-dance-roundup-Bridget-L-Moore
Bridget L. Moore (second from left) rehearses Following Echoes with Bruce Wood Dance. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Smart, innovative, familiar, yet worldly. Those are the words that come to mind when I think of Bridget L. Moore and the pieces she has put out since moving back to Dallas in 2017 to take on the role of artistic director for Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT). In particular her work, Uncharted Territory, which started out as duet for the 2017 TITAS Command Performance and was later turned into a full company piece for DBDT’s Director’s Choice performance the following fall.

Unfortunately, Moore was released from her position after only one season with DBDT for reasons that still remain a mystery. (What do you think happened?)

Since then I have been keeping my fingers crossed that Moore would be able to find enough creative and profitable outlets around town to keep her here in Dallas. And it appears she will be staying, at least for the foreseeable future, after announcing on her Facebook page on Friday that she has started her own contemporary dance company, B. Moore Dance Company. (Seriously, can that name be anymore perfect! I am all for more dance in Dallas baby!)

With deep connections to Dallas I’m sure she had no problems finding talented individuals willing to work with her. After all, she has taught and set works for so many local arts institutions over the years, including DBDT, University of Texas at Dallas and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts where she was also the artistic director of the World Dance Ensemble. Reading through the dancers’ bios on her website, bmooredance.org, almost every member of the company is a graduate of Booker T. and has worked with Moore in some artistic capacity. B. Moore’s troupe is comprised of Timothy Amirault, Taylor Boyland, Lindzay Duplessis, Hailey Harding, Alyssa Harrington, Xavier Santafield, Aminah Maddox and Chaslen Osler.

Now, I’m sure everyone is asking themselves if there is even any room left for another contemporary dance company here in the Metroplex. And my answer would be yes because this is Bridget L. Moore we are talking about here! Firstly, she already has an established fan base thanks to her local roots and years of extensive training, educating and choreographing for many local arts organizations. And then there is the global aspect in her artistic voice, which comes from her international dance studies, and is something that no other contemporary dance company in the area will be able to match.

So, congrats Bridget L. Moore on your accomplishment and I can’t wait to see your first performance!

 

 

 

 

Avant Chamber Ballet Presents World Premiere at Holiday Performance in Southlake, TX

You can always count on Avant Chamber Ballet to get you into the holiday spirit without sending you into a Christmas coma!

ACB Nutcracker Eugene Barnes III and Yulia Ilina PC Sharen Bradford
Company Members Eugene Barnes III and Yulia Ilina. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Known as a nutcracker rebel, Katie Cooper of Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) likes to steer clear of traditional Nutcracker productions. Instead she likes to focuses on other seasonal tales to create memorable holiday performances such as A Ballet Christmas Carol, Holiday Celebration and Nutcracker: Short and Suite.

ACB will once again be performing its Nutcracker: Short and Suite in Southlake, TX, on Nov. 15, but this time the company has a special treat for viewers. In addition to its Nutcracker rendition, ACB will also present the world premiere of Cooper’s Winter from Vivaldi’s “The Seasons.” The one-hour family-friendly performance will feature ACB’s 16 professionally-trained dancers, Cezanne String Quartet, plus new costumes and choreography. Cooper also points out that this will be the only professional dance production in the mid-cities area this year.

“This performance is a perfect introduction to live classical music and dance,” Cooper says in a recent press release. “Vivaldi’s ‘The Seasons’ is one of the most recognized pieces of music, but to see it with choreography and dance takes it to another level for the viewer. Nutcracker: Short and Suite is the second half of the evening with the best parts of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and all the characters that you love.”

The performance is presented by Apex Arts League and ticket information is available at www.apexartsleague.com.