AKA: Ballet offers up a unique experience for both viewers and performers at the Latino Cultural Center tomorrow night.
From left: Carter Alexander, Hailey von Schlehenried, and Albert Drake of aka: Ballet. Photo: AKA: Ballet
Dallas — Hailey von Schlehenried is one of many local choreographers reaping the benefits of the changes that have been made to the Dallas dancescape over the last several years. Von Schlehenried first caught the public’s eye at Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2017 Women’s Choreography Project (WCP) and then again at Dallas DanceFest (DDF) later that summer. She has also recently been asked to set a piece for Wanderlust Dance Project, which marks another first for the blossoming artist.
It was at DDF where von Schlehenried met Carter Alexander (associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts) who asked if she would be interested in doing a collaboration the following summer. One thing lead to another and von Schlehenried is currently in the final stages of two new works, which will be presented alongside new pieces by Alexander and Albert Drake of Bruce Wood Dance at AKA: Ballet’s premiere performance at the Latino Cultural Center this Friday.
The performance will feature many familiar dancers, including Kaitlyn McDermitt, formerly with Avant Chamber Ballet; Alyssa Harrington, formerly with Dallas Black Dance Theatre; Alizah Wilson, Adrian Aquirre of Bruce Wood Dance; and Riley Moyano, Amanda Fairweather and Alex Danna of Texas Ballet Theater.
“We are so happy to have these dancers and they have been working so tirelessly in preparation for the show,” von Schlehenried says.
For this performance von Schlehenried has created two pieces: a classical pointe number and a more contemporary work. She describes the pointe work as fluid and free, and in contrast the contemporary work is visually darker, which meshes well with its theme about sinning. “I was really inspired by the music for the contemporary piece which is really centered on the idea of sin. The dancers pass around this scarf throughout the dance, which represents this idea of passing off our sins to someone else,” von Schlehenried says. “And the pointe piece is all about letting go and getting the dancers outside their classical boxes so that they appear to be surrendering to a situation.”
Von Schlehenried says her dancers played a big part in the creative process for both pieces. “I really wanted this to be a collaboration so I had the dancers brainstorm with me, which really makes them feel like they have a say and also relaxes the dancers. They all possess this amazing creative energy which helped make the process so much easier.”
Von Schlehenried is especially close with McDermitt who has had a role in almost every work she has put out since 2013. She even goes as far as calling McDermitt her lucky charm. “It just seems that every time I am working on a special project Kaitlyn is always in it. She is such a lovely person and is so into what she is doing, which really makes her a positive force for me and the arts community.”
McDermitt has definitely been paving a way for herself in the Dallas arts scene with gigs, including a couple of seasons with Katie Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet, performances at local festivals such as Plano Dance Festival and DDF as well as partaking in local arts events, including Dallas RAW and AKA: Ballet. She also teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and is a member of Ballet North Texas. She graduated from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts with a BFA in dance performance in 2012.
You can see McDermitt and the other performers in von Schlehenried’s, still untitled, works this Friday evening at the Latino Cultural Center. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com. You can make a donation to the show at www.fracturedatlas.org.
I was starting to wonder if Dallas DanceFest was even going to happen this year, but my reservations were laid to rest last week when the Dance Council of North Texas announced on its Facebook page the dance companies that will be participating in this year’s festival, which has been strategically renamed Dallas Dances.
The festival has received criticism from the beginning about its focus on mainly local dance companies and for its inclusion of pre-professionals from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Local Dance Critic Manuel Mendoza touched on these sore points in his review of last year’s Dallas DanceFest, which boasted the question “Why doesn’t Dallas have the dance festival that it deserves?”
In his review Mendoza basically says that by including the pre-professional dance studios, high schools and university programs in the area the festival is actually doing a disservice to the more established dance companies in the area.
He writes, “North Texas professional companies are the ones putting the area on the dance map even as they struggle to find suitable places to perform in a town starved of small, affordable venues. They are the groups competing for public and private grants so they can aim high, so they can someday pay their dancers something close to what their New York counterparts earn.”
He continues, “Most important, they are the ones doing the most complex, interesting work.”
What I think people are overlooking is that the mission of the Dance Council is not to exclusively support and promote just the professionals in the area, but also the up and coming professionals that stem from the local studios, performing arts schools and universites. And I think this is where the mission of Dallas DanceFest starts to get murky. Is the festival suppose to only highlight the professionals in the area? Or is its main target the young professionals and giving them a unique performance opportunity?
Apparently festival organizers have decided it’s a little bit of both if this year’s line up is any indicator.
I think the Dance Council has come to realize that they should stick true to their overall mission, which is fostering and promoting every type of dance and dancer in the Metroplex and I believe the name change better reflects the vibrancy and diversity of the Dallas dance community.
With that said, here are the dance companies performing at this year’s Dallas Dances:
AKA Ballet’s first performance will feature new works by Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander, but they need your help!
Summer is usually a slow time for dancers as most dance companies take a break during the hot summer months to prepare for the next season. And most dance schools have changed their schedule to focus primarily on dance camps, which leaves many teachers with less hours and a smaller income. It is especially hard for freelance dancers to find work during the summer as the job market comes to a standstill and won’t pick up again till September when Nutcracker preparations begin.
With all this in mind three local choreographers are looking to change things up this summer with a new choreography project!
Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander have joined forces to create AKA Ballet, a new choreographic endeavor which features six new works to be presented at the Dallas Latino Cultural Center in July. The catch is the three creators are hoping to raise the funds needed to pay the dancers, musicians and technical crew prior to show, thus making the event FREE to attendees.
A lot of dance companies in the area have turned to crowdfunding to finance certain projects, performances or specific individuals. I typically just scroll past these posts on Facebook, but something about AKA Ballet’s project made me pause and click on their link https://www.gofundme.com/akaballet
I ended up contributing to this project because I have seen work produced by all three choreographer so, I know they will give us something that is high caliber as well as aesthetically moving and stylistically diverse. If you are not familiar with these three individuals: Drake is a member of Bruce Wood Dance and has produced two works for the company, Whispers (2015) and Chasing Home (2017). Von Schlehenried teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and her choreography has been featured at Dallas DanceFest 2017 and Avant Chamber Ballet’ Women’s Choreography Project. Alexander is the associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts and has set work on local dance companies like Contemporary Ballet Dallas. He also served as school prinicpal at the Miami City Ballet School for seven years before returning to Dallas.
When asked about the idea of free admission von Schlehenried says, “We really just want people to embrace the art and come see what we are doing and tell us what they think. We also want to provide more job opportunities for those working in the arts community which is why we are asking for donations so we can also pay for the music and the lighting and the theater as well as the dancers.”
She adds, “Carter is really the one that got the ball rolling on this project. He approached me last year after Dallas DanceFest about doing some kind of collaboration next summer and of course I said YES! I just think this is an awesome idea and hopefully it can become something bigger in the future.”
Drake is also pumped for the opportunity to create work outside his comfort zone. He writes on this Facebook page, “I’m excited to challenge myself on a new front and dive into an experience I didn’t know was possible. The chance to work with some really talented individuals with the freedom of expression is the dream baby.”
Hailey also hinted that the three of them might be working on a piece together in addition to their own individual works. I am interested to see what a classical, modern and Flamenco dancer can come up with.
As the time draws closer I will be making visits to rehearses to see how the collaboration is going as well as get a sneak peak at the works, which I will then share on my blog. So, please mark your calendars for July 29th and don’t forget to donate!
The Dallas native on coming home and starting Don’t Ask Why Dance Company, which makes its world premiere this Friday.
Plano — As in any industry, the Dallas dance market has seen its fair share of highs and lows since I moved to the city almost a decade ago. In the two years following the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2009, the Dallas dance community saw an impressive rise in the number of professional dance companies in the area, including Avant Chamber Ballet, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Bruce Wood Dance. The dance scene’s next noticeable growth spurt happened around 2014 with the influx of more local dance festivals such as Dallas DanceFest, Rhythm in Fusion Festival and later, Wanderlust Dance Project. Since then the dance market has plateaued, with many dance companies and organizations struggling to find cost effective ways to increase funding and ticket sales without disrupting their bottom lines.
Now, the Dallas dance market is about due for another growth spurt and I believe it will come in the form of fresh talent like Avery-Jai Andrews, who grew up in Dallas but left to pursue dancing elsewhere and is now returning home to start her own dance company. Like many serious dancers here in Dallas, Andrews attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before being accepted into New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating from NYU in 2014, Andrews decided to move overseas where she danced professionally with artists in Italy, Israel and Germany.
In 2016 Andrews made the decision to come home to Dallas and start making her own work, which is how her dance company, Don’t Ask Why, came into existence. The company’s first performance is this Friday, with performances at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., at the White Theater, part of the state-of-the-art facilities that make up the new Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano. Titled GESTALT, which is a German word meaning an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts, the 45-minute piece features Italian-based contemporary dance company Keyhole Dance Project.
TheaterJones talked to Avery-Jai Andrews to find out more about her European contemporary dance style, the lessons she has learned abroad and what viewers can expect to see at Don’t Ask Why Dance Company’s premiere performance.
TheaterJones: What made you decide to come back to Dallas to form your own dance company?
Avery-Jai Andrews: Dallas is such a vibrant city, and I know for me and my dance friends when we come back home there is always something new happening in the dance community, and I think that is what’s pulling a lot us [professional dancers] back to the area. With that said, I have spent the last three years traveling between New York, Europe and Israel, and I finally had enough of that and wanted to come back to Dallas with the intention of settling down and creating my own work. So, in October 2016 I made the decision to start changing things so I could start to create my own non-profit.
How has your perception of the dance scene in Dallas changed since leaving for college in the fall of 2010?
I remember we moved into the new section of Booker T. at the end of my Freshman year, so I really got to experience the changes happening in Arts District first hand, but by the end of my Senior year I was ready to leave home and experience being a college kid. I feel like when I left that dance wasn’t something that I wanted to do here in Dallas. I thought that I needed to be in New York in order to make it as a professional dancer. My mind wasn’t opened up to the idea until I left America and I started seeing what was happening dance-wise in other countries and as my own voice started to become more clear. During this period of time I started to have more desire to share and to create, and I think that’s when the urge to find a place to settle down and start choreographing began to take over.
I mean when I went to college I had no idea that I really wanted to create and start my own company. I was just ready to be a dancer, join a company and to be living that New York fast-paced life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love New York City, but I have started to realize that you are limited there. Everything is very expensive there, so when it comes to creating your own work in the city, you know outside of working to make money to pay your rent, you also have to find the free time and the money to be creative and I felt that would be more possible here. I just feel like Dallas is asking and wanting the young, different voices too. They want different flavors and there are a lot of people who want to support the arts. It’s so great to go to shows here and see an audience that is excited to be there and I feel like sometimes you miss that in the big cities where there are always dance performances happening.
Why did you chose to pursue a dancing career abroad after graduating from college?
I was blessed to study abroad over the summer to Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria and that was my first taste of dance outside of the U.S. and more specifically the European contemporary style. It showed me a whole other world. I mean, just the way they use the space, sets, lights and costumes; it’s such an integrated feel that I think sometimes I’m missing out when I’m here in America. The experience opened my mind up to all that dance can be. That dance can be something more than I already see and so, when I got back and entered my last year of school I knew that I wanted to go back and felt like I needed to immerse myself in dance outside of the U.S. So, as soon as I graduated I ended up going to Israel to Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Dance Journey program for five months.
Even with all the conflict that was happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis during this time, I still had a great time and the program helped me acknowledge that I have the tools and skills to be an artist and that I could go forth and be a professional. And because it is an international program I got to meet so many wonderful people from around the world and it is actually where I met Matteo Zamperin from Italy who started Keyhole Dance Project. I also met Elise Cleaver there, and I was in Hamburg with her in 2015 creating a new work. So, I still kept in contact with a lot of those people and that has afforded me the opportunity to travel more just from that program. The Dance Journey program really set me up to continue this deep desire of whatever was brewing in me to get out and explore the world. And just being in other cultures and living there, not just visiting or being there a week or two, but living in other countries has really expanded me as a human and had me questioning a lot about who I want to be and how I want to live my life.
As of today, how would you classify your movement style to audiences?
I am definitely not classical and I wouldn’t even say modern because I even see modern as a bit more classical so, I would say I am within the realm of European contemporary dance. What I like to focus on as a creative is, the dancers have to be physical and dynamic with their bodies but yet still relate to the people who are watching them. How can we still show that we are human, but then also be more expressive within our own bodies? So, I definitely put in those lines and we have big movements and we take the space and travel, but then I want us to be able to transition into just being human and being a body at the same time.
Can you explain Friday evening’s program to me?
The program is 45 minutes long with no intermission and I would describe it more as a performance experience.GESTALT is a collaboration with my friend Matteo and his Italian-based company, Keyhole Dance Project. He and I formed a good rapport through Kibbutz’s Dance Journey program and I knew that I wanted that again so, when I decided to produce my own show as a premiere for Don’t Ask Why I immediately reached out to him.
The theme of the show comes from its title GESTALT, which basically means the perceived whole is more important than the individual pieces that make up the whole image. That has served up very well in the creation process because Matteo hasn’t been here this whole time and just being a start-up we have been rehearsing here and there and so we were literally creating in pieces. And some of the material we worked with had been planned a year ago so most of our collaboration came into play when we started putting all these pieces of movement together. GESTALT is a very dynamic and layered piece and I’m personally enjoying that each of the seven performers is having an experience of their own throughout the work.
What is the inspiration behind the name Don’t Ask Why?
Well, when my mom came to my shows she would tell me ‘that was great, but why did that happen?’ and I would say, ‘Mom you don’t need to fully understand what I was thinking. I just want you to experience the movement.’ In my mind, as long as the show made her feel something then the job was done. I just want people to feel something when they see my work and that’s one of the reasons behind the name. The other is more personal and goes back to when my best friend Micaela White passed away right before I went to college and a year later I was in another scary situation with a close friend who was in the hospital and these experiences made me started questioning why me? Why am I in this place? At that time this felt like a very dangerous place psychologically to be in and so, I told myself that I was going to stop asking why and just keep moving forward. I have taken this philosophy with me since then and it has been a very productive thing for me to live by.
Here is the first of several profiles I am doing on companies performing at this year’s Dallas DanceFest. This one was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Dallas — Since stepping on to the Dallas arts scene six years ago Danielle Georgiou has had the opportunity to present her work in some pretty interesting spaces, including warehouses, art galleries, Klyde Warren Park, the Wyly Theatre, Hamon Hall, Bath House Cultural Center and the theater at Eastfield College. As one of the performance companies chosen to present at this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DFF), Georgiou will soon get to add Moody Performance Hall to this eclectic list of venues. “I have never presented any of my work on this stage before so, I am looking forward to this new experience and working with the facility’s technical and production crews. It will be interesting to see what happens.”
Created in 2014 under the guidance of arts patron Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas, DDF strives to provide local and regional dance performance companies with the opportunity to showcase their work to a wider audience base while also giving them the chance to connect with their peers and experience work outside their own genres. This includes Georgiou’s own dance theater style, as she calls it, which is influenced by German choreographer Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater performance style and those of modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. Together with her creative partner Justin Locklear, Georgiou has been able to produce work that is frank in nature, uninhibited in movement quality and thoroughly entertaining.
Regarding the couple’s working relationship Georgiou says, “Justin has brought out in me a new understanding of my own creative process. He constantly pushes and challenges me, and he is not afraid to ask the questions that I don’t really want to answer. He has given my work a particular context that wouldn’t necessarily be there without him.”
For DDF 2017 Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) member Colby Calhoun will be performing, Chatter, a solo work Georgiou created for him two years ago. “Colby and I have a special connection in that we both have the same approach to dance making and other creative artistic processes, and we can understand each other without actually communicating.” She adds, “I was very lucky to find somebody who is also willing to throw themselves physically into movement, because as a performer my comfort area is to physically assert myself in order to find what the choreography is supposed to be, and Colby works much like me in that regard.”
An extremely physical work, Georgiou says the movement in Chatter represents the ongoing dialogue and many voices she hears inside her head all the time. “I find that my body and mind have a hard time resting and that is where Chatter started from, which was dealing with the push and pull of daily life and finding moments to try and quiet down, but never really being able to and just having this internal struggle with myself.” Georgiou adds that creating the piece was a cathartic experience for both her and Calhoun. “It felt good getting it out of my system and Colby has even said that after he performs it he feels relieved that he finished it. Watching him perform the piece, it’s a different experience each time.”
As far as what Georgiou is most looking forward to at this year’s DDF she says, “I know the festival’s audience base is going to be very different from our audience base so, I am interested to see what their reactions are to the type of work I make. A lot of times people are not sure what type of work I make so, I think this will be a great way for people to find out that yes I make dance, but I also make theater.” She adds, “And maybe this will encourage them to want to see some of the other works that we do that is this collaboration between different genres, and maybe it will help expand their knowledge of what dance can be. That it doesn’t have to be something very classical and traditional in nature. That it can explore new realms of movement and story.”
» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:
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.
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance wants you to feel like a kid again in its Fall Series this weekend at Texas Christian University.
Fort Worth — It has been a whirlwind summer for choreographer Joshua L. Peugh and his band of beautiful misfits also known as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) USA. Over the last three months DCCD has taken part in numerous local and national festivals, including Dance Source Houston’s Barnstorm DanceFest, Dallas DanceFest, The Dance Gallery Festival in New York as well as Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s Inside/Out Performance Series, a monumental first for the company. “I’m still processing what happened that afternoon,” Peugh says. “The wind was blowing and the sun was setting and I looked around the stage at the generous artists I get to laugh, cry, struggle and create with, and I felt completely full.”
Independently, Peugh travelled to Seattle to create a new work, Short Acts on the Heartstrings, on former Pacific Northwest Ballet member Oliver Wever’s company, Whim W’Him. Peugh also spent time this summer in Tulsa where his signature work Slump (2012) made its Oklahoma premiere with Tulsa Ballet II. When not travelling, DCCD is hard at work in the studio preparing for their upcoming Fall Series: Aimless Young Man, Oct 9-11, at Texas Christian University’s Erma Lowe Hall, Studio Theatre in Fort Worth. Peugh will be presenting two new works, Aimless YoungMan and It’s A Boy, which I got to see the company rehearse at Preston Center Dance in Dallas two weeks ago.
An exuberant display of compulsive gesturing, topsy turvy partnering skills, knee bruising floor work and primitive posturing, Aimless Young Man contains all our favorite Peugh mannerisms performed at super high speed much to viewers delight.
“Aimless Young Man is my mediation on the struggle young men have finding or following their paths. It has become a lot more than that. The dancers have brought out new colors in the questions we are fighting with. Why choose martyrdom, why fight? How can we be extraordinary and why do we feel the need to be?” At times the work resembles a circus spectacle with David Cross juggling across the floor and the section where the whole company stands in a semi-circle while an individual performs their idea of a trick, i.e. continuous body rotations and contorted body shapes. Other sections appear more militant with sharp body movements and rigid formations. These wonderfully manic sections are balanced with moments of stillness and isolated gesturing such as rhythmic chest smacks.
On the other side of the spectrum is It’s A Boy, a contemplative work in which Peugh, Cross, Kelsey Rohr and Alex Karigan Farrior sport Tuxedo shirts and coat tails as they explore their inner child with the help of four unassuming canes. In Kelsey Rohr’s solo her attention is centered on the path of her cane as she methodically skims it down the top of her arm till it is resting horizontal on the top of her hands. Your eyes continue to follow the cane as Rohr outlines her body, stopping periodically to lodge the cane under her neck or in the crease of her elbow. Julie London’s rendition of “Mickey Mouse March” makes you long for those younger, care free years. As to why he chose such a universally known song Peugh says, “I’m a huge Walt Disney fan. He was a genius, like Michael Jackson, who was sensitive to the magical curiosity of childhood. There’s a tenderness and nostalgia in the song, but also an emptiness and loneliness. It’s about letting go and saying goodbye.”
Watching the work progress it’s clear the canes are more than a gimmick. In some parts, the canes were used as extensions of the dancers’ bodies while other times they were used for support such as when Rohr was carried across the floor balanced between two canes. In the beginning the canes resemble toy’s that the dancers wield like light sabers before sticking them down their shirts. In one instance, the dancers hold the cane still and run around in circles with their foreheads glued to the top of the cane. In other sections, the way the dancers’ gazed at and caressed the canes made these everyday objects appear almost human. Peugh says he didn’t give the dancers any direction in how they should interact with the canes. “I think it’s more interesting to see what comes out of the dancers in the moment, instinctively during the performance. It won’t ever be the same thing. It’s more interesting to see the range and layers of feelings flicker.”
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Fall Series: Aimless Young Man will take place Oct. 9-11 at Erma Lowe Hall, Studio Theatre in Fort Worth. The program includes Aimless Young Man, It’s A Boy and Peugh’s crowd-pleasing, Slump.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre II pushes itself physically and emotionally in Artistic Director Nycole Ray’s Opaque, part of DanceFest 2015 this weekend.
Dallas — Starting out as a student-driven secondary company formed in 2000 by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (DBDT II) has flourished into a high caliber performance troupe made up of eight young and hungry semi-professionals from all over the place. This year’s troupe alone includes dancers from Washington, D.C., Chicago, Mexico and Jamaica. Every dancer has a unique story of how they became involved with DBDT II that they readily shared with me when I stopped by Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) main studio last Thursday to watch them prepare for the upcoming Dallas DanceFest.
Surprisingly only one company member comes from the Dallas Black Dance Academy while everyone else came in contact with DBDT through college workshops, summer intensives, tours in New York City and the International Association of Blacks in Dance conferences. Artistic Director Nycole Ray points out that these dancers are here voluntarily, working tirelessly toward the goal of one day moving up to the main company. “DBDT II is really the training company for DBDT,” Ray says. “Last year six out of the 12 main company members came from the second company.” Ray adds that this has always been Ms. Williams’ vision for DBDT II. “When I took over the second company six years ago Ms. Williams told me she wanted the group to have the same technical excellence and strength as the main company such that audiences wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two.”
With that goal in mind Ray is constantly challenging the dancers by introducing them to a variety of movement styles and choreographers, including Christopher L. Huggins, Bruce Wood, Ray Mercer, Dianne Grigsby, Cleo Parker Robinson and DBDT company member Richard A. Freeman, Jr. DBDT II’s touring schedule has included stops in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Virginia and Arkansas. Internationally the company has travelled to Ireland, South Africa, Austria and Peru, just to name a few. Ray says the company is very excited to add Mexico and Chile to their touring schedule this year.
When it comes to her own choreography Ray says she likes to challenge the dancers physically and emotionally, which comes across in abundance in her aptly titled work Opaque. “The piece is about things not always being transparent no matter how much you want them to be. The thought process stems from a person and not so happy feelings, which then evolved into something that made me feel good and positive.” You get a sense of this optimism through the dancers’ lifted upper bodies, unyielding trust in one another and purposeful use of each dancer’s (male and female) long, black skirts. “The skirts purposely cover the dancers’ feet to create this illusion that they are floating while also reflecting on the theme of transparency and what you can’t see.” The skirts are not just for ambiance. The dancers use them throughout the work as extensions of their bodies, links to one another in one section where they unravel across the stage and even for extra resistance in the partnering sequences. The effect is dramatic, yet not overdone.
» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.
The Austin-based choreographer on landing roles in the The Lion King and Memphis on Broadway, the future of classical jazz dance and performing at Dallas DanceFest.
Dallas — Dallas native LaQuet Sharnell Pringle was bit by the Broadway bug at the age of six after seeingThe Wiz National Tour in Chicago. An avid singer, Pringle performed in her first musical, The Velveteen Rabbit, at Bowman Middle school at age 12. Pringle went on to attend Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) where she studied ballet, modern, African and compositional studies as a member of the Advanced Repertory company. She also studied jazz, lyrical, tap, hip-hop and contemporary at The Dallas Powerhouse of Dance and The Centre for Dance, and participated in many local dance events, including the Dance Council of North Texas’ Dance Planet Festival and the Dallas Morning News Festival. Pringle was studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts when she landed her first Broadway gig in Sweet Charity.
Pringle is currently an adjunct professor in the Musical Theater Department at Texas State University. She also teaches at Ballet Austin and Tru Dance Project and is the founder of Fearless Young Artists, an organization devoted to providing extensive creative arts education to diverse youth who are interested in careers in the arts. Her dance career has come full circle this year as she was the headliner for Dance Planet 19 last April and will be performing at the second annual Dallas DanceFest, this coming weekend. Pringle will be performing Friday evening alongside Austin-based artists Amy Morrow and AJ Garcia-Rameau.
TheaterJones talked to LaQuet Sharnell Pringle about navigating through the Broadway industry, where jazz technique fits in today’s contemporary-driven world and what she has in store for audiences at Dallas DanceFest.
TheaterJones: How did you hear about Dallas DanceFest?
Pringle: I was most familiar with the festival of dance when it was called the Dallas Morning News Festival. Back then it was done in the [Annette Strauss] Artist Square. With the amazing new additions to Arts District, I was speaking with Gayle Halperin at Dance Planet 19 who informed me of the new name and vision.
What will you be showcasing at the Festival?
I will be premiering one part of a three-part piece that explores the masks worn when in my romantic relationships, my relationship to the business of show and reactions I have felt towards both. This piece has been cathartic and edifying experience for me. I have learned so much through the many re-writes of my text and through the choreography. I hope that audiences will experience this piece as a type of mirror I am currently looking at to better understand and grow from as I begin a new journey.
What was the auditioning process like for The Lion King andMemphis?
These shows could not be more different. The Lion King was a show that was already up and running. So, coming in the creative team knew exactly what they were looking for. Thank goodness for my modern dance training at Booker T. because the audition quickly weeded out the dancers without modern technique and acting abilities.
For Memphis, the process was a tad more relaxed in that they were looking for someone in particular while also not knowing what they were looking for. I am thankful that I was the right height, talent and person to work with the male dancer they were most looking to pair me with. For Memphis our choreographer looked for great jazz technique paired with character attachment to the movement quickly. I’d say the biggest difference was that with The Lion King I was breaking into the industry and with Memphis I was in “the biz” and aware enough to see the many moving pieces around me.
You were the headliner for Dance Planet 19 last year. What did you take away from that experience?
I mostly took away humility and openness to experience something greater than myself. Dallas in general is an incredible city to nurture incredible talents. Dance Planet 19 brings every young artist and parent into one place where we all grew, laughed, danced and sweated together. It was an incredible weekend of community.
What motivated you to start Fearless Young Artists?
Even as I began to perform professionally, I always had a leg in the studio—to teach and to learn. I began to realize the significant impact my teachers had on my development. They were professionals. They knew what it meant to be on stage, and more importantly get on stage. I saw that there were so many kids that didn’t have access to the level of talent some have to learn from. FYA was born to create a place where the student could both watch the professionals from the audience then learn from them in class. As I continue to build FYA Workshops and Intensives around the country the DFW area will be first on the schedule and map. FYA will also offer scholarships to those young artists in need.
There is a lot of talk in the industry about how jazz technique is being overshadowed by contemporary in the classroom. As a jazz instructor what is your take on this? Where do you think jazz fits in today’s contemporary-obsessed world?
Technique across the board is being replaced by contemporary and center combos. Somewhere along the line we began to teach our young artists about having enough likability to be on T.V shows. Many have stopped teaching marketability and the ability to be a chameleon as dancers and artists. It is now okay to microwave an artist rather than growing and nurturing young artists. Technique, whether it be ballet, jazz or modern or tap or hip hop, requires years of practice and it doesn’t seem to me that the focus is on where the dancer will be 15 or 20 years from now. The great educators and studio owners within the arts have this ability to teach slow and steady wins the race while also enforcing a passion to express, from their individual perspectives, where the technique can take you within choreography.
» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.
» Tickets for both events are available through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone 214-871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St., Dallas, TX 75201. For more information, go towww.dallasdancefest.org
The Austin-based dancer on building a freelance career and making her first appearance in Dallas at the second annual Dallas DanceFest.
Dallas — A newcomer to the Dallas dance scene,Ashley (AJ) Garcia-Rameau says she is looking forward to the numerous career building opportunities awaiting her at Dallas DanceFest, most importantly forging new relationships with fellow participants and accessing a broader audience base. “I am excited to network and see the other companies perform,” Garcia-Rameau says. “There is a very nice line-up of artists this year and a lot of whom I have never seen dance. My biggest take away is to learn about other dancers and companies and their choreography.” As to what Garcia-Rameau would like audiences to take away from her performance she says, “The piece I will be presenting is simple, yet strong and will hopefully encourage an emotional response and maybe encourage viewers to go see more kinds of dance.”
The piece, called Inevitable Displacement, is a three-minute solo excerpt from a larger work choreographed by Gina Lewis, which features simple, nude costuming and Lester Horton-inspired movements. In the solo Garcia-Rameau travels from upstage left to downstage right with just one bag while incorporating movement that represents the passage from the past to the future. “It’s inevitable that you’re going to be displaced from your original location,” Garcia-Rameau says about the work’s theme. “The lighting helps demonstrate this point by disappearing behind the dancer once the previous step is achieved. And it’s nice how Gina put it together because it is kind of anguish-y, but also exciting because this person is looking to the future while also being nostalgic about the past.”
The contemporary ballet style of the piece comes naturally to Garcia-Rameau whose dance training includes the Houston Academy of Dance, Exclamation Dance Company, The Alvin Ailey School, Complexions Contemporary Dance Company and Dominic Walsh Dance Theater. She joined the Austin Classical Ballet Company and BHumn Dance Company while attending the University of Texas where she earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a Dance Minor with a focus on advanced ballet. After graduating in 2011, Garcia-Rameau spent three years doing freelance work with artists and dance companies in Philadelphia and Michigan before returning back to Austin this spring.
Garcia-Rameau notes that the Austin dancescape has changed some since the last time she lived here and says she is encouraged by what she sees happening. “Since coming back I have noticed there are a bunch of really good freelance dancers and they have formed this group called Austin Community Ballet. Basically, we get together a couple times a week and give each other class and it has been fun, challenging and a great way to network. What’s also promising is the hunger I see in the dance community here now as opposed to what it was before I left where it was just stagnating. It’s nice to see that things are growing in Austin and more people are getting interested in the arts.”
Garcia-Rameau will be presenting Inevitable Displacement during Friday evening’s program which also includes performances by Austin-based choreographers Amy Morrow (Bell House Arts) and LaQuet Sharnell Pringle.
» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.
» Tickets for both events are available through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone 214-871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St., Dallas, TX 75201. For more information, go to www.dallasdancefest.org/