Tag Archives: Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet

Favorite New Dance Works in 2017

Donkey Beach from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. Photo: Mark Lowry

It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.

And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.

We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.

So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.

And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.

In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:

Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou

Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.

Meant to be Seen from Bombshell Dance Project. Photo: Lynn Lane

Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman

In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.

Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger

Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.

HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh

Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.


Albert Drake rehearsing Chasing Home for Bruce Wood Dance. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Chasing Home by Albert Drake

The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.

Interpretations by Sean J. Smith

Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.

Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate

Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.

This 2017 in dance review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.









Review: 13th Annual Plano Dance Festival

Plano Metropolitan Ballet performs at the 13th Plano Dance Festival. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Plano Metropolitan Ballet performs at the 13th Plano Dance Festival. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Deluxe Package

The 13th Annual Plano Dance Festival delivers fine technique and a diverse array of dance styles with the aid of some local dance companies.

Plano — It’s always nice to step away from the professional dance scene in Dallas and see what the local dance community is up to. And if the Plano Dance Festival on Saturday afternoon was any indication, these pre-professional groups have been busy exposing their dancers to different techniques to add to their wheelhouse and build self-confidence. The festival, which took place at the Courtyard Theater in Plano, had an even balance of traditional and contemporary ballet pieces intermixed with other dance styles, including tap, modern and Chinese folk dance.

For hardcore balletomanes there was Marius Petipa’s La Bayadere solo performed by Avant Ballet Chamber company member Yulia Ilina, as well as Mikhail Fokine’s memorable Dying Swan solo performed by guest dancer Melian Izotova from Colorado-based Premiere Ballet. Ilina’s supple feet and lethal legs were a perfect match for Petipa’s slow, controlled bourres, alternating promenades and multiple arabesque holds. And Izotova completely embodied the role of the swan with her exacting point work and rippling arm movements resembling a swan’s wings.

Dallas-based professional dancers Lea Zablocki and Shea Johnson gave a spot on performance with August Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano. Like all classic story ballets, the movement in this pas de deux consisted of exaggerated gesturing and heart-felt embraces. Johnson’s control over his landings has improved, adding polish to his already clean technique. Zablocki excelled in her turning sections executing multiple pirouettes in quick succession without a hitch. The press-up lifts from the knees in the Romeo and Juliet piece proved challenging for Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s David Sanders, but he recovered to complete the passionate number with fellow company member Katie Stasse.

Avant Chamber Ballet performs at the 13th Plano Dance Festival. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Avant Chamber Ballet performs at the 13th Plano Dance Festival. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The most surprising classical performance of the afternoon came from the festival’s host company, Plano Metropolitan Ballet (PMB), in the opening number pointe number Meridian. Dressed in deep blue leotards and white tutus, the 14 dancers showed both technical and musical growth in this invigorating piece set to The Vitamin String Quartet and choreographed by Madelaine Boyce. Standard ballet phrases such as tombe pas de bourre soutenu, pirouettes, and alternating epaulement(shoulder, head and neck) positions were livened up with continuous formation changes and musically-timed cannon arrangements. Boyce’s choreography also adequately displayed the dancers’ proficiency in both allegro and adagio movement and was well received by the audience.

In the realm of contemporary ballet there was Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet’s You Are a Memory and Avant Chamber Ballet’s Endless Arc, a new work by Artistic Director Katie Puder. In the first, dancers Katie Stasse, Laura Pearson and Emily Gnatt performed a series of rudimentary ballet steps mixed with more contemporary movements such as flat-footed walks, hand gestures and body contractions. The two dancers dressed in white pulled the third, dressed in red, through a number of interweaving body positions before finally pulling away from one another. Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto and dim lighting only added to the somber tone of the piece. Puder’s Endless Arc was more aggressive compared to previous works, but still contained all the elements that we admire about her, including continuous traveling movements, abrupt direction changes and dynamic partnering skills. Both pieces were just peaking when they suddenly ended in a blackout.

The Gaudium Dance Movement captured the audience’s attention with its star-spotted back lighting and pillow props in Gina Lee’s Midnight. The dance started out promising with the four dancers traveling across the space on their backs using the pillows as leverage. The dancers then travelled around the pillows as they resisted the space with arm reaches and open-chested releases. The pillows are re-introduced at the end when the dancers pulled chains and rope from the pillowcases before the lights faded out, leaving the audience to question their significance.

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet performs at the 13th Plano Dance Festival. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet performs at the 13th Plano Dance Festival. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Epiphany DanceArts performed excerpts from Balanchine’s Diamonds in which they acted out the effects bullying has on society through their signature lyrical movements blended with more sultry and staccato steps to music by The XX and The Piano Guys. Collin College’s Collin Dance Ensemble and Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Senior Performing Ensemble both demonstrated basic modern dance techniques (i.e. Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham) in Tread and This Place is a Shelter. The Dallas Black Dance Academy Seniors also performed a rhythmic African-infused piece entitled Confluence.

The program also included some wickedly fly and fun footwork from Dallas-based Rhythmic Souls Youth Residency and Choreo Records Tap Ensemble as well as some beautifully intricate Chinese folk dance from Jiaping Shi Dance School.

Festival coordinator and Plano Metropolitan Ballet Artistic Director Cindi Lawrence Hanson should be pleased with how her group and the festival have grown over the last 13 years. Audiences should look forward to what she has in store for next year’s event.

This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Ballet Fete, Collin County Ballet Theatre

Guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood perform a Pas De Deux from Sylvia. Photo: Fermaint Photography.
Guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood perform a Pas De Deux from Sylvia.
Photo: Fermaint Photography.

Collin County Ballet Theatre effectively hits on every part of the ballet spectrum with the help of some local talent in Balle Fete Esprit de Danse.

Richardson — From classical and romantic to contemporary and avant garde, Collin County Ballet Theatre’sBallet Fete Esprit de Danse had something for everyone to enjoy at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts last weekend. To accomplish such a feat CCBT Directors Kirt and Linda Hathaway called upon some local dance companies for assistance, including Ballet Frontier of Texas, Epiphany DanceArts and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet as well as guest artists Yuliia Ilina, Michele Gifford, Harry Feril and Ronnie Underwood. What could have been an unbalanced collaboration was instead an exciting display of varying balletic forms and individual artistry with a couple of standout moments from CCBT’s own pre-professional company members.

The show opened with Kirt Hathaway’s Simple Symphony which had its premiere in 1982 with Lexington Ballet. Like the title states, this piece was very simple, from the pointe work to the formation changes, but by no means boring. The rudimentary steps (bourrées, changements, jetes) were done with exacting precision and uniformity. The six dancers skimmed across the floor with their triplets and bourrees as they weaved through one another. While the dancers point work was not always in sync, they paid meticulous care to their upper body positioning. Ilina and Feril’s pas e deux was a lesson in partner proficiency and artistic expression. Ilina’s wicked extensions and technical poignancy was complemented by Feril’s undeniable strength and innate ability to anticipate his partner’s needs. They never missed a hand connection and Feril handled the tricky press up lifts with ease.

Next up was August Bournonville’s (1805-1879) Reel performed by Ballet Frontier of Texas to music by Lovenskold. Dressed in white tops, plaid kilts, black knee socks and character or jazz shoes, this 31-person ensemble performed a fast-paced Scottish jig that featured rhythmic stomping, quick partner exchanges and continuous formation changes. Bournonville was not into flashy jumps or overheated gestures and he preferred accenting the downbeat in the music; the dancers took to Bournonville’s demi-character style with a vigor that left the audience breathless by the end.

Epiphany DanceArts piece, Rebirth, fused classical ballet technique with the expressive gesturing and wide arcing movement that we have come to expect from the group. The 12 dancers, dressed in various black tops and bottoms, executed a number of leg tilts, side reaches and back lunges as they continuously ran diagonally across the stage. A mashup of Beethoven and One Republic’s “5 Secrets” covered by The Piano Guys only heightened the sense of urgency in the dancers’ movements.

The most surprising work of the evening came from Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. Choreographed by Victoria TranShades draws from the mythological idea that ghosts or spirits of the dead reside in the shadows of the underworld, according to the program notes. The movement is inspired by butoh, a form of avant garde performance art that arose in Japan in 1959. Adorned in flimsy white dresses and pale-painted faces or painted bodies as in David Sanders case, the dancers moved stiffly around stage as if in a trance, stopping intermittently to convulse or lackadaisically sway side to side. Their body shapes were disjointed (broken wrist and turn-in feet) and everything was done in a slow manner to the unsettling hum of Tibetan singing bowls.

The second half showcased the more traditional side of ballet with CCBT’s Mendelssohn, Longing for Spring and Le Corsaire Divertissement as well as the Snow scene from The Nutcracker performed by Ballet Frontier of Texas andSylvia Pas de Deux choreographed by Paul Mejia and performed by guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood (Oklahoma City Ballet). Gifford’s strengths came forth in her flexible spine and dynamic leaps and turns. Underwood surprised us all with his technical grace and exquisitely soft landings despite his broader frame.

It was hard to take your eyes off CCBT company member Kade Cummings in Mendelssohn and Le Corsaire Divertissement. He has come a long way over the last two years. Gone is the cheeky Fitz (The Nutcracker) character and in his place a more disciplined dancer. He oozed grace and confidence. His far-reaching lines, precision turns and effortless jumps set him apart from the other dancers. CCBT member Emily Dunaway displayed great emotional depth with her solo in Ilina’s Longing for Spring. Her conviction could be seen from her tense fingertips down to her punctuated pointe work.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Q&A: Emilie Skinner of Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet

Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet Co-Founders Victoria Dolph (left) and Emilie Skinner (right)
Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet Co-Founders Victoria Dolph (left) and Emilie Skinner (right)

The co-founder of Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet talks about collaborating with local dance companies and guest artists for its upcoming Spring Mixed Repertoire Concert.

Plano — Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet (DNCB) continues its mission to establish a supportive, healthy environment in which dancers, artists and musicians can express their passion for the arts with its upcoming Spring Mixed Repertoire Concert, April 14 at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano. The program includes new works by DNCB,Collin County Ballet Theatre (CCBT), Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) and guest choreographers Anna Ward and Michael Scott.

Growing up, Emilie Skinner trained with Gilbert Rome and Victoria Vittum in Houston. She has performed roles in The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Swan Lake with the Houston Repertoire Ballet. And while her primary training has been in ballet, Skinner also has training in modern, jazz and contemporary dance.

Since graduating from the University of North Texas with a BA in French and a minor in art history, Skinner has been teaching, performing and choreographing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In addition to her role as co-founder of Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet alongside Victoria Dolph, Skinner also performs with Contemporary Ballet Dallas.

Theater Jones asked Emilie Skinner about the inspiration behind the Spring Mixed Repertoire Concert, the benefits of working with local dance talent, and what DNCB has in store for the future.

TheaterJones: What was the inspiration for this year’s Spring Concert?

Emilie Skinner: With the exception of our principal dancer, Lea Essmyer, we have a whole new group of dancers this spring, and we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to bring fresh, new choreography to the stage. Apart from one of my pieces most of the works are more contemporary, which is rather atypical of us. We really wanted to explore and extend our choreographic boundaries in order to show the versatility of our company. Up to this point the majority of our work has been largely classical in style.

What specific works will your company be presenting? Any premieres? Who are the choreographers?

Victoria Dolph has set two new contemporary pieces to the music of Balmorhea, a local band from Austin, and I have three new pieces to present, one of which I am extra enthusiastic about. What a Doll! set to music by Fats Waller is a collaboration between DGDG’s Danielle Georgiou and myself. This piece comments on the increasingly bizarre norms of our society due to the mainstreaming of social media and mounting lack of personal connections, which can result in complete social incompetence. Despite its meaning the piece is fun and quirky and we hope to make the audience LOL.

Courtesy of DNCB
Courtesy of DNCB

We are also featuring three guest companies and works by guest choreographers Anna Ward and Michael Scott. Michael Scott’s piece is a romantic pas de deux performed by company members Jaclyn Brewer-Poole and Brandon Chase McGee. Anna Ward’s piece is set to music by Native American singer Buffy St. Marie and exhibits a primitive nature layered on top of classical choreography. It is conceptually based on a community which has been all but erased from our society, but remains the axiom of the Native American culture.

Have you worked with Collin County Ballet Theatre or Danielle Georgiou Dance Group previously?

Yes, we have worked with both companies. We have performed as guest artists for CCBT and the directors, Kirt and Linda Hathaway, graciously donate rehearsal space to DNCB weekly. My partner Victoria Dolph also teaches and choreographs for the Hathaway Ballet Academy.

We had the pleasure of working with DGDG last spring when they guested as our “moon people” for the premiere of Kaguya-Hime at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center. This section of the ballet was choreographed by Danielle Georgiou and inspired by the Butoh style which originated in Japan in the early 1950s. Ms. Georgiou has also invited DNCB to perform at events such as the HARAKIRI: To Die

For performances at CentralTrak last May and, as I mentioned earlier, is collaborating with us on the upcoming performance on the 14th. We have a great deal of respect for the aesthetics DGDG regularly brings to the stage.

What do you enjoy most about working with other local dance companies?

It is extremely important to us to create opportunities for companies who share our passion for the arts to perform and express themselves. Dallas is full of small, independent dance companies who have a lot to offer, and the best way to generate growth of the dance community and produce quality art is through collaboration. I love seeing what these companies bring to the stage. We are never disappointed.

What challenges can occur when working with guest companies?

Although we have yet to run across this issue (luckily), I always worry about having to pull a guest piece due to artistic differences or for any other reason. We try to work with companies who share similar goals with DNCB in order to avoid uncomfortable situations such as this.

What piece(s) are you most looking forward to seeing?

I suppose I am anticipating seeing my pieces the most and to see what kind of feedback I receive just for my own personal reflection and growth as a choreographer, but I am really excited to see the whole show come together. With all new works there’s no way to foresee how the audience will react or what kind of review we will get, which is both exciting and a little scary.

Courtesy of DNCB
Courtesy of DNCB

What would you like the audience to take away from the performance?

I would love for them to come away with a sense of satisfaction; for them to feel they witnessed a full range of dance and passed an evening well-spent supporting the arts.

What can we expect to see from Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet in the future?

We’ve been around for just about a year and half and already I feel we have proven ourselves to be a well-rounded company. We started off performing short pieces at the MAC, Texas Theatre and CentralTrak and premiered our first original ballet, Kaguya-Hime, last spring. We have a strong group of dancers that is continuously growing. We plan to continue creating new works and perhaps take on another new full length in the not-so-distant future. We are gaining momentum and only hope to keep developing, creating and performing in order to fulfill our mission as a company.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.