Tag Archives: Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Avant Chamber Ballet: Morphoses

Transforming Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet kicks off its season with a triple bill featuring Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses and two works by Katie Cooper at Moody Performance Hall.

Photo: Dickie Hill
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Morphoses

 

Dallas — It has been a busy summer for Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB). In addition to preparing for its 2019-20 season, which kicks off with Morphoses Sept. 7-8 at Moody Performance Hall, the company also moved into its own studio space in the Dallas Design District in July. ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says that having their own space has been transformative for the company.

In previous years, Cooper says that the company would not have been able to put on a fall show because of the limits of renting or being lent space owned by ballet schools. “We had to wait till summer intensives and summer classes were over for us to have daytime hours.” This meant either rushing to put a performance together in late September or competing with a busy October arts month.

She adds, “So for us to find this weekend, and it worked for everyone involved, including musicians and everything, I am super happy and lucky that everything aligned for our fall show.”

Even though the company is heading into its seventh full season, Cooper says that in many ways this feels like their first year as a real company. Cooper explains, “We’ve transitioned to paying the dancers weekly, which is huge. And it makes sense for the dancers be paid weekly because every week that they’re working is actually a good work week now that we have a home.”

This weekend’s triple bill includes Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, Cooper’s Sisterhood and the world premiere of Cooper’s Brahms Trio.

Regarding the program, Cooper says, “It feels like my miracle repertory because there was so many different puzzle pieces that had to come together and I am just so excited about it.”

One of these puzzle pieces was when the schedules of musicians Alexander Kerr (Dallas Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster), David Cooper (ACB Musical Director and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Horn and Cooper’s husband) and Fei-Fei Dong (international piano soloist) aligned so they could perform alongside ACB in Cooper’s Brahms Trio, which is named after the work composed by Johannes Brahms.

Cooper says that she has always wanted to choreograph to the Brahms Trio and describes the music as very danceable, beautiful and romantic. She also says she wanted to do the classical music justice by only using classical choreography.

“I really wanted to do it well because it is a very classical piece of music and classical ballet,” Cooper says about the choreography for the piece. “And unless you do classical ballet right then it’s not good. It’s almost easier to pull off something really contemporary and new because when it’s classical it has to be well-rehearsed, interesting and clean.”

She adds, “The choreography has to be really good because there’s no bells and whistles or quirkiness that’s going to keep the audience’s attention. It really has to be beautiful, musical and interesting in its purity and the reflection of the music.”

Also on the program is Wheeldon’s Morphoses. As Cooper proudly states, ACB is only the third ballet company to perform the work after New York City Ballet and Washington Ballet. For those unfamiliar with the ballet, Morphoses is a complex and athletic ballet for four dancers set to György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1. ACB’s cast includes Juliann McAloon, Kara Zimmerman, Alexander Akulov and Marlen Alimanov. The music will also be performed live by Cezanne Quartet.

Rounding out the evening is Cooper’s Sisterhood, which the company premiered last May. The work features music by composer Quinn Mason and is a nice departure from Cooper’s classical roots. Instead of tutus and pointe shoes the dancers perform in trendy sportswear and sneakers.

When asked about these particular choices Cooper says, “I wanted to challenge myself with something different with the sneakers and clothing. Sneaker ballets are such a specific modern American thing. Just think of Jerome Robbins and Justin Peck does a lot of them now. I just wanted to explore something new, and that music I just loved.”

Cooper adds that putting Sisterhood on this program just made sense because it creates a nice balance with the other works. “The three ballets are so incredibly different and that’s what you always hope for in a triple bill. That they all have their own internal world and they’re all radically different.”

Looking back on the last several years Cooper says the company has really developed into what she wanted. “I always said I wanted a company that I would have wanted to dance to in. That every show there’s good stuff that’s fulfilling for the artists both physically, mentally and emotionally.”

“To me, being able to present this season that we have going is really finally the culmination of a lot of years of work.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Soluna Review: Avant Chamber Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet performs for the Soluna Festival. Photo: Amitava Sarkar
Avant Chamber Ballet performs for the Soluna Festival. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Avant Chamber Ballet makes a rousing tribute to American Ballet at the Soluna Festival with guests from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Dallas — There’s nothing like hearing live music at a classical ballet performance. It adds some spontaneity to an otherwise technically fixed art form as well as a layer of anticipation for both performers and audience members. It was this anticipation that had audiences on the edge of their seats as Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) broadened their artistic range in a near flawless performance Tuesday evening at Dallas City Performance Hall in conjunction with the Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival. Staying within the margins of the festival’s theme “Destination America” Puder put together an exciting program that included some of her favorite American ballet choreographers, including George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Paul Mejia, and also showcased the company’s ever growing versatility and musical awareness.

Having been brought up on the Balanchine style it came as no surprise that ACB’s restaging of Balanchine’sValse Fantaisie paralleled the technical fortitude of the original. Glinka’s driving composition, arranged by ACB’s composer in residence Chase Dobson, guided the five females and one male through this whirlwind that can only be called pure dancing. As was Balanchine’s custom, leg beats and rises on and off pointe were accentuated with subtle head tilts and arm changes. Natalie Anton, Madelaine Boyce, Kristen Conrad and Kaitlyn McDermitt performed the springy corp steps without hesitation and beautifully captured the musical nuances with their elongated arabesques and breathy arm transitions. Christy Martin was a spitfire in the lead role with fellow dancer Peter Kurta. Martin showcased exquisite control as she stepped into a lengthyarabesque hold after completing a vigorous entrechatvariation.

Kurta ate up the stage in his traveling jump sequences and maneuvered Martin through a series of assistedpirouettes and rotating body positions without qualm. Musicians Miika Gregg (violin), Lydia Umlauf (viola), Jennifer Humphreys (cello), Kara Kirkendoll Welch (flute), David Cooper (horn) and Saule Garcia (piano) partnered beautifully with the performers on stage with changing tempos, volumes and styles generating the same energies in the dancers.

Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A challenged ACB’s Natalie Anton, Emily Dixon, Yulia Ilina and Rachel Meador with its musical intricacies and scrupulous technique. Choreographed in four parts, each section uses a different part of the body to highlight the nuances in this illustrious Stravinsky composition. The long-sleeved white leotards and matching ballet belts enhanced the dancers’ lines and did not detract from the detailed movements seen in the work. Right away the eye is drawn to the dancers’ upper bodies as they contract and release on different counts.

These constantly changing counts made the simple plies with wrist flicks and back arches appear fresh and exiting. In the third section the fast tempo was accented by the dancers’ hips as they quickly tip-toed on the balls of their feet around one another. Pianist Garcia slowed the tempo down in the final section as the dancers focused on raising and lowering their arms to different counts and rhythms.

Just as the title states, Puder’s new work Endless Arc was a continuous array of wide arcing movements, contracted torsos and explosive leg extensions. By breaking the piece into five parts the audience could fully appreciate Puder’s interweaving formation changes, complex petite allegro sections and push and pulling partnering skills. In the first section, Sarah Grace Austin set the tone when she performed a series of slow side bends and tendue steps with an inverted hip swivel. As Bela Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 picked up tempo Austin and the other five dancers on stage exploded into a number of running jetes which led them off stage.

In the second and fourth sections, Madelaine Boyce, Kirsten Conrad and Christy Martin made easy work of the traveling chaine turns and double pirouettes that came in between their running patterns, which had them circling close to one another before shifting directions. The simple rotating bourrees and slow walks which spread the group across the stage in the third adagio section was one of the most visually arresting moments of the whole piece. The audience was also pleased to see Tagir Galimov handling the classic partnering skills (i.e. rotatingarabesques, pirouettes) with more assertiveness and continuity.

The piece came to a satisfying conclusion as the entire company executed a series of high powered traveling jumps and alternating battements before ending in diagonal spanning the stage. As they pivoted to the front with one arm curved up and the other down the stage went dark. Throughout the piece Charlton Gavitt’s bold color choices and abrupt lighting cues meshed with the sharp changes in the music and helped round out the work.

These more traditional works were separated by two contemporary duets choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. In The American pas de deux Michele Gifford clung to Shea Johnson as he manipulated different parts of her body. Flexed feet, broken arms and a contracted torso made up most of Gifford’s movements as Johnson swept her across the floor in a number of over the head lifts. The counterbalance holds and sustained lifts, which made up a bulk of the work, tested Johnson’s control and consistency with positive results. WhereasThe American was light and buoyant, Wheeldon’s There Where She Loved was grounded and tense with Gifford desperately reaching and arching away from Johnson as he dragged her across the floor on the tops on her feet. Soprano Corrie Donovan’s soul stripping rendition of Kurt Weill’s Je ne t’aime pas as well as her physical presence on the stage gave the couple courage to fully let themselves go which in turn made their performance more dynamic and believable.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Sweet Pairing, Avant Chamber Ballet SOLUNA Preview

Avant Chamber Ballet in Katie Puder's Endless Arc. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Avant Chamber Ballet in Katie Puder’s Endless Arc. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Avant Chamber Ballet plans to wow audiences with its artistic range and technical fortitude at the inaugural Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival in Dallas.

Dallas — It comes as no surprise that Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) is the only local ballet company invited to participate in Dallas’ inaugural SOLUNA: International Music & Arts Festival. After all, the company’s goal of reconnecting dance with live music fits right into the festival’s purpose and it also helps that ACB has strong ties with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the organization in charge of this three-week performing and visual arts extravaganza. ACB Artistic Director Katie Puder adds that DSO is always her first choice when looking for collaborators, and having worked with these musicians already has made this process a little easier. It also can’t hurt to have DSO Principal French Hornist David Cooper as your company’s music director. With that said, ACB’s fresh perspective on the fixed art form of ballet has more than earned them a spot on the festival’s roster.

Staying within the margins of the festival’s theme,Destination (America), Puder has put together an exciting program showcasing choreographers and composers who came to American for inspiration and freedom. The lineup includes George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux fromThe American and There Where She Loved, Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A and the premiere of Puder’sEndless Arc. “Soluna’s theme of Destination America was a great reason for applying for our first Balanchine ballet and presenting a Paul Mejia ballet,” Puder says. “We are also honored to be the only ballet company partnering with the festival and Dallas City Performance Hall is the ideal home for ACB.”

Watching ACB rehearse for Soluna at Park Cities Dance two weeks ago I saw the dancers being tested both physically and mentally, which in turn added new intensity to their movement choices. This was most apparent in Mejia’s musically brutal work, Serenade in A, which features company members Natalie Anton, Yulia Ilina, Rachel Meador and Emily Dixon. While everyone in the company learned the piece Puder selected these four based on certain factors. “It was a choice of who looked best in it, would look best in the white leotards and had the height too. The four girls shouldn’t match (in terms of appearance), but they need to be able to blend together.”

Right away the two pairs start on different counts as they glide side to side in a series of deep squats with a contracted torso as their arms swoop up and down, resembling bird’s wings. As the dancers move into a box formation their timing matches as they perform a series alternating hand gestures and shouldering before smoothly changing timing again. Another signature section is when the four dancers come together and link hands just as the dancers do in the second half of Swan Lake. As the group deliberately walks forward together they raise their linked arms up and down on alternating counts. One at a time they present a foot and shift their weight forward while repeating the arm movements. The layered movements and musical intricacies are challenging, but these four dancers make it look effortless nonetheless.

An exhilarating display of curvaceous arms, hard-hitting leg extensions and continuous stop and go action,Endless Arc, set to Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4, shows us another side of Puder. “For Soluna I knew I wanted a full company piece that would be different than the other repertoire we were presenting. The music is so driving and energetic. It demands a certain quality and power.” All the elements that audiences have come to appreciate about Puder’s work are still present, including her intrinsic musicality and complex body positioning, but now there is a sense of urgency to the dancers’ movements. This urgency shows through the dancers’ explosive running and leaping passes, the push and pulling quality behind their partnering and Ilina’s head-whacking grande battement derriere.

The Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival runs May 4-24 with Avant Chamber Ballet’s performance taking place at Dallas City Performance Hall on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the DCPH lobby, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico will perform.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Forward Thinkers: Katie Puder, Avant Chamber Ballet

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

With numerous successes in its short history, including its first full-length ballet and performance at Dallas DanceFest, Puder’s Avant Chamber Ballet is one step closer to its goal of reconnecting live music and dance.

Over the past three years Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has accomplished what takes most small ballet companies years to do. Along with bringing together a cohesive group of talented professional dancers and building a solid audience base, ACB is also filling a void in the Dallas dance scene with the use of live chamber music at its performances. This feat can be attributed to Artistic Director Katie Puder’s tenacity and resourcefulness both artistically and enterprisingly speaking.

Puder began her ballet training with Wichita Falls Ballet Theater before moving to Fort Worth at age 13. She continued training with Paul Mejia and Maria Terezia Balogh and at 17 she joined the Metropolitan Classical Ballet. The idea for starting ACB came to Puder while attending multiple Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) concerts. “I was inspired to start doing more choreography just from hearing so much fantastic live music. Our first choice for the musicians for our performances are always DSO musicians, and I think very few ballet companies in the world can say they have musicians of that quality performing with them.”

With the aid of DSO principal horn David Cooper, ACB’s focus is on strengthening the ties between live music and dance in the Dallas area. Since its inception in 2012, ACB has performed eight new works, including Puder’sExactly Woven and Carnival of Animals, which premiered at the Eisemann Center in October 2014. This past year ACB also produced its first full-length ballet, Alice in Wonderland, with a commissioned score by resident composer Chase Dobson to positive reviews. “It seems that dance audiences have really missed live music. We also have a part of our audience who are music fans and we are their first exposure to dance performances. I love hearing from people who are discovering how exciting live ballet and music can be for the first time.”

Not one to idle, Puder is always looking for news way to increase exposure while also enriching the local dance culture. Participation in local dance festivals this year, including the {254} DANCE-FEST in Waco and the reimagined Dallas DanceFest at the Dallas City Performance Hall has helped ACB expand its reach within these communities. Puder’s plans for 2015 include the company’s first Women’s Choreography Project, which happens this weekend at Richardson’s Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts and a collaboration with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s SOLUNA: International Music & Arts Festival in May.

The Women’s Choreography Project, a series she plans to continue, features work by Puder and local choreographers Elizabeth Gillaspy and Emily Hunter, as well as guest choreographer Amy Diane Morrow.

A firm believer in supporting other local artists Puder has invited local dance companies such as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance to come perform with ACB. Puder is beginning to see this supportive stance spread across the whole dance community. “I have this feeling of a real community between different companies and circles. There is more awareness of what other people are doing and people are being supportive.” With Puder’s work ethic ACB will continue to draw in new audiences and raise the bar for other professional dance companies in the area.

This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.