Company member Olivia Rehrman on learning Bruce Wood ‘s movement and performing a section of Garrett Smith’s Forbidden Paths at Dallas Dances this weekend.
Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Olivia Rehrman, center, in Garrett Smith’s Forbidden Paths, performed by Bruce Wood Dance
Dallas — Even though she never knew him Olivia Rehrman says she feels a strong connection with the late Bruce Wood through his movement aesthetic and those who knew the choreographer well, including Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) artistic staff members Kimi Nikaidoh, Joy Bollinger and Gayle Halperin.
“I really connected with the technical aspect of his movement,” says Rehrman who is celebrating her fourth season with the company. “I think I’m a pretty clean technical dancer, and his movement is very technical, strong and powerful.”
She adds, “What didn’t click right away was the partnering. All the transitions in his work are so smooth and the partnering I did before didn’t involve a lot of overhead lifts so the hardest part for me was learning how to come in and out of the floor with a partner.”
A Dallas native, Rehrman grew up training at the Academy of Dance Arts. She continued her training at The University of Arizona where she graduated in 2012 with a BFA in dance. Before joining BWD in 2016, Rehrman spent four seasons with the world-renowned jazz company, River North Dance Chicago.
During her time with BWD Rehrman has gotten to perform in works by Wood, Yin Yue, Kate Skarpetowska, Bridget L. Moore, Nikaidoh, Bollinger and Albert Drake III. When she’s not in the studio with BWD Rehrman can be found teaching ballet and modern at Tuzer Dance Center.
Rehrman says her favorite Wood work is the crowd pleasing RED. “It is so powerful and so exhausting to dance, but it is so rewarding when you push through it to the end.”
BWD actually performed RED at Dallas Dances 2017 at Moody Performance Hall, which is presented by the Dance Council of North Texas. At this year’s Dallas Dances BWD will be performing the third section of Garrett Smith’s Forbidden Paths, which the company premiered at its June performance.
In the last section of his piece, which was created in protest of an Iranian law that prohibits people from dancing in public, Smith has the dancers strip off their baggy clothes to reveal skimpy black shorts and tops. When asked about the costume choice Rehrman says, “I am not a modest person so the costume didn’t really bother me.”
She continues, “If anything, the affect the costume had on me is when I was wearing baggier clothes I felt like it was easier to make my movement look grounded or grungier almost. And being stripped down at the end you kind of want to physically come out of the floor, but you can’t do that because his movement is so grounded and you have to use your plie so much. So, I think physically the costume changed my movement and I had to kind of fight against that.”
As for what it was like working with Smith on this piece Rehrman says, “This experience has taught me to not take for granted what I do every day. So on those days that I am tired and don’t really feel like dancing I remind myself that not everyone has the luxury to dance the way I do.”
BWD will be performing Forbidden Paths as part of Dallas Dances’ Saturday program at Moody Performance Hall.
Co-creator Martheya Nyaard breaks down the company’ intentions and what they have planned for Dallas Dances.
Dallas — Looking over the lineup for Dallas Dances, it’s exciting to see so many first-time presenters blended in with event staples such as Texas Ballet Theater, Bruce Wood Dance and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. One of these new faces is kNOwBOX dance, which was created by local choreographers YeaJean Choi and Martheya Nygaard at the beginning of 2018.
Choi and Nygaard met while earning their MFAs in dance at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Their overlapping interest in making art that challenged contemporary and modern dance aesthetics lead them to becoming fast friends and dance peers. Choi was working as the dance department’s digital media coordinator and Nygaard as the department’s publicity coordinator when the duo starting brainstorming about what they were going to do after graduation. They came up with the question: how can artists have access to stay connected, make new work and share work globally, and from there kNOwBOX was born.
“We strive to say no to the box,” Nygaard says. “The box symbolizes the boundaries and confines that limit connections. We pursue experimental production and collaboration with other artists in order to create, discuss and advocate for art. …The vision of kNOwBOX dance is to use the digital space and alternative formats to collaborate and archive. Our social media-based Evolving Laboratories facilitate a global presence for our collaborators to make, capture and share art.”
For Dallas Dances Hyun Jung (Jenna) Change will be performing Choi’s 괴다 (The memory of love) to Donovan Jones’ song “The Memory of Love.” The piece uses Korean contemporary dance techniques to express one’s memory of love. Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Choi earned her BFA in Korean dance from the Sung Kyun Kwan University in 2012 and performed with Du-Ri Theater of Korea. Her work has been presented at World Dance Alliance-Americas in Mexico, Dallas DanceFest, Texas Dance Improvisation Festival, American College Dance Association, Seattle BOOST Dance Festival, Terrance M Johnson Dance Project, Big Rig Dance Collective and the Choreographer’s Series in Korea.
Later this year kNOwBOX dance will be co-producing, alongside the Dance Council of North Texas and the Dallas Public Library, the first Dallas Dance Film Festival. In terms of what they hope to accomplish with this new event Nygaard says, “It is our goal that this festival can support both local and international emerging and professional dance filmmakers and provide an affordable platform to share their work. This free festival also offers the community of North Texas a new way to engage with dance.”
“We hope this will be an annual festival that has the potential to grown into a weekend event with workshops, installations and guest artists.”
The jazz dance professor on the fundamentals of Jump Rhythm Technique and her piece, What We Do with Time, part of Dallas Dances.
Dallas — Just like every young dancer Brandi Coleman grew up learning all the basic dance techniques, including ballet, jazz, modern and hip-hop. It wasn’t until Coleman went to the Jazz Dance World Congress in 1992 and saw Billy Siegenfeld’s choreography for the first time that she realized she wanted to focus primarily on jazz. More specifically, she wanted to learn Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm® Technique. So, when she heard Siegenfeld was teaching at Jacobs’ Pillow along with fellow jazz choreographer Danny Buraczeski, Coleman knew she needed to go.
“This was a pivotal point for me,” Coleman says about her time at Jacob’s Pillow. “Up to this point I have had a variety of dance training, but this experience at Jacob’s Pillow working with both Danny and Billy really solidified my innate response, love and passion for jazz dance and specifically moving rhythmically and musically.”
“Jump Rhythm Technique just felt good innately to me both in the physicality and in my heart and soul.”
Today, Coleman is an artist-in-residence in jazz dance at Southern Methodist University and is also the associate artistic director of Jump Rhythm Jazz Project (JRJP), an Emmy Award-winning performing and teaching company that celebrates the communal core of jazz performance, including dancing, singing and storytelling in rhythmically syncopated conversations. She also holds a B.A. in dance from Northeastern Illinois in Chicago and an MFA in performing arts/dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
To put it simply Coleman says the goal of Jump Rhythm Technique is to turn the body into a percussive instrument. “So, it’s using the musical construct of jazz music, meaning we’re trying to play syncopation and swing in the body, but we are also trying to understand what it feels like to feel rhythm in the body and to shape energy over approaching movement from how my body looks in space. We do address shape, but we address time first.”
When explaining the fundamentals of Jump Rhythm Technique to her students Coleman uses a comprehensive step by step process. “So, in Jump Rhythm Technique we first say what is the rhythm. Then we improvise to that rhythm. Then we clarify the rhythm. Then we clarify the emotional intention behind the rhythm. And then we clarify where in space we do that rhythm.”
Coleman points out that the technique also involves a lot of vocalization, which she says is hard for many dancers because the perception is usually that dancers are to be seen and not heard. So, she usually starts out by asking the dancers questions so they can hear their voices out loud and then she has them sing the Alphabet percussively and then rhythmically. From there she has them start scat singing, which audiences will get to experience firsthand at Dallas Dances this Sunday in Coleman’s What We Do With Time.
“Rhythm and emotion primarily inform the movement and the narrative of the piece,” Coleman says. “It is a quirky, humorous comment on being stressed. It’s about meeting deadlines and missing deadlines and anticipating deadlines that you know you can’t or won’t make. It’s a universal theme that I anticipate anyone and everyone can empathize with.”
I asked Brandi if she thought classical jazz was a dying off and she told me that this is misconception because in order grow jazz dance has had to align with pop culture, which is where new styles like jazz funk and lyrical jazz come into play. So, classical jazz isn’t dying. It is just changing as is natural with all dance forms. She uses the imagery of branches to example these newer styles of jazz, which she said I could read about in the book “Jazz: A History of the Roots and Branches” by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver.
Like the dance history nerd I am I immediately purchased this book on Amazon and it should be here in a day or two. I am looking forward to reading and will definitely put up a post about my thoughts on the book as soon as I am done reading it. Here is a link to the book if you will she purchase it too
The choreographer on starting the annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival and presenting at the Dance Council’s Dallas Dances festival.
Dallas — A well-known associate professor of dance at Texas Woman’s University (TWU), Jordan Fuchs has been making dances grounded in improvisational practices since the early 1990’s. At that point he was living and working in San Francisco until he moved to New York City in 1998, which he then left in 2007 to take his position with TWU. His work uses the aesthetic values of improvisation to find the instability of each performance moment, the possibility of transformation through sensation and the inherent state of moving always in relationship to another and to our environment, according to his Web site.
Throughout his career Fuchs has danced for artists, including K.J. Holmes, Kirstie Simson, Mark Dendy, Luka Kito/Megan Boyd, Rebecca Lazier, Gina Jacobs, Scott Wells, Lizz Roman, Joanne Nerenberg and Potrezebie. Fuchs is a Fulbright Specialist and has been on faculty at Hunter College and Movement Research. He has taught workshops at numerous universities and festivals across the United States and internationally. Fuchs is also a former dance specialist in the Jerome Robbins Moving Image Archive of the Dance Division of the New York Public Library.
For Dallas Dances he will be presenting a 6.5-minute excerpt from the second half of his work Torsion, which premiered in 2017 at the Jordan Fuchs Company’s spring performance at TWU’s Dance Studio Theater. Featuring dancers Michelle Beard, Whitney Geldon and Melissa Sanderson, the originally 20-minute trio explores movements centered in the pelvis and the body’s connective tissue, the fascia. The piece also includes original sound composition by Andy Russ and lighting design by Roma Flowers.
“I was intrigued at the movement possibly between the layers of skin, muscle and bone,” Fuchs says about the inspiration for the piece. “For instance, if you hold your forearm in your hand and rotate your forearm there is a lot of movement possible. I wanted to know what kind of dancing could emerge from paying attention to such subtlety.”
“When I start projects, I only define starting points.,” he adds. “I never know where they will end up and that is one of the pleasures of choreography for me. Finding where I end up.”
In addition to teaching and choreographing, Fuchs is also the founder of the annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this October with special guest artist Judith Sánchez Ruíz, a former dancer with both Trisha Brown and Sasha Walsh. “I wanted to create a space where improvisational dance practices and movement forms such as contact improvisation could be front and center rather than an alternative offer, particularly in moving here from New York City over a decade ago, a place where such practices were so integral to the dance making of me and many of my peers,” Fuchs says about jumpstarting the festival in Dallas.
“The mission of the annual festival has been to share, inspire and challenge the improvisational dance community in Texas through bringing in internationally renowned guest artists and creating opportunities for sharing teaching, performing and dance practices and for networking.”
As the Dance Council of North Texas (DCNT) exclaimed on its Facebook page yesterday, submissions are now being accepted for the inaugural Dallas Dance Film Festival (DDFF), which will take place Dec. 8 at the Dallas Public Library Fretz Park location. The festival is free and will feature emerging and professional dance filmmakers.
According to festival organizers, which includes DCNT, Dallas Public Library and kNOwBOX dance, there will be a Q&A with the film creators following the screening and audience members will participate in the selection process for the Best of the Fest dance filmmaker. In addition to the Best of the Fest award there is also an award for most creative and most innovative.
Rules say the film must be 5-10 minutes long, incorporate dance, must pay fee per submission and only two submission per artist. Submission deadline is Sept. 21.
If you are interested, please visit the DCNT website or FilmFreeway.com for more information about this event.
I can think of a few names I would like to see submit work for this festival, but one name stands out in my head and that is Orlando Agawin. A few months ago he posted a short film on social media featuring Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) company member Lena Oren entitled Spring Break.
In the film Oren is frolicking around a tennis court in high-waisted jeans and white Keds to the soothing vocals of Elis Regina’s Aquas De Marco. I love the way she flirts with the camera and some how makes eating an orange look sexy. The film is so fun and silly and I just couldn’t stop watching it. I had no idea Orlando, who also danced with DCCD, was into filmmaking. I kind of want him to submit this short film so I can see it again, but on a larger screen this time!
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:
The American Ballet Theatre principal dancer on performing Giselle with LakeCities Ballet Theatre and guest teaching at Dance Planet 22 this weekend.
Lewisville — The image we have of ballet dancers today is changing thanks to professional dancers like Misty Copeland, David Hallberg and Sarah Lane. These dancers have done what many say is impossible and have brought classical ballet into households around the world with their artistic pursuits both on and off the stage. Copeland is the first African-American to reach principal status at American Ballet Theatre (ABT). In 2011, Hallberg became the first American to join the ranks of the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow. And Lane is most recognized for her role as dance double for Natalie Portman in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ feature movie Black Swan (2010). But in the last year Lane has also been making some big moves on stage as well, if her promotion to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in September 2017 is any indication. She also received positive reviews for her debut role in Giselle last spring at the Metropolitan Opera House (MET) in New York City.
Throughout her career with ABT, which started in 2003 as an apprentice, Lane has performed in numerous classical ballets, including Cinderella, Coppélia, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lakeand Les Sylphide. She also created the Chinese dance in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, the Miettes Qui Tombent (Breadcrumb) in Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty, Miranda in The Tempest, Princess Praline in Whipped Cream and a role in Demis Volpi’s Private Light. Lane has also performed in works by notable choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, George Balanchine, Liam Scarlett, Jorma Elo, Marcelo Gomes, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp.
Lane began her dance training in Memphis, Tenn. under the direction of Pat Gillespie at the Memphis Classical Ballet. When her family moved to Rochester, N.Y., she continued her training with Timothy Draper and Jamey Leverett at the Draper Center for Dance Education. At age 16, Lane received a full scholarship to the Boston Ballet’s Summer Program. In 2000 and 2001, she was awarded first place and the Capezio Class Excellence Award at the North American Ballet Festival. In 2002 Lane became a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
Lane will be pulling double duty this weekend as she reprises her role in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’sGiselle and guest teaches at Dance Planet 22. TheaterJones.com caught up with Lane after she returned from tour last week to discuss her rise through the ranks at ABT, preparing for the role of Giselle and participating in Dance Planet 22.
TheaterJones: Growing up, was becoming a professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) your main goal?
Sarah Lane: I have always loved dancing, but I never expected to be in a major ballet company because I just never felt that highly of myself. It wasn’t a goal I felt was obtainable for me until we moved to Rochester, New York, and I started at a more difficult school and was exposed to more teachers and guest teachers in the summers. I loved imagining myself as a professional ballet dancer because of the qualities these teachers brought to their classes and their teaching skills really rubbed off on me. So I kept working, and when I was 16 I came to New York City with a friend and saw ABT perform at the MET for the first time, and it made me think that maybe my dream is to be in ABT.
I always thought that NYC was too big of a city for me and being part of ABT would be too stressful, but then I thought of how beautiful the dancers looked on stage and I really wanted to be a part of that. And I think a lot of this had to do with the ballerina I saw that night, Amanda McKellow, who to this day is one of my favorite ballet dancers. She has such a sensibility when she moves and is so humble and she helped me a little bit with Giselle in the studio, which also happens to be the ballet I saw her perform in when I was 16.
You mentioned that you never saw yourself becoming a professional ballet dancer because you didn’t think that highly of yourself. How did you find the confidence to pursue your goal of joining a professional company?
Well, it’s something that I struggle with to this day. And I guess you can call it my Achilles heel because I have never been incredibly sure of myself. I love what I do and I get lost in it and I get lost in a certain feeling. It’s the feeling and the ideas I bring to what I do that drives me. And also the people that I work with and the processes that just make my performances whole rather than me coming out and thinking ok I can do this, this and this. So, instead of it being about me and myself and what I can do that drives me, it’s more about the artistry and what ideas I am trying to portray. So, in that sense I guess I don’t focus so much on whether I have confidence or not. I would say my confidence has gotten better over the years in that I’ve learned to appreciate the process more, and if I give more to the process then it distracts me when I go onstage so I can focus on the work more.
Looking at your career as a whole what advice do you have for the next generation of ballet dancers?
The most important thing is to have a really good work ethic because if you think you are too good to work or if you have one good show and you don’t think you have to work after that then that’s your downfall. Your whole career is going to be work and it’s not easy for anyone. Humility is also very important and having perspective in life and just keep working. I mean, perfectionism is great because that’s what keeps you working, but another point is you can’t judge yourself so much that you lose your love for what you do.
You were a soloist with ABT for 10 years before being promoted to principal last year. At any point during those years did you just want to throw in the towel?
I felt like I was just bashing my head up against a brick wall for many years. I wanted to go further and I wanted to develop and I wanted to do new and fresh works, but the thing is nothing is ever lined up so you can get what you want all the time. And that is how it was for me. I wasn’t lucky with the timing of how the company was going for a huge chunk of my career. But at the end of the day I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t have to persevere through that time. I learned how to work for myself and drain as much as I could from a role, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was thrown into things faster. I wouldn’t have learned how to keep myself occupied and keep myself entertained with what I had. So, this taught me perseverance and how to motivate myself. I mean if you really love something than you have to keep working toward it. Even when you get discouraged you have to find a way to inspire yourself.
You had your debut in Giselle at the MET last May and received rave reviews. One critic even called you the Giselle for the Millennials. How did you go about making the role your own?
I really enjoy the depth of the story and the ethereal feel of the second half. This wasn’t a role I was thrown into. I have done so many peasant pas’s in my career that playing Giselle just felt like the next step for me. So, for me it wasn’t like all of the sudden I was on that night. It was more of a progression of so many years of continuing to be disciplined and continuing to love what I do. I have such fond memories of doing the ballet with LakeCities Ballet Theatre nine years ago that when I finally did it with ABT I just had such love for it that whatever judgements I had about myself I had to throw out the door because I felt like the ballet didn’t deserve any of that. And even though Giselle is one of the oldest ballets, it still contains emotions and storylines that people can relate with today such as love and betrayal. So, the ballet is still living and breathing the emotions that we have as human beings.
You performed in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) Giselle nine year ago, and you have also been playing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Company’s Nutcracker since 2014. What do you enjoy most about working with these young dancers?
It always helps to having someone older to look up too and learn from so I hope that there is something these dancers can learn from me and that I could be there to give them any tips or offer some encouragement. That’s what I enjoy about having these dancers around and watching and talking to them and just being a part of their productions. It’s really an honor for me to be there and to be a role model for them. LBT has a really good heart and lots of positive energy and they have kind of accepted me into their family and that just means so much to me.
While in Dallas you will also be performing and teaching classes at Dance Planet 22. How would you describe your teaching style?
I think I am a pretty fair type of teacher. I mean if someone doesn’t seem like they are really invested in my class I can be a little tough with them because if you’re not interested now then you are never going to be interested. But if a dancer is working hard, but still struggling with something I am more than happy to be gracious and give everything that I can to help them. The tough love side of me really only comes out when I feel like a student is being lazy or isn’t trying. I love coaching and being with dancers inside the classroom, so teaching is definitely something I see myself doing more of in the future!
You can see Sarah Lane in LBT’s production of Giselle April 6-7 at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theatre and Dance Planet 22 April 7-8 at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Dallas Arts District.
Moving Forward Dance Project will be hosting its second event in January, aptly titled Moving Forward II.
Created by Booker T. Washington alum and Juilliard student Madison Hicks, Moving Forward Dance ProjectII is a three-day dance workshop where students get the opportunity to work with professional and pre-professional artists from The Julliard School. Dancers will have the opportunity to train in a safe and encouraging atmosphere where the MFDP faculty will share their wealth of knowledge and experience, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Hicks came up with the idea for the project during her first year at the renowned Juilliard School. (Check out this article on the Dance Spirit web site from 2016 about Hicks’ life as a Juilliard student!)
“I wanted to create a workshop for the young artists in Dallas to give them a glimpse of what concert training is like.,” Hicks says. “I have always had a love for teaching and choreographing, and in college I got to dive into my choreographic studies even more. Although I began choreographing at Booker T. Washington HSPVA, I thought about how much I would have loved to explore choreography at an even younger age than I did. I believe young artists have the capacity to create in an environment that encourages their choreographic voice.”
Hicks credits her time at Springboard Dans Montreal in 2016 and 2017 with helping her find her voice as both a dancer a choreographer. “This workshop pushed me even more to create an open environment for young artists to begin exploring their voices. I have found in my training and research that too often, we are not encouraged to train in anything besides technique until much later in our training and careers. The purpose of Moving Forward Dance Project is to bring this encouraging and mature environment to the young artists in Dallas.”
I couldn’t agree more! I grew up in the competitive dance world where tricks and flexibility were the focus of most of my classes. I did not experience my first composition class till my Freshman year of college and by that time I was pretty stuck in my ways. What I mean by that is after years of learning to pick up choreography quickly at conventions and trying to replica my dance teachers movement styles I was now being asked to think for myself when it came to creating movement. Looking back I wish I had more opportunities to explore choreography outside the competition realm before entering college. I was hard for me to reach my full potential when I still had some many hurtles to overcome. So, I urge are you young professionals out there in Dallas to please take advantage of this unique opportunity.
Moving Forward Dance Project II takes place Jan. 6-7 at Pure Movement Dance and Fitness in Allen, TX, and includes master classes as well as workshops focusing largely on improvisation and composition. And along with modern, contemporary and ballet classes, this year’s event will also feature repertory classes.
This year’s faculty includes Hicks, Kevin Pajarillaga (Bruce Wood Dance and Yin Yue Dance Company), Alysia Johnson (Juilliard School) and Jillyn Bryant (Bruce Wood Dance).
Stephanie Rae Williams of Dance Theatre of Harlem returns home for the Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival and the Dance Council Honors this weekend.
Dallas — As the oldest of six siblings, Stephanie Rae Williams says her parents had to get creative when it came to financing her love of dance, especially classical ballet. Williams credits her mom with discovering the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which also happens to be where she will be performing this weekend, along with attending the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence by the Dance Council of North Texas. “My mother is such an amazing woman and she just wanted me to have all these different opportunities in dance and so, she was really the one who sought out different scholarships that were available and helped me apply for them,” Williams says. Her mom’s hard work paid off in 2005 when Williams was awarded the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which she used to attend Julliard’s summer intensive that same year. The scholarship also gave Williams the opportunity to perform at the SSDF, which was a big deal for the 16 year old at the time. “I think I performed a classical piece, which is nothing like the solo I will be performing this time.”
The event, newly renamed Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival in honor of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), runs Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School and includes performances by Williams, Sydney Winston (2017 SDDF scholarship recipient), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. The schedule also features a master class with former Bruce Wood Dance Company member Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase and an industry roundtable. The event is made possible by Arga Nova Dance with the support of Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center.
For SDDF, Williams will be performing José Limón’s Chaconne, courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Out of the four casts, Williams was the only female chosen for the solo, which she describes as modern-based and challenging, yet extremely satisfying to perform. “There’s something really gratifying about the way Jose Limon choreographed this piece. It feels like you evolve as a human being throughout it and by the end of it you’re like dead, but alive at the same time.”
Growing up in Allen, Texas, Williams started her dancing at Texas Ballet Theater School (formerly Dallas Dance Academy) when she was 8 years old. She grew up training in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and hip-hop with Joyce Seaborne Bader, Lyndette Bader and Fiona Fairrie. After graduating from Allen High School, Williams joined Ben Stevenson’s Texas Ballet Theater for a season before heading to New York City. There she worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden at Complexions Contemporary Ballet before joining DTH’s ensemble company in 2010. After DTH returned from hiatus with Virginia Johnson at the helm in 2012, Williams was then asked to join the revived company and has spent the last five years here gaining more confidence in herself and her craft. “It’s the first company that I was able to make my home and really feel like I could grow and be nurtured there. What’s interesting is that half that dancers that came with us to Dallas in 2014 have moved on and yet I am still here. It’s surreal being one of the veterans that the new company members now come to show them the ropes.”
When asked if she ever gets the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, Williams responds, “Yes, I do sometimes get the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, and I have done that with Virginia’s approval, but DTH remains my home base.” Williams mentions that she just completed four shows with the Seattle-based Arc Dance Company, which she says Johnson was nice enough to allow her to do. “It a lot of fun because for once I wasn’t the seasoned dancer. I was the new girl and I feel like it’s really important to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable anywhere, and so I am really thankful I have a director that encourages these types of opportunities.”
As far as what Williams is looking forward the most at SDDF, she says, “Just mingling with everyone there and also seeing so many smaller dance companies from professional to the local high schools perform. And because it’s not just the professionals performing this really does feel like the whole South Dallas community is coming together to celebrate dance throughout these three performances.” Williams adds that she is also looking forward to seeing the kids attending the festival as she believes there are not enough black dancers for them to look up to in the industry today, especially in classical ballet. “I was the only black girl in my entire dance school, but I just thought that this was the norm. It wasn’t until I walked into DTH to audition that I noticed there was this whole other side missing from my dancing because at DTH when we dance there’s this whole other type of soul that we bring to the stage.”
While in town Williams will also be attending the DC Honors where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence. The event takes place at Dallas Black Dance Theater on Sunday afternoon and will include food, a silent auction and performances by local companies and scholarship recipients. In addition to Williams, this year’s honorees also include Kathy Chamberlain, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy. As far as Williams’ reaction to the award news she says, “I was both humbled and excited when I heard I would be receiving this honor. It’s just really nice knowing that I have so much support here in Dallas and it means so much to me to be recognized in this way.”
Formerly the South Dallas Dance Festival, the new Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) is dedicated to the memory of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), whose vision and support were integral to the success of SDDF in years past.
Entitled Spreading Our Wings, the new SDDF features performances from Stephanie Rae Williams (Dance Theatre of Harlem), Sydney Winston (who attends Point Park University), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. To note, Williams was the SDDF Scholarship recipient in 2005 and Winston is this year’s recipient.
Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has danced with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012.
I spoke to Williams back in 2014, two years after DTH was reformed under long-time
DTH dancer Virginia Johnson, when the company was touring in Texas and she shared with me what is was like seeing the legendary dance company for the first time. “I was 16 and my mom drove me to Tyler, Texas, on a school night to see them,” Williams reminisces. “I remember how shocking it was because I had never seen so many dancers of color onstage doing ballet before. It was a beautiful experience.”
Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has dance with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012. Williams will also be receiving the Natalie Skelton Award for artistic excellence at the end of this month at the Dance Council Honors, which will be hosted by the Dance Council of North Texas and held at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The schedule for SDDF also includes a master class taught by Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase, a industry roundtable and many opportunities to see some dancing! The festival takes place Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School in Dallas. Go check it out!
See the press release below for more information:
ARGA NOVA DANCE with support from Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center present [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival – Spreading Our Wings
WHAT: SDDF 2017 “Spreading Our Wings”
WHEN: Friday, 27 October 2017, 8:00 pm, Saturday, 28 October 2017, 3:00 pm & 8:00 pm
WHERE: Ann Richards Middle School, 3831 N. Prairie Creek Rd, Dallas TX 75227, cor. Military