Company dancer Elizabeth Villarreal on her roles in Rodeo and Bamboo Flute Concerto, part of Ballet Frontier of Texas’ Director’s Choice this Saturday.
Fort Worth — Like most aspiring ballerinas Elizabeth Villarreal fell in love with ballet at a very young age. She was put in her first dance class at the age of three, and 15 years later she’s still passionate about the art form. A Fort Worth native, Villarreal has spent the last 10 years training with Ballet Center of Fort Worth, under the tutelage of Chung-Lin and Enrica Tseng, and is currently celebrating her eighth season with Ballet Frontier of Texas.
“They are amazing and worked with me so well and took the time to know me and my needs,” Villarreal says about her training at Ballet Center of Fort Worth. “They knew what I needed to grow and therefore I never felt like I needed to leave.”
(Photo: Ballet Frontier of Texas
Elizabeth Villarreal and Marlen Alimanov)
Villarreal has had the fortune of performing in all of BFT’s productions with some of her favorite roles being that of the Dew Drop Fairy, Lead Arabian, Flowers and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker as well as Chung-Lin Tseng’s Variation on a Rococo Theme and Roy Tobias’ Mozart K379. In her spare time Villarreal enjoys teaching and is currently on the ballet faculty at Ballet Center of Fort Worth. The 19-year-old also plans on going to school to become a physical therapist.
“I spent a lot of time in physical therapy for my own injuries, and it just really seemed like something that would work for me because I like to be moving around and active,” Villarreal says about what draws her to the field of physical therapy. “I also like the idea of helping younger dancers really focus on their injuries and how to properly strengthen their bodies.”
This Saturday Villarreal will be performing in BFT’s Director’s Choice at I.M. Terrell Academy in Fort Worth. She will be performing a solo and pas de deux with Marlen Alimanov in Chung-Lin Tseng’s Bamboo Flute Concerto as well as portraying the main cowgirl in his rendition of Rodeo. The program also includes performances by Dallas-based dance companies: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance and DBDT: Encore!
“It’s a lot of fun and super relatable,” Villarreal says about dancing in Rodeo. “I feel like it’s more of a coming of age story for this young cowgirl who doesn’t quite fit in and is just figuring herself out and where she belongs.” She adds, “I love all of the choreography and there’s lots of laughs in it and it’s really nice to be able to push past my own comfort zone to play the cowgirl.”
Regarding the show’s lineup BFT’s Co-director Enrica Tseng says, “The dancers are challenged in multiple ways with style and technique. They will be dancing neo-classical choreography to classical Chinese music, a contemporary work by Lee Wei Chao and Rodeo, which is a short story ballet composed by Aaron Copland. So three very different pieces.”
And as for the guest companies that will be performing Enrica Tseng says, “The guest companies bring a different variety of styles and techniques, which makes the performance of Director’s Choice very versatile. Both companies are not local to the city of Fort Worth and we like the fact that this will give an opportunity to the Fort Worth audience to watch them perform.”
From a dancer’s perspective Villarreal says being around these dance companies gives her and her co-workers an opportunity to see how they work and how they encourage and support each other while they’re dancing. She adds, “It’s also nice to be exposed to these different kinds of pieces because it’s not classical ballet and it’s not just neo-classical. It’s a very different kind of contemporary style and they are touching on so many different subjects through their dancing. It’s really amazing to get to watch and learn from them.”
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance aims to resemble alien rock stars in Mark Caserta and Mikey Morado’s new work Dregs, part of the company’s Winter Series at WaterTower Theatre.
Addison — “An alien dark underbelly vibe, but with a gentle tone,” is how Mark Caserta describes the mood of Dregs, a new piece he and fellow choreographer and boyfriend Mikey Morado have created for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s (DCCD) Winter Series, which boosts works made by queer choreographers centering on gay identity in America. The program will also feature Eoghan Dillon’s Boys Are and Joshua L. Peugh’s Bud, which he did in collaboration with multimedia artist Brian Kenny. The performance will be held Jan. 24-27 at Addison Theatre Center, DCCD’s new home for 2019 thanks to its new partnership with WaterTower Theatre.
“It’s quite gender confusing, but very sexy,” Caserta says about the approximately 22-minute work, which includes an original score by Pittsburgh-based slowdanger whom he says mixed the track in the studio while the dancers worked. “It’s alien and out there, but also has a relatable vibe.”
As for the choreography in the piece Morado says, “We like to work with images that are more chic and simplistic and less confetti and more latex. So, what we made at the end of the day was a very alien world that has its own rules and doesn’t really operate within this 2019 America vibe.”
Morado and Caserta are both products of reputable dance institutions. Morado received a BFA in dance at Marymount Manhattan College before joining Sidra Bell Dance New York in 2013. Caserta trained at the Ailey School and graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in ballet performance. He has danced with Eleone Dance Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz De Montreal and Camille A. Brown + Dancers.
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.
“I have known of Dance Industry since my time at Complexions,” Caserta says. “The kids would come to New York City to attend workshops, and through them I developed a relationship with Christy and Jamie Anderson. They had offered me a job a few years before, but I was working, so it wasn’t until 2015 when Mikey and I were looking for a change that I asked them if the offer still stood and we moved to Dallas.”
Morado says that his relationship with Dance Industry didn’t start until after the couple had made their decision to move. “I had never met either of them, but we came out in March to teach and see what the vibe was here and Jamie and Christy picked us up from the airport and the second we got in the car with them there was an instantaneous certainty that we belong here. So, they brought me on and gave me basically the same amount of role that Mark has in the studio.”
It was about a year later when Wolverton-Ryzman handed over the reins of the Thriving Artist Project to Morado and Caserta. “This was something she had started the year prior to hiring us,” Morado says. “It was a small scale project and really more about her connecting with the kids and giving them professional advice.”
He continues, “I think she knew she wanted to amp up the program and that she wanted to do something that would extend beyond the walls of Dance Industry in a very real and practical concert dance sense. So her bringing Mark and I on, she knew that she would be well-connected to the current dance world that is still happening in New York and all over the world.”
So far Morado and Caserta have been living up this promise as evident by the list of names they have on the Thriving Artist Project’s event calendar online. The list includes high end choreographers such as Sidra Bell of Sidra Bell Dance New York, Jonathan Alsberry of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Micaela Taylor of TL Collective and Christie Partelow of Nederlands Dans Theater.
When I brought up that these are names you typically associate with local dance institutions such as Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Morado replies, “There are a lot of shiny and glitzy things in Dallas and particularly around Booker T. and so it’s very easy for that to be considered the mecca of ‘shiny dance things,’ but I think it’s really meaningful and impactful for these kids that Mark and I work with that we work in a way that is very humble and we choose to work with artists who reflect that humility.”
He adds, “What sets us apart as individuals, but also as a couple is our level of consideration and really making sure that the quality and connection is genuine. That it’s never forced and we work with artists who we truly support.”
It was through the Thriving Artist Project where Morado and Caserta meet Peugh who was at the couple’s first performance back in 2016. “He was super complimentary and we clicked with him right away,” Morado says.
“It was such a bold and loving move for him to reach out to us,” Caserta says. “He is a smart businessman and has become a great friend.”
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.
The dance duo also had nothing but nice things to say about their time in the studio with the DCCD dancers. “We were super inspired by the dancers and just by that particular group that is with Dark Circles right now,” Morado says. “They have such a warm chemistry among them and the majority of them identity as gay or queer themselves, and I think particularly being in Dallas and connecting with people like that has a bit deeper of a ripple than it would in a place like New York because there is less of a demographic there for that.”
While discussing the creative process for Dregs, Morado says it was done in reverse order to what people generally consider normal. So, instead of giving the dancers specific movement phrases or specific motifs, he says they generated a lot of the movement based off of the tasks they had the dancers doing such as free writing and coming up with their own gesture movements, which they later combined into collaborative group phrases.
Morado explains, “The experience for them is very personal, and rather than giving them the details and having them form the piece around that we kind of had them form the piece and then said ‘oh that is a detail we want to put in.’” He adds, “We also made an effort to highlight each dancer individually and to not stick with one soloist. We wanted to equalize everyone and especially with a group this talented we would be short changing ourselves if we didn’t individualize the piece for them.”
For this work, DCCD has also paired with Youth First, a program of Resource Center and one of the only youth centers in the North Texas area aimed at meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth ages 12-18. The company has been teaching masterclasses for the teens which explore identity and self-expression through movement.
This year saw the creative juices flowing from well-known local dance artists, including Joshua L. Peugh, Katie Cooper and Kimi Nikaidoh as well as guest artists who brought styles that had yet to be seen in Dallas such as Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary dance style and Gabrielle Lamb’s bird-like quality and theatricality. We also saw the resurgence of authentic jazz technique from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Artist-in-Residence Brandi Coleman and the expansion of Bombshell Dance Project’s technical fortitude in a new piece by visiting choreographer Amanda Krische.
A few of the works on my list this year also featured live accompaniment, including Cooper’s The Little Match Girl Passion, Nikaidoh’s The Face of Water and Peugh’s evening-length work Aladdin,حبيبي. We also saw more musical collaborations with local talent such as Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet with Verdigris Ensemble and Peugh with SMU alum Brandon Carson who worked on both Aladdin and Lamb’s Can’t Sleep But Lightly.
Relatability also played a big part in my decision making for this list, and while every piece made me feel something, the one that spoke to me the loudest was Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you! He managed to address a number of issues affecting individuals with humility and an uninhibited movement quality.
As far as what I’m looking forward to in the coming year I am excited to see what Bridget L. Moore is cooking up with her new company, B Moore Dance, as well as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s winter showcase, Avant Chamber Ballet’s Romance and Ragtime and Bruce Wood Dance’s gala fundraiser entitled Dances from the Heart. I am also looking forward to seeing Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs at the Winspear Opera House in March.
And my wonderful husband got me tickets for both Anastasia and Hamilton at Dallas Summer Musical in Fair Park. I am already counting down the days!!!!!
My dance writing goals for 2019 include talking and visiting with even more local dance companies and choreographers as well as attending some shows outside the dance realm, including plays, musicals and opera. Can’t wait to get started.
Until then, here are my favorite new works made in 2018:
The Little Match Girl Passion by Katie Cooper
Avant Chamber Ballet and Verdigris Ensemble
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Always one willing to break the mold when it comes to classical ballet, Katie Cooper paired her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the vocalists of choral outfit Verdigris Ensemble for a very sobering and elegantly danced performance of David Lang’s A Little Match Girl Passion at Moody Performance just a few weeks ago. Cooper took a very different approach for the choreography in this performance. Instead of bouts of group allegro and adagio movements Cooper had the corps act as scenery and story imagery, which only added to the balletic lines and character portrayal of lead dancer Juliann McAloon. ACB took a risk with such a somber show, but while the show brought to the surface the feelings of loss and sadness, it also presented airs of beauty and spiritual awakening.
Aladdin,حبيبي by Joshua L. Peugh
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Sixth Floor Studio Theatre, Dallas
Peugh stretched his artistic boundaries with his first evening-length work, Aladdin, Habib, which Dark Circles Contemporary Dance performed back in October as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Known for giving very few details about his pieces to his dancers, Peugh admitted Aladdin was a completely new experience for himself. He stepped outside his comfort zone with repurposed set design, strong character portrayals and live music. The movement was a blend of Peugh’s signature heavy-footed walking steps, twisty curvy floor work and subtle gesturing with more accented hips, body ripples and staccato movements typically associated with Middle Eastern dance cultures. The narrative is based on “The Story of Aladdin” as well as company member Chadi El-koury’s own personal story of coming to America with his family as a young boy, which he approached with calm determination and an emotional intensity we had yet to see from him.
And One More Thing… by Brandi Coleman
Meadows Dance Ensemble
Southern Methodist University, Bob Hope Theatre, Dallas
One of the few jazz choreographers in the U.S. trained in Jump Rhythm Technique, Coleman wowed the audiences with her funky and loud jazz number, And One More Thing…, at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert in October. Originally created in 2015, Coleman added on three new sections with a grand finale that featured a large group of females dressed in casual street clothes moving and grooving to “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The piece played between the juxtaposition of stillness and hotness, which the dancers demonstrated through subtle gestures and sassy expressions as well as their sudden bursts energy and scat-singing, a fundamental element of Jump Rhythm Technique. It was fun and rambunctious and definitely a work worth seeing again.
LUNA by Amanda Krische
Bombshell Dance Project
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Repetitive phrases that travel every which way was the foundation for New York-based choreographer Amanda Krische’s LUNA, which was part of Bombshell Dance Project’s Like A Girl performance at Moody Performance Hall last June. Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tapped into their inner beasts in order to maintain their energy levels throughout the 10-minute work which started out with the two of them walking a specific number of steps before the monotonous phrase was broken up with gestures, pauses and abrupt floor work. The girls described the piece as a slow burn and they definitely had to dig deep as the intensity continued to build and the music switched from meditative to pulsating. It was a pleasant departure from the bombshells signature robust movement style.
Can’t Sleep But Lightly by Gabrielle Lamb
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
WaterTower Theatre, Addison
New York-based choreographer Gabrielle Lamb challenged the dancers’ mathematical skills as well as their artistic sensibilities in her piece for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s showing at WaterTower Theatre’s Detour Festival back in March. Methodical walks, balletic lines and alien-esque body shapes are woven throughout this cleverly crafted piece. What I liked most about this piece is its lack of physical partnering; instead the dancers relied on simple human contact to produce authentic connections with one another. It was a very trippy ride indeed and a complementary pairing of artistic minds.
The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh
Avant Chamber Ballet
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Nikaidoh used a range of emotions and the highs and lows within Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece Tenebrae to drive the movement in her new work for Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2018 Women’s Choreography Project last April. Nikaidoh described the piece as more of an emotional journey focused primarily on hope and new beginnings, which was depicted in the longer, sweeter notes in the music. The combination of classical movements such as pas de deuxs and standard corps body lines and formations with Nikaidoh’s penchant for subtle musical gesturing and unlikely body shapes was a delightful juxtaposition for these talented dancers. Add in the dancers’ emotional conviction and you had a winning work.
Begin Again by Yin Yue
Bruce Wood Dance
Moody Performance Hall, Dallas
Bruce Wood Dance did an admirable job of presenting New York-based choreographer Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary techniques to audiences at its Harmony performance last June. The cyclical nature of the piece is an extension of Yue’s movement style that features liquid body rolls, continuous arm circles and wide, sweeping leg lifts and floor work. The piece showcased the bond of the group, a staple of many of Bruce Wood’s works, in which the dancers appeared as one living organism before breaking off into smaller pairs and individual movement sequences. A musical mover Yue’s choreography came across as one continuous line of thought that dips, daps, weaves and loop-de-loops around an individual’s personal space, which led to some unexpected and visually pleasing moments.
Face what’s facing you! by Claude Alexander III
Dallas Black Dance Theatre
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Dallas
Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackled their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series back in May. As a rising choreographer Alexander delivered a strong voice in this work, which centered around some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process. The piece was cathartic and heart pounding at the same time as the dancers meshed smooth walks and sustained lines with explosive jumps and multiple turns. Alexander didn’t waste any time getting to the theme of the piece and the action-packed stripped-down choreography was a breath of fresh air.
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance takes us to a whole new world in Joshua L. Peugh’s Aladdin, Habibi, part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.
Dallas — Over the last seven years Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh has wowed us again and again with his insightful and unique perspective on the human condition as well as today’s social norms. He transfers this information to his dancers using a combo of classical and modern movements infused with his own special blend of grounded footwork, knee-bruising floor work and happenstance partnering. His aesthetic demands that the dancers be comfortable in their own skin, yet open and vulnerable on stage.
Peugh is asking this and much more from the company in his first evening-length creation, Aladdin, حبيبي, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, Oct. 11-14, at the Wyly Theatre. The immersive 75-minute production focuses on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures. The work is based on the folk tale of “The Story of Aladdin” or “The Wonderful Lamp,” first written in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (or The Arabian Nights).
Peugh says this process all began while browsing through a book store one Sunday morning. “I found a copy of Arabian Nights and the first line in the book is once upon a time in China. See when most people think of Aladdin they think of the 1992 Disney movie, but Aladdin was actually Chinese and the story was added later on by Frenchman Antoine Galland.”
He continues, “This was one aspect of the work. The other being company member Chadi El-khoury’s personal story, which includes his mom bringing him and his brother to America when he was 11 years old. We go to his Mom’s house every Sunday and she always calls her children Habibi, an Arabic endearment like ‘sweetheart,’ and it’s why the title of the work is called Aladdin, Habibi. We put the term in Arabic to signal to these people that their voice is being represented here.”
Peugh also points out that the work will feature a new score from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a six-piece band. The production also includes costumes designed by Susan Austin and lighting by Bart McGeehon.
“I honestly didn’t know what the music was going to look like until I got started with the dancers, but we needed music before rehearsals began and so I ended up sending Brandon a list of plot points and asked him to make them musical numbers. We started off with 20 minutes of music and have gone back and forth a lot until we got to today’s product.”
In the work the dancers also double as stage hands, which was evident during the run through I saw at Preston Center Dance in Dallas last Wednesday morning. When not executing movement in the center, the dancers are constructing a tent out of canes and fabric, playing a game of cards and actively observing their surroundings, just to give a few examples.
Peugh explains, “We played a lot of theater games and one of them was about making yourself very present and aware and basing everything you do on things outside your circle so you are inviting things to happen instead of making them happen, which is already the principles that I run the company on in the first place, but we are now expanding that in different directions.”
The example he gives is in regard to the architecture of the room. Because this show follows a narrative, Peugh had his dancers do a lot of exercises that had to do with using what is there in the space. “Everything you see in the show is stuff that was laying around the studio. So, everything is sort of a found object and not a created one and that mirrors the world we are trying to create in this dance.”
There were a lot of moving parts just within the first 20 minutes that I got to see of the show, so I will try to break it down for you without giving too much away. Company veteran El-khoury portrays the role of Aladdin and we get to witness his inner struggle of questioning certain rules and customs of the culture that he was born into and then coming to America and trying to fit in here. El-khoury’s journey of discovery involves two genies: the genie of the ring played by Jaiquan Laurencin and the genie of the lamp played by Lena Oren.
El-khoury moves with laser focus and incredible control during rehearsal. Deep lunges, swirling arms and rhythmic hip isolations are at the crux of most of his individual movement phrases. Over the last two years he has put on some noticeable bulk and his technical execution and artistic depth continues to flourish with every new piece the company puts out.
“He works really hard to make this happen,” Peugh says about El-khoury’s artistic growth. “He still works a full time corporate job and he works really hard to dance the way he wants. He has grown incredibly in the last several years. He’s fighting for it and he really loves dancing and it give him pleasure so that’s ultimately where it all starts from in the first place.”
Peugh admits that the creative process for this show has been a completely new experience for him. He doesn’t like to give his dancers too many details because he likes to see how the dancers take the material and make it their own. So, sitting down with the dancers after every rehearsal to talk about the narrative is really a foreign concept for him. Peugh says on the second day of rehearsals he asked the dancers to bring in a list or make a presentation to the group about the question ‘What is Middle Eastern?’ and from there he had the dancers take their lists and make a movement phrase based off one plotline in the story, and that is how the choreography for the show came to fruition.
“It was a really organic process,” Peugh says. “This has been one of the most fun, creative processes I have ever had. I have learned a ton and I am super proud of the work everyone has done. Everyone has put in a lot more than a few hours of learning steps.”
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!
Out of the eight arts groups and performers selected to participate in the Elevator Project’s 2018-19 season two of them are well known dance troupes!
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) continues to reshape how we view contemporary dance with its Gaga-inspired movement choices and relevant narratives based on Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh’s life experiences and his limitless imagination. DCCD will present Aladdin, حبيبي at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre Oct. 11-14. The new evening-length work is a meditation on American rhetoric regarding the Middle East and the stereotypes associated with Middle Eastern races and cultures, according to DCCD.
A new score for the work has been commissioned from composer and Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts alumnus Brandon Carson and will be performed live by a five-piece band on a mixture of Arabic, African and western instruments. The production will feature lighting and scenic designs by Bart McGeehon. Susan Austin will provide the costume design.
On the other side of the dance spectrum is Indique Dance Company, a classical Indian performance company that was started in 2008 by Sarita Venkatraman, Shalini Varghese, Latha Shrivasta, Anu Sury, Kruti Patel, Bhuvana Venkatraman and Shilpi Mehta. The group’s goal has been to reach a broader, more diverse audience by blending modern, relevant themes with the story-telling artistry of Indian classical dance styles. They will be doing just with its newest production, SvaBhava,at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Hamon Hall Dec. 6-8.
SvaBhava is the intrinsic, essential nature of living beings. The post goes on to say human beings have the extraordinary ability and privilege to create meaning in their lives, but how do we give our lives meaning? Many cultures from around the world have aspired to rid the mind, body, and spirit of selfishness, pride, and dishonesty exemplified in the way we treat others. This Bharatanatyam dance production is based on these ideals and how it affects our daily life.
Congrats to these two dance troupes! Can’t wait to see their shows!
Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackles their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series.
Dallas — Over the last couple of years Claude Alexander III has grown into an even more magnetic and mindful performer thanks to roles in unforgettable dance works such as Bridget L. Moore’s original version of Uncharted Territory for the TITAS Command Performance in 2017 and Jamal Story’s aerial duet, What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus (2015), which also happens to be one of my all-time favorite pieces. Now, this Dallas Black Dance Theatre company veteran is making his transition into the world of choreography with his first dance work,Face what’s facing you!, part of DBDT’s annual Spring Celebration Series at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas this weekend.
For his first choreographic piece Alexander is coming to terms with some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process, which he says is the underlying theme of the whole work. “I wanted to create something that is authentic and true to who I am right now,” Alexander says about his inspiration for the piece. “So, I just started thinking about things in my life which lead me to consider some things that I felt like I had to deal with as child and as I came into being an adult and this made me realize that I operate a certain way because I never quite addressed these issues when I was younger.” He adds, “I literally just wanted to be able to have a cathartic point to deal with a few issues in my life and I felt like this work was going to be the beginning of the process for healing.”
Once he had a clear idea of what he wanted the piece to be about Alexander and the other DBDT dancers met in the studio where he had the group create some improv movement based off a series of prepared questions. “I first asked them to identify what their issue is. Then what does it affect in your life. Then I asked them where it hurts you the most. And lastly, I asked them what would it look like to become free from whatever that thing is.” He continues, “And so, we used those four questions to formulate some improv and create some really authentic movement or motifs and from there is just all came together.”
A recent opinion piece on dancemagaine.com entitled “Dancers are Choreographers, Too. It’s Time for Dance Criticism to Reflect That” led me to ask Alexander exactly how much of the dancers improv material did he wind up using. He responds, “Oh, a lot of it! The improv material is probably where we developed the bulk of our motif. Now, I created most of the actual movement, but I would say hey, let’s use the arm from this person’s improv or let’s use that step from this person’s solo. And what I did was each person has a solo within the piece and it’s not always a featured solo, but they all have something that maybe only they do and I siphoned that movement, if you will, to use in other places in the work.”
While the inspiration for the work is based on specific moments in his life, Alexander says the narrative of the piece is not autobiographical. “Well, for one thing, the lead in the piece female,” he says. “At first I thought it was going to be a man because I thought it was going to represent me, but it actually turned out to be a female and she doesn’t necessarily represent me at all. It’s more about what her struggles are, but I certainly used movement and motifs that represent my struggles as well.”
The piece is broken up into five section with the first section focusing more on movement than the actual storyline. The second section is where the main character is introduced and Alexander explains that the three women dancing alongside her represent the three issues she is struggling with. He describes the third section as mostly a duet with a lot of partnering which gives the main character the opportunity to look at how someone else deals with their issues. The fourth section involves a group of dancers and each person is assigned one of the lead’s issues. And the final section is all about the lead realizing her strength and finally addressing a person/issue that she meets in the beginning, but never acknowledges until this last section.
As far as what Alexander wants this piece to say about him as a choreographer he says, “More than anything I want the work to be accessible to everyone. And accessible doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to like it, but that they can still relate to it.” He adds, “My biggest goal is to get the audience to have a reaction so that they leave and say that they understood what they watched or that made mef feel something or that challenged me in a new way. And I think if that goal is reached then I have done my job.”
You can see Face what’s facing you! at DBDT’s annual Spring Celebration May 18-20 at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Ray Mercer’s Undeviated Passage, Ulysses Dove’s Vespers and Joshua L Peugh’s Rattletrap.
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.
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 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.
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.
Around the Holidays the NorthPark Mall in Dallas turns into a zoo thanks to the upscale mall’s unique holiday attractions which include Santa Claus, the trains and Sights and Sounds of the Season, which is a FREE performance series featuring the musical and movement stylings of schools, churches, synagogues and community and professional dance troupes from around North Texas. The performance series runs Nov. 28 through Dec. 22nd and the Dillards’ Court and North Court and again this is FREE!!!
With two little ones at home I am well versed with the trains and Santa Claus attractions at the mall, but I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have never stopped to watch any of the dance performances presented by the many well-known professional and pre-professional companies in the area. That is going to change this year especially since the only way to see Bruce Wood Dance’s Mistletoe Magic will be through this performance series. (Bruce Wood Dance performs tomorrow at 1pm in the North Court area.)
Looking at the performance line up online, I am amazed with the number of dance companies both professional and pre-professional that will be presenting in these 30-60 time slots as well as the variety of movement styles that will be showcased. I mean this Saturday alone starting at 10am you can catch some of the most popular names in the Dallas dance community, including 8&1 Dance Company, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Contemporary Ballet Dallas.
After checking in with some of these companies on social media, I can tell you that Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will perform Joshua L. Peugh’s Les Fairies as well as a section of a new work that Peugh is planning to introduce in the spring. OK! that alone has me hooked! Danielle Georgiou Dance Group will also give us a sneak peek of a new creation and perform Colby Calhoun’s Bedtime Stories. And Contemporary Ballet Dallas will perform to some holiday classics along with the school’s student ballet, tap and hip hop youth ensembles.
And while I have already included a link to the full line up, I wanted to pull out some special dates for all you dance lovers out there so you can go ahead and mark your calendars:
Dallas Black Dance Theatre Academy Performance Ensembles
The Hockaday School Dance Department
Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School
Collin County Ballet Theatre
Chamberlain School of Ballet
Avant Chamber Ballet
The Ballet Conservatory
Bombshell Dance Project
Dallas Ballet Company
I hope to see you all there!!! Get there early to find a parking spot and claim a front row seat!