Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Xavier Mack on his second season with the company and performing Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Execution of a Sentiment.
Photo: Avitava Sarkar
Xavier Mack in Execution of a Sentiment
Dallas — Xavier Mack began his dance training with Divine Dance Institute in Capitol Heights, Maryland. He went on to attend the University of Maryland-Baltimore County where he earned a BA in Modern Language and Linguistics. Mack’s says his dance journey with the Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) organization started at one of the company’s summer intensives.
“I met Nycole Ray, the director of DBDT: Encore!, when I attended DBDT’s 2016 summer intensive,” Mack says. “From there, we stayed in contact while I was completing my college studies. Mrs. Ray offered me a contract upon graduation.”
Mack spent one season with DBDT: Encore! before he was asked to join DBDT in 2018. When asked about the move from DBDT: Encore! to DBDT Mack says the transition wasn’t a difficult one. He explains, “The standard of excellence is high for both companies. The warm environment of the established DBDT dancers also helped make my transition painless.”
Mack also credits DBDT Artistic Director Melissa M. Young for creating an environment where the dancers feel comfortable taking risks, which, in the long run, helps them become better artists and individuals. “Since being under Melissa’s leadership, I am better at managing my goals, instead of letting my goals manage me. She often reminds us to take things one step at a time (literally and figuratively), one hour at a time, and one day at a time.”
Mack adds, “With the advice of this peaceful approach I’ve noticed that I have been able to meet more of my personal marks.”
For this year’s Dallas Dances, DBDT will be presenting Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Execution of a Sentiment set to music by Ezio Bosso. The company premiered the piece at its 2019 Spring Celebration Series. Talking about the concept of the work Mack says that the piece does not have a general feeling. Instead it has many different feelings sprinkled throughout its three sections.
“There are moments of somber stillness. Then, there are contrasting moments buzzing with intensity. In fact, the mission of the movements is to physicalize emotions that are normally communicated verbally.”
As far as what he feels when performing the work, Mack says, “I feel electrically charged. Especially during the third section. There is something about the dramatic music and the dazzling work of my beautiful team that gets me going!”
DBDT will be performing Execution of a Sentiment as part of Dallas Dances’ Saturday program at Moody Performance Hall.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Jasmine White-Killins on revealing a new layer of herself in Darrell Grand Moutrie’s Execution of a Sentiment, part of the Spring Celebration Series.
Dallas — A recent video posted to Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Facebook page (seen above) caught my eye for it sheds a new light on company dancer Jasmine White-Killins who, in the clip, is practicing her adagio solo in choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie’s new work, Execution of a Sentiment. Known for her powerful technical execution and poised stage presence, White-Killins surprised me with her quiet control and raw vulnerability.
I reached out to White-Killins to find out more about Moultrie’s new piece, which premieres at DBDT’s Spring Celebration Series, May 17-19, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. The jam-packed program also includes Jamal Story’s aerial duet What to Say: Notes on Echo and Narcissus; a new work by DBDT company member Claude Alexander III entitled A Tender Pardon; and a performance from special guests Ballet Hispánico.
Originally from Cincinnati, White-Killins moved to Dallas after high school to attend Southern Methodist University where she earned a B.F.A. in dance performance and a minor in Arts Management. Her dance training has also included The Ailey School, Martha Graham School and the Cincinnati Ballet Academy. White-Killins performed two seasons with DBDT: ENCORE! before joining DBDT where she has spent the last four seasons.
“It was a very refreshing thing to do. It feels almost like meditation,” White-Killins says about performing the short solo. “And I owe a lot of that ability to Darrell because he was very good at looking at each dancer and accepting where ever you were at that moment.”
Photo: Brian Guilliaux
She continues, “He said I needed to just center myself and kind of find my inner strength and my vulnerability and being okay with going to that place. So, when I do the solo I always get very emotional because it really makes me look inward.”
While White-Killins makes every move in the solo look effortless she tells me that getting it to this point was harder than she initially thought. She explains, “There are a couple of moments were he has me holding some very technical balances like a passé or arabesque, but he’s like ‘just hold it and get to it with no wobbles and no shakes. Just be there.’ And I think that as a professional I got this and then you get up there and try to do it with all the emotion and you realize that you are not as strong as you thought,” she laughingly says.
One of the most challenging moments in the solo is where White-Killins is balancing on one leg and then she has to drop her body three times without wobbling. As for how she accomplishes this feat White-Killins says, “Darrell said you have to be invested so much in that space and that weight that you’re going down to, which is just taking you into a deeper and deeper place. And so, once I started to look at it from that perspective it’s so much easier to get wrapped up in that. And when I do it now I just feel so right there!”
Overall, White-Killins says it was a very refreshing experience working with Moultrie again. She had the pleasure of working with him in high school and then later at The Ailey School. “He treats us very much so like individuals and he was very clear that he wanted each person to express their individuality and that no one is going to look like the other person.”
She continues, “The experience was just eye opening for us. He literally gave us so many technical notes, but also just notes about being interested in what we are doing. He said that as artists and professional dancers it’s our responsibility to figure out what each step means and what each step represents. Even down to the smallest gesture. He was very big on that.”
She adds, “He also had us focus a lot on showing emotion through your body and not so much in your face. A lot of times he would tell us that our face is doing all this stuff, but he wasn’t seeing that in our body. So he was very big on the vocabulary coming through the movement and not necessarily putting it on like we would do in more theatrical pieces.”
White-Killins describes the work as physical demanding with a concept that doesn’t follow a particular narrative or chronological order. “There isn’t just one sentiment being shown. There are lots of sentiments being shown in the three sections of the work. We start out moving big and fast, which leads into an adagio section and then the pace picks up again.”
As for the feeling of the piece White-Killins says, “I think everybody is very individual and their journey is something completely different. Everybody’s path is different.”
She adds, “When Darrell taught us the movement he would always start out by saying ‘so the feeling is’ and then he would do all this movement and it would happen single time. So we would always start with the feeling of it and everybody’s feelings and steps were completely different.”
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.”
The third installment of Wanderlust Dance Project features new works by home grown talent at the Marshall Family Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
Dallas — Looking over the lineup for this year’s Wanderlust Dance Project (WDP) you can’t help but notice the number of local choreographers that will be presenting work at the Marshall Family Performing Arts Center at the Greenhill School in Addison this Saturday. Come to find out the local programming was a deliberate move by Wanderlust Founder Addison Holmes to support this year’s title, Wanderlust Dance Project III: Homecoming. “Our first year was New Horizons as our first venture, second was Explorations as we brought in a lot of outside choreographers for our dancers and this year we really wanted to hone in on our DFW roots with Homecoming,” Holmes says. The DFW dance scene is stronger than ever, and as a Dallas native myself I couldn’t be prouder.”
The choreographers include a couple of familiar faces such as Hailey von Schlehenried, Gabriel Speiller, Mark Caserta and Mikey Morado as well as some fresh faces, including Stephanie Troyak, Chad Vaught and Todd Baker.
Von Schlehenried recently participated in the premiere of AKA: Ballet and has also presented work at Dallas DanceFest, renamed Dallas Dances, and Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2017 Women’s Choreography Project. Viewers are used to seeing Speiller on stage with Bruce Wood Dance so, it will be interesting to see how he transitions from one role to the other. Caserta and Morado moved to Dallas in 2015 to head up The Thriving Artist Project and are currently working with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. Troyak is a Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) graduate currently dancing with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Baker was in the news last year as one of five male dancers from Booker T. to be accepted into The Juilliard School. And then there is Vaught, who is not from Dallas, but is currently dancing with DBDT: Encore!
From talking with a few of the choreographers I can tell you that the performance will be blend of contemporary, modern and classical movements arranged in small and large groups with a couple of pas deux’s mixed in. Themes vary from abstract to more story-based pieces that explore a wide range of emotions and current events.
Gabriel Speiller will be unveiling a new work, Unapologetic, which he describes as athletic, musical and sprinkled with intricate partnering. The piece features 16 professional and pre-professional dancers and was originally created for the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, New York. Regarding his creative process Speiller says, “As a young choreographers I’m still exploring my choreographic voice by trying different approaches to the creation process, whether that be how I generate movement or how I translate what’s going on in my head to the dancers I’m working with.”
Whereas Speiller’s work focuses on athleticism and musicality, Stephanie Troyak’s piece is more focused on mood and setting. “I’m visualizing a dream-like world, one where we cannot tell if it’s real or if it’s a dream until perhaps later on when a situation brings out different sides of human connection whether it be love, betrayal, hope etc. Maybe a little bit apocalyptic or I imagine the setting a little bit like a flood both in the physical sense and the emotional sense, searching for land or light and consuming the mind and body.” Troyak adds, “I always love to blur the lines between reality and dreams and uncover a deeper layer of the human condition that I always find the most beautiful to find those dark or dirty places within. And within this dream state I hope to also unveil moments of small deaths or small victories or maybe it’s a memory or premonition.”
Another local talent presenting work at Wanderlust this year is Hailey von Schlehenried. She has created a pas de deux, which will beperformed by local dancers Adrian Aquirre and Diana Crowder to an excerpt of Ezio Bosso’s Seasong 1 to 4 and Other Little Stories. She describes the piece as classical, but with a contemporary vibe. “You will definitely see some contemporary lines, but also some classical movements and the partnering, which all fit into this storyline of a love left behind,” she says. When discussing the dancers and her partnering in the piece von Schlehenried says “Adrian and Diana work so lovely together and have such a strong connection when dancing this piece. They took to the choreography and the partnering quickly and I am excited to see the final product.”
And as far as the impact this event is making on the local dance community Speiller says, “WDP is an amazing project to be involved in. Not only does it give professional dancers like myself an opportunity to continue working over the summer, it’s giving the DFW community the opportunity to see new works by local and national choreographers that is being performed by home grown talent.”
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 Dance Council Honors has thankfully split from Dallas DanceFest and will return to its more intimate setting at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
I know I am not the only person happy about the fact the Dance Council Honors(DC Honors) will no longer be squeezed into Dallas DanceFest (DDF). For the last few years the DC Honors has occurred in conjunction with DDF and unfortunately has suffered as a result with the main complaint being the length of each evening’s program.
The presentation of the awards also lacked the comradory and celebratory atmosphere that has always been a part of the DC Honors, which is why I am glad that the event has split from DDF and will be returning to Dallas Black Dance Theatre on Oct. 29 for some food, fun and fantastic dancing. And, of course, we will hear from this year’s DC Honorees, which include Kathy Chamberlain, Stephanie Rae Williams, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy.
Over the last couple of decades, these incredible individuals have made huge strives to better our local dance community thanks to their passion, dedication, knowledge, cultural awareness and above all love for the art form of dance. Because God knows we are not in it for the money!
I know I will be there to watch Kathy Chamberlain as she receives the Mary Bywaters Award for her lifetime contribution to dance.
I met Kathy one day at Sandy’s Shoes and Dancewear back in the summer of 2009. I had just moved to Dallas from Cleveland and knew absolutely no one in the local dance community. She took me under her wing and she and I had multiple phone conversations about the ins and outs of the Dallas dance scene. She is the one who lead me to local dance writer Margaret Putnam. I started off by reading a lot of Margaret’s reviews, which at the time were published in the Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones.com (TJ). This eventually lead me to contact TJ where I have now been writing dance previews, Q&As and reviews for the last six years.
Kathy was ultimately the one who jump-started my career here in Dallas and I will forever be grateful to her. And her willingness to help me is also one of the things I like most about our local dance community. Although everyone is technically in competition with one another they are always willing to lend a helping hand and offer up support when needed. So, I recommend offering your support to the dance community by coming to this year’s DC Honors. Even if you don’t know any of the honorees you should still come. I did when I first moved to Dallas and it taught me a lot about the city’s dance culture and the wide range of work being made here as well as the wealth of talent being fostered in our city schools and studios. You should definitely check it out!
I have included the official press release below:
For Immediate Release:
WHAT: Dance Council of North Texas 2017 Honors
WHEN: Sunday, October 29, 3:00 P.M.
WHERE: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 2700 Ann Williams Way, Dallas, TX 75201 in Dallas Arts District
Dance Council of North Texas is pleased to honor five people within the area dance community who have made a significant contribution to world of dance.
Kathy Chamberlain is receiving the Mary Bywaters Award, which recognizes a person who has made a lifetime and significant contribution to dance. Dance Council of North Texas is delighted to join with Chamberlain School of Ballet, (CSB) Plano, as itcelebrates its 40th Anniversary. Chamberlain School of Ballet is the supporting school for Chamberlain Performing Arts, a leading North Texas pre-professional dance company founded by Ms. Chamberlain. She received the prestigious Ford Foundation Scholarship for study at the School of American Ballet, NYC.
Stephanie Rae Williams is the recipient of theNatalie Skelton Awardhonoring a person who is currently performing. Ms. Williams was featured in Dance Magazine’s “On the Rise” in 2013. In 2005, she received the South Dallas Dance Festival Scholarship from DCNT. Stephanie was a Fellowship recipient at the Ailey School, a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Winner as well as a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Finalist. As part of DC Honors, Stephanie will perform My Funny Valentine, choreographed by Darrell Mourie. She appears through the courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem, NYC.
The Mary Warner Award for service in dance recognizes Patty Granville, who exemplifies
the individual whose vision is essential to the dance community. Ms. Granville has been the Director of the Garland Center for the Performing Arts since its opening in 1982. As one of the founders, she has served as producer for Garland Summer Musicals since 1983. In 2003, the Garland City Council unanimously voted to rename the Performing Arts Center to the Patty Granville Arts Center. Patty provides countless opportunities for performers, musicians and craftsmen to participate in musical theatre.
Larry White Educator Awardrecognizes Alpana Kagal
Jacob for her inspiring and innovative contributions to her students’ development. After her Arangetram and graduation, she has been teaching Bharata Natyam to young children and adults. Alpana has been a guest lecturer at both UNT and TWU and has served as choreographer and teacher for Dallas Theater Center Summer Workshop projects. Alpana has taught at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Brookhaven College and Richland College. She is a disciplined and loving teacher to all her students.
Buster Cooper Tap LegendAward celebrates the exemplary contributions of Malana Murphy to America’s original dance form: tap. Malana began her professional career at the age of 14 while performing in the production of Calling All Kids, choreographed by Gracey Tune. In addition to graduating from Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Malana has performed commercially and in industrials. Malana’s love for tap dancing has inspired her to share her passion and knowledge with students locally and across the United States. She is also the head of the local tap dance festival RIFF, which stands for Rhythm and Fusion Festival.
DBDT: Encore! will perform as well as Dance Council 2017 scholarship recipients. The opening number is generation# (sic) choreographed by Tammie Reinsch of Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Doug Voet of Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie will serve as the event’s emcee with Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran Nycole Ray providing production assistance. Reception, refreshments and a silent auction will complete the afternoon’s agenda.
$35 – ADULT
$30 – MEMBERS, Dance Council of North Texas
$20 STUDENTS, ages 13 through 18.
STUDENTS, ages 12 and under: Free when accompanied by an adult
Nycole Ray working with the dancers for Dallas Opera. Photo: Celeste Hart
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran on stepping into the opera world as choreographer for Dallas Opera’s production of Samson et Dalila.
Dallas — Nycole Ray is a prime example of what it takes to maintain a career in the ever-changing dance field. For the last 20 years she has made a name for herself within the Dallas Black Dance Theatre organization first as a company member and later as the artistic director of the second company, now DBDT ENCORE! Ray is also the director of DBDT’s Summer Intensive program and has served in the past as assistant rehearsal director for DBDT and the director of Bloom, Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Preforming Ensemble. But over the years Ray’s dance talents have exceeded beyond DBDT as is evident through her collaborations with other Dallas arts organizations such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art as well as various performance opportunities with the Dallas Opera and Bruce Wood Dance. Ray is also a certified Dunham technique instructor and has been a teaching assistant and adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University. Her choreography has been featured at the ninth FINTDAZ festival in Iquique, Chile, the 10th annual Choreographers Choice Series in Dallas and at Vienna’s 2003 International Black Dance Festival.
As a performer Ray has danced with Bruce Wood Dance, Walt Disney World Entertainment, Christopher and Friends directed by Christopher L. Huggins, the Lula Washington Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II and the Zadonu African Dance Company. She has also worked with noted choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Dianne McIntyre, Alonzo King, Donald Byrd, Rennie Harris and Camille A. Brown. In addition to her concert work, Ray has also appeared in music videos and industrials in the U.S. and Europe.
Always open to new opportunities Ray did not hesitate when the Dallas Opera approached her about choreographing its production of Samson et Delilah, which is performed Oct. 20, 22, 25, 28 and Nov. 5 at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The opera, which runs in repertory with Verdi’s La traviata, is based on the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah found in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. The story tells of the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Philistines and when Samson urges them to resist their masters the High Priest of Dagon sends Delilah in to destroy Samson. The Dallas Opera’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ three-act French opera is directed by Bruno Berger-Gorski with conductor Emmanuel Villaume, costumer designer Carrie Robbins, set designer Peter Dean Beck and lighting designer Alan Burrett. The cast includes Clifton Forbis, Olga Borodina, Richard Paul Fink, Michael Chioldi and Ryan Kuster as well as eight dancers of Ray’s choosing.
TheaterJones caught up with Ray in between rehearsals to ask her how she is enjoying this experience as well as her inspiration for the movement and how choreographing for an opera differs from setting work on a dance company and the challenges that come with it.
TheaterJones: How did you get involved with Samson et Dalila?
Nycole Ray: The Dallas Opera was looking for a choreographer for the production of Samson et Dalila and they reached out to me and I was eager to step up to the plate!
How did you get along with the director on this project?
With this being my first time choreographing for this art genre (though I have danced in opera productions before), it has definitely been an interesting process and very different than just creating a work how I see fit, but it has been a really good challenge for me. I mean, you’ve got so many people on stage at the same time and just navigating through that has been quite challenging. But what has been so wonderful is the director, Bruno Berger-Gorski, has been so much fun to work with. He is high energy all the time and he knows what he wants, so trying to create those visions for him has been fun and interesting. He is sure in his ideas, but he is also open to my creativity. He has very specific things he is looking for and things that he wants to happen, so I have been charged with making those things happen within in his vision as opposed to just creating whatever I want. Collaborating with him has been a lot of fun; we have had no dull moments in this process.
What exactly was Bruno’s vision and how did he convey this to you?
Before we started rehearsals, he and I had a five-hour meeting where we were able to watch and talk about the opera, and he was able to give me more insight about the opera itself and his vision for this production. He didn’t want to go mainstream with it. He wanted it to be this beautiful production, but he wanted it to be real in what was really happening at that time. So, for the bacchanale, which is usually this beautiful ballet, he said he didn’t want it that way. There is some sensuality in it, but he didn’t want this huge ballet production. He also has the chorus and the supers [extras] really involved along with the dancers in creating all of these little vignettes that happen in that piece of music. You’re going to have to shift your eyes all over in order to see all these things happening at the same time.
Was it difficult adapting to this new environment?
I did learn a lot about the process of the opera and I continue to learn in rehearsals. When I go to rehearsals for dance it is me, my assistant and the dancers. Here, you’ve got the stage manager, the assistant stage manager, the union reps, wardrobe, props. All of these people and how they work in tandem is so awesome to see and it is an experience for sure. I mean you’ve got the assistant stage manager telling people what to do while they’re singing. He has Bruno’s notes on the way he wants things to happen and he’s telling them what to do and where to go while they’re singing. It’s fascinating, absolutely fascinating and watching the inner workings of it has been really insightful for me. I really enjoyed doing this and the process of it.
What challenges did you come across in the rehearsal process?
At the rehearsal hall everything is taped out on the floor, but you truly don’t get a sense of what it is such as a platform or some stairs until you get into the theater with the sets and see what changes we need to make. Also, the dancers do not have much room to move, and so navigating through stepping off the platform and into the dancing while the supers and chorus are all around them, it is a challenge making sure everyone is safe. I tell the dancers just to be cautious and keep moving.
What was your time frame on this project? How did it differ from the time you usually get in the dance studio?
I did have a longer time to think about the choreography than I usually do. After I was approached, which was very early in the year, I then had a Skype conservation with Bruno in probably June where he gave me some of his ideas. I then thought about these ideas while listening to the opera and started having some choreographic ideas that went along with his vision. So, I had a little bit of time and then we had our five hour meeting, which was two days before our first rehearsal. Despite this, I would say that I probably didn’t get as much time with the dancers as I would in a dance studio.
What types of feelings or ideas for movement did listening to the opera bring out of you?
From the start I wanted to do something a little bit different than this opera’s previous productions, and I am mostly speaking about the bacchanale, which is this big beautiful scene that usually involves a lot of dancing. And so I wanted to marry classical ballet technique with more grounded modern movements that also included some sensual elements as well. I wanted it to be very mixed in terms of movement and also include partnering, of course. I wanted it to be actually very rooted in its movement. I am not going to say African, but there is a little of that. I really pulled from a lot of different genres and styles of dance that I mixed in there and I hope it reads well to the audience.
What’s in store for those coming to see this opera for the first time?
As not really an opera goer, after listening to and seeing Samson et Delilah I thought, how could I identify and connect with this? Now that I have had a chance to delve deeper and truly understand the opera itself, I have a greater appreciation for the art form. When we got into rehearsal with the chorus and the singers for the first time they blew my mind! They had me sitting up in my chair and thinking this was so beautiful even with just a pianist for accompaniment. So, even with that simple instrumentation, I look forward to the orchestra itself as well as the voices of the leads and the chorus. They are just amazing! I think for people coming just seeing all these elements together, including the live musicians, the live singers, live dancers and the scenery and then having this story that involves a lot of drama and combining that with Bruno’s direction and how he has put it together: This opera’s going to be something else.