2013 was full of big surprises for me both personally and professionally.
First, my husband and I welcomed our first child, a baby girl named Evelyn, on June 1. (She already has perfect turn out.) My husband and I are also celebrating our fifth year as Dallas residents. This may not mean much to some people, but this is the longest we have ever stayed in once place. And in those five years we got married, got a dog (Cleveland), brought a house and had a baby. My, we have been busy!
Professionally, I am celebrating my fifth year as a dance instructor at Amanda Dalton School of Dance. Time really does fly when you are having fun. I also can’t believe I have been working on my blog for three years and in that time have written more than 150 posts. I would love to surpass that number in 2014. I am also fortunate to have an outlet for my dance writing with TheaterJones.com and WorldArtsToday.com.
But the city wouldn’t be the cultural mecca that it is today without the smaller local companies. My Nutcracker Roundup this year included more than 20 Nutcracker and Holiday performances. I was fortunate enough to review 5 of them.
I did take a break from all the nuttiness by going to see Epiphany DanceArts’ heartfelt Christmas Memories production and Bruce Wood’s cabaret-inspired holiday show entitled Mistletoe Magic.
Another aspect of my job is interviewing choreographers from touring dance companies. I played it cool when I interviewed the legendary Paul Taylor and the new Alvin Ailey Artistic Director Robert Battle back in April, but the dancer in me was shaking in her dance shoes.
I also got to talk with Complexions’ co-founder Desmond Richardson who came to Dallas in March for TITAS’ highly anticipated Command Performance Gala. I even got to go backstage after the performance to meet Desmond face to face. (Getting back stage at the Winspear was like getting into the Pentagon. Even with an escort we had to go through multiple check points. It was totally awesome.)
Katie Puder, artistic director of Avant Chamber Ballet, on reconnecting ballet with live music and the company’s Fall Dance Concert at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts.
In a city growing with dance troupes, it takes guts and vision to enter this competitive marketplace. Luckily, Katie Puder has both. Puder started Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) last year with the help of David Cooper, principal French horn with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Their mission is to bring dance and chamber music back together for audiences throughout the DFW area. ACB opens its sophomore season with its Fall Dance Concert Oct. 12, 2013 at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts.
The program includes the Pas De Deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s The American, Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan solo performed by Yulia IIina and Puder’s own Italian Suite. The evening ends with the world premiere of Puder’s work, Exactly Woven, set to Shostakovich’s Piano Trio. And for the first time ACB will host a guest company, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance.
Katie Puder began her ballet training with the Wichita Falls Ballet Theater before moving to Forth Worth at the age of 13. She continued her training through Fort Worth-Dallas Ballet and spent her summers at Boston Ballet or working privately with Paul Mejia and Maria Terezia Balogh. At 17 she joined the Metropolitan Classical Ballet of Fort Worth and Arlington.
As a choreographer Puder has made eight one-act ballets for ACB and has collaborated in three full-length original ballets for Plano Metropolitan Ballet. For the past six years she has been teaching Pilates all over the world as well as at Powerhouse Yoga & Pilates Studio in Colleyville, TX, where she is also studio manager. Since its inception ACB has premiered eight new works, including a piece with a commissioned score by their now resident composer, Chase Dobson.
TheaterJones asks Katie Puder about the benefits of working with live accompaniment, the challenges associated with being a young company in Dallas and what we can expect at Avant Chamber Ballet’s Fall Dance Concert.
TheaterJones: This will be your first time hosting a guest company. What made you chose Dark Circles Contemporary Ballet?
I have seen Josh Peugh’s work for the Bruce Wood Dance Project and we met earlier this year at Park Cities Dance. We kind of started our companies around the same time so it just felt natural to bounce ideas off we each other and help each other out. I really like what Josh does and I feel like it’s more of a representation of contemporary modern works that you would see in places outside of Texas. I had lived in Europe for a while and his choreography reminded me of some of the stuff I had seen abroad.
What changes did you see in the Dallas dance community after you returned home?
Well, it was sad to see that my company Metropolitan Classical Ballet had shut down. There seemed to be more, smaller contemporary companies and not as much classical ballet. And even through ACB does a lot of neo-classical, slightly contemporary ballet we are still a company made up of ballet dancers. I also noticed that live music was missing at performances. And just walking around the Arts District today I feel that the community is a lot more supportive than it was five years ago.
Did you always want to start your own company?
It came out of the desire of wanting to choreograph more and to do more choreography on professional dancers. I knew a lot of freelance dancers including dancers from Metropolitan Classical Ballet which had closed down and it just all came together very organically.
Did you know David Cooper prior to starting the company?
Yes, I did. I had met David more than two years ago when he was just starting out with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. When I returned home from Europe I was going to a lot of his performances and just got really inspired listening to so much good live music. The first thing we did together was just a piece for three dancers with David and a pianist at the Plano Dance Festival. We had a really great response to the performance so we almost immediately decided to do a June performance. That was our first show as a company.
New dance companies are constantly popping up in Dallas. What was your strategy for making it through your first year?
Well, I am really picky about the dancers I use. I really want dancers that have professional company experience. My dancers have been with companies such as Ballet Austin, Sarasota Ballet and Texas Ballet Theater. And using live music I think has brought a really different audience to our shows that you wouldn’t necessarily get at just a dance performance. To me, you get more of a complete show when you have top solo musicians and also high-level professional dancing. And I think there is always room for more great dancing in DFW, but I don’t really think we need to compete with each other as companies.
How did you put together the program for the company’s Fall Dance Concert?
I knew I really wanted Dark Circles Contemporary Dance to perform a piece. And one of our dancers, Michele Gifford, knows Christopher Wheeldon quite well and it’s kind of a dream to have something of his on our program and I hope that continues. At our last show I was listening to a bunch of music with our pianist and that is when I heard Shostakovich’s Piano Trio. I immediately loved it and had to do choreography to it. And knowing that we were hiring a cello for this performance we wanted our Russian ballerina Yulia IIina to do Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan. The company will also be performing my work Italian Suite which we did one year ago and people really seemed to enjoy it.
What challenges do you run into when hiring musicians?
The only issue for us sometimes is finding a performance date that doesn’t conflict with when the Dallas Symphony is performing.
Do you see a change in the dancers’ performance level when using live music?
Yes! Only once have we done something without a musician there and it was at last year’s Dance for the Planet. That was the first time I’ve seen my choreography with the company done without live music and it hit me how much is missing when you don’t have live music. I know for me it’s a whole different feeling when you have a musician on stage. They’re a live person playing something different every single time. So, as a dancer you have to be able to react to the music a little bit more. You can’t just go on autopilot. Live music just creates a more expressive performance and more of an interpretation of the music which is really the focus of my choreography. It’s not so much about bringing out an emotion or telling a story, but just an interpretation of the music that you are hearing. So, for the work that I do the music really is important. Without live music I think you would be missing quite a bit.
What is your three-to-five year plan for Avant Chamber Ballet?
Looking forward I would really like to continue performing more often and be able to produce more than one show at a time at the Eisemann. I want to keep the company kind of small (ACB has 15 dancers currently) and flexible and made up of really strong dancers. I’d like to explore touring locally and maybe expanding into doing a holiday show in the future. I’d also like to collaborate with more musical groups in the future. We are doing some small things with the Dallas Symphony this year including their Halloween program and kids concerts in the spring.
Stars of American Ballet dazzle in famed works by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins at the Eisemann Center.
Richardson — Those who say ballet is a dying art form would have had to bite their tongue Tuesday night as the Stars of American Ballet performed to a packed house at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardson. Ballet celebs Daniel Ulbricht, Sascha Radetsky, Robert Fairchild, Jared Angle, Lauren Lovette, Stella Abrera, Rebecca Krohn and Tiler Peck took the stage to loud applause, performing in some of ballet’s most beloved works, including George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes Pas de Deux and Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free.
The program opened with Balanchine’s saucy Rubies Pas de Deux (excerpted from Jewels) to music by Igor Stravinsky. Balanchine preferred his ballerinas long and slender, but he made an exception with the female lead role in this piece, performed by Lovette. Lovette’s beautiful curves only enhanced the sultry hip twists and shoulder rolls the piece demanded. Her point work was also clean and fouette turns flawless. Ulbricht oozed confidence, but was also a very giving partner.
The second Balanchine piece, Stars and Stripes, was a big crowd pleaser. This ode to America was a nonstop movement marathon that tested both Peck and Fairchild’s stamina. Fairchild commanded our attention with his gravity defying toe touches, double tour en l’airs and quadruple pirouettes. Peck was equally captivating with her rapid chaine turns and playful personality. John Philip Sousa’s patriotic composition added to the uplifting tone of the piece.
Antony Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading Pas de Deux featured classical lines, clean technique and beautiful partnering between Abrera and Radetsky. Abrera was the epitome of grace with her willowy frame and supple feet. Radetsky was everything you expect in a male lead: strong, supportive and sensual. Then, in Servy Gallardo’s Piazzolla Tango, Ulbricht’s performance was an explosion of athleticism and artistry. It is extremely difficult to execute multiple pirouettes into a front forward roll into a slow slinky walk, but Ulbricht did it with ease.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy showed just how much ballet has evolved over the last
couple of decades. Gone are the tutus and men’s white tights. Gone is the featured female role. In Liturgy Krohn and Angle were equally matched in terms of strength and control. They had to be in order to pull off some of the contortion movements and counter-balance shapes featured in the piece. Liturgy begins with Krohn in the foreground and Angle a couple of steps behind performing a series of hand gestures and upper body rotations to the staccato sounds of composer Arvo Part. As the music changes to a smoother melody the dancers come together in a number of edgy and unexpected partnering skills. One minute Krohn and Angle are locked in an embrace and the next Krohn’s head is inches from the ground in a reverse ponche arabesque.
The second half of the show was dedicated to Robbins’ Fancy Free, with music by Leonard Bernstein. This theatrical ballet follows three sailors on shore leave in New York City and was the inspiration for the movie On The Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Robbins’ choreography is very character-driven. Every movement down to the way the dancers lifted their eyebrows was meticulously choreographed. Fairchild depicted the bad boy, frequently swirling his hips and slapping his knees. Radetsky played the sensitive guy, with softer, more balletic movements. Ulbricht was the clown. His movements were extremely athletic and grandiose. They meet two ladies (Peck and Abrera) and take them to club where the sailors battle for their affections with three technically brilliant solos. In the end the ladies walk out and the pals are on the prowl again.
The audience was wowed by these notable professionals performing a diverse, well-thought-out repertoire that really encompassed ballet’s evolution over the last 50 years.
The director of Stars of American Ballet on the male role in ballet and the company’s upcoming performance at Richardson’s Eisemann Center.
Richardson — Very rarely do we get the opportunity to see ballet stars like Stella Abrera, Rebecca Krohn, Robert Fairchild and Sascha Radetsky on the same stage. Thanks to Daniel Ulbricht and his company, Stars of American Ballet, the Dallas dance community will get its chance to see these dynamic dancers perform on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts.
The evening’s program includes the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Rubies and Stars & Stripes, Servy Gallardo’s Tango, Christopher Wheeldon’s Liturgy, Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading and Jerome Robbins’ beloved production of Fancy Free. In addition to the performance Ulbricht and Radetsky will be conducting a series of master classes for students in the area.
Originally from St. Petersburg, Fla., Daniel Ulbricht began his dance training at the age of 11 at the Judith Lee Johnson Studio of Dance, studying with Lenny Holmes. He was invited to continue his training at the School of American Ballet in 1999 and joined the corps de ballet of the New York City Ballet in 2001. He was promoted to the rank of principal dancer in 2007. Ulbricht is also the artistic advisor to the Manhattan Youth Ballet, the associate artistic director of the New York State Summer School for the Arts in Saratoga Springs and also conducts workshops and master classes around the country.
TheaterJones asks Daniel Ulbricht about his motivation for starting Stars of American Ballet, the challenges of working with so many different personalities and how the male role in ballet has evolved over the last several decades.
TheaterJones: What motivated you to start Stars of American Ballet?
Daniel Ulbricht: I started this group about five years ago. My mother was diagnosed with cancer. Because of her treatments, she couldn’t make it up or have the energy to so, I decided to bring the show to her. I rounded up six dancers mostly from New York City Ballet and a dancer from Houston Ballet and brought the show to her. I said to myself that I would only do this once, but I fell in love with the entire process. It was truly a learning experience. The responsibilities that come with this kind of opportunity are endless but I really thrived on the challenge. So, the following year, I brought another show home to my mom and added a new city, Buffalo. Since then I have been blessed to bring shows to St. Petersburg, Fla; Buffalo, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; Santa Fe; Ulaan Baator, Mongolia; and now Dallas. In November, we go to Mobile, Ala; Jackson, Miss; and Longview, Texas.
The mission of the show is to provide education and accessibility to the art form. I have found that most people are hesitant for two reasons when it comes to ballet. Either they don’t know anything [and/or] are afraid of it or it is too expensive. So, along with the performance we also offer master classes as well as a pre-performance talks about the program. The U.S. is such a vast country, but you have to live in a big metropolitan area to have an opportunity to see these amazing dancers and timeless masterpieces. Our goal is to bring it to your front door.
How does it differ from other ballet companies?
In terms of differences, there are a few. Certainly, we aren’t bringing the same scale of what most companies can present. We can’t mount the entire production of a full-length ballet like Swan Lake with eight people. I also don’t want the programming or dancers to be exclusive to one particular company like New York City Ballet or American Ballet Theatre. In other words, these companies tend to only perform the repertory that is in their own collection. With Stars of American Ballet we are able to include dancers and repertory from various companies which allows us the opportunity to put together a balanced and exciting program. The idea is to continue to bring out other companies around the country as well as collaborate with other regional companies to promote or give a platform for them in their own community. Most other companies have a one mission mind for their own company. We are more concerned about educating and inspiring the next generation to appreciate the arts.
What challenges have you encountered working with so many different personalities?
Thankfully, I haven’t run into too many. I run more into scheduling issues with various dancers than personality issues. Sometimes, I will ask a dancer to suggest what they’d like to perform and another dancer may have already selected that so I have to figure out who does what role and keep the program balanced. Regarding the dancers, I spend as much time scrutinizing the dancers off stage as I do on stage. Not only are these dancers phenomenal artists, they are also the kind of people who will help me inspire students, meet with the audience, take photos, sign posters, etc. You need great artists and people to make a lasting impression. I have been tremendously successful in that respect, but I always try to do my homework to get the best of both worlds.
How did you go about selecting the pieces we will be seeing?
The program is always crucial to the show. The hard part of directing is that you are in charge of creating the audience’s experience. So, I try to think about it as a menu. Not everyone likes the same dish. You need to have something that has sweet for one, salty for another and gluten free. You get the picture. The tough thing with eight people is how to close a program. Most of the dancers will dance twice so you also get to see a different element in their dancing which is fascinating to watch. So, finding a group or ensemble piece is difficult. But after doing some homework I found Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free to close. I believe it fulfills our artistry and athleticism undertone for the show. It is very American and it is a true masterpiece that many people don’t get the opportunity to see.
What is it like to be a part of one of America’s oldest and most prestigious ballet companies?
It is truly a blessing to be a part of a company like New York City Ballet. I have been a dancer there for 13 years and it has been one of the most amazing rides I have ever been on. The repertory, the music and the talent is just so vast that I am in awe every day. Also, I have learned so much from my director, Peter Martins. He runs a great organization. He knows how to program. The benefit is that I have been able to learn a lot as a dancer there. Peter got his start in directing while still dancing, like me. So, it has been nice to have his blessing and encouragement to explore that. We have talked about it a few times. This country is so big that you need to do whatever you can to reach out to new audiences.
How has the male role in ballet evolved over the last several decades?
The male role in dance is getting a second wind now. The first wave came with the likes of Edward Villella, Peter Martins and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Not to say that generation has dwindled, but I feel this crop now wants to really push the dance world forward. I think this generation has to fight harder to show the artistry and athleticism of dance though. I think every genre in art has someone who can champion their art form. I feel that there is a team now who is trying to do that. That is what I am aiming to do. For today though, my goal is to show how tough dance is. That dance can really compete with football, baseball, etc. Strength, balance, control, and speed all of those fields share, but musicality and artistry, that is what makes the dance world tough. Who said you have to smile and play football to music?
How do the male roles in works by newer choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon differ from those of their predecessors such as Balanchine?
Great question. I feel the male role is sort of the same in the partnering sense. Christopher is taking the shapes further, pushing the boundaries where Balanchine may have been a little more subtle. The beauty of Balanchine’s work is that you just have to dance them. You don’t have to sell what he has crafted so beautifully. That is the mastery of course. But Wheeldon has really done wonders in the fact that he takes his audience somewhere when you watch his work. That is what any choreographer would want to do. We are lucky to have his work on the bill as well as the Robbins and Balanchine masterpieces.
What advice do you have for dancers looking to pursue a career in ballet?
If you want to pursue it, go all the way. This profession is truly about dedication and commitment. Perfection is not going to happen, but you can always better yourself. Drive and push forward. No one ever made progress by keeping their car in neutral. Work with other dancers and take master classes. They open your eyes and ears. There is so much to learn and I am still learning after all the years I have put in. Dance is a progression, so don’t give up on the hard days. The pro will keep going!
What are your hopes for the company’s future?
My future ambitions for the group are to tour around the country and abroad to bring high caliber dance and programs to places that can’t afford to go to New York or other big cities. Everyone should be able to experience dance at least once in their life and not just The Nutcracker. The education and outreach is really about creating that opportunity for any one at any age to appreciate the arts. Ballet can do it and Stars of American Ballet will bring it to you.
A Q&A with Bree Hafen on transitioning into the role of choreographer and her first full-length show, [+] SPACE.
Richardson — Local Choreographer Bree Hafen is making the leap onto the national dance scene with her first full-length show, [+] SPACE. Last year Hafen was honored at the Capezio A.C.E. Awards for her chorographic style. As part of the recognition she will get to put on a full-length show at the Ailey Theatre in New York City this summer. But first Hafen will premiere [+] SPACE for Dallas audiences, July 26 and 28, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson.
Along with the Dallas Repertoire Ballet, [+] SPACE will also feature dance celebrities Chelsie Hightower, Billy Bell, Janelle Issis, Thayne Jasperson and Nicki Loud. These guest performers will also be teaching a series of master classes at Academy of Dance Arts, July 26-29, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Originally from Utah, Bree Hafen trained under Colleen Smith (student of William F. Christensen,) Lauralyn Kofford and many others at Center Stage Performing Arts. She has served as president and choreographer of the BYU Cougarettes and toured the U.S. and Europe with Odyssey Dance Theater before putting her professional career on hold to become a mom. Hafen currently teaches at Academy of Dance Arts in Allen and was a featured contestant at the Dallas auditions for Season 9 of So You Think You Can Dance.
TheaterJones asks Bree Hafen about the inspiration behind [+] SPACE, breaking into the choreography side of the industry and why she chose to premiere her show in Dallas.
TheaterJones: What are the Capezio A.C.E. Awards?
Bree Hafen: It’s a choreography competition hosted by Capezio and Break the Floor Productions and it’s really the only one of its kind for professional choreographers. What happens is you submit a video to their website and out of several hundred videos they select 16 choreographers to come to New York and present their work in front of some of the top choreographers in the country. I was fortunate enough be one of those 16 choreographers. So, I took five of my dancers to New York where they competed with my dance Terminal Soul which is about someone dealing with a terminal illness. The judges liked it so much that they awarded it one of the top three honors. And one of the perks of being top three is that we get to put on a full-length show of our own work the following summer in New York City.
What was your reaction when you found out you won?
Being a newcomer in my industry I really went into this thinking I had nothing to lose. So, when I was contacted that I had been chosen I was so excited. I am very confident about my work and I know that I have been able to create things that people appreciate and really enjoying watching, but I was up against names that politically should have been chosen over me. So, I was very pleased that they found the desire to give me the opportunity even though I am not one of the big names. And with that said, to be announced as one of the winners against 16 pretty well known choreographers was absolutely amazing. I really love teaching high school aged kids, but my dream has always been to have a company of my own and this has really given me that opportunity.
What is the inspiration for your show, [+] SPACE?
In artistic terms it means to have things close together, but the way I’m using it is kind of a play on words to encourage a more uplifting and wholesome genre of the arts. I know that dance sometimes gets a bad rap for being overly sexualized. A lot of the Broadway shows today you would never bring your 12-year-old son to. I wanted to create a place where people can come and really feel uplifted and inspired without having to compromise their standards. The same goes for my dancers. I didn’t want them to feel like they had to doing anything they felt uncomfortable with. I just wanted to create something very moving and positive.
How would you describe your movement style?
I do not pigeonhole my style because I really love to create movement in all different genres. I would say my specialty is probably contemporary, but I also love to create musical theatre, lyrical and jazz pieces. I really love to do it all!
What would you say are your strengths as a choreographer?
My strength as a choreographer is in storytelling for sure. I am able to use movement to really weave a story in a dance and that is something that will be essential in [+] SPACE. For the people that come to the show it will not be just movement to music. There are definitely storylines and it is definitely relatable.
What can you tell me about the pieces we will be seeing?
My first piece is about the different stereotypes. The dancers are in groups wearing different colors and there’s one dancer who’s trying to bring everyone to the attention that we are all the same on the inside. As the dance goes on their colors come off and the dancers are all in basic black and they come to recognize their alikeness vs. their differences. The second dance is more of a narrative about the rich vs. the poor in the 1920’s. It’s kind of detailing how this homeless community doesn’t have money but they have so much love and connection with one another while the rich family has everything they could ever want; however, their lives are kind of empty. And the third piece is a real tear-jerker. It’s about a wife who goes to war and doesn’t make it and comes back in the form of an angel to help her husband find new love.
How did you help your dancers commit to the storylines in your pieces?
I was very picky with the adults that I chose for the company because I knew I needed dancers who could emote in a very natural and heartfelt way. I don’t have to push them too much. I feel like they really commit to what they are doing. However, one thing that I do stress in rehearsals is the sensitive nature of the things that we are portraying. So, we spend a lot of time talking about if we touch someone this way it feels like we are saying one thing and if we touch someone another way it feels like we are saying something different. I am very specific about the tiny details in the choreography so that it all reads in a very real way. I never want anything I produce to be perceived as melodramatic.
Why did you decide to premiere the show here in Dallas?
After the A.C.E. Awards I came back and talked to Kathy Willsey, Executive Director of the Dallas Repertoire Ballet, and we decided that we definitely wanted to give Dallas a chance to see the show before we went to New York. Around this time last year she wanted to produce a show featuring all my work. When the A.C.E. awards happened, her idea then became a reality. Dallas is such an arts community. The city has such an appreciation for the arts and we wanted to continue to foster that. The more that’s nourished here in Dallas the better it’s going to be for tourism and the economy. It’s something we are really passionate about and we have already started asking for grants and funding for next summer.
Was it an easy decision to involve the Dallas Repertoire Ballet in your show?
Yes, it was. Dallas Repertoire Ballet is a 501(c)3 non-profit so, Kathy was able to help me find donors since putting on a production like this is extremely expensive. Kathy was more than happy to get involved and she really wanted to be a driving force with this show. She believes in me more than I believe in myself. And all the parents at Academy of Dance Arts and the DRB Board felt the same way. I couldn’t have done this without their support.
The iconic choreographer discusses modern dance in the 21st century, the popularity of contemporary ballet, and his company’s longevity.
Richardson — The legendary Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts on April 13, 2013 for a one-night-only performance. The evening’s program includes The Uncommitted (2011), Brandenburgs (1988) and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) (1980).This marks the company’s sixth appearance as part of the Eisemann Center Presents series and also includes a master class on April 12 and an open educational rehearsal prior to Saturday’s performance.
Choreographer Paul Taylor is known as the last living pioneer of modern dance. Born during the Great Depression, Taylor attended Syracuse University in the late 1940s before transferring to The Juilliard School. In 1954 he assembled a small company of dancers and began choreographing. His most notable works include 3 Epitaphs (1956), Aureole (1962), Esplanade (1975) and Company B (1991). Taylor joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1955 and was invited to be a guest artist with the New York City Ballet in 1959, where George Balanchine created the Episodes solo for him.
Taylor has received every important honor given to artists in the United States. His accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors in 1992, the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton in 1993, and the Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1995. He is also the recipient of three Guggenheim Fellowships and was named one of 50 prominent Americans honored in recognition of their outstanding achievement by the Library of Congress’s Office of Scholarly Programs.
Today, Taylor’s dances are performed by the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the six-member Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company and dance companies throughout the world, including the Royal Danish Ballet, Rambert Dance Company, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He remains among the most sought-after choreographers working in the industry today.
TheaterJones asks Paul Taylor about his company’s longevity, preserving his work, and how modern dance has changed over the last 50 years.
TheaterJones: The Paul Taylor Dance Company has been going since 1954. How do you keep yourself from burning out?
Paul Taylor: It’s really not a problem for me. I love to work, I love what I do and I enjoy the people I work with, so the concept of burning out doesn’t occur to me. I don’t think I am burning out.
To what do you attribute your company’s success?
(He laughs.) Well, to a lot of things, but especially the dancers, my managers over years, my fundraisers and then the fact that I know how to cut expenses. I was born in the Great Depression and my family really set the example as to how to cut costs.
Have the qualities you look for in a dancer changed over time?
I really haven’t changed in that way. I still look for the same qualities that I always did. I will say that dancers today are usually more technically advanced than in my day, but I don’t look for anything different than I always have. For me it’s all about communication both verbally and through the movement.
What is it about your work that makes it so relatable to people of all different generations? I am speaking primarily of your piece Company B.
Well, I don’t really think about how the audience is going to relate to the work when I am creating it. I try to make things that I think I’d like to see. I don’t know how to work any other way. With Company B, it’s really the music that draws people in. It’s basically a war dance and most people know about war and therefore can relate to it. It’s about the people who stay home, with glimpses of the people who don’t. So, on the surface it seems like lots of fun with the spritely and happy music when actually from the very beginning there are hints that it’s not going to be that kind of dance.
What challenges have you encountered when it comes to archiving and preserving your work?
Fortunately, I have an archivist that takes care of all that.
What are your thoughts on contemporary ballet and the influx of contemporary ballet companies in the U.S.?
I’m not really the person to ask about that because I rarely go out to see dancing. What I will say is that modern dance has always had an influence on classical ballet dance, and so dancers today are more interested in doing work that is not totally classic. You know quite a few ballet companies take my work and put it in their reps and that is very nice.
American Ballet Theatre performed Company B in Dallas last year. Were you happy with their version?
I was there when ABT learned the piece and I thought it was very good. There are differences between their style and mine, but it takes years of training to get the kind of weight in the movement that most of my dancers have. I figure if the dance is solid and structurally firm it can stand on its own.
Where does traditional modern dance fit in the 21st century?
It’s hard to say what is traditional because each generation has its own version of what they think modern dance should be. It’s constantly changing. What people use to call modern dance is now called something else. So, I think it will just go on changing according to the different generations that come along and add to it.
You have done and accomplished so much in the modern dance field. Is there anything else you would like to do?
Oh sure! I mean dance is a bottomless pit, and I would just like to keep on working as long as I can.
Dallas Repertoire Ballet wowed audiences with its clean and engaging version of The Nutcracker.
Richardson — Having seen multiple Nutcrackers already this Holiday season, it’s apparent that a production’s success truly lies in the details. Dallas Repertoire Ballet proved this on Friday with its technically pleasing and visually stunning 20th annual production of The Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.
From the scenery and lighting to the streamlined storytelling and choreography, it raised the bar in terms of how a Nutcracker production should look and run.
The opening party scene was orchestrated with precision and creativity. Instead of having the 50 performers (little kids to adults) dancing in the cliché small groups and circle formations, choreographers Kathy Willsey and Megan Willsey-Buckland took a risk with a large children’s group number, including baby doll props and intricate weaving patterns. The movement didn’t just include the standard chasse in a circle and bourrée into straight lines. The dancers’ quick tempo pointe work and challenging pirouette and pique combinations kept the scene upbeat and entertaining.
It was also nice to see a more mature dancer (Alexandra Politz) perform the role of Clara. I preferred 16-year-old Politz’s confident, strong dancing over the softer style that is typically seen in this role. Politz’s maturity and personal artistry also took her partnership with the Nutcracker Prince (Albert Drake) to another level. The couple executed some tricky over-the-head lifts and multiple assisted pirouettes without a quiver. Drake, a native Texan and a member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project, gave a striking and personable performance as the Nutcracker Prince. Don’t let his small stature fool you; this young man ate up the stage with his front cabrioles and jumps in second.
Another great partnership was that between the Snow Queen (Mackenzie Voorhies) and the Snow King (Harry Feril.) Feril, also a member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project, is everything you’d expect in a partner; strong, agile and charismatic. He performed one lift after another without pause. Voorhies’ petite, lean frame probably helped a little. The group number with the Snowflakes and Icicles was also well-rehearsed and included some beautiful picture moments.
The show’s smooth pace and engaging performances continued in the second half. The Arabian Coffee number (Grace Ludwinski and Jamal White) was a crowd pleaser with its contorted lifts and Ludwinski’s behind-the-head leg extensions and abnormal backbends. The Reed Pipes number had some beautiful ribbon work and delicate choreography while the Chinese Tea number was crisp and sassy. The grande ps de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Megan Schonberg) and Cavalier (Harry Feril) was slightly off balance yet still impactful. Feril’s commanding presence seemed to overpower Schonberg’s fragility in some instances, but all that is forgotten the minute he lifted her in the air.
Dallas Repertoire Ballet’s acute attention to detail in terms of technique, choreography, storytelling and production value made for a captivating performance.
Collin County Ballet Theatre delights audiences with its entertaining version of The Nutcracker.
Richardson — There’s nothing like Tchaikovsky, a Kingdom of Sweets and a Nutcracker Prince to get you into the holiday spirit. Collin County Ballet Theatre‘s 12th annual production of The Nutcracker Friday evening featured all this and glitzy costumes, cheeky choreography and some standout performances by guest artists and a few company members.
CCBT’s collaboration with the Plano Symphony Orchestra, led by guest conductor Leslie B. Dunner, was enthusiastically received and acoustically well-suited for the Hill Performance Hall at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.
The tale begins at a Christmas Eve party at the home of Mayor Silberhaus where our heroine Clara (Tiffany Lee) receives a nutcracker doll from her kooky uncle Drosselmeyer (Robert Stewart). Later that night while Clara is sleeping she dreams of a land of snow and sweets where her Nutcracker Prince and other magical creatures come to life.
The opening party scene of The Nutcracker sets the tone for the whole production, so it’s vital to keep it entertaining and quick-paced. Artistic Directors Kirt and Linda Hathaway did both. Each dance sequence was about a minute and the performers transitioned smoothly from one dance to the next.
The children’s choreography was cute and included basic ballet steps likes balances, chasses and sautés on soft shoe. Lee’s (Clara) pointe work was delicate and precise, but it was Kade Cummings’ (Fritz, Clara’s Brother) charisma and poise that stole the scene.
It was nice to see some familiar faces in Act 1 including Ruben Gerding as the Nutcracker Prince and Chung-Lin Tseng as the Snow King. Gerding is perfectly suited for the princely roles. He’s charming and graceful and takes good care of his female partners. Tseng ate up the stage with his grande jetes and doubletour en l‘airs. Against a gray background Tseng and the Snow Queen (Ashton Leonard) gave an angelic performance. The couple’s controlled partnering and effortless lifts aided in covering up some of the timing issues among the Snowflake dancers.
Act 2 introduced us to the Kingdom of Sweets and the beloved Sugar Plum Fairy (Melissa Zoebisch) and Cavalier (Alexandru Glusacov). Maybe it was opening night jitters that had Zoebisch stumbling out of double pirouettes on pointe, but you can’t deny her impeccable epaulement (body positions) and leg extensions. Zoebisch’s confidence lifted when she partnered with Glusacov. Together they were rock steady and executed the Grand Pas de Deux beautifully.
The second Act also contained some fine dancing from the Chinese Tea (Michaela Raley, Kade Cummings and Sarah Smith) and the Trepak (Jose Checca). The audience loved Checca’s over-rotated toe touches and gravity defying leaps. The Merlitons (Jessi Gorman, Alexis Ludwig, Madeline McMillin and Courtney Miller) were also well rehearsed and didn’t falter in their fouette turns on pointe.
Even with a few minor missteps Collin County Ballet Theatre still pulled off an extremely entertaining and quick-moving performance that children of all ages can enjoy.
Repeat performance Dec. 22 at 3 and 7 p.m. at Heritage High School in Frisco.