Tag Archives: Fort Worth

Outside The Lines

Texas Ballet Theater expands its stylistic range in Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders, part of the company’s First Looks Series in Dallas this weekend.

TBT-WithoutBorders
Texas Ballet Theater rehearsing Val Caniparoli’s Without Borders. Photo: Ellen Appel

It’s not a coincidence that Texas Ballet Theater principal dancer’s Leticia Oliveira and Carl Coomer look like a pair of figure skaters just skimming the floor in a series of petite traveling lifts in American choreographer Val Caniparoli’s new work, Without Borders. “A lot of what I do has been inspired by ice skating or classical ballet or by working with African dance consultants in Lambarena and that has stuck with me over the years,” Caniparoli says.

Originally from Renton, Washington, Caniparoli opted for a professional dance career after studying music and theater at Washington State University. He received a Ford Foundation Scholarship in 1972 that allowed him to attend San Francisco Ballet School. He performed with San Francisco Opera Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet in 1973. He became resident choreographer there, and later with Tulsa Ballet. Today, Caniparoli is one of the most sought after American choreographers in the United States and abroad, having set works on more than 35 dance companies, including the Joffrey Ballet. Caniparoli has also choreographed for many notable Opera houses in the U.S., including Chicago Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Photo: Courtesy of Val Caniparoli

Caniparoli’s musical background plays a pivotal role in his creative process and is one of the most appealing aspects of his work. “I have studied music and theater all my life and fell into ballet when I was 20 so, it’s natural for me to create movement that is being dictated by the music.” I saw this firsthand back in September when I sat in one of his rehearsals with Coomer and Oliveira and later the full company for his piece Without Borders, which will have its world premiere at TBT’s First Looks Series May 6-8 in Dallas and May 27-29 in Fort Worth.

Most of the critiques Caniparoli gave to Coomer and Oliveira during rehearsal pertained to their musical timing and movement quality. “You have to fill out every count of the music,” Caniparoli tells the couple on one adagio section. “You also have to be very specific when counting the eights. This is a fast eight counts that moves into a slower tempo.” This last note was in reference to a particularly tricky lift where Oliveira coiled around Coomer’s upper body coming to a stop with her hips settled into the crease of his neck before slowly sliding down his body. Caniparoli switched places a few times with Coomer and Oliveira in order to help them get the right feel of the movement, which he illustrated with subtle head and arm gestures as well as slight weight changes during lifts. I found out later from Caniparoli that it is not unusual for him to get up and demonstrate certain choreography and partnering skills with the dancers he is working with. “I like to be very hands on with the dancers because as a dancer myself I liked working with choreographers who did allow the dancers to have a voice in the process. I learned early on that if you respect the dancers then they will respect you back.”

The music Caniparoli has chosen for the piece, a blend of tracks from Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’s 2013 album entitled A Playlist Without Borders, features a number of ethnic sounds, including African, Irish and Arabic and was also inspiration for the name of the work. “I wanted music with a lot of variety that would then be reflected in the movement as well as the costuming and lighting.” While the work doesn’t follow a particular theme, Caniparoli says he did use the musical explanations included in the CD, which described how the composers felt about each piece of music, as a basis for the choreography and inspiration for the dancers’ personal performances. “You don’t have to understand what my intentions were to enjoy this piece. I just want people to love the dancers, music, costuming, lighting and such, and not get too wrapped up in finding the meaning in everything.”

He continues, “I was just so inspired by Yo-Yo Ma’s ability to connect with all these traditional ethnic instruments and combine them in a unique East meets West way in these ensemble tracks. Whereas Lambarena focused more on war and unrest in other countries, in Without Borders I am trying to connect countries through music in a very uplifting and positive way.”

You can experience the music and movement of Val Caniparoli’s new work Without Borders for yourself when Texas Ballet Theater performs it at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend as part of the company’s First Looks Series. The program also includes Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries and the company’s premiere of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. TBT will repeat the program at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth later this month.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Dancing in Tongues

Fabio Liberti works with DCC on Here Is Not There. Photo: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance explores movement through text in Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti’s Here Is Not There, part of the company’s Spring Series in Fort Worth.
Fort Worth — The number of new works being produced in the area by international emerging artists continues to climb as Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti gets ready to make his U.S. debut with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) this weekend. His new work, Here Is Not There, explores the underlying meaning behind different individual’s responses to the question “how are you,” as well as our constant struggle to find balance in our lives, which the dancers depict through a variety of modern and contemporary movements and individual monologues based off past memories. “The question ‘how are you’ refers to those moments when out past and present meet and how we feel when we are trying to find balance between our past and present lives,” Liberti says. “I have always been interested in the combination of text and dance, so it was a natural choice for me to use both in this piece for DCCD. They are a talented group of dancers and it has been great experience working with them.”

The text-driven work features six dancers (DCCD Company Members David Cross, Chadi El-Khoury, Alex Karigan Farrior, Sarah Hammonds, Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Kelsey Rohr) and includes minimal music by Marguerite Monnot and Nancy Sinatra. Liberti’s Here Is Not There will premiere at DCCD’s annual Spring Series, April 29-May 1, at the Erma Lowe Hall Studio Theatre on the Texas Christian University Campus in Fort Worth. The program also includes Peugh’s prom-inspired version of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which the company premiered at Dallas City Performance Hall in March.

Since graduating the Codarts-Rotterdam Dance Academy in Italy, Liberti has performed professionally with Conny Hanssen Danst in Holland, Stadttheater Hildesheim in Germany, Stadttheater Saint Gallen in Switzerland, AIEP-Ariella Vidach in Italy and most recently with Danish Dance Theatre in Denmark. He received third place at the Copenhagen International Choreography competition in 2013 and received the Critics’ Award at the Hannover International Choreography competition in Germany. It was at the Hannover competition where Liberti meet Peugh backstage and their artistic friendship only blossomed from there.

Watching DCCD rehearse Liberti’s Here Is Not There at Southern Methodist University back in January, it was easy to see what drew these two curious minds to one another. Liberti and Peugh both have similar movement tendencies such as expansive gesturing, heavy tailbone traveling steps and the use of unlikely body parts like the stomach or elbow to connect with one another, as well as a knack for finding humor in even the most intense situations. Authenticity also plays an important role in both choreographers’ creative processes. “I am always searching for authenticity in my movement,” Liberti says. “So, I add in what I like, but I also keep in the personality of the person I am working with and what feels good to them when it comes to the choreography.” In Here Is Not There, Liberti accomplishes this feat by assigning each dancer a composition task to which he later adds more layers too himself. He also sent out a questionnaire to the dancers prior to arriving in Dallas which Liberti used as the foundation for the text in the work. The responses, which Liberti says could be answered truthfully or not, became poignant monologues reflecting on specific moments and memories from each dancer’s past and present.

While the idea of combining movement and spoken word is not uncommon in the modern dance world, this is the first time DCCD is exploring this particular avenue. When asked about the challenges of moving and talking at the same time company member Hammonds says, “It was definitely a learning experience as I am not the best at memorizing text. Kelsey and I spent a lot of time working on the text we have to say together. We had to sit down and break down which words we were going to emphasize and which ones we weren’t.” The section Hammonds is referring to is what the group calls the twin section where Hammonds and Rohr reflect on the various questions twins get asked such as do you finish each other sentences and do you even like each other in a sing song cadence while Cross and El-Khoury slink, roll and army crawl across the floor decked out in matching striped tops. “The challenge for us was to execute the phrasing without thinking about what is coming next while also keeping pace with the text, but not relying on it for movement cues,” Cross says.

>>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

>>Also check out my preview of Josh Peugh’s Rite of Spring.

 

Colliding Worlds, Texas Ballet Theater

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

Texas Ballet Theater is revving up for Jonathan Watkins’ new work Crash, part of this year’s Artistic Director’s  Choice performance in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth — For most people the word “crash” brings up images of cars, buses, planes and trains. But for British choreographer Jonathan Watkins the word has a broader subtext and is the focus of his new work Crash, part ofTexas Ballet Theater’s Artistic Director’s Choice performance in Fort Worth this weekend. In this piece Watkins takes on various personal, technological and political crashes which are represented through solo, duet and large group numbers in this 25-minute circular tale that features original music by Dallas-based composer Ryan Cockerham and costumes by Austin-based Kari Perkins, who also did the costuming for Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated film Boyhood.

In addition to these elements, Watkins uses abstract and neo-classical movements to shape the different situations and mindsets that he has laid out for us. “What I did is set up these different scenarios throughout the work that follow a similar pattern,” Watkins says. “There is a buildup of energy, a crash, and then the dancers have to collect the pieces and hopefully build a better foundation.

“And after the crash we need space to analyze and build the strength to help us deal with the crash going forward,” he explains further. “For this part I wanted the dancers to have a more pensive quality of movement.”

Watkins is an up-and-coming British choreographer who won the Kenneth MacMillan Choreography Competition at the Royal Ballet School when he was just 16 years old. He danced with the Royal Ballet for 10 years before leaving the company in 2013 to pursue his career as a freelance choreographer and director. Watkins made his international debut at the New York Choreographic Institute in 2008 with his workNow, set on New York City Ballet. His other international commissions include Eventual Progress for Russia’s Ekaterinburg Ballet Theatre in 2013 and Present Process for Ballet Manila, Philippines in 2014. His other choreographic credits include Beyond Prejudice and Free Falling created for The Curve Foundation, Abstract Balance with East London Dance and Together Alone for Ballet Black. Watkins also created his first short dance film called Route 67 in 2011. After Fort Worth, he heads back to Britain to work on a premiere evening-length work based on George Orwell’s 1984.

The pensive section Watkins mentioned earlier is at minute 19 of the dance and is what the company was working on when I sat in rehearsal a few weeks ago. For the next hour and a half the group learned four counts of eight of slow moving, forward progressing arm gestures and leg extensions. A deliberate button push with the right finger initiates the sequence and is followed with a half attitude turn into a side stretch. This leads into another leg whip and arm reach all executed in the same unhurried fashion. He then has the dancers retrograde the phrase so they end up in the same horizontal line they started in. I found out later from Watkins that the only preconceived movement was the button push. Everything else grew organically.

Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

“I don’t always work like this, but in this case I wanted to do it with them and experience the choreography together,” he says. “Going in I was confident in the concept of moving slowly. I also knew I wanted to layer and experiment with the movement and that sort of detailing is best to be done then and there.”

These experiments included having two groups of 12 dancers stand in a straight line and begin the phrase on different counts. In some cases it was every four counts and in others it was every two counts. He then had the dancers clump together and move out and around each other creating this illusion of a living organism. Even without knowing the outcome, the dancers quickly adapted to each situation and problem-solved any traffic pattern issues as they moved. As a viewer I got to see the movement morph from a linear kind of tame visual into a cascade of complex shapes and bright pops of movement.

Throughout rehearsal Watkins uses different words, sounds and sometimes melodies to help the dancers align themselves with the pensive quality of the movement. “Shift it, step it, breathe it,” he says during one run through. Another time he mixes together words and sounds such as “Hwa, hwa, melt up, shift down, step to it, emphasize bah.” When I asked Watkins about his use of sounds instead of counts he says he will use whatever means necessary to communicate his intention to the dancers.

“Trust and communication are very important. Energy and being positive is what works for me because I don’t want people to dance through fear,” he says. “And, if I have to shout and sing to get my point across then I have no hang ups about doing it.”

It wasn’t that long ago that Watkins was still performing professionally so he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end. “You just have to respect the other person and embrace the dancers.” The same rule applies when working with composers, costumers and other members of production team.

When it came to putting together his team for this project Watkins decided to experiment locally with composer Ryan Cockerham and costume designer Kari Perkins, who has costumed seven Linklater films, including his breakout Dazed & Confused. He found Cockerham’s name on the Royal College of Music alumni list and it just so happened he was based in Dallas and had some previous ballet composition experience. “I like serendipity and so when it happens I just go with it. I then started looking for a costumer in the area and I came across Kari who did the costumes for the movie Boyhood.”

For the music Watkins wanted a lot of melodic and rhythmic themes with some soundscape elements mixed in. He describes the costumes as an everyday look, but with lots of fractured layers on top. “And underneath resembles bare bones which represents the clean slate after the crash and before the cycle starts again.”

Artistic Director’s Choice opens with Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, followed by Crash, and closes with Balanchine’s Rubies.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Dysfunctional Beauty

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD
Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

Montreal-based choreographer James Gregg brings his eccentric style and unique sense of humor to Dallas in his new work, Boonflood, U.S.A, part of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Winter Series.

Fort Worth — Joshua L. Peugh has a knack for finding choreographers who are just as curious and quirky as him and who possess their own distinct voice to come to Dallas to work with his company Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA). Peugh looks for guest choreographers who have his similar ‘sight’ when it comes to the creative process, but who can also challenge the dancers physically and intellectually. Over the past two years the U.S. branch of the South Korea-based DCCD has successfully introduced North Texas audiences to choreographers such as Chad El-Khoury and Mike Esperanza, whose works were enthusiastically received by critics. DCCD is hoping to continue this trend with Montréal-based choreographer James Gregg’s new work, Boonflood, U.S.A. The piece, which uses six DCCD company members including Peugh, is part of DCCD’s Winter Series which runs Jan. 29-31 at Erma Lowe Hall, Studio Theatre on the Texas Christian University Campus in Fort Worth.

An Oklahoma native, Gregg moved to Chicago in 1999 to dance with River North Chicago Dance Company. He was with the company for several years before moving to Montréal where he currently dances with Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal. He has also danced with RUBBERBANDance and Azure Barton and Artists. Last year Gregg was one of the winners of Ballet Austin’s New America Talent/Dance choreographic competition for his work The Space Between. Peugh and Gregg met last year in Philadelphia where they were both setting pieces for BalletX.

While watching a run-though of Boonflood, U.S.A. at Preston Center Dance on Sunday afternoon it was easy to see why Peugh was drawn to Gregg’s work. They both have a penchant for distorted body shapes, whimsical gesturing and full body contact partnering. They also find humor in the most simplistic of tasks such as walking, hugging and staring. Gregg displays this side of himself in the opening section of Boonflood, U.S.A. Dressed in folksy attire, denim button downs, beige pants and floral patterned dresses, the six dancers shuffle across the stage frozen in what appears to be an awkward family portrait. They go back and forth about five times, dropping off a member of the family each time, which causes them to shift their pose. The music is an original score by Austin-based composer Jordan Moser that starts with an upbeat banjo ditty, then morphs into unsettling heartbeats before finally bringing back the banjo in a very complex electronic remix of sorts.

Whereas Peugh’s movement choices typically emphasize a certain body part such as an arm, shoulder or hip, Gregg leans more toward full body motion as evident with Sarah Hammonds’ open-chested releases and loose leg lifts during her solo. Gregg advises her to think about compressing the muscle so it doesn’t look floppy. The group sections are where we see Gregg’s true chorographic genius come out to play. Having been working in Montreal for the past 10 years, Gregg says he has gotten to experience everything from classical and contemporary styles of dance to more avant-garde and risqué ways of moving. In the groups sections of this pieces Gregg plays around a lot with the texture (i.e. sharp, weighted, calculated, loving) as well as group partnering.

For example, in the waltz section the three couples go from pushing and pulling at one another to placing their head on the other person’s shoulder as they spin around with their arms extended out. In the group partnering section everyone stays connected as Peugh supports fellow dancer Alex Karigan Farrior as she pushes off someone’s back with her feet to end up on Chad El-Khoury’s shoulders. As this is happening the entire group is steadily moving upstage while staying connected as a whole. These extremely intense sections are balanced out with more whimsical moments such as the family photo session where everyone strikes a June Cleaver pose before returning back to their true characters. Everyone in the audience can relate to this dysfunctional family theme. And while at certain points the piece evokes feelings of grief, anger and isolation Gregg says there is an uplifting quality to it all.

The DCCD Winter Series also features two new works by Peugh, Critics Of The Morning Song and You and Me. The first is a duet between Peugh and Farrior which premiered in New York City last October at The Ailey Citigroup Theater. The piece is quintessential Peugh; isolated body gestures, rhythmic pedestrian movements, body music and of course uniquely comical. You and Me includes a minimal techno soundtrack, vintage arcade sounds and features Peugh’s knee-bruising floor work and primitive body positions.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Shaping Dance

 

Photo: Shaping Sound
Photo: Shaping Sound

Travis Wall discusses his choreographic journey on So You Think You Can Dance, expanding the commercial dance industry and cofounding the L.A.-based contemporary dance company, Shaping Sound.

Fort Worth — The commercial dance industry has gone through a major transformation over the last 10 to 15 years. Being a professional commercial dancer in the ‘90s meant moving to L.A. and auditioning for music videos and TV commercials. The term ‘dance celebrity’ did not exist. The closest a commercial dancer would get to fame was dancing in the background of a Britney Spears video. Commercial dancers today has seen an increase in jobs and exposure thanks to TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing With The Stars and Dance Moms. These shows have jump-started many dancers’ professional careers, including Travis Wall’s. The public first got to see Wall as a contestant on Season 2 of SYTYCD, but it wasn’t until Season 5 when he was brought back as a choreographer that we got to see the emotional storyteller underneath all that incredible technique.

Growing up in his mom’s dance studio in Virginia Beach, Wall always knew he was destined for more than just dancing at a very young age. He landed his first professional at age nine when he appeared in a Dr. Pepper commercial. And he was only 18 when he became a contestant on SYTYCD in 2006, a blessing and a curse he says. A blessing because his body was able to keep up with the grueling schedule, but he says he found it hard to open up to the camera. “I really didn’t know how to act especially with my sexuality (at the time noSYTYCD contestant had ever come out). So, instead I just made it about the dancing. I wasn’t going to make it about anything else.”

After the show Wall became more focused on creating work with the hopes of one day returning to the SYTYCDstage to show off his choreographic chops. “It was a passion of mine to become a choreographer in the commercial dance industry and I told the show’s producers that they would invite me back.” Wall got his chance in Season 5 with a contemporary routine featuring Jason Glover and Jeanine Mason. “I was actually assisting Wade Robson that week and the night before the show the producers called me and asked me if I wanted to do my first piece. I basically had 12 hours to pick music and set the routine on the dancers.” Having guest choreographed on the show for numerous seasons now, Wall is quick to point out that he usually only gets five to six hours to work with the dancers. Outside of the show Wall has worked with Florence and the Machine, Chelsea Handler, Eminem and Rihanna. He also choreographed the contemporary numbers in the film Step Up Revolution and currently teaches on tour with NUVO Dance Convention.

When asked how it feels to have his journey as a choreographer documented in such a public way Wall says it is simply amazing. “I think it’s really cool for people to feel like they are part of a journey.” Wall also gets the added bonus of having these clips of his work forever archived on the Web. “I can just randomly go on You Tube and watch the pieces and remember what I was going through at that particular time. I always put a lot of myself into the pieces I do on SYTYCD and so I’m really watching my life process through these videos.”

Having spent so much time in front of the camera it only seemed natural that in 2012 the camera would follow him as he and his buddy’s Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson launched their contemporary dance company, Shaping Sound. The trials and triumphs that occurred during the company’s first season were documented in the reality series All The Right Moves, which aired on the Oxygen channel. While Wall is thankful for the exposure the show provided he says if he had to do it over again he probably wouldn’t have agreed to do the show. “At times the cameras really stunted the creative process. I felt like what came out wasn’t the true version of ourselves. We were constantly nervous about what someone was going to say and how the work would appear on camera so we just decided we needed to keep our art separate from the other stuff. So, what we ended up presenting on the show was really a stage show which was the product of constantly having the stress of the cameras on us.”

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

Even with its bumpy start Shaping Sound has thrived over the past four years captivating audiences across the U.S. with its dynamic mix of energy, emotion and athleticism as well as its celebrated cast of dancers, including SYTYCDAll-star Jaimie Goodwin and Season 10 winner Amy Yakima. The 12-member company also includes Dallas native Skylar Boykin who trained at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX. The working dynamic between the four friends is quite cohesive according to Wall. “We are like brothers so we know how to work with each other and we know who pushes the other’s buttons.” As far as creating and choreographing Wall says it’s really a collaborative effort, but that over the past year he has taken more of a leadership role when it comes to the staging and directing aspects of the work.

Shaping Sound is produced by Break the Floor Productions and seeks to provide audiences with a greater understanding of contemporary dance through a fusion of jazz, modern and hip-hop choreography. North Texas audiences’ will get a chance to see Wall and the rest of the company when Shaping Sound comes to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on Wednesday, Jan. 28.

Wall describes the one-night only show as a dance theater experience in two acts. “You’re following this girl whose spirit is completely damaged and you watch her fall asleep and enter this dream where she learns how to love. She goes through all these experiences so she can take what she learns and apply them to her real life.” Wall adds, “There’s lots of different styles of movement and amazing music you’re going to love. The louder you cheer the harder we perform. We thrive off the noise.”

This article was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Funky Fresh, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

In its second-season opener, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance showcases its expanded movement vocabulary and comedic flair in three very different premieres.

Fort Worth — Anyone who has seen Joshua L. Peugh’s work knows that he is not the type of choreographer that takes himself too seriously. And thank goodness for that, for Peugh’s topsy-turvy choreography and unique sense of humor has been a most welcomed addition to the North Texas dance scene. A fact that was reinforced this past weekend with three packed performances of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s second season opener,Beautiful Knuckleheads, at the Sanders Theatre at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center that led the company to add an additional fourth show on Saturday afternoon.

The program opened with Chad El-Khoury’s Words In Motion. El-Khoury’s slower, more simplistic movement choices were a nice change of pace from Peugh’s multi-layered movements. Dressed in jeans and tanks in hues of cream, blue, green and red, the six dancers remained stationary for the first section while exploring their range of motion side-to-side and up-and-down in the form of hand stands, tilts, and upper body extensions. The dancers’ clean lines and moments of stillness gave the audience the impression that they were actually spelling out words with their bodies. As the dancers began moving around the stage they added in a few dynamic surprises such as a double coupe turn into a leg extension or gliding backwards across the stage on all fours. The tranquil movement was accompanied by the unyielding beat of Hunter Long’s “Without Any Considerable Proportion.”

Intensely alluring and pleasantly dark, Nucleus depicted the various ways energy affects individuals and groups. Inspired by solar panels, choreographer Mike Esperanza used geometric patterns, action and reaction modes of motion, continuous physical connections and special lighting to emulate the sun’s energy. Clad in basic white, the five dancers ran, rolled, gyrated, and manipulated one another through a series of primal gestures and partnering skills. Esperanza’s graphic design background added dimension to the piece and was most effective in the section where Salvatore Bonilla shined a flashlight on Kelsey Rohr as she erotically lip-synced to Nina Simone’s version of “I Put a Spell On You.”

Esperanza also embraced the bareness of the performance space by having the dancers slide up and down the stage left wall while performing a series of isolated body movements reminiscent of those seen in a nightclub. This particular section was a testament to how an individual’s energy, while not necessarily pretty in this case, can still be mesmerizing. The opposite is also true which was beautifully showcased by Dexter Green and Steffani Lopez as they melted into each other’s arms and began slow dancing near the end of the number.

The performance concluded with Peugh’s ’80s pop-inspired piece, Beautiful Knuckleheads. Dancing to the catchy tunes of “Kiss On My List,” “Maneater,” “Sara Smile” and “Private Eyes” by Hall and Oates, Peugh combined ‘80s moves (step touches, pelvis pulses and body rolls) with his own quick-witted and contorted style (loose limb jumps, knee-bruising floor work and comical gesturing) for a fresh and funky performance. During “Kiss On My List” the dancers freeze and kiss their closed fists as they stare down the audience. Peugh was in his element bopping his head, caressing his body and nuzzling Emily Bernet during “Maneater.” His partnering section with Green featured counter-balance holds and quirky flips, dips and spins, all signatures of Peugh’s. His comedic timing is also gaining strength, which was evident throughout the work from the ladies’ Jane Fonda leg lifts in “Maneater” to the group’s open-mouthed facial expressions in “Private Eyes.”

This show was a defining moment for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The company has accomplished in one season what many established North Texas companies have been trying to do for years, and that is reaching a younger audience base. This can be attributed to DCCD’s strong presence on social media and young group of dancers, but it’s more likely due to Peugh’s eccentric personality and fresh ideas that just naturally appeal to a younger crowd. The biggest challenge for the company moving forward is going to be finding a larger venue for its future performances.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

At The Core

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD
Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

New York-based choreographer Mike Esperanza discusses working with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA on his new work NUCLEUS, part of the company’s Fall Series in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth — Inspiration can hit anywhere at any time. For New York-based Choreographer Mike Esperanza it happened one day while out for a walk when he took notice of the solar panels on people’s rooftops. “I started thinking about the panel’s ability to capture and store the sun’s energy and how this could be translated into movement.” Who knew this idea would evolve into Nucleus, a 25-minute piece that uses geometric patterns, full-body movement, special lighting and projections to illustrate the sun’s energy. “I wanted to use elements like the projector and stage lighting to portray the sun in a way that wasn’t so obvious like putting the dancers in yellow costumes. The piece also doesn’t follow a typical storyline. It’s follows more of a timeframe.”

To bring Nucleus to life Esperanza needed a group of dancers willing to challenge themselves mentally and physically, and who could also think and dance as one. He found what he was looking for with Dark Circles Contemporary Dance USA (DCCD). Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Esperanza had met previously at a dance festival and really hit it off. So, when Peugh was looking for guest choreographers to come in and create pieces for DCCD’s Fall Series at the Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth, Esperanza was at the top of the list. “Like I always say, I am drawn to people who are curious and love to move,” Peugh says.

Along with running BARE Dance Company in New York, Esperanza also has experience in graphic design, and his approach to visual construction has captivated audiences across the county. His work has been commissioned by many university dance programs, including Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, and UNLV, among others. Esperanza’s choreography has also made numerous appearances in regional and national galas at the American College Dance Festival. In 2005, Esperanza was awarded the Dance: Creation for Performance grant presented by Dance/USA and the Irvine Foundation.

Esperanza recently finished his two-week residency with DCCD and I saw their final rehearsal at Preston Center Dance on a hot Friday afternoon. The atmosphere inside the rehearsal room was professional, yet friendly as Emily Bernet, Salvatore Bonilla, Zac Hammer, Steffani Lopez and Kelsey Rohr stretched and chatted with Esperanza, Peugh and myself. But when it came time to run the piece the dancers quickly shifted into performance mode. Their eyes became focused and breathing steadied as their bodies awaited the first chord in the music.

Photo: Courtesy of DCCD
Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

On DCCD’s Tumblr page Bernet shares her experience working with Esperanza. “He moves quickly, following a constant stream of inspiration. As he creates he keeps us involved, following his every weight shift and direction change. The piece incorporates a range of dynamics, and Mike is helping us discover how to make the energy of the work build and fall like a wave, bringing the images together into one idea.”

She adds, “His residency has provided us with an opportunity to continue our artistic growth, and as always, has been a lot of fun. Mike’s creativity has challenged me to move in new ways and brought us closer as a company.”

Esperanza credits his use of imagery and improvisation in the rehearsal process for helping the dancers connect to his vision. “I asked them to think about the energy they give off when they walk into a room for the first time. This is the energy I want to see while they are moving through the space. The dancers really responded to this visual.” Along with emulating the sun’s energy, the group also plays around with the idea of transferring energy. This is reflected in Esperanza’s exploration of motion using action and reaction and continuous physical connections. For example, in one section of the piece the group runs in a repetitive counter clockwise direction. After the second rotation they add a stomp which picks up intensity as they go. As the circling continues the dancers connect with one another via a hand on the shoulder, hip to hip or, in a surprising shift of energy, reversing their runs only to be captured in the arms of the person behind them. “Staying connected mentally to the others throughout the whole piece has been the biggest challenge,” says DCCD newcomer Zac Hammer. “If one person’s energy is slightly off it affects the whole group.”

On the last day with the group Esperanza says he is pleased with how the piece is looking. “I had a great time working with these dancers. They caught on quickly and were opened to trying new things.” This includes a section where the group executes handstands and B-boy movements against a stage left wall while simultaneously gyrating and lip-syncing. It’s not exactly pretty, but very hypnotic. 

» Nucleus will premiere alongside Peugh’s Beautiful Knuckleheads and Chadi El-Khoury’s Words in Motion at Dark Circles Contemporary’s Fall Series, Sept 4-6, at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Timeless Tale

Carolyn Judson in TBT's Swan Lake. Photo: Steven Visneau
Carolyn Judson in TBT’s Swan Lake. Photo: Steven Visneau

Fort Worth — Many critics would say they have a love/hate relationship with the ballet Swan Lake. Hate because we have seen it re-done and over-done so many times. Love because when executed correctly we can find ourselves at a loss for words. These conflicting views might have something to do with the ballet’s own fractured history. The Swan Lake we know today derives from the production choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s composition and premiered in St. Petersburg in 1895.

What many might not know is that Tchaikovsky actually composed the score in the mid-1870s and that the first production of Swan Lake was performed on stage in Moscow under the title The Lake of the Swans. It also may come as a surprise to some that the original version was a product of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre before it was revived in St. Petersburg. Petipa and Ivanov also had different ideas when it came the ballet’s choreography due to their dissimilar dance backgrounds; Petipa with his Italian and Parisian influences and Ivanov with his Imperial Russian influences. Their contrasting styles helped create one of the most challenging and coveted roles in ballet: Odette/Odile.

Swan Lake tells the story of the beautiful Odette who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer and only love can break the spell. The sorcerer plays a trick on the prince so that he falls in love with the imposter black swan thus dooming Odette. Instead of spending an eternity as a swan Odette chooses to kill herself and once the prince realizes what he has done he decides to die with her. Not exactly the happily-ever-after audiences might expect.

It’s definitely a risk for Texas Ballet Theater to close its season with such an infamous ballet, but if dress rehearsal on Thursday was any indication audiences are in for a well-balanced performance. The opening party scene in the woods started off a little rocky, but quickly gained momentum. At first, the dancers’ pantomiming felt a bit forced and Principal Dancer Lucas Priolo’s stage entrance lacked energy. But as the scene progressed the dancers began to lose themselves in the movement and story thanks in part to the live accompaniment provided by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra—the first time TBT has has live orchestra accompaniment since 2008.

The two female soloists in the party scene displayed beautiful control and amazing fortitude as they seamlessly executed multiple entrechat trois and echappe jumps into a slow arabesque hold. Simon Wexler upped the ante with his mind-blowing jumps and technical dexterity. He attacks all his movement with such vigor that viewers are just waiting for him to fall out of a turn or fumble a landing. He does neither of these things.

Priolo’s movement becomes more fluid and texturized when he dances with Carolyn Judson (Odette/Odile) during the lake scene. His quiet charm, stoic lines and breezy partnering skills are only a few of the qualities audiences are going to miss when he retires after this performance season. With her long lines, winged feet and angelic face, Judson is the quintessential swan princess. But don’t let her willowy frame and divine adagio work fool you. As soon as the tempo picks up she begins fluttering her arms frantically as she aggressively bourrees across the floor.

The corps of swans also has the difficult task of executing every head tilt, wrist flick and body angle in complete unison and at a quick-moving pace. If one dancer’s leg is a little higher than the others the whole illusion of the dance is scattered. This part of the ballet is so well-known because of its uniformity. The corps accomplishes this by breathing together as a group, giving off a tranquil vibe even as they are moving quickly in and out of formations while performing tricky foot work.

The return to live music will be talked about just as much as the dancing. The orchestra had to be cut because of financial difficulties at the start of the recession, but appears to slowly be making a comeback. In the 2014-15 season, TBT will have two productions with the FWSOThe Sleeping Beauty and The Merry Widow.

Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Swan Lake runs May 30-June 1, 2014 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Ballet Frontier of Texas, An Evening of Ballet

Texas Ballet Theater's Robin Bangert and Paul Adams in BFT's verision of The Firebird.
Texas Ballet Theater’s Robin Bangert and Paul Adams in BFT’s verision of The Firebird

FLAME ON

Ballet Frontier of Texas enthralls with its rendition of The Firebird and gives homage to Tchaikovsky during An Evening of Ballet.

Fort Worth — Vibrant costumes, elaborate scenery, dramatic lighting and dynamic guest artists: Ballet Frontier of Texas (BFT) went all out for its production of The Firebird, part of its An Evening of Ballet program. They were rewarded with a standing ovation Sunday afternoon at the W.E. Scott Theatre in Fort Worth.

The tale depicts Prince Ivan’s encounter with the Firebird in the garden of the evil Tsar Kashchei. Ivan catches the Firebird and agrees to release her in exchange for one of her feathers. In the next scene Ivan meets the beautiful Helen and asks Kashchei for her hand in marriage. He refuses and sends his creatures to kill Ivan. The Prince calls upon the Firebird and together they defeat the creatures and destroy the magical egg that holds Kashchei’s soul. In the final scene order is restored to the kingdom and Ivan and Helen are wed.

BFT Artistic Director Chung-Lin Tseng sticks close to the original libretto written by Alexandre Benois for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, but adds a prologue to enlighten audiences as to how Kashchei becomes evil. He accomplishes this in three short scenes: in the first the villagers are trying to pick the golden apple from the tree, then they bring it to the king and we watch as he transforms into the evil Kashchei. Even though the blackouts between scenes were slightly disorientating the prologue was a welcomed addition, and Guest Artist Michael Clark was the epitome of evil with his searing eyes and puffed up chest.

Texas Ballet Theater’s Robin Bangert gave a fierce yet poised performance as the Firebird. She tested her limits with unending lines and lightning fast bourrees done in perfect time to Igor Stravinsky’s quick, staccato composition. Bangert’s luminous red and orange tutu and matching feather headpiece only accentuated her natural skill and beauty. Texas Ballet Theater’s Paul Adams was a strong match for Bangert. A confidant partner, Adams leads Bangert through a series of rotating arabesque and ponche balances with ease. And his transition from hunter to lover is seamless. Paige Nyman’s willowy frame, soft lines and expressive eyes made her the ideal choice to play Helen.

Tseng smartly crafted the work to highlight his company’s strengths. The younger students completely immersed themselves in their creature roles, hissing and scratching as they roamed around on all fours. Adorned in long white dresses and sparking crowns, the princesses showcased their adequate pointe work and knack for gentle arcing movement. A lovely moment occurred as they stood in two diagonal lines with arms crossed at the wrists, backs arched. And while the four flames (Mickayla Carr, Maria Howard, Carli Petri and Jacey Thompson) lost their facial expressions a couple of times they made it through the rest of their allegro sequences unscathed.

Tseng put the company’s stamina to the test in the first half of the show with three fast paced, movement packed pieces to music composed by P.I. Tchaikovsky. Like watching a sprint February (Carnival) and Piano Concerto No. 1, 3rd Movement were over much too soon. The movement appeared as one lengthy phrase of chaines, doubles turns, leaps and traveling steps. Timing was an issue in both, but the dancers delivered on the entertainment. Tseng’s Serenade Melancolique was the complete opposite of the other two numbers. Three couples (Adams, Nyman, Clark, Bangert, Shane Howell and Carli Perti) took turns executing slow, fluid movement that displaying some of the most beautiful and innovative lifts and body shapes. Tseng must have felt like a kid in a candy store working with these strong and capable individuals. The couple’s came together at the end to strike three ethereal poses while bathed in spotlight. As the only BFT company member in the piece Petri held her own with her limber body and graceful lines.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Weekend Performances: Jan 24-26, 2014

If you have some free time this weekend make sure you check out these dance performances:

1. Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Jan.25 at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas presented by TITAS in association with the AT&T Performing Arts Center. LINES Ballet is a celebrated contemporary ballet company whose works draw on a diverse set of deeply rooted cultural traditions, imbuing classical ballet with new expressive potential.

2. SMU Dance Sharp Show – Jan. 25-26 at the Margo Jones Theatre on the SMU campus in Dallas. SMU Meadows School of the Arts presents the annual Sharp Show featuring works choreographed and produced by seniors in the SMU Meadows Division of Dance. Admission is FREE but tickets are required.

3. Dance Theatre of Harlem – Jan. 26 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. In revitalized DTH brings its innovative and bold new forms of artistic expression to audiences in New York City, across the country and around the world. Check out my interview with AD Virginia Johnson and Texas native Stephanie Rae Williams HERE!