Tag Archives: George Balanchine

Review: The Nutcracker, Chamberlain Performing Arts

Holiday Highs

Chamberlain Performing Arts delivers another delightful showing of The Nutcracker to a packed audience at the Eisemann.

The Nutcracker from Chamberlain Performing Arts. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Richardson — There are only a few Nutcracker productions that I would be willing to see year after year in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Chamberlain Performing Arts’ (CPA) annual The Nutcracker definitely makes the list based on the following criteria: Location, special guests and entertainment value.

Conveniently located right off Central Expressway and the President George Bush Turnpike, the Eisenman Center for Performing Arts is an easy drive for those living in North Dallas and Collin County. Parking is a breeze and there is no bad view of the stage anywhere in the 1,550-seat Hill Performance Hall, which was more than half full at CPA’s Saturday afternoon showing of The Nutcracker. The large stage easily accommodated all of the company’s vibrant set designs, including a portable sleigh, a large grandfather clock, and a twinkling Christmas tree that grows to twice its size during the show. Glitzy costumes in an array of festive colors and well-suited lighting as well as a reliable sound system all created a sturdy foundation for the CPA dancers and guests, which included Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle of New York City Ballet.

This is the fourth time I have seen Peck and Angle perform as The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in CPA’s Nutcracker and these two crush these roles every year. Their musicality and performance quality undeniable as was evident in their lifts, dips and transitions between body frames in the grand pas de deux. Both demonstrated unyielding strength and control during their solo sections in which Peck effortlessly completes a series of piques in a large circle while Angle ate up the stage with his grand jetes and front and back traveling brises.

It was also a pleasant surprise to see Adrian Aguirre of Bruce Wood Dance in the Arabian variation and in the mighty role of Snow King. His upper body strength could have been used more for the ballet-inspired movement in the Arabian dance, which he proved capable of earlier in the lifts in the snow pas de deux with CPA’s company member Katherine Patterson. Patterson nailed the back arcs and fluttering arm movement that are signature of the Snow Queen and also appeared confident in the assisted turns and off-centered partnering poses with Aguirre.

Special guest Michael Stone did a nice job of guiding us through the party scene at the beginning with his younger, hipper interpretation of Herr Drosselmeyer. His exuberant pantomiming and quick walking steps kept the other performers, especially the adults, on their toes during their dance sequence. The children did well at following directions and drawing the audience’s attention to different parts of the stage. I would have liked to see the youngsters performing more rudimentary ballet travelling steps to get them from place to place instead of the shuffling runs they were doing. Their posture and turn out prove they are capable of more.

Andrea Ghisoli did a commendable job as Clara. She was strong and clear with her gestures and soft shoe work, but needs to continuing working on her feet so that they are pointed at all times even when she is pretending to sleep on the couch. Laila Aranha, Angela Fan, Selim Kim and Sara Ann Posey displayed beautiful epaulement during their petit allegro section in the party scene, but should also continue to work on strengthening and lengthening their legs moving forward.

Both Annika Haynes and Zander Magolnick excited the crowd with sharp hand and leg placements and clean turns as the ballerina and soldier doll while company member Bianca Burton brought a fresh perspective to the battle scene with her Rat Queen characterization. Her swishing hips and sassy tutu were a welcomed addition to the otherwise standard choreography, which featured militant formations and syncopated foot work and a short sword fight between Burton and The Nutcracker played by Brian Tseng.

The battle scene smoothly transitioned into the kingdom of snow where members of CPA’s senior company captivated the audience with their spritely pointe work, dynamite musicality and sparkling performance quality. The choreography really highlighted the dancers’ athleticism with its various jumping passes across the stage and complicated petit allegro jumps in center. The peak of the dance came when the dancers entered holding fans with large pom-pom balls on the end, which they flipped back and forth in time to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s well-known score as bubble snow started to fall.

The snow scene set the bar for the second half of the show, which did encompass more challenging technique and a wider range of dance styles, including contemporary, jazz, acrobatics and folk dance.  After Clara and her prince take their seats in the kingdom of sweets, groups from around the world, including Russia, China, Spain and Asia took turns entertaining the couple with a cultural dance.

In the Spanish variation Rachela Distefano, Mika Eppstein, Elisabeth Housley, Cady Johnson, Avery Sifferman and Tori Tseng were fun and playful toward to the audience with their foot flicks, rolling shoulders and saucy skirt swishes. This playfulness was carried through to the Chinese variation where the dancers created some lovely living pictures such as the rotating flower using colorful oversized hand fans. Magolnick returned in the Russian group dance where he once again wowed us with his stamina with his repeated toe touches and triple turns while guest artist Jared Fletcher kept us laughing with his over-the-top gestures as Mother Ginger.

Rachel Weingarden had a little trouble finding her center during her open solo as the Dewdrop Fairy, but quickly found her balance and earned a round of applause for her breathy release after a series of fast chaines into an arabesque hold.

I appreciated the cohesiveness of the upper body lines of the roses (Housley, Lowe and Patterson) as well as their turnout when executing the adagio movement in the Waltz of the Flowers. The rest of the senior company captured the essence of the waltz with traveling triplet steps and swirling formation changes that ended in a dynamic group picture. In some places the dancers’ pointe work did not match the energy radiating from their arms, but that is something that can be corrected in the studio.

As mentioned earlier, Peck and Angle closed the show with their magnetic performance in the grand pas de deux, which will be one of the reasons I put CPA’s Nutcracker on my calendar for next year. In addition, the show’s finely-tuned setup from lighting and set changes to well-rehearsed children sections makes it a great bet for any family’s annual holiday dance tradition.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Advertisements

Review: The Nutcracker, Dallas Ballet Company

Closing this week on Sunday Dec. 9. Next performance on Friday Dec. 7 at 7:30pm

Mice and Men

Dallas Ballet Company shows the value added with male dancers of all ages and abilities in its annual Nutcracker performance at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.
The Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker. Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames Photography

Garland — In addition to musically enchanting choreography and well-placed comedic moments, what Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performance—which has performances with a second cast Dec. 7-9—also had an abundance of talented young men playing pivotal roles in every scene of one of the best recreations of The Nutcracker I have seen from a local pre-professional ballet company in quite some time.

A fast-paced show that ended right on two hours, DBC’s Nutcracker was a whirlwind of bold colors, delicious looking props, splendid dancing and beautiful storytelling that brought new life to the 300-year-old ballet, which features movement by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and a score written by Pyotr Ilyich Tch Tchaikovsky. The DBC’s performance contained elements from the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann as well as moments from George Balanchine’s Nutcracker, which is the stage production that audiences are most familiar with.

The story begins at the Silberhaus home where the family entertains its close friends with a grand Christmas Eve celebration. The party includes a visit by Herr Drosselmeyer (local actor Randolph McKee) who sets the action for the rest of the performance when he gifts a nutcracker doll to his goddaughter Clara played by the charming Anna Speer. This makes Clara’s brother, the endearingly awkward Julien Pham-Davis as Fritz, unhappy, and he shows his displeasure by breaking her nutcracker doll near the end of the party.

This was the only somber moment in an otherwise jubilant scene that was made possible by the fun and technically fair dance sequences executed by both the young children, Clara’s friends and the adults. It was also made possible with some well-timed comedic moments such the side-eye Malcolm Miranda (Butler) gave to party guests, the assistant governess trying hopelessly to catch the coats being tossed her way and the adorable little party girl who tripped Fritz and then smiled gleefully to the audience.

After all the guest, leave Clara falls asleep, and when she awakens she is surrounded by numerous mice shaking their tails and cleaning their whiskers. At this point in the show the dancers began to integrate the set pieces into the action, which is something I have not seen done to this extent in other local Nutcracker productions. For example, mice jumped out of the grandfather clock, and four troublemaking rats ate cheese on the couch while watching the Nutcracker (Ciaran Barlow) and Rat King (Christian Otto) battle it out center stage. Benjamin Barr, Trey Hileman, Ashton Pham-Davis and John Scullion had the audience laughing out loud with their stage antics, which included playing a game of Whac-A-Mole with the little soldiers standing up in a straight line upstage and even added pop culture references with the Floss dance and Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown’s touchdown dance.

DBC’s Sophia Jackson and Chase Raine as the Snow Queen and King. Photo: David C. Harris/Times Frames Photography

Once the Rat King is defeated, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are led into the Kingdom of snow where the Snow Queen (Sophia Jackson) and the Snow King (Chase Raine) are waiting for them. It was a rough start for the couple with their first lift, where Raine was supposed to arm press Jackson over his head. The error created a beat of tension for the duo before they completed the phrase with a fishbowl dip. Still, the couple didn’t let the mishap affect the rest of their partnering, which included various assisted jete leaps and press up shoulder sits. Raine was mindful of his hand placement when he assisted Jackson through a number of pirouettes and promenade in attitude, while Jackson tended to purse her lips in concertation before any turn, leg extension or lift, but then completed every movement with refinement.

The snow corps was also elegant in their body lines and group formations and attacked the springy pointe work with matching enthusiasm. And while their footwork started out heavy with the opening bourrees, the sound of their pointe shoes lessened as the dance went on.
In the second act of the show, Clara and her Prince are welcomed to the Kingdom of Sweets by a troupe of angels in the form of the youngest company members dressed in floor length gold gowns and bright smiles. As the couple is guided to their candied-covered throne The Sugar Plum Fairy (New York City Ballet’s Sterling Hyltin) and her Cavalier (New York City Ballet’s Andrew Veyette) make a grand entrance to much applause.

The second half of the show maintained the quick pace of the first half with divertissements that played to the dancers’ strengths, including flexibility, stamina, control, musicality and self-expression. Miguel Falcon and Macy Wheeler with Luke Hileman, Carlie Jacobs, Christian Otto and Audrey Ratcliff kicked it off with a sassy, syncopated performance in the Spanish variation filled with skirt swishes, grand battements and musical partnering.

Terrence Martin returned as a guest artist for DBC in the Arabian dance again this year, where he showed off his athetic ability in a couple of back hand springs as Lydia Louder and Isabella Poscente rhythmically moved around him. The Chinese variation, led by Courtney Raine, featured intricate pointe work and matching fan work.

The show had not one but four Russian Babas who were then matched with four young ladies in a very loud and boisterous dance number filled with stomping, clapping and unexpected partnering sequences. The grandest moment came when the boys paired off and then linked arms with each other and then two girls on their outside arms and began to run in a circle until they had enough momentum to lift the girls off the floor.

In DBC’s rendition, Mother Ginger (Gloria Ewerz) directed over a dozen gingerbread children through a series of elementary ballet moves as they waved their wooden spoons in the air. The Pastry Chefs in the back waving the oversized gingerbread men on large sticks were also a nice touch.

The Reeds didn’t quite keep up with the punctuated nuances in their music, but Lead Reeds Veronica Britt, Kendyll Jacobs and Tatum Jenkins all delivered strong performances. Flower leads Charlotte Kelsey and Christian Otto lacked chemistry, which impacted some of the physical connections in their partnering sequences, but they were much more confidant in their solo sections. At the same time the flower corps were enchanting with their graceful arm placements, accented pointe work and picturesque ending pose.

All this glitz and glam paved the way for guest artists Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in the grand pas deux. The couple drew attention to the tender love story between the two characters with their purposeful hand and body connections as well as their expressive facials aimed at one another. Both sat in the pocket of the music, which heightened the audience’s admiration for the two professional dancers. Hyltin seems made for the Sugar Plum Fairy role with her breathy port de bra arms and risky pointe work. Veyette’s performance was a great example of what is expected from male ballet dancers in these classical roles.

In addition to his strength and dexterity in his solos, Veyette also showed the audinece what a strong support system he can be for Hyltin. Sometimes this meant stepping back while Hyltin performed a series of petit allegro jumps or simply walking in a circle while holding her hand. And of course Veyette was there to assist Hyltin when she jumped in the air and to effortlessly lift her over his head to the ooh’s and aah’s of the audience.

Audiences only get a taste of this type of partnering in most pre-  professional Nutcracker performances. But with a large cast that featured more than 20 young boys, teenagers and grown men, DBC’s Nutcracker performance gave the audience a unique opportunity to see traditional partnering moves in almost every dance sequence throughout the entire show, which then helped the female dancers to shine brighter.

» The second cast in Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performs Dec. 7-9 at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Avant Chamber Ballet’s The Little Match Girl Passion

Match Pointe

Emily Dixon Alba of Avant Chamber Ballet on dancing to live vocalists in The Little Match Girl Passion, featuring Verdigris Ensemble at Moody Performance Hall.

Emily Dixon Alba in The Little Match Girl Passion. Photo: Will Graham

Dallas — As one of the hardest working female choreographers in Dallas, Katie Cooper is always looking for new ways to elevate the local ballet bar and increase exposure of the 300-year-old art form. She did it when she started her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the goal of bringing ballet and live music back together; when she created the area’s first Women’s Choreography Project; and now she is doing it again with the addition of live vocals courtesy of Dallas-based Verdigris Ensemble at ACB’s showing of The Little Match Girl Passion Dec. 7-8 at Moody Performance Hall.

The dancers of ACB and the singers of Verdigris Ensemble will be bringing to life David Lang’s choral setting based on Hans Christian Anderson’s story, “The Little Match Girl.”

The collaboration marks a new challenge for Cooper who is known for breaking boundaries when it comes to classical ballet traditions. “Creating dance to almost acapella voice is a much different process than what I have done in the past,” Cooper says. “It has breath to it in a very literal way, plus David Lang’s score is quite modern and tells the story in a very different way than if I had picked more traditional dance music for the choreography.”

The task has also proved challenging for some of the dancers such as Emily Dixon Alba who told me during our phone conversation earlier this week that the Verdigris Ensemble recording they were using in rehearsals sounded a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher at first. “But then the more I listened to the recording the more words I heard.” Alba notes that the lyrics will be printed in the program for the audience to follow along.

Alba also points out that the movement in The Little Match Girl Passion isn’t what you’d typically expect from ACB. “It’s abstract in terms of dancing, but it’s literal in terms of all of us dancers are flushing out the story around Julianne McAloon who is playing the main character. So, we’re all in black and we’re all becoming the words that are being said. For example, in one part we are walking across the stage really fast and we are supposed to resemble the street cars that she’s trying to dodge around.”

A native Texan, Alba trained at the Ballet Academy of Texas under the direction of Lisa Slagle before joining Tulsa Ballet II after graduating from high school. In 2009, Alba was accepted into the corps de ballet with The Sarasota Ballet. During her five seasons with the company Alba had the opportunity to perform a wide variety of repertoire, including works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Matthew Bourne, Dominic Walsh, Peter Darrell, Agnes De Mille, Johan Kobborg, to name a few.

Alba was with Colorado Ballet while also guesting with ACB till her move to Dallas in 2017 to dance full time with ACB in addition to settling down with her husband and being closer to family and friends. Alba says making the decision was terrifying as she had spent the last 10 years with union companies where she had no fear about salary or health insurance. But Alba says Cooper wooed her with the repertoire she had planned, which included works by Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon.

“I remember looking at ACB’s season and then looking at Colorado Ballet’s season coming up that year and it was a no brainer as to where I wanted to dance,” Alba says. “Looking at ACB’s season and what they were bringing in I wanted to see what my full potential was and be pushed to do that, and I knew this repertoire would do it.”

She adds, “Just in this one year I feel like I have grown and the company has grown. I feel like we have been pushed in ways you may not pushed in a company that has 30 or 40 people in it.”

One of Alba’s brightest moments with the company so far was when she was asked to perform one of the principal roles in Balanchine’s Who Cares? at ACB and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s joint performance in the spring of 2016. Alba says she still gets emotional every time she performs the role because there was a time in her career where she didn’t think she was capable of dancing a principal role. “I had reached a place where I thought I was a great demi soloist and soloist, but I cut myself from ever being able to do the bigger roles. So, when Katie asked me to come in and guest in Who Cares? I was half terrified because I had already told myself I was below that principal role, but then I was also excited to get a chance to tackle it.”

Alba continues, “And so that was such a victory for me not so much physically, but mentally and emotionally pulling through Who Cares? because it was one of those moments where you realize WOW there is more in me then I thought there was and that gave me a lot of confidence to come back the next year.”

Alba also links her increase of self-confidence to her time spent with local Balanchine Repetiteur Michele Gifford during rehearsals for Who Cares? “For the past two to three years Michele has been one of my dearest mentors on and off the stage. I can talk to her about anything. She helped me navigate my move back and just getting to work one on one with her through all of the Wheeldon and Balanchine works has been amazing.”

I couldn’t end the interview without asking Alba how she feels about portraying such a sad story right around the holidays. “Well, at first I was confused about why we were doing such a sad story, but I read a recent interview of Katie and it brought to light again that Katie is always reaching beyond what’s normal and I think there is an audience that actually connects to grief in the holidays.”

She adds, “The holidays can also evoke a different side of emotions. It is not wrong to feel grief or loss and that is not a bad thing. That is being human. And so I think Katie is going to connect with a side of the audience that is very real and very human through this experience.”

You can see Emily Dixon Alba in The Little Match Girl Passion at the Moody Performance Hall this weekend. The evening also includes The Nutcracker Suite choreographed by Katie Cooper and Paul Mejia with live music by Cezanne Quartet.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Avant Chamber Ballet Announces 2018-19 Season

Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2018-19 season includes a new family program and new collaborations with local musicians and singers as well as works by Paul Mejia, Christopher Wheeldon and George Balanchine.

Avant_EmilyDixon_0543
Avant Chamber Company Member Emily Dixon. Photo: Will Graham

Dallas – What I admire most about Katie Cooper is her tenacity when it comes to the business end of running a ballet company. It is very easy for artistic directors to get lost in their own heads and lose touch with what is happening right in their own dance communities. But that has never been the case for Cooper. Her eyes have remained opened to the Dallas dance scene and the global ballet industry. Her company continues to thrive because of her industry know how and fresh ideologies when it comes choreographing and presenting ballet works. She is definitely someone that future choreographers and directors in the area should get to know.

For its 2018-19 season Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) will be presenting David Lang’s the little match girl passion, Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses and world premieres by Cooper and by the soon-to-be-announced winner of the 2018 Women’s Choreography Project commission. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! The company will also be performing more works by George Balanchine and Paul Mejia.

The music for the season includes Vivaldi, Ragtime, George Gershwin, Astor Piazzolla local composer Quinn Mason and a collaboration with singers from the Dallas-based Verdigris Ensemble. And just like all of its performances ACB will be dancing to live accompaniment.

You better start marking your calendars now. You don’t want to miss any of these shows!

 

A copy of the official press release can be found below:

 

NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Email: info@avantchamberballet.org


AVANT CHAMBER BALLET ANNOUNCES 2018-19 SEASON

DALLAS, TX (June 26, 2018)

 Avant Chamber Ballet’s artistic director Katie Cooper and music director David Cooper announce the company’s 2018-2019 season, featuring three subscription productions at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District and the launch of the new Family Saturdays series. The season includes world premieres by Katie Cooper and Women’s Choreography Project, as well as works by Paul Mejia, Christopher Wheeldon and George Balanchine.

“Our seventh season is our biggest yet with five new works, collaborations, and touring,” says Katie Cooper. “We are also excited about starting the Family Saturdays program, which will expose new audiences to the joy of live music and dance.”

The subscription season opens with David Lang’s the little match girl passion, a collaboration with the Dallas-based Verdigris Ensemble. Together on stage, the dancers of Avant Chamber Ballet and the singers of Verdigris Ensemble will bring to life Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning setting of the famous Hans Christian Andersen story. This will be the first time a contemporary choral work will be staged with ballet in Dallas.

In February, Avant Chamber Ballet returns to Moody Performance Hall with Romance and Ragtime. The performances will encompass four ballets with live music: a company premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, a world premiere by the soon-to-be-announced winner of the 2018 Women’s Choreography Project commission, and world premieres of Katie Cooper’s The Seasons with music by Vivaldi and Ragtime with music by Scott Joplin.

Closing the season will be Fascinating Rhythms – an exciting evening of dance and live music by George Gershwin, Astor Piazzolla, and local composer Quinn Mason. Returning to the repertoire will be George Balanchine’s Who Cares? – an audience favorite that perfectly pairs Gershwin’s toe-tapping melodies with Balanchine’s genius choreography. Paul Mejia’s Cafe Victoria, a company premiere, features Piazzolla’s alluring Contrabajissimo. The program closes with a collaboration between choreographer Katie Cooper and Dallas-based composer Quinn Mason. The performance will mark the world premiere of both Cooper’s choreography and of Mason’s String Quartet No. 2.

Family Saturdays is a subscription series for young audiences to experience live music and dance in an engaging and family-friendly environment. Each Family Saturdays performance will be one hour long and will feature the professional dancers of Avant Chamber Ballet accompanied by live music. The series will be held at 2:30 pm on December 8, February 23, and May 4 at Moody Performance Hall, and will offer area families a perfect introduction to the performing arts.

 

 

 

 

Right On Pointe: Preview of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Beauty And Bach Performance

Avant Chamber Ballet. Photo: Glenn Preuett
Avant Chamber Ballet celebrates its artistic growth with three physically and musically challenging works in Beauty and Bach.
Dallas — One major sign of a business’s staying power lies in its ability to grow even when facing obstacles that are out of its control. Since its inception in 2012, Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has been sticking to its mission of reconnecting ballet with live music by providing live chamber music at every one of its performances, while also stretching audiences’ understanding of classical ballet with Artistic Director Katie Cooper’s bold choreographic choices and keen eye for interesting and diverse guest artists and local collaborations. Cooper will need to rely on these skills moving forward in the midst of The Arts Community Alliance’s (TACA) announcement last month that it will be cutting its funding to local arts groups. To try to counter this hit to ACB’s bottom line, Cooper has been busy applying for grants as well as promoting the heck out of their performances with the hopes of increasing ticket sales.
The silver lining in all this is that people have been talking about ACB’s upcoming Beauty and Bach performance, which takes place Feb. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall, since the company made the announcement back in the summer. The line-up includes George Balanchine’s musically challenging Concerto Barocco, the world premiere of Cooper’s Appalachian Spring featuring a 13-member orchestra and Cooper’s restaging of Aurora’s Wedding from Sleeping Beauty with music from Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky’s score, which is arranged by Bryan English. Dallas native Brad Everett Cawyer will conduct the whole evening with the group of musicians he has hand-picked with ACB Music Director David Cooper.
ACB dancer Emily Dixon. Photo: Rhilee Photography
When asked if ACB is ready for such an ambitious program Cooper replies, “Musically it is ambitious and I think the company needs to grow in that way because artistically we are the strongest we have ever been.” She adds, “I almost hate to use the word ambitious because I think it’s not ambitious in some ways because we have been working toward this since the beginning. Yes, it’s a bigger program that we have done before, but we are definitely ready for that.”
Cooper also notes that a program such as this one enables the audiences to see a variety of balletic styles in one setting. And with live accompaniment. “In this case we have a beautiful neo-classical Balanchine piece, my Appalachian Spring which is quite neo-classical and modern ballet, and then Aurora’s Wedding, which is the only super classical ballet we’ll do this season.”
With her strictly classical background you would think it would be challenging for Cooper to tap into the modern nuances of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring (1944), but Cooper says her lack of modern training actually worked in her favor. “It wasn’t hard for me to create something different because I am not a Graham dancer and therefore her work is not in my mind or body. I know Martha’s verision, but it’s so far apart from my vocabulary that I knew nothing was going to come out looking like hers.” Cooper adds that a lot of the movement for the piece was a testament to how fantastic the music is, which was composed by Aaron Copland and features a 13-member chamber orchestra.
“It’s such beautiful music and it’s easy to dance to because Copland wrote it for Martha Graham so, the counts are really clear and melodic sounding.” She adds, “There are also a lot of familiar themes like ‘Simple Gifts’ which is just really famous, so a lot people can sing the words to that song. So, in that I think Appalachian Spring is a very accessible piece for audience members who don’t get to see music concerts and dance pieces very often.”
Unlike other ballets of this time period, Concerto Barocco was created with no story or theme in mind. Instead, the choreography is a direct response to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, which will be performed by soloists Eleanor Dunbar and Lauren Densinger. The work is split into three movements with the third one being the allegro section featuring the entire ensemble, which ACB was in the process of cleaning when I stopped by the company’s rehearsal at Bruce Wood Dance’s studio in the Dallas Design District two weeks ago.
All 10 dancers hop on pointe into two parallel lines that extend diagonally across the space, their arms moving from fifth then alternating side lines, as they shift their focus from side to side to match the syncopated chords of the music. The dancers’ stamina and continuity are tested with the section’s many formation changes and complicated phrasing such as asymmetrical arm and leg movements as well as quick balances and constant weight changes on pointe. “Balanchine’s choreography is so incredibly clear and every note of the music has a step, so really the dancers never stop moving for the whole 18 to 19 minute ballet.” Cooper adds, “It’s all about clarity and stamina.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Avant Chamber Ballet Announces 2017-18 Women’s Choreography Project Recipient

Michelle Thompson Ulerich Dance Photo 2
Michelle Thompson Ulerich

Dallas – It was announced this week that New York-based choreographer Michelle Thompson Ulerich is this year’s winner of Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), which will take place April 21-22 at Moody Performance Hall in conjunction with ACB’s spring performance. Never one to just stick with the status quo, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper started the project in 2015 with the objective of providing more opportunities for up-and-coming female choreographers to showcase their work. Since then the WCP has gained quite a following in Dallas thanks to Cooper’s insistence of live orchestration and her eclectic programming, which has included works by herself, Shauna Davis, Elizabeth Gillapsy, Emily Hunter, Amy Diane Morrow, Janie Richards and Hailey von Schlehenried. Cooper continues to enrich the Dallas arts landscape with her “dare to be different” attitude when it comes to the rules and traditions surrounding classical ballet and the expectations that come with being a choreographer in this particular genre. Cooper has also successfully brought live music and dance back together, which I think is putting positive pressure on other professional companies in the area to find creative ways to incorporate more live music in their performances. I can’t wait to see what Cooper and ACB have in store for us in the coming years.

Below is Avant Chamber Ballet’s press release in its entirty:

Avant Chamber Ballet Announces Women’s Choreography Project Winner

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 30, 2017

Dallas, TX – For the last three years, Dallas-based Avant Chamber Ballet has broken stereotypes and glass ceilings with live music and new works. This season’s Women’s Choreography Project presented in April 2018 is no different.  “You might not notice the imbalance and sexism in ballet from the outside,” says Avant artistic director Katie Cooper. “There are more female ballet dancers than male by far, but there are very few female choreographers getting commissions from professional ballet companies. With Women’s Choreography Project, we give emerging women choreographers the opportunity they need to take their careers to the next level.”


Avant Chamber Ballet held an international search for the right choreographer to commission a new work for this season. Out of over 50 applicants, Michelle Thompson Ulerich was chosen to be this year’s winner. “I am thrilled to be choreographing for the artists of Avant Chamber Ballet,” says Ulerich. “Texas was my home for 14 years, and I am looking forward to coming back to create and to bring some of my New York experiences with me.”

Michelle is a choreographer, dancer, and teacher in New York. In 2017, she will present new works in New York; Austin, Texas; Napa, California; and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Prior to moving to New York, she was a professional ballerina with Ballet Austin for 14 years. Michelle has been teaching ballet at SUNY Purchase since September 2016. She has created works for Ballet Spartanburg, Ballet Austin II,  Ballet Zaida, MOTION Dance Theatre. Her work for Avant Chamber Ballet will be presented on April 21-22, 2018 at Moody Performance Hall on the program Moving Music alongside masterworks by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Paul Mejia.

 

Also commissioned this year through the Project is a new work from Kimi Nikaidoh. As the artistic director of Dallas’s Bruce Wood Dance, Kimi has choreographed for her own company of modern dancers but this will be her first commission with a professional ballet company. “I’m beyond lucky that Dallas provides me with the opportunity to create work for high-caliber modern and ballet dancers,” says Nikaidoh. “Working with the lovely ACB company will be a delight!”

 

MOVING MUSIC

Women’s Choreography Project

George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie

Christopher Wheeldon’s The American pas de deux

Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A

April 21-22ND, 2018

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas, TX

 

Tickets available through TicketDFW.com

Q&A: Adam Sklute, Ballet West

Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley
Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley

Ballet West’s Artistic Director on participating in the reality series Breaking Pointe and what the company has in store for its first Dallas performance.

Dallas — As in any other industry, rising competition and the ever-changing economy have forced ballet companies across the nation to step outside the box when it comes to broadening their audience base and exposing more people to the art form. So when Ballet West’s Artistic Director Adam Sklute heard that BBC Worldwide Productions was looking for a ballet company to be the focus for a new reality series he jumped at the opportunity. After several interviews and screen tests Ballet West was chosen to star in the CW’s reality series Breaking Pointe, which premiered in 2012. Even though the show only lasted for two seasons, Ballet West is still feeling the impact with sold out shows and an expansive touring schedule.

The Salt Lake City-based company was formed in 1963 by Willam Christensen and is currently run by former Joffrey dancer Adam Sklute. At age 17 Sklute began training with the Oakland Ballet and San Francisco Ballet schools. He was one of the last two artists hand-picked by Robert Joffrey and spent 23 years with the Joffrey Ballet before joining Ballet West in 2007. During his time as a dancer Sklute got to perform leading roles in works by Gerald Arpino, Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Agnes DeMille and Robert Joffrey, to name a few. In addition to Breaking Pointe, Sklute’s other TV credits include The Joffrey Ballet’s Dance in America filmings of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Arpino’s production of Billboards as well as Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. In 2003 he assisted with and appeared in Robert Altman’s The Company and in 2012 appeared in The Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of Dance, a documentary chronicling the history of The Joffrey Ballet.

Since joining Ballet West Sklute has expanded the company repertoire and visibility through numerous world premieres, increased touring and greater focus on the Ballet West Academy. Over the last eight years Ballet West has presented more than 55 world/Utah premieres. The company has performed works by historical choreographers, including Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine and Michel Fokine as well as contemporary masters such as Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp. Sklute also oversees Ballet West’s Academy and is a guest teacher and coach for dance programs and workshops around the world.

Dallas audiences will get to see Ballet West in all its classical glory when they come to the Winspear Opera House May 29-30, closing TITAS’ 2014-15 season. The company’s diverse program will include George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) by William Forsythe and Jodie Gates’ Mercurial Landscapes (2013).

TheaterJones asks Adam Sklute about the changes he has made to Ballet West, bringing dance to larger audiences through reality T.V. and some of his fond memories working with Robert Joffrey.

TheaterJones: You have such a long rich history with the Joffrey Ballet. What convinced you to move to Salt Lake City and join Ballet West?

Adam Sklute: I had been with the Joffrey Ballet for 23 years starting as a dancer and eventually moving to the position of associate director. The company was going through a transition in 2006-07 where one of the founders, Gerald Arpino, was moving to the position of emeritus and they were going to do an international search for a new artistic director. I was told I would be in the running and I was very interested in the position, but I was also curious to see my market value would be outside of Joffrey. So, when I received a request to apply for Ballet West I thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out my market value. I went through the interview process and was asked to fly out to meet and work with the dancers and the staff, and while I was there I feel in love with the city and the company. I just thought that this was a place where I could really make a difference and I could be really happy living. In that moment my whole perspective changed and I knew it was time for a change and I have never regretted it.

Looking back over the last eight years are you satisfied with what you have been able to accomplish with the company?

Going in I knew I was joining a company that had a great legacy and history itself. I mean it was founded by one of the pioneers of American dance, Willam Christensen, and following him as artistic director was Bruce Marks, Sir John Hart from the Royal Ballet and Swedish dancer Jonas Kåge. And all of them had brought a unique and individual stamp to the company. I am a perpetual student so I enjoyed learning and understanding the company that I was going to be a part of and was going to lead artistically.

I set some very strong goals about what I wanted to do in terms of repertoire and expansion and I worked very hard to get them moved forward. On the other hand, you have to kind of move with the tide. I mean things would happen. Opportunities would come up and changes would occur. My goodness the economy fell out from beneath us just as I was hired. The best laid plans are always there to be modified and changed. What I would like to attempt to be is very much a forward thinker and an intense planner for the future, but then be able to move with the tide and go where its obvious things are happening. With that said I have been very proud of the accomplishments of Ballet West over the last eight years and yes, not a little surprised about some of it, and then also quite gratified.

How does Ballet West’s classical style differ from other ballet companies in the U.S.?

I like to use a poetic phrase to explain our dancers, which is they are as tall and dramatic as the Rocky Mountain region that we represent. What I mean by that is first of all I love long-limbed dancers and very linear kind of looks. What people are going to see is that very lengthy and expansive type of movement that comes from these long-limbed dancers. And even the shorter dancers have that same sort of length and expansion because that’s how we move and it’s how we dance. But on top of that we have a great deal of intensity and theatricality and the dancers understand who they are on the stage. They have a stage presence and the knowledge of how to captivate an audience. So, I think what’s special about us is that we are once a very linear company, but we are also a theatrical company and all that mixed together I think creates a very beautiful and unique look and style.

Do the three pieces on the program, Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) and Mercurial Landscapes (2013), clearly capture the company’s versatility and unique style?

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling

Absolutely, and I have to say Charles Santos was a big part of the decision making process for the programming because he really knows his Dallas audience and he also wanted to represent us in our best light. And I appreciated that tremendously. So yes, the program does show off so many of the facets of what we have done and in a number of ways what I have done since I have been here with Ballet West.

How did you get involved with the reality series Breaking Pointe?

How it came together was BBC Worldwide Productions had been experimenting and shopping around this idea for a reality Television show all about ballet for several years. They had gone to a lot of companies that were bigger than ours who either said no they didn’t want to do it or said yes, but in the end they couldn’t work it out with all their company members and union rules. We were on a long list of companies that they were interviewing and they also wanted us to do a screen test where they would come and spend a week with us filming as many classes, rehearsals, meetings and social gatherings as possible. And also interview all of the dancers interested in being part of the show. We did that and they put together a promo for our company and shopped it around to the networks and the CW picked it up. Now, we were very specific about contracts and time such as when they could film us and when they couldn’t. Each individual had control over what they were allowing people to film and what not to. For instance, I said I was not going to have any cameras in my home. With that said, yes, what you are seeing is the real us and yes, every single situation that happened was real. What you have to remember is that how it is presented on the screen had a lot to do with how pieces were edited together.

When it came to the dance scenes in the show did you have a hand in the editing process?

So, what I was able to do was say “you can film this, but you can’t film that.” I wasn’t there in the editing room so I had to trust BBC a great deal. BBC told me they had two members of the Royal Ballet who would be viewing all of dance scenes in the editing process and would not let any less than desirable dancing go onto the screen. The thing that I can say is for a myriad of reasons we never had as much dancing in there as I wanted. A lot of that had to do with the various trusts and foundations for the choreography that we worked with who either did not want that much of it shown or who were charging a lot of money for that shot. And that also went for the music that we used in the show.

Are you happy with the way you and the company were portrayed on the show?

All of the drama and everything else aside, what I know is that every clip of the dancing came out good. Ultimately, the company showed itself well as a group of dancers and we showed the world the highest caliber of dancing. So, even if the show was based more on the drama stuff what was always there was the quality of the dancing. And I know it sounds cliché, but we also had loftier aspirations than just what the show could do for Ballet West. We felt like we were doing something for the world of dance and for ballet in general. We did not do this show for the thousands of people that know and love ballet. We did this show for the millions of people who know nothing about ballet.

Can you talk about some of your favorite moments working with Robert Joffrey?

By the age of 19 I was a professional dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. I was in class one day when Robert Joffrey showed up and invited me to one of his personal workshops in San Antonio, Texas. He said I needed to go to this and work with him personally. He would give these three hour technique classes and they were the most amazing things I have ever experienced in my life. I had never met anyone who was so meticulous, so detailed orientated and yet so inspiring. I never felt like the details were bogging me down. He hired me after very little study.

Robert Joffrey also had a quirky sense of humor. When he hired me he said to me “Adam, I am going to hire you for my company against my better judgment.” And I said OK what does that mean and he said that “you are smart so I know you are going to succeed. Now you just have to learn how to dance.” He knew that’s how I needed to be spoken too. I am not one for a lot of ego stroking. I respond better to a challenge. And he was right. I had the right proportions for ballet and could do the movements, but it didn’t look like anything because I had no sense of technique. And I spent my entire dance career learning and understanding technique. Like how to stand in fifth position and how to create lines. But Robert Joffrey saw that in me and that was a huge inspiration for me.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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.

Soluna Review: Avant Chamber Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet performs for the Soluna Festival. Photo: Amitava Sarkar
Avant Chamber Ballet performs for the Soluna Festival. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Avant Chamber Ballet makes a rousing tribute to American Ballet at the Soluna Festival with guests from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Dallas — There’s nothing like hearing live music at a classical ballet performance. It adds some spontaneity to an otherwise technically fixed art form as well as a layer of anticipation for both performers and audience members. It was this anticipation that had audiences on the edge of their seats as Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) broadened their artistic range in a near flawless performance Tuesday evening at Dallas City Performance Hall in conjunction with the Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival. Staying within the margins of the festival’s theme “Destination America” Puder put together an exciting program that included some of her favorite American ballet choreographers, including George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Paul Mejia, and also showcased the company’s ever growing versatility and musical awareness.

Having been brought up on the Balanchine style it came as no surprise that ACB’s restaging of Balanchine’sValse Fantaisie paralleled the technical fortitude of the original. Glinka’s driving composition, arranged by ACB’s composer in residence Chase Dobson, guided the five females and one male through this whirlwind that can only be called pure dancing. As was Balanchine’s custom, leg beats and rises on and off pointe were accentuated with subtle head tilts and arm changes. Natalie Anton, Madelaine Boyce, Kristen Conrad and Kaitlyn McDermitt performed the springy corp steps without hesitation and beautifully captured the musical nuances with their elongated arabesques and breathy arm transitions. Christy Martin was a spitfire in the lead role with fellow dancer Peter Kurta. Martin showcased exquisite control as she stepped into a lengthyarabesque hold after completing a vigorous entrechatvariation.

Kurta ate up the stage in his traveling jump sequences and maneuvered Martin through a series of assistedpirouettes and rotating body positions without qualm. Musicians Miika Gregg (violin), Lydia Umlauf (viola), Jennifer Humphreys (cello), Kara Kirkendoll Welch (flute), David Cooper (horn) and Saule Garcia (piano) partnered beautifully with the performers on stage with changing tempos, volumes and styles generating the same energies in the dancers.

Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A challenged ACB’s Natalie Anton, Emily Dixon, Yulia Ilina and Rachel Meador with its musical intricacies and scrupulous technique. Choreographed in four parts, each section uses a different part of the body to highlight the nuances in this illustrious Stravinsky composition. The long-sleeved white leotards and matching ballet belts enhanced the dancers’ lines and did not detract from the detailed movements seen in the work. Right away the eye is drawn to the dancers’ upper bodies as they contract and release on different counts.

These constantly changing counts made the simple plies with wrist flicks and back arches appear fresh and exiting. In the third section the fast tempo was accented by the dancers’ hips as they quickly tip-toed on the balls of their feet around one another. Pianist Garcia slowed the tempo down in the final section as the dancers focused on raising and lowering their arms to different counts and rhythms.

Just as the title states, Puder’s new work Endless Arc was a continuous array of wide arcing movements, contracted torsos and explosive leg extensions. By breaking the piece into five parts the audience could fully appreciate Puder’s interweaving formation changes, complex petite allegro sections and push and pulling partnering skills. In the first section, Sarah Grace Austin set the tone when she performed a series of slow side bends and tendue steps with an inverted hip swivel. As Bela Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 picked up tempo Austin and the other five dancers on stage exploded into a number of running jetes which led them off stage.

In the second and fourth sections, Madelaine Boyce, Kirsten Conrad and Christy Martin made easy work of the traveling chaine turns and double pirouettes that came in between their running patterns, which had them circling close to one another before shifting directions. The simple rotating bourrees and slow walks which spread the group across the stage in the third adagio section was one of the most visually arresting moments of the whole piece. The audience was also pleased to see Tagir Galimov handling the classic partnering skills (i.e. rotatingarabesques, pirouettes) with more assertiveness and continuity.

The piece came to a satisfying conclusion as the entire company executed a series of high powered traveling jumps and alternating battements before ending in diagonal spanning the stage. As they pivoted to the front with one arm curved up and the other down the stage went dark. Throughout the piece Charlton Gavitt’s bold color choices and abrupt lighting cues meshed with the sharp changes in the music and helped round out the work.

These more traditional works were separated by two contemporary duets choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. In The American pas de deux Michele Gifford clung to Shea Johnson as he manipulated different parts of her body. Flexed feet, broken arms and a contracted torso made up most of Gifford’s movements as Johnson swept her across the floor in a number of over the head lifts. The counterbalance holds and sustained lifts, which made up a bulk of the work, tested Johnson’s control and consistency with positive results. WhereasThe American was light and buoyant, Wheeldon’s There Where She Loved was grounded and tense with Gifford desperately reaching and arching away from Johnson as he dragged her across the floor on the tops on her feet. Soprano Corrie Donovan’s soul stripping rendition of Kurt Weill’s Je ne t’aime pas as well as her physical presence on the stage gave the couple courage to fully let themselves go which in turn made their performance more dynamic and believable.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Sweet Pairing, Avant Chamber Ballet SOLUNA Preview

Avant Chamber Ballet in Katie Puder's Endless Arc. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Avant Chamber Ballet in Katie Puder’s Endless Arc. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Avant Chamber Ballet plans to wow audiences with its artistic range and technical fortitude at the inaugural Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival in Dallas.

Dallas — It comes as no surprise that Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) is the only local ballet company invited to participate in Dallas’ inaugural SOLUNA: International Music & Arts Festival. After all, the company’s goal of reconnecting dance with live music fits right into the festival’s purpose and it also helps that ACB has strong ties with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the organization in charge of this three-week performing and visual arts extravaganza. ACB Artistic Director Katie Puder adds that DSO is always her first choice when looking for collaborators, and having worked with these musicians already has made this process a little easier. It also can’t hurt to have DSO Principal French Hornist David Cooper as your company’s music director. With that said, ACB’s fresh perspective on the fixed art form of ballet has more than earned them a spot on the festival’s roster.

Staying within the margins of the festival’s theme,Destination (America), Puder has put together an exciting program showcasing choreographers and composers who came to American for inspiration and freedom. The lineup includes George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux fromThe American and There Where She Loved, Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A and the premiere of Puder’sEndless Arc. “Soluna’s theme of Destination America was a great reason for applying for our first Balanchine ballet and presenting a Paul Mejia ballet,” Puder says. “We are also honored to be the only ballet company partnering with the festival and Dallas City Performance Hall is the ideal home for ACB.”

Watching ACB rehearse for Soluna at Park Cities Dance two weeks ago I saw the dancers being tested both physically and mentally, which in turn added new intensity to their movement choices. This was most apparent in Mejia’s musically brutal work, Serenade in A, which features company members Natalie Anton, Yulia Ilina, Rachel Meador and Emily Dixon. While everyone in the company learned the piece Puder selected these four based on certain factors. “It was a choice of who looked best in it, would look best in the white leotards and had the height too. The four girls shouldn’t match (in terms of appearance), but they need to be able to blend together.”

Right away the two pairs start on different counts as they glide side to side in a series of deep squats with a contracted torso as their arms swoop up and down, resembling bird’s wings. As the dancers move into a box formation their timing matches as they perform a series alternating hand gestures and shouldering before smoothly changing timing again. Another signature section is when the four dancers come together and link hands just as the dancers do in the second half of Swan Lake. As the group deliberately walks forward together they raise their linked arms up and down on alternating counts. One at a time they present a foot and shift their weight forward while repeating the arm movements. The layered movements and musical intricacies are challenging, but these four dancers make it look effortless nonetheless.

An exhilarating display of curvaceous arms, hard-hitting leg extensions and continuous stop and go action,Endless Arc, set to Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4, shows us another side of Puder. “For Soluna I knew I wanted a full company piece that would be different than the other repertoire we were presenting. The music is so driving and energetic. It demands a certain quality and power.” All the elements that audiences have come to appreciate about Puder’s work are still present, including her intrinsic musicality and complex body positioning, but now there is a sense of urgency to the dancers’ movements. This urgency shows through the dancers’ explosive running and leaping passes, the push and pulling quality behind their partnering and Ilina’s head-whacking grande battement derriere.

The Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival runs May 4-24 with Avant Chamber Ballet’s performance taking place at Dallas City Performance Hall on May 5 at 7:30 p.m. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the DCPH lobby, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklórico will perform.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.