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!”
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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’sSerenade 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.
Carl Coomer on his choreographic transition and new work Clann, part of Texas Ballet Theater’s upcoming program at Dallas City Performance Hall.
Dallas — “Clann,” the Irish word for family, is the inspiration for Principal Dancer Carl Coomer’s new work of the same name, but it could also describe how he views Texas Ballet Theater and especially Artistic Director Ben Stevenson. “Ben found me when I was really young and took me under his wing,” Coomer says.
Originally from Liverpool, England, Coomer began his training at the age of 13 and in 1998 was offered a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School. He performed with both Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet before joining Houston Ballet in 2001. Houston Ballet was on tour in London when Stevenson spotted Coomer during an open company class. Coomer was offered a contract on the spot and shortly after that was on a plane headed to Houston.
“Ben has had to put up with a lot,” Coomer jokes. “I owe him.” So, when Stevenson left Houston Ballet to head up Texas Ballet Theater Coomer would soon follow. During his career Coomer has had the opportunity to perform the lead roles in some of Stevenson’s most memorable works, including Giselle, Dracula, Four Last Songs,Three Preludes, Five Poem, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, just to name a few.
Always up for a challenge, Coomer decided a couple of years ago to take the leap into choreography. His first work, Evolving, received high-praise from critics and audiences during TBT’s 2012 Portraits Ballet Festival at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas. His second work, Clann, will be presented at the Dallas City Performance Hall March 28-30 as part of TBT’s spring program, Balanchine and Beyond. His work will be performed alongside George Balanchine’s Serenade and Stevenson’s L, both recently seen in a similar program in Fort Worth, where they were accompanied by Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria (which will not be repeated in Dallas).
Seamus Heaney’s poem Punishment serves as Coomer’s main inspiration for the piece. “He writes about the discovery of a young girl’s body who they think was killed for committing adultery. Heaney tries to imagine what could have happened to her and in a couple of stanzas imagines himself being there. That made me want to take on the role of the observer and kind of figure out what happens to this girl.”
But Coomer is quick to point out that the piece doesn’t necessarily follow a storyline. Instead he uses traditional Celtic music composed by Jordi Savall and Andrew Lawrence-King to create different characters and the different relationships between them. “I used the pieces of music and the images from the poem to help me create different emotions and different ways of moving.”
Coomer adds that this time around he wanted to challenge himself in terms of his choreographic process. “With Evolving I definitely set the steps in the studio, but with this piece I didn’t want to go about it the same way. So, I did each section of music completely by itself and then started linking them together to see how it played out. I wanted to push myself to be more spontaneous and create more movement on the spot.”
He has also discovered that switching from the role of dancer to choreographer is not as easy as it sounds. “Because I am working with people that I know, I want them to look really good, but at the same time I want to push them as well. But I also know what it feels like to be dancing and to come back from a week off and be really sore. So, I think it’s hard to be tough on the dancers because I know what that feels like.” And with his friend and colleague, Lucas Priolo, retiring at the end of this season TBT fans have to wondering what Coomer’s plans are for the future. “I definitely see myself dancing a little longer. This is what I know. And even when my stage career ends I still want to continue in this field.”