Tag Archives: Jose Limon

Q&A: Stephanie Rae Williams, Dance Theatre of Harlem

Stephanie Rae Williams of Dance Theatre of Harlem returns home for the Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival and the Dance Council Honors this weekend.
Stephanie Rae Williams 2017 (1)
Stephanie Rae Williams. Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dallas — As the oldest of six siblings, Stephanie Rae Williams says her parents had to get creative when it came to financing her love of dance, especially classical ballet. Williams credits her mom with discovering the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which also happens to be where she will be performing this weekend, along with attending the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence by the Dance Council of North Texas. “My mother is such an amazing woman and she just wanted me to have all these different opportunities in dance and so, she was really the one who sought out different scholarships that were available and helped me apply for them,” Williams says. Her mom’s hard work paid off in 2005 when Williams was awarded the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which she used to attend Julliard’s summer intensive that same year. The scholarship also gave Williams the opportunity to perform at the SSDF, which was a big deal for the 16 year old at the time. “I think I performed a classical piece, which is nothing like the solo I will be performing this time.”

The event, newly renamed Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival in honor of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), runs Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School and includes performances by Williams, Sydney Winston (2017 SDDF scholarship recipient), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. The schedule also features a master class with former Bruce Wood Dance Company member Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase and an industry roundtable. The event is made possible by Arga Nova Dance with the support of Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center.

For SDDF, Williams will be performing José Limón’s Chaconne, courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Out of the four casts, Williams was the only female chosen for the solo, which she describes as modern-based and challenging, yet extremely satisfying to perform. “There’s something really gratifying about the way Jose Limon choreographed this piece. It feels like you evolve as a human being throughout it and by the end of it you’re like dead, but alive at the same time.”

Growing up in Allen, Texas, Williams started her dancing at Texas Ballet Theater School (formerly Dallas Dance Academy) when she was 8 years old. She grew up training in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and hip-hop with Joyce Seaborne Bader, Lyndette Bader and Fiona Fairrie. After graduating from Allen High School, Williams joined Ben Stevenson’s Texas Ballet Theater for a season before heading to New York City. There she worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden at Complexions Contemporary Ballet before joining DTH’s ensemble company in 2010. After DTH returned from hiatus with Virginia Johnson at the helm in 2012, Williams was then asked to join the revived company and has spent the last five years here gaining more confidence in herself and her craft. “It’s the first company that I was able to make my home and really feel like I could grow and be nurtured there. What’s interesting is that half that dancers that came with us to Dallas in 2014 have moved on and yet I am still here. It’s surreal being one of the veterans that the new company members now come to show them the ropes.”

When asked if she ever gets the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, Williams responds, “Yes, I do sometimes get the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, and I have done that with Virginia’s approval, but DTH remains my home base.” Williams mentions that she just completed four shows with the Seattle-based Arc Dance Company, which she says Johnson was nice enough to allow her to do. “It a lot of fun because for once I wasn’t the seasoned dancer. I was the new girl and I feel like it’s really important to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable anywhere, and so I am really thankful I have a director that encourages these types of opportunities.”

As far as what Williams is looking forward the most at SDDF, she says, “Just mingling with everyone there and also seeing so many smaller dance companies from professional to the local high schools perform. And because it’s not just the professionals performing this really does feel like the whole South Dallas community is coming together to celebrate dance throughout these three performances.” Williams adds that she is also looking forward to seeing the kids attending the festival as she believes there are not enough black dancers for them to look up to in the industry today, especially in classical ballet. “I was the only black girl in my entire dance school, but I just thought that this was the norm. It wasn’t until I walked into DTH to audition that I noticed there was this whole other side missing from my dancing because at DTH when we dance there’s this whole other type of soul that we bring to the stage.”

While in town Williams will also be attending the DC Honors where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence. The event takes place at Dallas Black Dance Theater on Sunday afternoon and will include food, a silent auction and performances by local companies and scholarship recipients. In addition to Williams, this year’s honorees also include Kathy Chamberlain, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy. As far as Williams’ reaction to the award news she says, “I was both humbled and excited when I heard I would be receiving this honor. It’s just really nice knowing that I have so much support here in Dallas and it means so much to me to be recognized in this way.”

» For more information about Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival, please visit www.becklesdancingcompany.org, and for more information about the Dance Council Honors, please visit www.thedancecouncil.org

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.



Q&A: Carla Maxwell of the Limón Dance Company

Artistic Director Carla Maxwell. Photo courtesy of Limon Dance Company
Artistic Director Carla Maxwell. Photo courtesy of Limon Dance Company

The Artistic Director discusses the Limón Dance Company’s upcoming Dallas performance and preserving Limón’s legacy.

Mexican dance pioneer José Limón (1908-1972) succeeded in creating a company that still entices audiences decades after his passing. Based off the movement experiments of his mentors Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, what is known as the Limón technique emphasizes the natural rhythms of fall and recovery and the interplay between weight and weightlessness.

Founded in 1946 by Limón and Humphrey, the Limón Dance Company is now led by Carla Maxwell. Maxwell attended The Juilliard School before joining the company in 1965. She soon became a principal dancer under Limón’s direction and was appointed artistic director in 1978. Acclaimed as a brilliant dramatic dancer, Maxwell danced many major roles with the company, including the title role in Limón’s final ballet Carlota (1972). She teaches internationally as both a representative of the Limón Dance Company and a guest artist-in-residence.

TheaterJones asks Carla Maxwell about the company’s collaboration with Rodrigo Pederneiras, the inspiration behind the technique and preserving Limón’s legacy.

The Limón Dance Company will be presenting three Limón classics, including Chaconne (1942), The Moor’s Pavane (1949) and There is a Time (1956) as well as a new commission by Brazilian choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas this Saturday. (The concert, originally scheduled for October 2012, was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.)

TheaterJones: Can you tell me a little bit about the pieces the company will be performing?

Well, you’re going to see 70 years of dance. We have three Limón classics starting with his first important solo in 1942, Chaconne in D minor; then The Moor’s Pavane (1949) which is his retelling of Othello; and then we’re also doing There is a Time (1956) another signature work with an original score by Norman Dello Joio which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. It’s a beautiful lyric telling of the life cycle and is based on a quote from EcclesiastesTo everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  

And then we’re closing the program with our newest commission Come With Me which is collaboration between Rodrigo Pederneiras from Grupo Corpo and Paquito D’Rivera who did a beautiful new score for us. If you don’t know him he’s like a superstar in the Latin Jazz genre and also an extraordinary classical musician. It was a thrilling collaboration and a beautiful stretch for our dancers.

I always try to have a range for the company to dance. Mixing up classic work with new commissions is always tricky so, for me it’s very important that whoever we invite has a strong sense of composition, musicality and that there is humanity in the work as well. We’ve been performing Come With Me for a year now so the work is really in the dancers’ bones and I think they look spectacular. So, it’s going to be a real high to end the evening.

For those who are not familiar with Limón technique how would you describe it?

Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

Well, his mentors Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman really started a whole new movement vocabulary and as José put it they wanted to show themselves as mature men and women dancing about themes that were important in their own lives. Humphrey and Weidman really wanted to create a movement vocabulary that was as human as possible. So, this idea of using the natural movements of the body and the natural actions of everyday life became the basics for their movement.

José would sometimes tell people that we just use every day things like walking, falling and turning. So, the work looks effortless, but that takes hours of work and tremendous practice. It’s not like in ballet where you can see the physical effort of how many turns they can do. We have the same kind of virtuosity as needed, but it manifests itself differently.

The work itself is very formal. It’s not a free-for-all. The architecture alone of each Limón work can tell you the message. It’s a holistic philosophy. Through the movement, idea, the spatial concepts, every element has to contribute to the idea that we’re trying to tell.

The technique itself can look very lyric, but it’s really a rhythmically-based, dramatically-oriented technique. It’s also action-oriented. It’s not movement for movement sake ever. There’s always an objective. The idea again is that we’re not trying to show the technique. We’re trying to take you on a journey. And I think the choreographers that have come to work with us are always pleased and surprised because of the training and exploration that we do.

What other modern techniques have you trained in?

I was lucky enough to go to Juilliard where I trained with Martha Hill who had a diet of ballet, Limón and Martha Graham. That was a terrific combination to hone my skills and learn. There were always overlaps between them. We also had Antony Tudor whose musicality and artistry was integrated into his classes as well as José’s.

When looking at choreographers how familiar would you like them to be with the company and Mr. Limón’s philosophy?

I would like them to be familiar with our work and I think any choreographer looking to collaborate would want to be. We had a wonderful collaboration with Lar Lubovitch. He allowed us to do his Concerto 622 which I think is one of his greatest works. And it was a way for him to learn about the company and the dancers. Then he made a beautiful new work for us for our 60th anniversary called Recordare, which was a play on the day of the dead. I always prefer this or if somebody comes and does a workshop with us.

Again, I think it’s very important for the choreographers to know about the company and dancers. Even with the work with Rodrigo we were touring in Brazil and he came to see us in Sao Paulo. He stayed for two shows and we got to meet. And then he and Paquito met over Skye so the whole collaboration was very interesting.

Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

How do you stay competitive in today’s dance arena?

It’s very hard because I think economics is ruing the day for everyone. You just have to keep enticing people. Everyone wants what’s new and fast.

I think part of it is also education and reaching out to new audiences. We have been connecting more with the Hispanic and Latino audiences to let them know who José was as a person because his life alone is so inspiring. He immigrated to the United States when he was 7 from war-torn Mexico with his parents. It was 1915 when he came and he wasn’t welcomed with opened arms. He had every possibility to drop out of society, but he didn’t. He took every life challenge and turned it into something positive and creative. And that is very inspiring to young people no matter who they are.

He wasn’t even 65 when he passed away, but we have existed 40 years after him and we were the first company to do so. People always ask how that is possible and I just have to go back to the work. If the work wasn’t relevant and if it still didn’t move people and engage them then we wouldn’t be here.

I also have to pay tribute to my colleagues who are working and teaching his work all over the world. We have a wonderful Limón community especially those who knew José personally.

How do you instill the memory of Mr. Limón in the dancers who never knew him?

Choreographer Jose Limon
Choreographer Jose Limon

We do it through the work. The work is the same. And all the time he spent with his colleagues and his company he never talked about his personal life. He was very formal and very private, but not standoffish. This man struggled with all kinds of issues of identity and of being accepted and you can see this in his work. The Moor’s Pavane is a perfect example.

It’s also through education and teaching. When people come and learn the technique and realize how difficult it is they leave with a new appreciation for what we do. It’s also a technique that feels really good when you do it. It’s also just constantly being out there and talking about José and realizing that what we are trying to bring forward as a company is much greater than him the person.

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