Tag Archives: Julianne McAloon

Avant Chamber Ballet: Morphoses

Transforming Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet kicks off its season with a triple bill featuring Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses and two works by Katie Cooper at Moody Performance Hall.

Photo: Dickie Hill
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Morphoses

 

Dallas — It has been a busy summer for Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB). In addition to preparing for its 2019-20 season, which kicks off with Morphoses Sept. 7-8 at Moody Performance Hall, the company also moved into its own studio space in the Dallas Design District in July. ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says that having their own space has been transformative for the company.

In previous years, Cooper says that the company would not have been able to put on a fall show because of the limits of renting or being lent space owned by ballet schools. “We had to wait till summer intensives and summer classes were over for us to have daytime hours.” This meant either rushing to put a performance together in late September or competing with a busy October arts month.

She adds, “So for us to find this weekend, and it worked for everyone involved, including musicians and everything, I am super happy and lucky that everything aligned for our fall show.”

Even though the company is heading into its seventh full season, Cooper says that in many ways this feels like their first year as a real company. Cooper explains, “We’ve transitioned to paying the dancers weekly, which is huge. And it makes sense for the dancers be paid weekly because every week that they’re working is actually a good work week now that we have a home.”

This weekend’s triple bill includes Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, Cooper’s Sisterhood and the world premiere of Cooper’s Brahms Trio.

Regarding the program, Cooper says, “It feels like my miracle repertory because there was so many different puzzle pieces that had to come together and I am just so excited about it.”

One of these puzzle pieces was when the schedules of musicians Alexander Kerr (Dallas Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster), David Cooper (ACB Musical Director and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Horn and Cooper’s husband) and Fei-Fei Dong (international piano soloist) aligned so they could perform alongside ACB in Cooper’s Brahms Trio, which is named after the work composed by Johannes Brahms.

Cooper says that she has always wanted to choreograph to the Brahms Trio and describes the music as very danceable, beautiful and romantic. She also says she wanted to do the classical music justice by only using classical choreography.

“I really wanted to do it well because it is a very classical piece of music and classical ballet,” Cooper says about the choreography for the piece. “And unless you do classical ballet right then it’s not good. It’s almost easier to pull off something really contemporary and new because when it’s classical it has to be well-rehearsed, interesting and clean.”

She adds, “The choreography has to be really good because there’s no bells and whistles or quirkiness that’s going to keep the audience’s attention. It really has to be beautiful, musical and interesting in its purity and the reflection of the music.”

Also on the program is Wheeldon’s Morphoses. As Cooper proudly states, ACB is only the third ballet company to perform the work after New York City Ballet and Washington Ballet. For those unfamiliar with the ballet, Morphoses is a complex and athletic ballet for four dancers set to György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1. ACB’s cast includes Juliann McAloon, Kara Zimmerman, Alexander Akulov and Marlen Alimanov. The music will also be performed live by Cezanne Quartet.

Rounding out the evening is Cooper’s Sisterhood, which the company premiered last May. The work features music by composer Quinn Mason and is a nice departure from Cooper’s classical roots. Instead of tutus and pointe shoes the dancers perform in trendy sportswear and sneakers.

When asked about these particular choices Cooper says, “I wanted to challenge myself with something different with the sneakers and clothing. Sneaker ballets are such a specific modern American thing. Just think of Jerome Robbins and Justin Peck does a lot of them now. I just wanted to explore something new, and that music I just loved.”

Cooper adds that putting Sisterhood on this program just made sense because it creates a nice balance with the other works. “The three ballets are so incredibly different and that’s what you always hope for in a triple bill. That they all have their own internal world and they’re all radically different.”

Looking back on the last several years Cooper says the company has really developed into what she wanted. “I always said I wanted a company that I would have wanted to dance to in. That every show there’s good stuff that’s fulfilling for the artists both physically, mentally and emotionally.”

“To me, being able to present this season that we have going is really finally the culmination of a lot of years of work.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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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.