Tag Archives: Katie Cooper

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

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Preview: Alice in Wonderland, Avant Chamber Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet puts its classical technique and acting skills on trial in Alice in Wonderland at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend.

acb-alice
The 2014 production of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — One by one the eight dancers place their hands on the waist of the person in front of them as they step into a wide second position. After a slight pause, the group slinks off stage as one using small, synchronized steps. If you are familiar with the characters in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which follows a girl named Alice after she tumbles through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures than you can probably tell that the eight dancers are personifying Absolem, the Hookah-smoking caterpillar.

It was clever of Artistic Director Katie Cooper to use multiple dancers to depict the caterpillar in Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) presentation of Alice in Wonderland which comes to Dallas City Performance Hall Feb. 11-12. Not only do the dancers get to show off their exemplary adagio skills, including sustained balances, graceful arm placements and fluid movement transitions, but the human-made caterpillar also gives Cooper the opportunity to play around with the dancers’ musical timing, something that Cooper is well known for along with her meticulous attention to technical details and imaginative use of space and movement patterns.

A prime example of Cooper’s artistic attributes can be found in the Flower dance, which resembles the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker both in costuming and the dancers’ fluid movement quality. But unlike most traditional ballets Cooper doesn’t like to use the corps as stage ornaments; instead she prefers to have them moving on the sides of the stage at all times. She also likes to feature the corps in in various geometric traveling patterns and opposite movement sequences that pay homage to Cooper’s Balanchine roots.

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Cooper’s balletic interpretation of the classic children’s tale sticks close to the original story with Alice chasing the White Rabbit into Wonderland where she encounters a host of eccentric beings, including Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and of course the Queen of Hearts, who sentences Alice to death after she insults the Queen during a game of croquet. Cooper puts her own spin on the story with the addition of a human-made caterpillar, dancing mushrooms, a tea party gone haywire and a Greek chorus representing jurors in the trial scene.

While Cooper says little has changed choreographically since ACB first presented Alice in Wonderland back in 2014, she points out that viewers will notice substantial changes in both the venue and cast size. “Dallas City Performance Hall is quite bigger than Bank of America Theater in the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts,” Cooper says. “This allows us to have larger casts and do a few effects and stagings the way I really wanted to do last time, but there just wasn’t enough space.” She adds, “The Company has also grown so there will be more professional dancers and children in the show this time around.”

Today, ACB has more than 15 company members from all across the U.S., including California, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Texas and Virginia as well as a few international members hailing from Russia, Ukraine and Japan. The production also feature 60 young dancers from studios across the Metroplex, including Park Cities Dance, Mejia Ballet and Legacy Dance Center.

Company members Madelaine Boyce and Yulia Ilina will reprise their lead roles as young Alice and the Queen of Hearts, which not only suit their physical appearances, Cooper says, but also their individual personalities and technical tendencies. “Physically Madelaine looks like the almost perfect Disney Alice, but I also choreographed it just for her so it is very suited for her. And I can’t picture anyone else doing the Queen as well as Yulia Ilina. She is tall and long limbed so she literally towers over Alice. But Yulia is also a great comedian and actor, which might surprise you if you’ve only seen her in tradition ballerina roles.”

I got to see Boyce in action when I sat in ACB’s rehearsal of Alice in Wonderland at Park Cities Dance in Dallas last week. (Ilina was unable to attend this rehearsal). Boyce was very quiet and focused as she stretched her limbs before practice. Even the way she adjusted her hair and tightened her ballet skirt was accomplished in a calm lyrical manner. Cooper has wisely chosen movement phrases for Boyce that complement these individual traits, including long, sustained reaches, smooth shifts in epaulement, complex foot work and thoughtful gesturing.

Like the rest of the company Boyce also exhibits an excellent ear for music, a skill Cooper put to the test in rehearsal by switching out the musical recording for one with a slightly faster tempo. Boyce barely blinked an eye before speeding up her turns and battements to match the new tempo. The score is written by Chase Dobson (now Mikayla Dobson) and features the piano and strings, and will be performed live by members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Brad Cawyer.

Working on this ballet has also given Cooper the opportunity to reflect on her own artistic growth and that of her dancers over the last three years. “When we did Alice the first time I spent almost half a year on it. I still have my big binder of all the steps I wrote out and meticulously planned. At this point, I trust my own ability and creativity more. I don’t go into each rehearsal for a new ballet with quite so much structure.” She adds, “My dancers have also grown tremendously. At a small company like ours everyone has opportunities in casting that are sometimes few and far between in large groups. That can push you as a dancer in a very good way.”

Avant Chamber Ballet presents Alice in Wonderland Feb. 11-12 at Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.

<< This preview was originally posted on Theaterjones.com.

 

 

 

This Woman’s Work

ACB-Womens
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Woman’s Choreography Project. Photo: Mark Kitaoka 

Avant Chamber Ballet’s second annual Women’s Choreography Project features more dynamic works by international female choreographers and live music.

Richardson — If there is a need in the Dallas dance community especially if it pertains to ballet, then you can bet that Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) Artistic Director Katie Cooper is already looking for a way to fill it. After all, Cooper started her company three years ago because she saw a need for more live music at local classical ballet performances. “When we started ACB no other professional dance companies were using live music in DFW and we are still the only ones who always have live music at every show,” Cooper says. “Musicality and the connection between the dancers, music and choreography to me is inseparable.”

So, when Cooper noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies seasonal programs, she knew she had to do something about it. And that is how the Women’s Choreography Project came into being in 2015. “I know firsthand how hard it is to get commissions in such a male-dominated field. One of the reasons I started my own company was to give myself opportunities to create my own work and to also work with the dancers I wanted to work with. I wanted to try and give other female choreographers the same opportunities, which is why I started the Women’s Choreography Project.”

Last year’s inaugural event at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson featured the members of ACB in five diverse works produced by well-known regional choreographers, including Amy Diane Morrow, Elizabeth Gillapsy, Emily Hunter as well as two pieces by Cooper. Most of the pieces alternated between neo-classical and contemporary dance styles with the exception of Morrow’s String Theory, which had the dancers manipulating various strings stretched halfway across the stage.

Photo: Avant Chamber Ballet. Shauna Davis, left, and Janie Richards

This year Cooper says audiences can expect even more variety at the second annual Women’s Choreography Project which takes place May 7-8 at the Eismann Center. The program for this year’s event features two new classical works by Cooper, a musically inspired pointe piece by Canadian choreographer Janie Richards and a retrospective modern-based piece by New York choreographer Shauna Davis. While all four works are vastly different in terms of concept, costuming, music and movement style, what Cooper believes ties them all together is the choreographers’ fine attention to detail and the dancers’ technical execution of the steps in each work. All the works will be accompanied by live music under the guidance of ACB Musical Director David Cooper.

Shauna Davis is no stranger to the Dallas dance scene. She is a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts and also spent a season with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, which also happened to be the same year the company performed Joshua L. Peugh’s jjigae at ACB’s fall dance concert in 2013. “That was the first time I had seen her dance and she was just really magnetic on stage. She has such a gregarious, outgoing and open personality and I think that you can really see that in her process. She brings a lot out of her dancers and makes them feel really comfortable, which is important because her piece is a little more modern, which is not many of the dancers’ primary style.” Davis’ piece, Untitled, set to Schubert’s trio op.100 features five dancers and focuses on the idea of technology and how it impacts our self-worth in this modern age, which she depicts on stage with the use of mirrors. “She has a very distinct idea behind what she is doing and uses a more modern vocabulary to describe the feelings and emotions the dancers are dealing with, which is quite different from Janie’s work which is more inspired by the music.”

During the selection process Canadian choreographer Janie Richards immediately caught Cooper’s attention with her very thorough application, which included an eight-page PowerPoint presentation highlighting every detail of the piece from costuming and lighting, and even a choreographic layout of the almost 20-minute work. Cooper describes Richards’ L’inverno as a very intense, intricate and high energy contemporary pointe piece set to Vivaldi’s Winter. “Her intent is to capture the crispness, brightness and hard edges of winter, but also then the melting of winter and the coming of spring. It’s a really cool piece with a lot of technically challenging material.”

Rounding out the program is Cooper’s full-length version of Harlequinade composed by Riccard Drigo and a solo Cooper created for company member Emily Dixon called Piros set to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. “I knew we were going to do Harlequinade way before I saw anyone else’s pieces. I knew if I was going to commission new work it was not going to be a traditional tutu classical ballet. Harlequinade is just really fun and cute, and it showcases some of the dancers really well.” And as for working with Dixon on Piros, Cooper says, “I just love working with Emily. She is a beautiful person inside and out and that really comes across in her dancing. She lives for these moments on stage, so I knew she would be able to hold an audience for six minutes.”

You can check out these new commissioned works by Katie Cooper, Shauna Davis and Janie Richards when Avant Chamber Ballet presents the Women’s Choreography Project May 7-8 at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration

Avant Chamber Ballet gets into the holiday spirit with Nutcracker: Short and Suite at Dallas City Performance Hall this Thursday.

ACB-Holiday Celebration
Photo: Mark Kitaoka

Dallas — Audiences disappointed in the fact Texas Ballet Theater will not be bringing its Nutcracker production to the Winspear Opera House this season can find some solace in Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) equally skillful, yet a little less traditional take on the holiday classic this Thursday at the Dallas City Performance Hall. Boasting a 35-minute running time, ACB’s Nutcracker: Short and Suite features some of our favorite dance segments from the second half of the beloved production, including Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Chinese Tea, the Marzipans, Russian Trepak, Candy Canes, Waltz of the Flowers and the grand pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. And with live accompaniment provided by Bishop Arts Brass and Saule Garcia on piano there is really no other Nutcracker production like this one being offered in North Texas.

With her long, lethal legs, regal stature and precise point work, Yulia Ilina seems designed to play the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. During last week’s rehearsal at Park Cities Dance in Dallas I looked on as Ilina and Artistic Director Katie Cooper make some tiny changes to her solo in order to keep everything musical according to Cooper. This phrase becomes Cooper’s mantra when she is giving notes in between each dance section. In Ilina’s case it means taking out the little arabesque half turn before a bourrée or adjusting the timing of arm gesture to more closely match the nuances in Tchaikovsky’s well known score. Cooper also tweaks Ilina’s epaulementplacement in certain spots to draw more attention to her lines. Cooper puts Eugene Barnes and Ilina’s endurance levels to the test with two rock solid press up lifts in the grand pas de deux, with the last one ending in a fish bowl dip with Ilina’s legs wrapped around Barnes’ middle. Newcomer Barnes demonstrated great strength and extension in his rotating jete series and sautés while veteran Ilina hit every move in her part, including the 16 downstage progressing fouettes, with melodic fervor and refined execution.

From here on out it was one technically enchanting and visually exciting dance after another. Most choreographers have a hard time working with odd numbers, particularly trios, but Cooper is always finding new ways for the dancers to interact with one another and her signature circling patterns and linked arm movements were present in both the Spanish Chocolate and Marzipan numbers. Madelaine Boyce and Kaitlyn McDermitt showcased their amazing stamina and unbreakable form in their roles as Chinese Tea and Trepak while Megan Van Horn will mesmerize viewers with her fluid body isolations and lingering floor splits in the Arabian dance.

Cooper breathes new life into the Waltz of the Flowers ensemble piece with dynamic crisscrossing jete passes, petitallegro jumps incorporating multiple beats and directional changes with epaulement as well as brain teasing formation changes. The section where all ten dancers morph from a circle into a star-shape that they then rotated clockwise while performing quick-moving waltz steps was particularly impressive. The group’s meticulous timing and Juliann McAloon’s zealous fouette turns near the end are also sure to leave you feeling breathless.

The evening will also include Cooper’s Sleigh Ride which is comprised of shorter dances performed to Chris Coletti’s Bach’s Bells and instrumental versions of classic holiday songs, including “O Tannenbaum,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “What Child Is This” and, of course, “Sleigh Ride.”

» Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration takes place Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. at Dallas City Performance Hall. Tickets are available at www.ticketdfw.com

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.