Tag Archives: Katie Cooper

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.

 

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Avant Chamber Ballet Presents World Premiere at Holiday Performance in Southlake, TX

You can always count on Avant Chamber Ballet to get you into the holiday spirit without sending you into a Christmas coma!

ACB Nutcracker Eugene Barnes III and Yulia Ilina PC Sharen Bradford
Company Members Eugene Barnes III and Yulia Ilina. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Known as a nutcracker rebel, Katie Cooper of Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) likes to steer clear of traditional Nutcracker productions. Instead she likes to focuses on other seasonal tales to create memorable holiday performances such as A Ballet Christmas Carol, Holiday Celebration and Nutcracker: Short and Suite.

ACB will once again be performing its Nutcracker: Short and Suite in Southlake, TX, on Nov. 15, but this time the company has a special treat for viewers. In addition to its Nutcracker rendition, ACB will also present the world premiere of Cooper’s Winter from Vivaldi’s “The Seasons.” The one-hour family-friendly performance will feature ACB’s 16 professionally-trained dancers, Cezanne String Quartet, plus new costumes and choreography. Cooper also points out that this will be the only professional dance production in the mid-cities area this year.

“This performance is a perfect introduction to live classical music and dance,” Cooper says in a recent press release. “Vivaldi’s ‘The Seasons’ is one of the most recognized pieces of music, but to see it with choreography and dance takes it to another level for the viewer. Nutcracker: Short and Suite is the second half of the evening with the best parts of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and all the characters that you love.”

The performance is presented by Apex Arts League and ticket information is available at www.apexartsleague.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.

 

 

 

 

What Lies Beneath: Preview of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Women’s Choreography Project

ACB company member Emily Dixon Alba.  Photo: Rhilee Photography

Avant Chamber Ballet reaches new emotional depths in Kimi Nikaidoh’s latest work, The Face of Water, part of the company’s Women’s Choreography Project this weekend.

Dallas — If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching Kimi Nikaidoh’s choreography it is that she likes to take you on a journey either musically, emotionally or narratively speaking. Her first work, Find Me (2015), for Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) was a beautiful tribute to Wood’s aesthetic and evoked warm, happy feelings. Her second work, Bloom (2016), was more introspective and carried the theme of healing and recovery with more of a straight forward narrative. In Nikaidoh’s newest work, The Face of Water, she uses a range of emotions and the highs and lows within the music to drive the movement home.

“So, the piece doesn’t follow a narrative, but is more about an emotional journey,” Nikaidoh says. “In the music there are these beautiful moments that feel to me like new beginnings. I’m talking about these long, stretched out notes that felt like one thing has finished and a new thing is starting. In the music I hear a lot of activity, turmoil and what I started to frame in my head as work, and then what follows these sections are these sweeter, longer notes of hope and new beginnings.”

Watching Avant Chamber Ballet rehearse The Face of Water at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas last week I was surprised by the amount of ballet vocabulary and other classical elements Nikaidoh chose to use in the piece. But really I shouldn’t be surprised, since a ballerina was all Nikaidoh wanted to be until injuries and the advice of others lead her to audition for the Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) when she was 18. Leading up to this Nikaidoh had trained with Tanju and Patricia Tuzer, Canada’s National Ballet School, the School of American Ballet and American Ballet Theater.

Nikaidoh danced with BWDC until 2004 when she moved to New York to have ankle surgery and earn a degree in neuroscience from Columbia University. During this time she also continued to perform with various groups, including Bruce Wood Dance, Thang Dao Dance Company, Columbia Ballet Collaborative and Emery LeCrone Dance. Nikaidoh also toured nationally and internationally with Complexions Contemporary Dance. After Wood’s death in 2014 Nikaidoh decided to return home and eventually took over the reins of BWD.

The Face of Water is one of two new works ACB will present as part of its Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), April 21-22, at Moody Performance Hall. The other work is Day Vignettes by former Ballet Austin dancer Michelle Thompson Ulerich with new music by composer Catherine Davis. ACB’s entire program, titled Moving Music, will also feature George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie, Christopher Wheeldon’s The American Pas de Deux and Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A. Each piece will be accompanied by live music.

When asked about her decision to have Nikaidoh set a piece on the company, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says, “I’ve known Kimi since I was a teenager and I’ve always admired her as an artist both as a dancer and now as a choreographer and director. Her work is very balletic, but the center of gravity is lower like Bruce’s work so it’s a nice change from our more classical repertoire.”

Inspired by Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece TenebraeThe Face of Water is an emotional rollercoaster that forces the dancers to delve deeper into their own psyche. In between trios and quartets Nikaidoh has incorporated standard pas de deux and corps work that feature the dancers’ gorgeous lines, pliable spines and supple feet, which will be adorned in ballet slippers for this number. Like Cooper, Nikaidoh preferred to keep the corps in motion with continuous formation changes and stage entrances that challenged both the dancers’ musical timing and spatial awareness. You can see Nikaidoh’s own personal touches sprinkled throughout the piece, but especially in the dancers’ port de bra arms and the quieter moments in the music where the dancers had to rely on smaller gestures and unlikely body shapes to convey their feelings.

When asked about her experience working with the dancers Nikaidoh says, “I loved working with ACB. The dancers are smart, quick and so willing to do the work.”

She adds, “This was also a great learning experience for me because I am used to working with a certain set of dancers who in general were approaching movement from Bruce’s perspective. I noticed that even though I share a classical vocabulary with ACB there were still things about how I wanted them to get from one classical step or space to another that were very influenced by my contemporary background and my work with Bruce. So, what I recognized during the process was that those were the moments I needed to spend time on.”

Now, unlike Cooper’s balletic works, Nikaidoh’s piece doesn’t include any petite allegro jumping sections or any grande jete jumping passes. You also won’t see any fouette turns. Instead, Nikiadoh focused on the dancers’ connections both physically and visually and how these connections change and evolve with the music. “We talked about connective tissue between them and for them to all feel like there’s this complex type of spider web that’s connecting everyone’s limbs together. I mean these dancers are used to working as an ensemble and they understand the importance of clean lines and the need to stay together, but when you have someone new come in and ask them to go off balance or run low instead of high sometimes a different image can be helpful.”

This year marks the fourth annual WCP, an endeavor Cooper started when she noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies’ seasonal programs. Since its inception WCP has featured new works from almost a dozen national and international female choreographers, including Shauna Davis, Janie Richards and Elizabeth Gillapsy. As far as where WCP goes from here Cooper says, “I’d love to get to a place where WCP isn’t needed anymore. In four years I’ve seen a shift across the country with a lot of discussion of the problem and many more ballet companies commissioning female choreographers. We aren’t there yet, but we are inching toward equity.”

This preview was originally posted on theaterjones.com.

 

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.

 

Favorite New Dance Works in 2017

Donkey Beach from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. Photo: Mark Lowry

It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.

And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.

We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.

So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.

And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.

In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:

Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou

Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.

Meant to be Seen from Bombshell Dance Project. Photo: Lynn Lane

Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman

In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.

Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger

Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.

HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh

Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.

 

Albert Drake rehearsing Chasing Home for Bruce Wood Dance. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Chasing Home by Albert Drake

The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.

Interpretations by Sean J. Smith

Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.

Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate

Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.

This 2017 in dance review 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

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.