Tag Archives: Lisa Slagle

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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Dallas DanceFest Profile: Ballet Ensemble of Texas

And here is another profile on one of the local pre-professional ballet companies performing at Dallas DanceFest this weekend! This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.
Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Ballet Ensemble of Texas Artistic Director Allan Kinize on the benefits of dance festivals for aspiring professionals and what the company has in store for Dallas DanceFest 2017.

Dallas — Formed in 2001 by Lisa Slagle, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) goal is to present quality ballet performances for the local communities and to provide advanced ballet students with the opportunity to prepare for a career in dance. Over the last 15 years BET has done just that with its tight knit group of fiercely driven and gifted dancers and the company’s refreshing renditions of classic story ballets such as The FirebirdCoppeliaThe Nutcracker, and Aurora’s Wedding. The company spends countless hours in the studio (Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell) honing their musical aptitude, technical execution, stylistic versatility and performance quality, which typically result in packed performances throughout the year. Many of BET’s former dancers have gone on to dance professional with American Ballet Theater, Texas Ballet Theatre, Sarasota Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Colorado Ballet, just to name a few.

For this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DDF), BET will be stepping outside its comfort zone slightly in Tammie Reinsch’s Generation#.Featuring the entire company, the work blends ballet, contemporary and modern movements with props, including oversized emojis created by Wendy Lamar, to tell a light-hearted tale of how modern technology is affecting the personal relationships among today’s youth. “Generation# is a fun-filled, but contemplative look at how all our ever evolving technology is affecting our lives, and specifically young lives,” says BET Artistic Director Allan Kinize.

Kinize has been an advocate for DDF from the beginning and BET has been fortunate to have presented work in three out of the last four events, including this year’s performance of Generation#. “As a director, I see many benefits in participating in these types of festivals. First and foremost such venues give our dancers another opportunity to show their talents to the viewing public. The dancers also get to see other companies perform, and they get the chance to meet those dancers in a supportive artistic setting.” He adds, “These festivals also give the choreographers of BET the opportunity to either choreograph a new work or to set something that deserves additional exposure.”

Kinize also notes that his dancers are always very enthusiastic about participating in DDF, and have expressed those thoughts to him this year and in the past. “DDF gives the dancers a chance to see what we are accomplishing and that of the other groups in the area. Also, performing in such a beautiful theater is a special bonus for them because the pieces look and feel professional and are managed by professionals.”

» BET will perform on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall as part of DDF 2017.

» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:

 

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

  • Ballet Ensemble of Texas
  • Ballet Frontier of Texas
  • Dallas Black Dance Theatre
  • Danielle Georgiou Dance Group
  • Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
  • Indique Dance Company
  • Kat Barragan Dance
  • LakeCities Ballet Theatre
  • NobleMotion Dance
  • SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
  • Texas Ballet Theater
  • Uno Más
  • Wanderlust Dance Project

 

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3

  • AJ Garcia-Rameau
  • Arden Leone Dance Company
  • Bruce Wood Dance
  • Center for Ballet Arts
  • Contemporary Ballet Dallas
  • Dallas Ballet Company
  • DBDT:Encore!
  • Dallas Youth Repertory Project
  • Granadans
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Rhythm In Fusion Festival
  • Royale Ballet Dance Academy
  • Rhythmic Souls
  • Texas Ballet Theater School

 

» More information about Dallas DanceFest is available at www.thedancecouncil.org

All Dolled Up

BET-Coppelia2016

Coppelia at Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Photo: Cathy Vanover Photography

Ballet Ensemble of Texas gets ready to present George Skibine’s Coppelia at the Irving Arts Center this weekend.

Irving — Watching Ballet Ensemble of Texas (BET) as they prepared for their upcoming performance of Coppéliaat the Irving Arts Center this past weekend it was easy to see why BET is one of the most sought after pre-professional companies for young, aspiring dancers in the Metroplex. In addition to the company’s expansive dance curriculum, which includes rigorous training in classical, contemporary, modern and jazz techniques, the dancers are also being schooled in technical continuity and precision as well as artistic self-expression and character portrayal. These are the skillsets audiences have to come to expect from the company, and they were the main focus of criticism during last Saturday’s four hour Coppelia rehearsal at the Ballet Academy of Texas studio in Coppell.

“Hit your fifth,” rehearsal director Thom Clower calls out to Masumi Yoshimoto (Swanilda) during one of her many petite allegro jumping sequences in Act I. “More luxurious with the expression,” he says later as Yoshimoto executes a series of side bend stretches on pointe. “Feel the dilemma,” he shouts to Aldrin Vendt (Franz) as he tries to decipher his true feelings between his fiancée Swanilda and the mysterious girl in the window named Coppelia. Clower’s vibrant personality and positive teaching methods were well-received by the dancers as was evident through the razor sharp focus and high energy levels everyone maintained throughout rehearsal.

Photo: Cathy Vanover Photography. Coppelia at Ballet Ensemble of Texas

For those needing a refresher, Coppélia (1870) is a romantic comedy ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon with music by Leo Delibes. Most modern day productions are derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa and typically feature only two of the ballet’s three acts. Based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann entitled The Sandman, the ballet follows heroine Swanilda as she tries to win back her fiancée Franz who has fallen in love with a girl named Coppelia who is actually a  doll owned by the mysterious Doctor Coppelius. Franz gets caught sneaking into Doctor Coppelius’ workshop and Swanilda comes to his rescue by deceiving the doctor into believing that she is his doll come to life. In the final act Swanilda makes amends with the doctor and a wedding celebrates ensures for Franz and Swanilda.

BET will be performing George Skibine’s version of Coppélia, which includes all three acts. Skibine was a former director of the Paris Opera Ballet and also the founder of Dallas Ballet along with his wife Marjorie Tallchief (sister of Maria Tallchief). Clower and BET Artistic Director Allan Kinzie both danced professionally under Skibine’s direction and guidance. Coppélia isn’t the first work of Skibine’s that Clower has restaged for BET. Two seasons ago he reworked Skibine’s The Firebird on the company which was warmly received by both audiences and critics.

Clower’s strong rapport with the company makes for a very productive and positive environment for the dancers to work in. “He is just so easy to work with,” Yoshimoto says. “He is so fun and engaging and we really feed off his positive energy.” When asked about the notes she was giving during and after the first act Yoshimoto just smiles and says she doesn’t take the criticism personally. “I take the notes as new ways to help me grow as a dancer.”

I first saw Yoshimoto perform three years ago when she nailed the role of the Dew Drop Fairy in BET’s annual Nutcracker production. And while her technique and performance quality have grown over the years, the one thing that has remained the same is her ability to deliver technically consistent performances no matter what the part. In this case Yoshimoto’s unique abilities are well suited to the role of Swanilda. Her infectious stage presence and innate lyricism showed during the many gestural phrases in the first half as well as the less technical and more reactionary moments, such as when Swanilda catches Franz flirting with Coppelia and later when Franz calls off their engagement in front of the entire town.

Another dancer who has shown immense growth over the last couple of years is BET alum Aldrin Vendt. Gone are his boyish looks and leaner musculature and in their place a more toned and confidant leading man. His technique and body control has also improved, which he proved with his cleaner lines and sounder take offs and landings during his double tours and entrechats.

During a break in rehearsal I was surprised when Yoshimoto mentioned this was her first time playing a lead in a full-length ballet. She says the most challenging part of playing a lead in a full length ballet has been memorizing all of the choreography as well as building her stamina to keep up with all the dancing she is doing. When asked what she likes most about playing Swanilda Yoshimoto took a moment before replying, “I enjoy all the dancing and acting I get to do as well as all the playful pantomime my character gets to do.” Laughing a little she adds, “I see myself as a more reversed person so, it’s always fun when I get the chance to step outside myself and become someone completely different.”

Audiences will get two chances to see Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ presentation of Coppelia when it comes to the Irving Arts Center March 25-26.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: Nutcracker, Ballet Ensemble of Texas

Ballet Ensemble of Texas enchants audiences with its wonderfully musical and technically creative version of The Nutcracker in Irving.

BET-SnowQueenandKing
Masumi Yoshimoto and Brett Young as the Snow Queen and King. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Irving — Of the multiple pre-professional Nutcrackers I’ve been able to see this season, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) annual production of the holiday classic, which they performed at the Irving Arts Center last Saturday night, contained some of the most complex and inventive choreography thus far, particularly in the cultural dances in Act II. BET Director Allan Kinzie and his choreographic team, including company advisor Lisa Slagle, Tammie Reinsch and Allison D’Auteuil Whitfield did a commendable job of showcasing the company’s ever-growing technical proficiency, athletic fortitude and personal expressiveness through creative dance sequences jam packed with fast pointe work, intricate petit jumping sequences with changing epaulement and visually exciting movement contagions and formation changes. Add in the vibrant décor, jewel-encrusted costuming and some exuberant performances from local guest artists from Texas Ballet Theater (TBT), and BET has another successful Nutcracker production to add to their books.

There were some minor discrepancies between the first and second half of the show. Act I started on a slower note with some timing issues and fluctuating energy levels in the children’s dances in the party scene, but the show gained momentum during the battle scene and ended with a spectacular snow scene featuring BET company member Masumi Yoshimoto  and TBT’s Brett Young in the coveted Snow Queen and King roles. The choreographers prevented overcrowding in the party scene with well-planned traffic patterns and minimal stage props. This in turn gave the well-played adult guests more room to waltz and the children more space to chasse around in a giant circle. And while occasionally musically out of sync during the adagio doll dance, viewers couldn’t miss the young girls’ beautiful presentation of the foot before each pique step and their high releves in the bourrees and soutenu turns.

Sheridan Guerin and Kinzie were both steadfast in their roles as Clara and Drosselmeyer. A former dancer with the Boston Ballet, Kinzie captivated audiences with his grandfatherly mannerisms and musical awareness when presenting Clara with her Nutcracker doll. Guerin drew us in with her angelic demeanor, but she held our attention with her clean lines and super-flexible feet, which were most pronounced when she executed an arabesque hold or bourrée step. One of the sweetest moments in the party scene came when Guerin and Kinzie fed off each other’s energy in one of the partner dances.

Yoshimoto and Young handled the complicated choreography in the Snow pas de deux with dignity and boundless energy. The movement showcased their expert facility and amazing body control through numerous assistedpirouettes, sustained arabesque balances, opposing body angles and no more than five press up lifts and shoulder sits. There were a few instances where the couple’s movement felt rushed especially in some of the assisted turns, but both dancers quickly adjusted their tempos to stay in time with Tchaikovsky’s driving score. The 16 snowflakes perfectly captured the nuances in the music with their springy footwork and sequential arm movements as well as their creative use of space and opposing rhythms.

The second half of the show was more consistent in terms of technique and performance quality and featured some exceptional dancing from certain company members and TBT guest artists Paige Nyman and Paul Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier.

Raquel Gamboa, Lisette Hotz, Hannah Menchu and Melynda Phillips performed the musical fan flicks and sharp leg lifts in the Spanish variation in perfect unison while Ryan Nemmers executed a series of double pirouettes and touren l’airs. The young men of BET which included Joseph Dang, Michael Fass, Nemmers, Adam Phillips and Akihiro Yoshimoto showed off their athletic dexterity and genuine charm in the widely popular Russian piece with multiple toe touches, double knee jumps and round houses. And while Helena Cerny and Phillips struggled with some of the hand holds and foot placements in the Dewdrop Fairy pas de deux, the couple pushed through to deliver some stunning moving pictures. Soloists Jordan Carter, Ana Denton, Menchu and Juliana Yu are proving themselves worthy of future leading roles with their exacting pointe work and beautifully controlled body positions in the Waltz of the Flowers.

BET is also the only pre-professional company that includes the Hungarian dance in its Nutcracker production. The repetitive rhythmic foot stomping and staccato arm placements were quite simple, but the steadily building tempo added a layer of anticipation of which none of the other dances could match.

BET-SugarPlumandCavalier
Paige Nyman and Paul Adams as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Photo: Cathy Vanover

The stars of the night were Nyman and Adams in the grand pas de deux. Both dancers are rising through the ranks of Texas Ballet Theater and have shown steady improvement both technically and artistically speaking over the last year. The couple executed the tricky counterbalance holds and multiple reverse promenades throughout the piece without a stumble. Adams pushed his stamina to the limit with consecutive turning jetes, double tours to the knee and multiple front and back cabrioles while Nyman performed the delicate pointe work and fast-paced fouette turns at the end with swan-like poise.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: Ballet Ensemble of Texas Spring Concert

Breanne Granlund and Brett Young in The Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover
Breanne Granlund and Brett Young in The Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Ballet Ensemble of Texas delivers a near-flawless Firebird (and more) at the company’s Spring Concert

Irving — Luscious scenery, elaborate costumes, catchy compositions, authentic storytelling and proficient dancing: Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ restaging of George Skibine’s Firebird had something for everyone Saturday afternoon at the company’s Spring Concert at the Irving Arts Center.

Firebird, danced of course to the music of Igor Stravinsky, tells the tale of Prince Ivan’s encounter with the mystical Firebird. In the first scene he tries to capture the marvelous creature, but fails; the Firebird offers him one of her feathers instead. Next Ivan meets the beautiful Tsarevna and they fall in love. A battle ensues between Ivan and the evil Kostchei, and the Firebird is called upon to help defeat him. In the final scene Ivan and Tsarevna are wed and everyone lives happily ever after.

Firebird is a challenge that calls for dramatic flair and daring dancing—and the dancers responded with commitment and consistency, a tribute to stager Thom Clower’s passion and BET director Lisa Slagle’s training. Breanne Granlund thrived in the role of the Firebird. Her commanding stage presence, innate musicality and clear-cut pointe work were a match for Skibine’s detailed choreography and Stravinsky’s quick staccato composition. Even her smallest movements—fluttering arms, twitching head—seemed to entrance the audience. Texas Ballet Theater’s Brett Young excelled as Prince Ivan. He made the transition from hunter to lover appear effortless, though his solo in the opening scene must have tested his endurance with its multiple grande jetes and tours.

Young proved also to be a solid partner, executing the tricky over the head lifts and counter-balance holds with ease during the pas de deux, but softening his movements when dancing with his love Tsarevna (Abby Granlund). Abby exuded tranquility, creating the illusion that her movement never stops even when she is standing still. The surprise performance of the evening came from Aldrin Vendt, who played Kostchei. Under heavy makeup and layers of clothing, he compensated with exaggerated gestures and a sense of tension that radiated from every part of his body.

Fernando Bujones’ Splendid Gershwin and Marius Petipa’s Paquita, both restaged by American Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jones, rounded out the rest of the show. The company showed off its aptitude for more traditional ballet movement in Paquita. Yuki Takahashi sparkled in this role. Her beautiful breathing technique, inhaling as she elongates and exhaling into balance holds, added texture and anticipation to her performance. Soloists Masumi Yoshimoto, Natalie Tsay, Jimena Flores-Sanchez and Breanne Granlund gave solid performances that highlighted their musicality and poignant pointe work. Guest Artist Shea Johnson ate up the stage with his gravity-defying leaps and turning sequences. While at times his movement appears labored, he can execute a triple pirouette with ease.

The men stole the show in Splendid Gershwin with their Fred Astaire-like grace and personality. Dressed in tuxes and top hats, Samuel Chadick, William Sheriff, Aldrin Vendt and Johnson glided across the stage in a series of turns punctuated with pivots and drag steps in “Embraceable You.” Roman Mejia charmed the audience with his consecutive toe touches and cheeky air as he attempted to impress four female dancers in “Ladies & The Tramp.”

After seeing Ballet Ensemble of Texas deliver on consistency, authenticity and versatility with this Spring Concert one has to wonder, is there anything BET can’t do?

This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

Can’t Be Tamed

BET company member Breanne Granlund as the Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover
BET company member Breanne Granlund as the Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ production of George Skibine’s The Firebird gets ready to take flight at the Irving Arts Center this weekend.

Coppell, TX — She moves confidently and uninhibited almost to the point of falling off pointe or missing a step, but she doesn’t. Hands twitching, body pulsating with unrestrained energy, Ballet Ensemble of Texas company member Breanne Granlund is the quintessential Firebird. Granuald’s feisty footwork coupled with Igor Stravinsky’s fast staccato composition made for a delightful Tuesday evening at the Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell.

The Firebird is based on Slavic folklore and tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with the mystical Firebird. In the first scene he tries to capture it, but the firebird offers him one of her feathers instead.  In the next scene Ivan wanders through the forest until he meets the beautiful Tsarevna. They fall in love and a battle ensues between Ivan and the evil Kostchei. Ivan uses the feather to call upon the Firebird and together they dispose of Kostchei. Ivan and Tsarevna get married and everyone lives happily ever after.

The Firebird is a physically demanding role, something Granlund found appealing from the start. “I love the physicality of the role,” Granlund says. “The movement is a lot harder on your body, but I like challenging myself like this. It’s not often that you get to portray a bird and, I think mentally the role really suits me.” Granlund is right. Her penchant for quick footwork, dynamic body positions and overall vigor makes her well-suited for the part.

Coincidently the other female lead in the ballet is being performed by Granlund’s twin sister Abby. She is dancing the role of Tsarenva, a character Granlund says matches her sister’s dancing style really well. “Abby is really great in these types of roles. She’s a very expressive dancer.” Abby’s movement does have a softer quality to it. Her feet hardly make a sound when she bourrees and she’s able to emote feeling from every muscle in her body.

And the man caught in between the Granlund sisters is Texas Ballet Theater Corps dancer Brett Young. His athletic physique and unyielding core strength make him an admirable partner and confident soloist. The pas de deux between Ivan and the Firebird contains multiple lifts in addition to alternating handholds for lengthy balances and turning sequences. With a little more fine tuning this pas de deux will surely be a scene stealer.

What makes Ballet Ensemble of Texas stand out from other pre-professional companies in the area is the consistency you see throughout the company in terms of technique and performance quality. There is no weak link in this production of the Firebird. All seven male company members showcase high jumps, long lines and controlled tours. All the ladies display proficient pointe work and authentic stage presence. “You must act or it’s just going to look like another recital,” says Thom Clower, the person responsible for restaging George Skibine’s Firebird on BET.

All the talk about Clower’s eccentric approach to teaching is completely true. While giving notes it’s common for him to use sounds effects and vivid imagery to describe what he wanted. For example, when telling the princesses how they should be peeking out from behind the apple tree he said, “The movement needs to have more resistance. I don’t want it slower, just thicker.” He is also not opposed to shouting things out during the run through like “I need more!”, “Slow down!” and “Yes, that was lovely!” His knack for blending corrections with compliments has a very positive effect on the students. After a long evening of rehearsing, the students leave laughing with their heads held high. “Thom is really great with the students,” says BET Director Lisa Slagle. “He really inspires them to work harder and give their all every time.”

Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ spring concert takes place April 4-5, 2014 at the Irving Arts Center. In addition to Firebird the company will also be performing the revival of Fernando Bujones’ Splendid Gershwin and the classic ballet Paquita, staged by American Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jones.

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: The Nutcracker, Ballet Ensemble of Texas

Going Nuts!

Ballet Ensemble of Texas delivers delicious dancing and sumptuous surprises in its production ofThe Nutcracker

Irving — Oh, the weather outside was definitely frightful, but thankfully Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) presentation of The Nutcracker was worth the perilous drive that many performers and audience members surely braved. The company gave an engaging performance on Saturday to a packed house at the Irving Arts Center, complete with little girls in cute mice costumes, an abundance of young male dancers, a poetic Waltz of the Flowers and a dynamite grande pas de deux by guest artists Michele Gifford and Shea Johnson.

The production began at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party where their daughter Clara receives her beloved Nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer (Allan Kinzie). While the stage dressing was a little bare (a couch, chair and clock were the only props) it did provide the children and adult party guests with plenty of space to dance. Choreographers Lisa Slagle (also BET director), Allan Kinzie, Tammie Reinsch and Allison D’Auteuil Whitfield kept the party scene moving with basic yet visually pleasing ballet steps for the youngsters and clean pointe work for Clara (Kristen Wright) and the life-size dolls (Alise Newman, Victoria Pardo and Jimena Flores-Sanchez).

Even though she kept the same facial expression for most of performance, Wright is the most technically proficient Clara I have seen this season. Her strong, supple feet enabled her to execute multiple turns and pique arabesque holds with pizazz. Newcomer to BET William Sheriff was a pleasant surprise as the Nutcracker Prince with his great control over his long, limber body; as he becomes more mindful of his feet, Sheriff will be one to watch for.

The battle scene had everything you’d expect, from well-rehearsed sword play, bright lighting and smoke machines to twenty or so little dancers scampering across the stage in cute mice costumes. The action was quick-moving and transitioned smoothly into the snow scene. Snow Queen Natalie Tsay’s pointe work was a little clunky in some parts, but she made up for it with her captivating stage presence. Her Snow King (Blaine Quinn) was a solid and trustworthy partner. He executed those tricky traveling lifts with grace and confidence. The Snowflakes really stole the scene with their breezy movement, uniformed arm and leg placements and exquisite technique.

The second act displayed more of the company’s versatility especially in the Arabian, Chinese, Hungarian and Russian sections. Melissa Anderson, Kendall Glasgow and Sam Chadick showed they could handle the slower, more controlled movements required in the Arabian dance. Anderson and Glasgow also got to display their flexibility with their alternating floor splits. It was a challenge for power jumper Adam Rech to control himself in the Chinese dance, but he did it and even managed to get his heels down when he landed. While the timing was off in some parts of the Hungarian number it did show the company’s understanding of folk dancing which includes a lot of unified stomping and clapping.

Now, what BET has that a other companies don’t is a strong group of young male dancers. This was made abundantly clear in the crowd pleasing Russian dance. Roman Mejia, Aldrin Vendt, Akihiro Yoshimoto, Adam Phillips and Kei Jay Takahashi pulled off an exhilarating number filled with double tour en l’airs, turns in second and round houses.

Like the snow scene, the Waltz of the Flowers was truly poetic. The dancers simply skimmed across the floor in a series of bourrees. The choreography was packed with constant direction changes and opposing head and arm movements; giving off the illusion that we were watching moving snapshots. Masumi Yoshimoto (Dew Drop Fairy) and demi-soloists Abby Granlund, Breanne Granlund, Ripley Mayfield and Yuki Takahashi gave solid and soulful performances.

The highlight of the show was the technically flawless performance Michele Gifford (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Shea Johnson (Cavalier) gave in the grande pas de deux. Gifford and Johnson nailed every turning arabesque hold and difficult shoulder lift without a qualm. Gifford’s unending extensions and Johnson’s boundless amounts of energy in his turning grande jete section earned applause from the audience. It was a great night for both these seasoned professionals.

This was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.