Tag Archives: Margo Sappington

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice Series

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image
Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The ladies of Dallas Black Dance Theatre strut their stuff in Margo Sappington’s Step Out of Love, part of the company’s Director’s Choice Series.

Dallas — Just when you think you have seen everything in Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) movement arsenal the company comes out with something bigger and bolder. Last season DBDT soared to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial work What to Say? Sketches of Echo and Narcissus at its Spring Celebration Series. This year the ladies of DBDT are getting down and physical in Margo Sappington’s hard-hitting, jazz funk piece, Step Out of Love, part of the company’s annual Director’s Choice Series, Nov.6-8, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Dallas Arts District.

A Texas native, Sappington began her professional dance career when she joined the Joffrey Ballet at the age of 17 and her choreographic career at the age of 21. In the U.S. her choeography has been used by companies such as Joffrey Ballet (New York/Chicago), Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Ballet Jazz de Montreal. In 1975 Sappington was nominated for a Tony Award for her work on the play Where’s Charley? and in 2005 received a Lifetime Achievement Award for choreography from the Joffrey.

Sappington is most well-known for using popular music on the concert stage, including songs by Prince, William Shatner, Indigo Girls and Carlos Santana. Her opera credits include Live from the San Francisco Opera, La GiocondaSamson and Delilah and Aida. On Broadway, she was the dance captain in the original Promises, Promises and has choreographed revivals of Pal JoeyOh! Calcutta! and Where’s Charley?

Originally set on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 1987,Step Out of Love follows five women who don’t know each other, but are sharing the same story, which in this case is a bad break up. Each dancer’s story is told through various solos that then morph into duets and trios and eventually into a climactic group section. When asked about the structuring of the work Sappington explains, “The piece begins with each woman in her own thoughts, and as the piece progresses they realize that they are sharing an experience, each in her own way, at the same time. By the end of the piece they are all in the same place at the same time, all five of them in step with one another.”

Sappington’s use of classic jazz techniques in the work, including Fosse and Luigi are a welcome reprieve from the typical contemporary moves that are currently dominating the dance industry. Head whips and staccato hand gestures are paired with continuous leg lifts, hip swirls and foot flicks. Sappington repeats many of the same arm gestures, leg kicks and body poses throughout the piece, but she layers them with directional, level and speed changes to keep the movement from feeling redundant. The dancers’ varying emotional triggers also help keep the movement fresh and interesting. “It is important for each woman to internalize her thoughts and then show them through the movement. The movements are designed to help this process for each character.”

For example, Alyssa Harrington showcases her uncertainty about the break-up through a series of soft and hard body shapes and various controlled leg extensions. Michelle Herbert’s anger is palpable in her explosive barrel turns, sudden falls to the ground and aggressive hand gestures, including claps, flicks and jabs. Hana Delong and McKinley Willis (who was standing in for Jasmine White-Killins) let out their frustration with large traveling steps, frantic arms swings and sudden stop action moments. Unlike the others, Kayah Franklin appears to be the one initiating the break up as is evident through her dismissive body language and the sly smirk on her face.

Stephen Forsyth’s rock score by the same name adds more tension to the dance’s already heated tone and draws attention to the many gestural quirks in the choreography. When asked if this was intentional Sappington says, “The movement reflects not just the sentiment of the song, but also the abrasiveness of the music. Stephen used construction tools as part of his instrumentation such as drills and electric saws to give a dense and agitated quality to some of the instruments.”

Sappington says the complex movement sequences and the speed in which they are performed was a challenge for the dancers during the rehearsal process, but she is pleased with how quickly they embodied the movement and their characters. “We had a very short rehearsal period and the women were very focused and used every minute to absorb all the details.” Sappington adds, “Being a small group they know how to dance together and help and encourage each other, which creates a wonderful working atmosphere.”

Audiences can see Sappington’s Step Out of Love along with Alvin Ailey dancer Hope Boykin’s in·ter·pret, Christopher L. Huggins’ Night Run and Talley Beatty’s A Rag, A Bone, and A Hank of Hair at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 6-8, at the Wyly Theatre.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

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Q&A: Choreographer Margo Sappington

m130326082917Choreographer Margo Sappington on her new rock ballet Plaza Del Fuego, part of the Spring Performance for Ballet Ensemble of Texas.

Native Texan Margo Sappington returns to her home state for the Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ Spring Performance where she will premiere her new rock ballet Plaza Del Fuego to music by Carlos Santana. The Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ Spring Performance takes place March 29-30, 2013, at the Irving Arts Center and will also feature George Balanchine’s Walpurgis Nacht, Gordon Pierce’s An American Portrait to music by Copland and No Pressure by Tammie Reinsch.

Margo Sappington began her professional dance career when she joined the Joffrey Ballet at the age of 17 and her choreographic career at the age of 21. She has created works for the Joffrey (New York/Chicago), Pennsylvania Ballet, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Ballet Jazz de Montreal.

Sappington is most well-known for using popular music on the concert stage, including songs by Prince, William Shatner, Indigo Girls and now Carlos Santana. Her opera credits include Live from the San Francisco Opera, La Gioconda, Samson and Delilah and Aida. On Broadway, she was the dance captain in the original Promises, Promises and has choreographed revivals of Pal Joey, Oh! Calcutta! and Where’s Charley!

She currently contributes works yearly to the Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, FL.

TheaterJones asks Margo Sappington about working with the students at the Ballet Ensemble of Texas, her inclination for popular music and the inspiration for her new ballet Plaza Del Fuego.

TheaterJones: How did you get involved with the Ballet Ensemble of Texas?

I knew Lisa Slagle when she was dancing with the Joffrey Ballet. When she left the company I happened to be choreographing an opera in San Francisco and she auditioned for me and I hired her and that’s how we met.

Have you choreographed other pieces for the Ballet Ensemble of Texas?

Ballet Ensemble of Texas
Ballet Ensemble of Texas

No I haven’t. I was teaching master classes at a festival in Houston about two years when our paths crossed again. After my first class I went up to one of the little girls and asked her who her teacher was and she said Ms. Lisa Slagle. So, in the next class after only a few minutes of dancing I could pick out which students were hers based on their technique. Lisa’s students are very refined and trained so well. So, I talked to Lisa and told her I would love to do something with her group. I don’t normally choreograph on students, but I just think Lisa’s girls are really wonderful and I knew I could do a lot with them.

What was the inspiration behind your new rock ballet Plaza Del Fuego?

Well, it is Texas and so I was very interested in doing Santana. I thought it would be something different for the company to interpret. It’s contemporary ballet so it has the classical ballet technique, but I push it a little bit over the edge. So, the dancers have to utilize everything they have learned already and then take it a little further. They have to be a little more off balance and a little bit corkier.

You have a preference for using popular music when choreographing. What challenges have you encountered by doing this?

I like to figure out ways to get a sense and feeling of a song without illustrating the lyrics. I find this challenging and interesting. With Santana, of course, there isn’t any words just wonderful music. His music gives opportunities to do rhythmic things that are very different from what you would typically see in a ballet.

Do classical dancers have a harder time adapting to your musical choices?

I don’t think so. If anything it draws them in more because the music is popular so it’s not as intimating to them. They can relate a little better to it than something that is only classical. They get a little more excited and can really feel the rhythm in the music more.

What advice do you have for young dancers?

I think it is important for dancers to realize that there is more to being a professional dancer than just being a good dancer. Your love of dance has to also lead you to understand that you have be able to do basic life skills like washing your own dance clothes, sewing your own pointe shoes and getting yourself to places on time. They should also know their own schedules. Students shouldn’t have to always rely on their parents. They need to know these things so when they get out into the real world they won’t be so overwhelmed.

Ballet Ensemble of Texas
Ballet Ensemble of Texas

What is your biggest pet peeve as a teacher and choreographer?

What makes me sad is when I mention to a dancer the name Margot Fonteyn and they have no idea who I am talking about. Or names like Wendy Whelan or Lourdes Lopez. There are dancers who don’t know that Lourdes was a dancer with Miami City Ballet for 20 years before she became artistic director. This just makes me really sad. I mean if you were a racecar driver or baseball player you would know who came before you and it should be the same way with dancers. Dancing to me is still an expression and the technique is only a means to get there; it’s not an end by itself.

Did you enjoy working with the Ballet Ensemble of Texas?

I so enjoyed working with Lisa’s company. I was only there a week and it was really intense, but the dancers were so focused and it was just a lovely experience.

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