Tag Archives: Martha Graham

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.



Homeward Bound: Bruce Wood Dance Project Journey’s Performance Preview


Bruce Wood Dance Project humanizes the refugee crisis in Albert Drake’s Chasing Home, part of the company’s Journey’s performance this weekend.

Dallas — Emily Drake tenderly cups David Escoto’s face in the palm of her hand before he scoops her up and spins her around in childlike glee while the rest of the dancers quietly celebrate in the background. As the duet progresses, the two twist, duck and arc around one another while always maintaining their connection through physical touches and eye contact. This marriage ceremony is just one of many poignant moments viewers get to witness in Albert Drake’s new work Chasing Home, which depicts the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps as they seek to reclaim their identities. The work features an original score by Joseph Thalken, which will performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) Journeys performance June 16-17 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s Schmetterling (2004) and Zero Hour (1999).

Out of the full 20-minute piece, it’s the duet with Emily Drake and Escoto where we really get to see who Albert Drake, Emily’s husband, is becoming as a choreographer. Yes, Wood’s aesthetic is visible in the dancers’ swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing, but there is a vulnerability and sensuality in the couple’s partnering that is uniquely Albert Drake. “It is not sexual at all,” Albert Drake says. “It’s sensual in that it’s more about seeing, touching, hearing and feeling. It was about finding those intimate connections between the dancers.” Wood’s influences can also be found in the couple’s silky smooth transitions and momentum-driven partnering and floor work, whereas the dynamic bodying shaping and contrary movement phrases showcased in the dancer’s individual moments cater more to Albert Drake’s artistic sensibilities.

When asked about his evolving movement tastes Albert Drake says, “There are definitely a lot of influences from Bruce in my work just because I adore and respect him. I have also found a lot of connection to his work from my concert training at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.” Before attending SMU in the fall of 2008 Albert Drake says his knowledge of concert dance was limited. It wasn’t until he took Graham technique with Professor Myra Woodruff that he fell in love with the art form. It was also during this time period that he met Bruce Wood who came to SMU looking for dancers to perform in the first concert of BWDP.

(Woodruff’s teaching methods were recently praised on Dance Teacher magazine’s website by former student Corinna Lee Nicholson. Check it out here.)

“There were a lot of connections between my Graham classes and Bruce’s work, so I never felt as if I was starting over with a new aesthetic,” says Albert Drake about his first year with the BWDP after graduating from SMU in 2012. “And these connections definitely and heavily translated in my first work Whispers. That piece kind of came out of nowhere and so, I definitely played from what I knew.” Since the premiere of Whispers last season, Albert Drake says he has been trying to find more of his own self in the movement. “Dynamic range has always been important to me. Also, suspension, release, contraction, expansion, soft and aggressive. I like playing around with all these elements and I hope this comes across in my work.”

Circling back to the marriage ceremony mentioned earlier, Albert Drake says the idea came from one of the multiple documentaries he has watched pertaining to the refugee crisis. He was particularly touched with a story about a couple that had met, fell in love and gotten married while living in a refugee camp. “I was inspired by the fact that even with everything else that was going on people came together and found items like pieces of fabric and makeshift flowers to adorn the bride and groom in. It’s these moments of hope and of being able to move forward and progress while still living in this situation that is really what this piece comes down to for me.” A wedding isn’t the only communal activity featured in the piece. Albert Drake also brings soccer and the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, into the fold with movement sequences dedicated to fast, syncopated foot work similar to an Irish jig and rhythmic soccer drills performed by the men.

albertand joseph
Albert Drake (Left) and composer Joseph Thalken (Right). Photo: Brian Guilliaux

After watching Albert Drake and Joseph Thalken converse at the end of rehearsal about the music for the final section it’s clear the two have an amicable working relationship and seem to be on same page in terms of the bigger picture. When I mentioned this to Albert Drake later he chuckled and admitted it has taken a lot of time and mind mapping for them to get to this point. “In our first meeting we wrote a lot of stuff down on paper in terms of content, tune and mood and then we just starting tying all these things together.” He adds, “Joseph and I broke everything into sections with working titles, so there really is no beginning, middle or end to the piece. Instead I created different chapters or vignettes with the hope audiences will focus more on the dancers’ connections than following a narrative.”

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


Dallas VideoFest Preview: Metropolis

SMU students Aaron D’Eramo and Avery Lewis rehearse for Metropolis in a vacant warehouse in Trinity Groves, Dallas. Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
SMU students Aaron D’Eramo and Avery Lewis rehearse for Metropolis in a vacant warehouse in Trinity Groves, Dallas. Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones


Christopher Dolder plans to bring the classic sci-fi flick Metropolis into the modern age with compelling choreography and stunning visual effects at this year’s Dallas VideoFest.

Dallas — As is common when watching one of Christopher Dolder’s rehearsals there are multiple elements at work, including behemoth props, video projection and special lighting techniques. In this instance, Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction film Metropolis is playing on a screen above center stage while a dozen freshman dancers from the Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts ascend out of what will be the orchestra pit and up a 32-foot tall and 4-foot elevated raked stage. The dancers’ rigid posture and weighted toe heel walks parallel the architecture of the buildings in the movie’s opening scene.

The suspense of the moment is heightened by Austin-based composer Brian Satterwhite’s new film score which will be performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at the showing of Metropolis, Oct. 13, at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of Dallas VideoFest 28. As the next scene begins the dancers stop and face the audience on a diagonal to perform a series of robotic gestures in a cotangent.

On the other side of the stage will be a couple of platforms of varying heights that the dancers will maneuver around and on throughout the film. Mind you, none of these props were present at the rehearsal I watched last week in the basement of the Owens Arts Center at SMU. Instead Dolder showed me images of the stage layout on his phone as well as pictures of the raked stage which he built by hand in a warehouse off of West Commerce Street near Trinity Groves. “I wanted to build something that three dimensionalizesthe space and the film,” Dolder says. “I wanted to create something lofty to represent the upper world in the movie and something mechanical and chunky to represent the underworld.”

For those unfamiliar with the movie, Metropolis is the name of a Utopian society that exists above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers. When a wealthy youth (Freder Fredersen) discovers what is happening underground he tries to help the workers, which puts him at odds with the upper class and especially his father. This silent film has paved the way for other movies in the sci-fi genre, and Dolder observes that even through the movie was made almost 90 years ago its main theme of the one percent versus the other 99 percent is still relevant today.

With so much going on in the film already between the live music and various plot lines Dolder says his biggest challenge has been trying not to over conceptualize his contributions. “My goal is to enhance the film with live theater and multimedia; not detract from it with these components.” The main way Dolder is doing this is by incorporating only 30 minutes of contextualized movement into the 82-minute long movie. He focuses on iconic scenes such as the story of Babel and the creation of the robot as well as individual characters, including Freder, his love interest Maria, Freder’s father and Rotwang the Inventor to elevate the storyline without distracting from the film’s original intent.

Dolder explains, “When the film is busy, I am less busy. I use some of the iconography from the film as well as simple gestures to quantify the characters.” In some cases Dolder will replicate a scene such as when the workers are clustered together with the emphasis on their hands reaching upward. Other times he changes the dynamic of a scene with his use of speed and repetition such as a memorable scene where Freder switches places with one of the workers. As Freder struggles to move the hands on a giant clock in the film, Dolder has his dancer repeat the same winding movement sequence over and over, increasing his speed every time to the point of collapse. “I want the audience to feel nervous,” Dolder says.

Dolder’s background in Graham Technique is well-suited for this project. Graham’s signature back hinges, concaved shapes and constant weight exchanges among the dancers complement the radical themes of the movie. During the retelling of the story of Babel, the dancers use compulsive arm gestures to emulate speaking in tongues. As the dancers grab and pull their hands away from their mouths Dolder shouts out encouragements such as “speak louder” and “make people watch.”

This is the first time a collaboration of this magnitude has been attempted here in Dallas. Will the addition of movement, set design, video projection and live music amplify the audience’s overall experience or will it be too much visual stimuli? Viewers can find out for themselves when the Video Association of Dallas kicks off Dallas VideoFest 28 with its showing of Metropolis Oct. 13 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The festival runs through the 18th and features approximately 125 screenings of local, region and internationally produced media art programs. More information is available at www.videofest.org.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.