Bruce Wood dancer Emily Drake on partnering with Houston-based METdance in Bridget L. Moore’s new work, Following Echoes, part of the Lone Stars performance on Friday.
Dallas — Emily Drake is not hard to spot on stage amongst the other members of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD). Her fiery red hair and petite statue will always draw your eye, but it’s the way she lives in the movement that keeps us from being able to look away. “Emily is a really gifted performer and an intelligent mover,” says BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh. “She can make just about anything work. So, say you ask her to make a turn go into something else that goes to the floor or in the air and she can very quickly find a way to make that happen. Her musicality is also really remarkable. …There are dancers who can do something on the note and there are dancers who can do something with the feeling of the note in the music and Emily can do with the feel of the note immediately. It’s this emotional intelligence too that makes her performance so satisfying to watch.”
Originally from Nashville, Drake grew up studying modern, ballet and jazz and attended summer programs at The Rock School of Ballet. She came to Dallas in 2010 to attend Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where she had the opportunity to perform in works by renowned choreographers Martha Graham, Adam Hougland, Jessica Lang, Billy Siegenfeld, Bill T. Jones and local dancemaker Bruce Wood. She met Wood toward the end of college and worked with him on a project basis till she graduated in 2014 and officially joined the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP), now Bruce Wood Dance. Today, Drake is one of the few remaining company members that got to work with Wood directly before his passing in May of 2014.
“He was very intense,” Drake says about her first time working with Wood in the summer of 2013. “He did not let me go under the radar. He pushed me and really laid into me and it was all because he was trying to get something out of me that I wasn’t aware of yet. He just had this energy about him that made the people around him want to be great for him.”
Drake laughs as she reflects on RED, the first piece she learned with the BWDP, and one of the two Wood works the company will be presenting at its Lone Stars performance with special guests Houston-based METdance this Friday evening at Moody Performance Hall. “I was blown away by the physicality of it and at the time it was the hardest dance I had ever done.” Drake explains, “I didn’t know how to balance my energy yet so, I just pushed myself to go 100 percent the entire time and you just can’t do that in this piece. After I learned how to control my energy the piece feels so different now and I definitely get more enjoyment out of doing it.”
In addition to RED, BWD will be doing another Wood favorite, Lovett! and Drake and David Escoto will perform in Bridget L. Moore’s new work Following Echoes alongside METdance company members Danielle Garza and Kerry Jackson. The program also features METdance’s Mario Zambrano’s Volver, Paralyzed by Fear by Houston-based Courtney Jones and Snow Playground by New-York based choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska.
“This show is all about celebrating dance in Texas,” Nikaidoh says about the program which she collaborated on with METdance Artistic Director Marlana Doyle. “At first it was just going to be a shared show and then we thought how great it would be for someone to come in and set a work using dancers from both companies.”
The choreographer they chose is Texas native Moore, who at the time was the head of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She has since been released from her position for reasons that are still unknown. It’s the organization’s loss as Moore has continued to find ways to share her creativity within the Dallas community and her most recent work, Following Echoes, will be making its debut in Lone Stars. “The only directives we had for Bridget was length, the number of dancers and that we would like the work to have emotional weight and be athletic,” Nikaidoh says. “We appreciate her coming in and giving our dancers this opportunity to learn from her.”
As one of the four dancers in the piece Drake was able to give me some behind the scenes information about Moore’s creative process and what is was like working with the dancers from METdance. Drake says Bridget started off the process by talking to them about her feeling for the piece. That it would be her way of showing appreciation toward Bruce as well as delve into the different transitions we go through in life.
“She then used the different images we have of Bruce in the studio to create a motif based off of how each image made her feel,” Drake says. “Some of the movement was planned while other times she would just give us a directive like right leg developpe in a circular motion.”
Drake adds that the structure of the piece is a mix of ensemble work with solos plugged in, but in the ensemble sections the dancers are rarely doing the same things at the same time. She also says there is not a whole lot of partnering involved in the dance. “Bridget likes to keep your eyes moving around the space. She likes filling up the stage so big, full lines of energy are very important to her.” Drake describes the piece as, “Kind of like being on a rollercoaster because there are these moments of high energy and others when the movement calms down, which is represented through the highs and lows in the music.”
The cast learned the piece in a very short time at the BWD Gallery back in December and then to keep things balanced went to Houston to rehearse at METdance’s studio space a few weeks ago. “It has been a really nice collaboration,” Drake says. “Everyone was so easy going and honestly we were just enjoying each other’s company.”
As for Drake’s future as a dancer she says, “BWD is home for me. It has given me everything I didn’t know I was looking for and there has never been a moment that I felt like I wasn’t growing as a dancer.” She adds, “From the start everyone was so supportive and I never really felt like I was in this alone and that’s what I like about the company. BWD has always been first and foremost about the group so, if you don’t love it then this is not the place for you.”
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.
The second annual Dallas DanceFest promises more variety and exceptional dancing from individuals and groups throughout the region.
Dallas – The perception of dance in Dallas has changed dramatically over the last five years largely due to the development of the Dallas Arts District; the rise in the number of professional dance companies based in the city; the restructuring of veteran dance groups like Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and the creation of local dance festivals, including Rhythm In Fusion Festival (RIFF) and Dallas DanceFest (DDF). All of these factors are helping to transform Dallas into a grand destination for dance. Keeping this in mind the Dance Council of North Texas (DCNT), in partnership with the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, is planning to deliver more vitality, diversity and excellence in dance with the second annual DDF which takes place September 4-6, 2015 at Dallas City Performance Hall. This prestigious event features performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and concludes Sunday afternoon with the Dance Council Honors.
The impact of the festival isn’t just felt around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex but across the region as well. Houston-based METdance (formerly Houston Metropolitan Dance Company), an original participant in the Dallas Morning News Festival, was disappointed when that festival disbanded in 2004 as it had looked forward to performing for Dallas audiences. But artistic director Marlana Doyle says, “We were grateful to be a part of DDF last year and had the thrill of enjoying the Dallas audiences and arts community in such an amazing venue once again. METdance appreciates the efforts of the Dallas Dance Council and looks forward to celebrating the arts in Texas.”
Kimi Nikaidoh, artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance Project here in Dallas, adds, “Given the all-consuming nature of running an arts organization, it’s impossible to see what all of the many other groups in the area are accomplishing. Dallas DanceFest brings us all out of our respective “workshops” and gives us the chance to be inspired and challenged by each other.”
Curated by top dance professionals Lauren Anderson, Fred Darsow, Bridget L. Moore and Catherine Turocy, DDF 2015 will feature 19 exceptional artists and companies from all across the region including – Houston, Austin, Oklahoma, Alabama, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Audiences can expect each performance to be a unique and thrilling display of dance styles including – classical ballet, modern, tap, hip-hop, traditional Indian dance and Ballet Folklorico. The programs will also feature performances by well-known and beloved Dallas institutions such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Bruce Wood Dance Project along with some new names including the Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers.
“It was incredible to see such a tremendous response to DDF 2014,” says DCNT President Kirt Hathaway. “The Dance Council made the decision to re-implement this wonderful dance event after it had sat idle for so many years. With the inclusion of the Dance Council Honors, DDF has immediately become one of DCNT’s marquis events. Producing such a wonderful weekend of dance would not have been possible if the organization had not experienced such growth over the past several years. It truly shows that there is a great commitment by the board and staff to support dance in North Texas and beyond. This year promises to be even more exciting.”
This year’s participants include:
Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX) – Formed in May 2001 under the leadership of Lisa Slagle, the company’s 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. It is the official company of the Ballet Academy of Texas.
Bell House Arts, Inc. (Owasso, OK) – Founded by Rachel Bruce Johnson, The Bell House is a collaborative dance and art cooperative dedicated to creating opportunity for artistic exchange. At The Bell House, we are interested in the collaboration of ideas, people and movement language that challenge the status quo and conventional ways of making art by elevating art as a process. Its fosters meeting points for artistic connection between people rather than elevating the art as product in order to activate the transformative nature of movement that can be experienced both in the practice, performance and witness of dance.
Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) Repertory Dance Company I & II (Dallas, TX) – BTWHSPVA is “the cradle of the Dallas Arts District.” In 2015, the school was awarded the Texas Commission of the Arts Medal of Honor for exemplary training in Arts Education. The department’s philosophy is to provide a broad dance education that challenges the students artistically, intellectually and physically and to prepare qualified students for collegiate and professional careers in dance and related professions.
Bruce Wood Dance Project (Dallas, TX) – BWDP was launched in 2011 to champion the vision, leadership and artistry of nationally acclaimed Texan dance-maker Bruce Wood. BWDP picked up where the successful Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company left off. Under Wood’s direction the company produced six word premieres and a TITAS Presents Commission for Command Performance Gala. Currently in its fifth season the company is now under the direction of Kimi Nikaidoh after Wood’s passing in May 2014.
Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX) – Established in 1984 by Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain as a student ensemble dedicated to providing students a stepping stone to professional dance careers. Chamberlain is dedicated to serving North Texas and the surrounding community by providing professional quality performances and outstanding outreach programs. The company takes great pride in the ongoing efforts to expand its cultural diversity through performance collaborations.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Dallas, TX) – Founded in 1976 by Ann Williams, DBDT consists of 12 full-time dancers performing a mixed repertory of modern, jazz, ethnic and spiritual works by nationally and internationally recognized choreographers. Over the years the company has grown from a community-based, semi-professional organization to a fully-professional dance company that is renowned in the U.S. and is noted for its rich cultural diversity, history of inclusion and high-level of artistic excellence in contemporary modern dance and educational programs
Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (Dallas, TX) – This semi-professional company created by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams in 2000 consists of eight aspiring artists from around the nation. Under the guidance of Nycole Ray, DBDT II provides an opportunity for young artists to develop their dance skills while serving the Dallas/Fort Worth community and touring across the nation. Going into its 16th season performing works by recognized and emerging artists, DBDT II performs a diversified repertoire of modern, jazz, African, lyrical and spiritual works.
Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers (Irving, TX) – Founded in 2009, DCRB is a high-energy co-ed hip hop dance team and drum corps. Lead by Jenny Durbin Smith DCRB brings an innovative, unique and exciting element to the Cowboys legendary game-day entertainment line-up. The dance teams dynamic routines feature breakdancing and hip hop-based movement requiring both strong musicality and level of dance ability. Presented by Miller Lite, DCRB was conceptualized under the direction of Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President of Brand Management Charlotte Anderson and is the first and only entertainment concept of its kind in the National Football League.
Dark Circles ContemporaryDance (Dallas, TX) – Originally formed in Seoul, South Korea by Joshua L. Peugh and Cho Hyun Sang, Peugh started the USA branch of the company in 2013 bridging the gap between East and West. DCCD is dedicated to bringing the progressive work of international choreographers and dancers to a worldwide audience. It strives to educate the public on the power of movement in communicating ideas.
AJ Garcia-Rameau (Austin, TX) -AJ Garcia-Rameau is an independent contemporary ballerina based in Austin. AJ trained at Houston Academy of Dance and Austin School of Classical Ballet. She received additional training under scholarship with Alvin Ailey School, Joffrey Jazz/Contemporary and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. AJ earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and Dance minor from the University of Texas. She has performed with Exclamation Dance Company, Austin Classical Ballet and BHumm Dance Company.
Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble (Houston, TX) – The ensemble is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, and is led by Artistic Director Amy Blake. This ensemble was designed for the dancer seeking collaboration with exemplary worldwide professionals in the industry to help them obtain greater levels of achievement in the arts through classical training in ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary. The ensemble provides dancers with a positive working environment and opportunities for master classes, private coaching, YAGP participation and multiple international showcases and performance venues.
METdance (Houston, TX) – Founded in 1995, Houston Metropolitan Dance Center Inc. strives to educate and revitalize a passion for dance through the finest instruction and performance. Under the direction of Marlana Doyle MET Dance Company has performed throughout the United States in dozens of theaters receiving high acclaim, performing works by some of the most influential and talented choreographers of our time. The company is the sister organization to the MET Dance Center. Mosaic Dance Project of Dallas (Dallas, TX) – Created in 2014 by Giovanna Godinez Prado, Mosaic Dance Project’s mission is to create, educate and inspire individuals that desire to grow not only as dancers, but as artists as well, along with our cultural and ethical awareness and values.
Natyananda: Joy of Dance (Birmingham, AL) – Founded in 1978 by Sheila Rubin, Natyananda performs both traditional and original choreographic works in the classical Bharatanatyam style of Southern India. Through student, professional and guest artist presentations Natyananda promotes understanding of universal artistic and cultural themes while showcasing the rich and unique heritage of Alabama’s Asian Indian-American community.
NobleMotion Dance (Houston, TX) – NMD was co-founded by Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble in 2009. Over the last five years it has distinguished itself as one of Houston’s most important dance companies. NMD brings a fresh perspective to their community with its mission of integrating technology and dance, and is a Resident Incubator at the Houston Arts Alliance and is currently on the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) touring roster.
LaQuet Sharnel Pringle DDF 2015 commissioned premiere(Austin, TX) – A Booker T Washington HSPVA alum, Pringle attending the North Carolina School of the Arts before making her Broadway debut in 2005 in Sweet Charity with Christina Applegate and Dennis O’Hare. She has also performed in productions of The Lion King and Memphis. Today, Pringle is an adjunct professor at Texas State University teaching Jazz Dance in the Musical Theater Department. She is also the artistic director and founder of Fearless Young Artists (FYA) and was the headliner of Dance Planet 19.
Rhythmic Souls (Dallas, TX) – This small company if wicked fierce rhythm tapper is captivating local audiences with their unique blend of style, charisma, innovative choreography and rapid-fire footwork. The company is on the cutting-edge of dance choreography with cross-genre repertoire that infuses rhythm tap dance with body percussion, sand dancing, contemporary movement, flamenco, swing dance and anything else that might lend itself to their rhythmic percussion. The company strives to bring the spirit of tap dance back to the stage and continue the legacy of an American art form.
Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts Dance Division (Dallas, TX) – The SMU Division of Dance offers both conservatory dance instruction and a liberal arts education. The dance program develops disciplined, versatile artists through professional training in ballet, modern and jazz techniques as well as theory. Undergraduates can earn a B.F.A. in Dance Performance or a minor in Dance Performance. Students perform masterworks of the great choreographers of the 20th century as well as works by contemporary masters.
Texas Ballet Theater School (Fort Worth, TX) – Training the next generation of dancers and arts patrons is the mission of TBT Schools. Starting with the very young, we nurture aspiring artists to discover their greatest potential and to develop a love of movement, a passion for creativity and an appreciation for the beauty and athleticism of classical dance.
Tickets for DDF 2015 available August 1 through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone (214) 871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201.
Albert Drake makes his choreographic debut with his work Whispers, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s upcoming performance marking the company’s fifth anniversary.
Dallas — After watching Albert Drake rehearse his first piece for the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) Monday afternoon at the company’s studio in the Design District it struck me that Dallas is now not only a breeding ground for uniquely qualified dancers, but also choreographers. Drake has made a name for himself in the North Texas dance community as a founding member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project as well as for his work outside the company, including teaching at Park Cities Dance and Southern Methodist University where he received his BFA in dance performance from the Meadows School of the Arts.
As a dancer, Drake is known for his explosive movement quality and innate lyricism and it was nice to see these traits represented in his first chorographic endeavor, Whispers, part of BWDP’s 5 Years performance June 19-20 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The work follows eight dancers, including Drake and BWDP’s Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh, as they search for the meaning of happiness. Starting with an R&B vibe and then shifting into a fast-paced piano phrase, the 20-minute piece is broken up into various duets, trios and group sections depicting the various relationships among the dancers.
“I wanted to play with relationships that weren’t necessarily just about love,” Drake says. “There is a duet toward the end of the third section that has more of a protective quality to it and has this feeling of you and me against the world. And there are other duets and trios that more about trust and support.”
The blind support Drake talks about allows the couple to transfer their weight back and forth without qualm as they glide across the floor. Their momentum never stops even as the female slides into a split and is pulled through her partner’s legs into a steadfast fourth position relevé. The trios are dotted with dynamic leaps, wicked fast turns and buoyant floor work. A composed backward walking phrase is used multiple times, but the dancers’ changing directions keep viewers on their toes.
“I don’t like predictability,” Drake says, as he explains his penchant for the unexpected. This also makes for some exciting transition changes, such as when the dancers sprint out of the wings or get picked up one by one as a dancer runs by. And in one exuberant section all the dancers dash across the stage leaving a lone dancer to execute a controlled headstand into a series of one-footed balances performed in silence. “Creating transitions is difficult because they have to flow and take the audience on a journey without taking them in and out. As a choreographer you have to find a way to keep the audience involved and keep the whole thing circular.”
The cast is a mix of company veterans including Harry Feril and Nikaidoh and newcomers such as Eric Coudron and David Escoto. While the group danced seamlessly together Drake says it did take some time for everyone to adjust to the creative process. “The first week it was just about making sure everyone was present because, for some of the newer dancers, they haven’t gotten a lot of chances to work in the creative process. A lot of dancers get drawn into a repertory company where you learn old works over and over. In the creation process you have to be patient, moldable and willing to let go.” Drake admits that was a struggle, but once everyone got into it he says they were able to absorb the movement without prejudice and some good stuff came out of it.
It’s easy to spot Wood’s influences in Drake’s choreography. After all, Drake spent more than half his career training with the notable North Texas choreographer who passed away suddenly last year. “I adopted him early on as the mentor I wanted to be around and learn from. His previous dancers adored the man and followed him religiously and I see why. So, he invested in me and I invested in him and it was a great relationship.”
Wood’s quirky foot work, deliberate gesturing and emotional pull are seen throughout Drake’s piece, but most poignantly in the opening section where the four females each perform a gestural phrase of movement that slowly builds in intensity.
“His principles are a part of me so it wasn’t challenging to stay within his realm of movement. The hard part was moving away from it and standing out and not necessary being a replica of him. Now, I didn’t try to stray away from them, but I did want to take his principles and use them in a different context.” Wood also had the unique ability of connecting with audiences on a deeply emotional level, something Drake hopes to accomplish with Whispers. “I don’t want the physicality or the prettiness of the piece to determine how people feel. My main purpose of this piece is to keep people emotionally involved.”
The concert will also feature the Dallas premieres of Wood’s Requiem and Polyester Dreams.
The Twyla Tharp dancer on his journey from ballet to Broadway and creating his new work, Darkside, as part of the SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts Spring Dance Concert.
Dallas — John Selya is not your typical ballet dancer. In addition to classical ballet, Selya is also well versed in Twyla Tharp’s free flowing movement style and is an authoritative voice when it comes to the ins and outs of dancing on Broadway. A native New Yorker Selya attended the School of American Ballet before joining American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in the late 80’s. It was here Selya was exposed to Tharp’s classical, yet quirky way of moving for the first time. Selya spent 11 years with ABT before leaving to join Twyla Tharp Dance. In 2003 he made his Broadway debut performing the central role of Eddie in Tharp’s Tony-winning show, Movin’ Out. His performance earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a musical, an Astaire award for outstanding dancing on a Broadway stage and a Theater World Award for outstanding Broadway debut. Since then, Selya has also appeared in Damn Yankees,Guys and Dolls and Tharp’s recent Come Fly Away.
Selya is currently an artist-in-residence at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where he is working with students on his new work, Darkside, part of the Meadows Spring Dance Concert which runs March 25-29 in the Bob Hope Theatre. Using music from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, Darkside adds a visual element to the groundbreaking musical composition (which is the second best-selling album of all time after Michael Jackson’s Thriller according to Wikipedia). The work follows an inquisitive philosophy student named Emily on her journey to decipher the teachings of her professor and fulfill her destiny. The program also includes Danny Buraczeski’s acclaimed 1999 piece Ezekiel’s Wheel, inspired by the life and work of author and Civil Rights activist James Baldwin and a new work by Dallas-based choreographer Joshua L. Peugh entitled The Hi Betty Cha-Cha.
TheaterJones asks John Selya about his experience working with the legendary Twyla Tharp, transitioning from ballet to Broadway and creating his work, Darkside.
TheaterJones: Going into rehearsals did you have a clear vision of what you wanted Darkside to look like?
John Selya: Going in I knew I wanted to use Tom Stoppard’s radio play which is inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. The radio play is split up between dialogue and music, and the more I listen to it and the more I see the work; it’s more like a musical than just a dance. You have your spoken word passages and Tom Stoppard has segued seamlessly into songs from the album. So, when I initially decided to use this for the SMU piece I did have a clear aesthetic vision. I had a vibe that I wanted to create. I wanted to go for an interactive dance piece where the dancers were not confined just to the stage. In the musical Hair, the director, Diane Paulus, had the actors come out into the house and I thought this would be a great exercise for young performers such as the students at SMU to really become comfortable with being themselves at close range. So, that’s what my aim was.
Darkside follows a strong storyline. Do your prefer creating more story-driven pieces vs. abstract work?
I really go for a mix. I like to rely on the storyline just as a general compass, but then I don’t like to adhere to it too much. But what really appealed to me about the Tom Stoppard/Pink Floyd collaboration was that I feel Stoppard was able to add another element independent of what the songs had already said. So, you’re not just reflecting it; you’re adding to it. But that storyline has your compass pointing you where you want to go, and once I go there then I try to become abstract. I also want to add that this radio play is not a simple storyline. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it takes me a long time to fully absorb what Stoppard is saying and why he is saying it. So, I wouldn’t call this a simple storyline. At least not for me.
Were any of the dancers familiar with Pink Floyd prior to this piece?
Some of them knew their greatest hits, but not everyone was familiar with the music and frankly there wasn’t much time to delve into the history and the body of work of Pink Floyd. And I’m sure the dancers kind of felt uncomfortable like they were flying blind because I didn’t explain much to them while we were working except for the basic quality of physical movement that I wanted. I think it was tough for these dancers to not deal with definites. A lot of times in my process of choreographing the intention of a part is unclear and I’m waiting for it to reveal itself. Again that is kind of flying blind and is a much different approach to making work than they’ve been used to so, that was a learning curve all around. They would ask me questions like what are we here and the most I could tell them was that they are the weather of the piece.
After this experience what would you say is the biggest difference between choreographing for college students and seasoned professionals?
I think for the students it’s just a matter of trusting their own artistic identity. They haven’t had that long to forge their own artistic identity and their own movement quality, and I think they’re not used to relying on that and capitalizing on the individuality that they bring to a piece. That’s the biggest difference between so called seasoned professionals and students. I chose these dancers for the piece because there was something about their individuality that appealed to me and that fit right in with what I wanted to do.
What can you tell me about the dance sequences in the piece?
It’s mostly group dances onstage, but there are pas de deux that happen in the audience. What I wanted to set up is the protagonist, named Emily, goes on this journey as cliché as that sounds. So, I have her travelling around the auditorium and ultimately coming onstage to join the other dancers at the end. So, it is mostly group dances and the transitions, I hope, are seamless because as a director that is what I really work hard at is making things flow naturally. I tell the dancers it’s like these Italian road bikes are made really well and the way you see the craftsmanship is the links between the tubes where all the ornamenting is so, I go for that. I hope it flows and if it doesn’t there is still work that needs to be done.
What kind of atmosphere are you trying to create for the audience?
I would say it runs the gamut it terms of emotions. I do like psychedelic especially in the theater, but then there are moments of darkness and at the end I have attempted to do kind of an epiphany.
Looking back on your career what made you decide to leave ABT and join Twyla Tharp Dance?
I met Twyla at ABT when she was hired as the artistic associate and as a result the company absorbed some members of her company. I was amazed to see these totally different dancers in our ranks. ABT had been a solely classical company and in comes Twyla’s group of free formed versatile dancers. Classically trained most of them, but they had something that I had never heard before called movement quality. It was just amazing to have that kind of exposure to a whole other vocabulary of movement. So, anyway Twyla saw me in class during my first tour and she came up to me after and gave me a bunch of corrections on grande jetes and ever since then she has always invited me to work with her. I was just so fortunate that someone took an interest in me and was able to take my training as a classical dancer and extend it into something a little more accessible. Which is what I love about Broadway because you access a whole other audience.
What was the hardest part of transitioning from classical ballet to Broadway?
I don’t think it was hard at all. Working with Twyla on Movin’ Out I just felt at home and I felt like I had a role that was kind of tragic and I loved it. I mean it wasn’t Tommy Tune’s Broadway we were in. We weren’t in tap shoes and sequin vests. My character in Movin’ Out was a mix of Michael Jordan and Bob Dylan and it was a role I could really relate too. I would say it’s more difficult leaving Broadway. For me it’s the ultimate way to really work on your dancing. You have the same thing to do every night and you really get to refine it and really get into the role. It’s fantastic!
How was Twyla’s Broadway work different from what other choreographers were doing at that time?
What Twyla brought to Broadway it was she calls deep dancing. You are basically telling the story through the dancing and very seldom is that done. And it is not done as extremely as it is done by Twyla. I think she crafted a story that was relatively easy to follow, but for me was challenging to execute. Her trust in dancing to tell a story to a Broadway audience is the main thing I think she brought to the industry.
What are some of the lessons she has taught you as an artist?
I’ve learned from her to take no short cuts in the work that you do. I’ve learned to always keep it interesting for yourself. I’ve learned never to keep a regular rhythm when you dance. And I am still learning. There’s a new lesson basically everyday with Twyla.
Dallas native Parisa Khobdeh shares what it means t be a Paul Taylor dancer, fostering her free and easy movement quality and the company’s upcoming performance at the Eisemann Center.
Richardson — It takes more than strong technique and individual virtuosity to make it as a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. It also takes humility, authenticity and a natural self-awareness as company member Parisa Khobdeh has discovered over the past 12 years.
Born and raised in Plano, Khobdeh trained with Gilles Tanguay at Dance Consortium and Kathy Chamberlain at the Chamberlain School of Ballet. It was Chamberlain who encouraged her to audition for Southern Methodist University’s dance program where she got the opportunity to work with choreographers, including Robert Battle, Judith Jamison and Donald McKayle. Her path as a professional modern dancer wasn’t cemented until she attended the American Dance Festival (ADF) as a Tom Adams Scholar where she saw the Paul Taylor Dance Company perform Promethean Fire (2002). The first time she auditioned for the company she didn’t make it, but that didn’t deter her from her ultimate dream of becoming a Paul Taylor dancer. After attending a Taylor intensive in New York Khobdeh made it through her second audition and premiered with the company at ADF in summer 2003.
One of the last living pioneers of modern dance, Paul Taylor first presented his choreography with five other dancers in Manhattan in 1954. Over the last 60 years he has become a cultural icon thanks to his vivid imagination, all-encompassing intellect and quick eye for uncovering a person’s character, which continues to captivate audiences around the world. Formed in 1993, the Paul Taylor Dance Company has performed in more than 540 cities in 64 countries, representing the United States at arts festivals in more than 40 countries and touring extensively under the aegis of the U.S. Department of State.
The company returns to Dallas Feb. 7 for a one-night only performance at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. The program includes the Dallas premiere of Diggity (1978), Beloved Renegade (2008) andCloven Kingdom (1976). There will also be a screening of the Paul Taylor documentary Creative Domain, presented by the Eisemann and the Arts Incubator of Richardson, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson. Tickets for that are $10.
TheaterJones asked Parisa Khobdeh about her training in Dallas, becoming a Paul Taylor dancer and having work set on her by the legend himself.
TheaterJones: You have been with the Paul Taylor Dance Company for more than 10 years. What is it about the man that instills such loyalty from his performers?
Parisa Khobdeh: I don’t see it as loyalty so much as it is a commitment to him and his work. We are really a family and look out for one another. Mr. Taylor has an eye for uncovering a person’s true character. He notices things that aren’t always apparent to the rest of us when he is auditioning people. He chooses not only really beautiful dancers, but also people with really great souls. And because of that you don’t see a lot of turnover among the dancers in the company. I joined the company at 22 and it has been a place that fosters artistry. There are a lot of revolving-door companies out there. They emphasize the technical virtuosity and not necessarily the depth of humanity, which is what Mr. Taylor’s work, embodies. His work reflects his physicality, beauty and well-structured physique. And then the dance itself is structured to show architecture through space and that is something that sets his work apart from others choreographers.
In a 2007 DanceMagazine article Mr. Taylor refers to the way you move as eye-popping. How does it feel to receive such a compliment from such an illustrious source in the modern dance world?
Oh gosh! I don’t really think about it to be honest. What I feel for Mr. Taylor is complete love and support. He has a beautiful soul and such a big heart. Every day we get the opportunity to work around a genius. So, back to your question I really don’t think about the things you just mentioned. This has definitely been a wonderful place for me to foster my artistry. Mr. Taylor really allows the dancer to speak and fulfill the role given to them. And I think that’s why his company attracts more mature dancers. It’s woven into the work, these subtleties of being human. He sees things a certain way and then shows you where to look and it’s really just been a wonderful place to expand and experience life for myself. To learn from him, watch him create and then to be created on is such an honor.
You are the focus of his works Lines of Loss (2007) and To Make Crops Grow (2012). What is the atmosphere like in the studio when the company is working with Mr. Taylor?
We are all very present when he is creating. Entering the studio Mr. Taylor already has the music broken-up and counted out; he has his notebook; and he knows what and how many dancers he is going to use, but he knows there is only so much you can plan. It’s now a matter of going into the studio and having the process and that’s when the energy between the dance maker and the dancer really comes to life. And you need that process and coming into the studio. You can’t just make a dance in your head in your house. It’s exciting and seldom is it disappointing because if you are not being created on then you are watching him create which is a gift in and of itself. Sometimes he will articulate what he wants and if you don’t get it then he will get up and show you and you get to experience the dancer that he is. There is such a beauty when he comes up and touches you. When he actually moves you there is a touch memory there that stays with you even after performing the work for the hundredth time. It’s really a sacred process.
When did you come to the realization that modern dance was the right path for you?
I actually started my dance training with Julie Lambert and Gilles Tanguay at Dance Consortium with would later merge with Kathy Chamberlain’s school. I was 14 at the time and I really danced because it was fun. With Gilles I learned a lot of modern movement, but when I joined Kathy’s school the focus was more on classical ballet. The school also offered classes in other styles of dance, but most of the students spent their summers at the School of American Ballet and I was never really moved by the storybook ballets. I appreciated them, but the form didn’t really speak to me. It was Kathy who encouraged me my senior year of high school to audition for the Southern Methodist University’s dance program. So, I auditioned and got in and really had no idea what I was getting myself into. At the time I wasn’t interested in becoming a dancer, but I began to waver after taking Graham technique and working with various choreographers such as Robert Battle, Judith Jamison and Donald McKayle. But most importantly I was seeing a lot of modern dance work created by Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham. I was starting to see works that really spoke to me and that was a big game changer. So, it wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I went to the American Dance Festival (ADF) where the Paul Taylor company premiered Promethean Fire (2002) that I knew this is what I wanted to do. I didn’t just want to dance for Paul Taylor; I had to dance with Paul Taylor.
Looking back how did attending festivals such as ADF prepare you for your future as a professional dancer?
The SMU dance program required you to attend festivals, but Kathy Chamberlain has always encouraged her dancers to go and see dance and for good reason because perspective is everything. And honestly I didn’t know what dance was capable of doing. And I sense that had I not seen some of those performances I wouldn’t have known what I wanted.
As a dancer who is over 30 years old how do you avoid burning out or becoming jaded by the industry?
I think it’s about awareness and consciousness and you are ultimately in control of all of that. Nothing external to you like a choreographer, job or partner will make you happy. Happiness is our birth right. Ultimately, we all have our different paths, but it’s still up to us to have that consciousness to dream up what our life could be. We all have the same potential and it’s just a matter of how bad do you want it. How hard do you want to work at it and I think that’s just consciousness. Mr. Taylor beautifully transmits content and depths of life. There are probably a lot of young dancers that it’s all about becoming a star and in that case the Paul Taylor company is probably not right for them. It’s definitely not the place for them because it’s not about you. If you can come from a place of true contentedness and not competing with other dancers then the work doesn’t become hard or unenjoyable. It becomes an experience and it becomes gratitude. You get to see the beauty in life for its simplicity and sweetness.
The other part of it is being healthy and not smoking or drinking, and to really have a clean lifestyle. That’s what I need to be able to do the work that I’m content with and happy about. I am not saying any of these things are wrong. The kind of vigor and the expectations that the work demands of an artist actually causes me to eat consciously. I had a major injury that took me out and it was really a gift because it allowed me to want to come back to dancing. It was a gift to be able to watch work and watch my colleagues do what they love to do it. It gave me perspective. And then to be able to go back to doing it, I only felt gratitude.
How does it feel to get to perform in your hometown?
I definitely feel like I have come full circle. But what is most exciting is seeing how the city and dance community has changed since I left 12 years ago. That’s really the beautiful part of coming back to Dallas. It’s wonderful that there are presenters like the Eisemann Center and TITAS to bring in such amazing dance companies. You know, it’s not just about the dance schools, but it’s also about seeing dance and gaining perspective.
The evening’s program includes Diggity (1978), Beloved Renegade (2008) and Cloven Kingdom (1976). Which pieces will you be performing and how does each piece speak to you?
I will be performing in Beloved Renegade and Cloven Kingdom. Having a strong ballet background and exposure to other styles thanks to Kathy and SMU made learning the material easier for me. And obviously Mr. Taylor is from the school of Graham so his style is not too far off from what I am use to. Still, I was young when I joined the company, 22, so there was a lot for me to learn and it takes years to become a Taylor dancer. With more than 140 works in his repertoire these three pieces give you only a small taste of Mr. Taylor’s aesthetic. He shows you where to look in all his works, but then you have to do the discovering for yourself. Beloved Renegade is a perfect example of this. It’s inspired by Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” And how it looks to me is Mr. Taylor is reflecting on his own life or man reflecting on his own life and reminds of a quote “find death before death finds you.” I think Mr. Taylor even said that all stories end the same way and that’s with death. That’s the one thing we do know. But the work is not morbid at all.
Cloven Kingdom is the earliest work on the program and really reflects Mr. Taylor’s intellectual hunger. You can see the tension between the Baroque and modern music, but also the tension among the dancers as they struggle with social conformity as they try to disguise their own animal motives. So, you see that struggle and that conflict and the movement vocabulary within the work ultimately came out of this tension between what’s socially acceptable and our true primitive nature. Diggity is a work Mr. Taylor did with long-time collaborators Donald York (composer) and Alex Katz (sets and costumes). There’s 20 some cutouts of dogs placed around the stage which in turn creates an obstacle course for the dancers.
Intricate lighting, Illusions and props take center stage at this year’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Dance Concert.
Dallas — Light played a pivotal role, literally and metaphorically, at this year’s Fall Dance Concert presented by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The Bob Hope Theatre on the SMU Campus was packed Friday night for the preimere of Christopher Dolder’s Handle as well as works by Bob Fosse, Adam Hougland and Alex Sanchez.
In past viewings The Meadows Dance Ensemble has proved itself to be a versatile and resilient group of dancers with a high level of professionalism. The pieces chosen for this year’s program challenged the dancers to take on multiple roles from lighting and prop mover to singer and hat trickster. This generation of dancers must know about all aspects of the performance and these students are well on their way.
The program opens with Dolder’s kaleidoscopic work Handle with music by Andhim, Eduardo Castillo, Fabricio Cavero, Farfan Herman Hupfeld, Moby, Thomas Newman and Avro Part. Through special lighting techniques, video projection, costuming and permeable walls, Dolder takes the public’s perception of what dance should look like and flips it on its head. One faceless dancer in a white body suit performs a series of wavy, bird-like movements before appearing to freeze in mid-air and being absorbed into one of the two 10-foot-tall permeable walls (one black and one white). On the white wall, two dancers covered head-to-toe in black emerge from the wall and perform a horizontal duet consisting of high upper back arches and gentle push and pull movements before disconnecting themselves from their tethers.
The piece climaxes during the dogfight where four couples take turns whipping and tugging at one another aided by the handles sewn into their costumes. The movement is grounded and concaved, evidence of Dolder’s extensive knowledge of Graham technique. This is also the first time we see the dancers’ faces and we are able to see them as humans versus objects. Even with all the added elements, the piece has a clear beginning, middle and end with the take away message being to handle each other and our environment with care.
Hougland’s To the Fore also incorporates unique lighting techniques, but in this piece it’s the dancers controlling the light. Four work lights attached to long extension cords capture the four female dancers as they explode onto the stage in a series of quick bourree steps, saute jumps and turns on pointe. As the dancers approach their light it is suddenly pulled away, placing them in shadow. Four men appear and trail the light along their partner’s body as they bend and contort into different shapes. While the extension cords were intended to be props in their own right, obstacles around which dancers had to maneuver, at times they distracted from the dancers’ athletic quality of movement.
Hougland displays his talent for narratives in his second piece Cigarettes, set to different versions of the song “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” by Patsy Cline, Pickin’ On, Georgette Dee & Terry Truck, Smokers Die Younger and k.d. lang. The story describes a woman’s encounter with three different men and the affect she has on them. Kelsey Rohr was exquisite in this role. Her matured body awareness enables her to move easily from luxurious back stretches and weightless leaps to frantic gesturing and leaded walks. On this night, Zachery Biel, Christopher Dorsey and Dexter Green displayed their prowess in a series of acrobatic moves and tricky lifts with Rohr.
The evening closes with Alex Sanchez’s homage to Bob Fosse. The work is split into three sections that represent different periods of accomplishment in his life. Fosse’s admiration for Fred Astaire is evident through the white socks with back shoes and slacks, wide-rim hats and tight arm movements in Dancin’ Man. No big jumps or multiple pirouettes, just clean, staccato hat tricks and rhythmic walking. The loss of a hat did break the Illusion for a moment and brings up the question whether a dancer should ever retrieve a lost prop or just keep on going. In this instance they went with the lather.
Reid Conlon, Hope Endrenyi and Reid Frye did a commendable job in Fosse’s classic “Steam Heat.” Dressed in black suits and bowler hats, the trio nailed the Fosse shoulder isolations and turned-in foot work. The hat flips and traveling knee spins were big crowd pleasures. The men shone in the final section with their elongated runs, knee bobs and shimmies to the upbeat notes of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” While the angels’ balletic movements in between the sections don’t seem to add much to the work, the image of the hat bathed in a single spotlight at the very beginning is certainly arresting. Having everyone lip-sync the peppy show tunes also adds more authenticity to the piece.
Christopher Dolder’s new work Handle challenges how audiences perceive dance using multi-media elements at this year’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert.
Dallas — “Release the hounds,” Choreographer Christopher Dolder announces. Three pairs of dancers double check their nylon body harnesses one more time before taking their positions, one partner on all fours and the others standing over them, holding on to one of the handles sewn into the costume. It’s the quintessential image of a man and his dog preparing for the hunt. When the music starts the dancers charge at one another in a primitive manner. The handles on the dancers’ costumes enable them to toss and tug at one another freely, intensifying their aggressive state. During this section two 10-foot-tall permeable walls (one white and one black) will move in and out changing the framing of the space. The walls also happen to be interactive. Before the dog fight there is a dancer standing on top of the white wall and another standing in front of the black wall. They are both tethered to the walls giving them a wider range of movement. In another section two dancers emerge out of the white wall and perform a horizontal duet. “I play a lot with dimensionality here,” Dolder says, “The light will hit the dancers in a way where their shadows will be reflected above them hopefully creating this 3D-like effect.”
This is just a prelude to what Dolder has in store for audiences with his new work Handle, part of this year’sSouthern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert, Nov. 5-9 in the Bob Hope Theatre of the Owens Arts Center on the SMU campus. Through the use of video projection, motion sensing, permeable walls and costuming, Dolder challenges our perceptions of what dance should be. His expansive knowledge of lighting and video projection techniques creates an environment where nothing is as it appears and will have the audience continuously asking what, how and why. “I don’t mind people’s confusion. I want them asking these questions throughout the piece. And if I laid everything out correctly then they will understand the meaning at the end.”
Dolder is a former soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company and has spent the last 15 years choreographing and performing with his wife and their company, Westwick/Dolder Dance Theater. He has spent the last five years teaching modern, dance kinesiology, composition and dance for camera at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. He is also a fellow in the Center for Creative Computation at SMU where he is designing and developing a 3D interactive computer software program for teaching dance kinesiology. Dolder’s Graham background is prevalent throughout the work, but especially in the dog fight section mentioned earlier. Graham technique requires a strong core and a low center of gravity, enabling dancers to change directions and body positions quickly and regularly. “The dancers wouldn’t be able to do this section if they didn’t already have a strong understanding of Graham technique.”
Dolder describes Handle as a cautionary tale. The piece looks at how people handle certain situations, objects and environments. The hound dance, for example, depicts man’s aggressive handling of animals and/or any creature they feel are inferior to them. In the opening section a man dances with a suitcase on wheels to the song “As Time Goes By.” His handling of the suitcase alters from gentle caresses and slow glides to forceful shoves that send the suitcase spinning out of control. Our perception of the suitcase as just an object is shattered when it starts sprouting human arms and legs. Our senses are further manipulated by the fact the entire section is done in silhouette.
When it was time to review the fish section Dolder moved rehearsal to one of the smaller stages in the Owens Arts Center where the two permeable walls reside. These 10-foot tall solid structures consist of three levels wrapped from top to bottom in layers of elastic bands. These bands allow the dancers to slide their hands in and out of the material quickly and easily. By the end of the section the dancers are revealing half their bodies from different parts of the wall, leaving the audience in constant suspense.
Handle concludes with a Cirque du Soleil-esque group number incorporating all the elements used throughout the piece from videos and still projections to aerial and tethered movements. Dolder draws my attention the fact this will be the first time we see any color other than black and white being used in the work. “The backdrop will be in bluish hues and the dancers are wearing black, sliver and blue unitards signifying that we are approaching reality.” Prepare to have your mind blown.
The Meadows School of the Arts 2014 Fall Dance Concert takes place Nov. 5-9 and also features Adam Hougland’sTo the Fore and Cigarettes and Alex Sanchez’s Dancin’ Man, an homage to Bob Fosse.
Indique Dance Company co-founder Sarita Venkatraman talks about the city’s growing Indian dance community and partaking in the reinvigorated Dallas DanceFest this weekend.
Dallas — From far away the Dallas dancescape appears to consist mostly of ballet and modern dance companies, but if you look closer there are also several cultural dance groups pushing their way to the forefront, including classical Indian dance group Indique Dance Company. Formed in 2008 by Sarita Venkatraman, Shalini Varghese, Latha Shrivasta, Anu Sury, Kruti Patel, Bhuvana Venkatraman and Shilpi Mehta, Indique Dance Company fuses Indian classical, folk and modern dance styles with contemporary themes to create an enjoyable and enlightening cultural experience.
And through its collaboration with the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation (ICHF), the company has had the chance to perform in some of the most popular venues in the Dallas Arts Districts, including Klyde Warren Park, the Crow Collection of Asian Art and Dallas City Performance Hall. “We are so thankful for all the opportunities Dallas has provided for Indique,” Venkatraman says. “Over the last six years we have been welcomed by both Indian and non-Indian audiences which has just been incredible.”
For Venkatraman dance has always been a calling. “Growing up in India my Dad was really into Indian classical music so I was exposed to the arts at a very young age. I joined a dance school in Mumbai at the age of 10 and have been dancing ever since.” Under the tutelage of Guru Shri Mani, Venkatraman began her Bharatanatyam dance training and after a couple of years moved on to learn Kathak from Smt. Guru Asha Joglekar. “In Sanskrit, guru means teacher and becoming a teacher is more of a calling than a profession. A teacher guides a student towards a margam or path. Some students choose to perform an Arangetram, also known as ascending the stage, which should not be considered a graduation performance but rather a beginning.”
Even moving to Dallas in 1995 to work on her doctorate in Physics at the University of Texas at Dallas couldn’t deter Venkatraman from continuing her Bharatanatyam training. Taking a friend’s suggestion Venkatraman went to take class at Arathi School of Dance where she met Guru Smt. Revathi Satyu. “My Guru Revathi Satyu is an amazing individual. As a guru she has taught me to love and appreciate the art not just as a student but also as a teacher. She is extremely patient, always smiling and most importantly always willing to share the art wholeheartedly.” Venkatraman has been teaching at Arathi for several years and her students have performed throughout the DFW area.
Venkatraman adds that if it wasn’t for Satyu Dallas audiences would know very little about Indian dance and the Indian culture. “Revathi is a pioneer in bringing the art of Bharatanatyam to Dallas. She started the Arathi School of Dance in Dallas in 1980 and has graduated over a 100 students. She has been responsible for spreading the awareness of Indian classical dance among Indian and non-Indian audiences. Through workshops, presentations and performances she continues to touch more and more people in the DFW metroplex.”
Since its conception, Indique Dance Company has presented several productions, including Roots, Maa: The Many faces of Motherhood and Jeeva: Synergy in Nature. The company will present a dance from Jeeva: Synergy in Nature called Thillana at the inaugural Dallas DanceFest happening this weekend at DCPH. The three-day event is being put on by the Dance Council of North Texas. Choreographed by Shalini Varghese and Bhuvana Venkatraman with music by Indian Rock band AGAM, Thillana features quick foot work, complex rhythms and intricate body poses. “Thillana is a classical Indian dance that has no storytelling. It’s a very happy, brisk dance that involves a lot of complex foot work and body movements.”
And while Dallas DanceFest will be the first time for many local dance companies to perform in the two-year-old City Performance Hall, that is not the case for Indique Dance Company who just performed there two weeks ago. “The DCPH is one of our favorite in-door performance spaces. The intimate setting is something we really enjoy. It makes it easier for us to have a conversation with the audience.”
» Indique Dance Company will perform at the Friday night showcase, 8 p.m. Aug. 29, at Dallas City Performance Hall. The other companies performing Friday are: Dallas Ballet Company, Ewert & Company, Rhythmic Souls, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University Meadows Dance Ensemble, Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
» Companies performing Saturday are: Chamberlain Performing Arts, Chado Danse, Houston METdance, Avant Chamber Ballet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Rep I and II companies, Tarrant County College Movers Unlimited, Mejia Ballet International, Bruce Wood Dance Project
» The Dance Council Honors are Sunday at 2 p.m., honoring Nita Braun, Ann Briggs-Cutaia and Joe Cutaia, Buster Cooper, Dylis Croman, Suzie Jary and Beth Wortley, with performances by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, Bruce Wood Dance Project and 2014 Dance Council Scholarship Recipients.
Meadows Prize winner Jawole Willa Jo Zollar on collaborating with Southern Methodist University dance students and celebrating 30 years of her company, Urban Bush Women.
Dallas — Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was recently in Dallas at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, immersing its dance students in her movement style and rehearsal process. From Feb. 17-28, Zollar taught classes and worked with a select group of students on the restaging of her workChalabati, which will be performed at the Meadows’ Spring Dance Concert March 26-30.
Zollar originally developed Chalabati for students at Virginia Commonwealth University and it is currently in the repertoire of her company, Urban Bush Women (UBW). “Even though the movement is new for a lot of the dancers they are really hungry,” Zollar says. “In the end they all found what I was looking for.”
Zollar’s two-week residency is part of her reward for winning this year’s Meadows Prize from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. According to the school, the Meadows Prize is awarded to pioneering artists and scholars who are active in a discipline represented by one of the academic units within the Meadows School. Zollar will return for the second half of her residency Nov. 10-21 to stage Walking with ‘Trane… Chapter 3, a new dance suite inspired by John Coltrane’s formidable legacy and his seminal work A Love Supreme.
Growing up in Kansas City, Mo., Zollar trained with Joseph Stevenson, a student of the legendary Katherine Dunham. She earned a B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and a M.F.A. in Dance from Florida State University before moving to New York City to study with Dianne McIntyre at Sounds In Motion. “I was always a choreographer,” Zollar says, “Growing up I always enjoyed making up dances and scenarios, but I just didn’t really know or understood what it meant at that time.”
The Meadows Prize isn’t Zollar’s only cause for celebration this year. This season also marks UBW’s 30th anniversary which Zollar says she’s still trying to wrap her head around. “I don’t think I would have ever thought this could happen. This is just wonderful.” She adds, “There are so many companies out there that just come and go and I think the more unique you are the better chance you have in the long run.”
Zollar founded Urban Bush Women in 1984 as a performance ensemble dedicated to exploring the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change. “We are a company that, through our creative work onstage and our work in community, really looks at how we can bring out the ‘physicalization’ of stories that give perspectives that are not a part of the dominate culture.” In addition to her 34 works for UBW, Zollar has also created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, University of Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth University and has worked with collaborators including Compagnie Jant-Bi from Senegal and Nora Chipaumire.
Asked to sum up her experience at SMU, Zollar says she was very pleased with the Meadows School and its dancers. “The students are just fantastic. I really enjoyed working with them and watching them grow.” Zollar adds that she has also grown during her time at SMU. “As a teacher you are always striving to be more articulate and this experience has taught to be more articulate in class and in rehearsal.” And if there’s one thing Zollar would like the dancers to remember from their time with her, it’s how they distribute their weight. “It’s that shift of weight in the pelvis that enables dancers to get on and off the floor very quickly.”
The Meadows Spring Dance Concert will also feature Cold Virtues (2003) by Meadows Artist-in-Residence Adam Hougland; and D-Man in the Waters (1989) by Tony Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones. The Saturday evening concert will include a special tribute to Ann Williams, founder and artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Lily Cabatu Weiss, chair of the dance department at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, with performances by DBDT and Booker T. dancers.