Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Xavier Mack on his second season with the company and performing Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Execution of a Sentiment.
Photo: Avitava Sarkar
Xavier Mack in Execution of a Sentiment
Dallas — Xavier Mack began his dance training with Divine Dance Institute in Capitol Heights, Maryland. He went on to attend the University of Maryland-Baltimore County where he earned a BA in Modern Language and Linguistics. Mack’s says his dance journey with the Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) organization started at one of the company’s summer intensives.
“I met Nycole Ray, the director of DBDT: Encore!, when I attended DBDT’s 2016 summer intensive,” Mack says. “From there, we stayed in contact while I was completing my college studies. Mrs. Ray offered me a contract upon graduation.”
Mack spent one season with DBDT: Encore! before he was asked to join DBDT in 2018. When asked about the move from DBDT: Encore! to DBDT Mack says the transition wasn’t a difficult one. He explains, “The standard of excellence is high for both companies. The warm environment of the established DBDT dancers also helped make my transition painless.”
Mack also credits DBDT Artistic Director Melissa M. Young for creating an environment where the dancers feel comfortable taking risks, which, in the long run, helps them become better artists and individuals. “Since being under Melissa’s leadership, I am better at managing my goals, instead of letting my goals manage me. She often reminds us to take things one step at a time (literally and figuratively), one hour at a time, and one day at a time.”
Mack adds, “With the advice of this peaceful approach I’ve noticed that I have been able to meet more of my personal marks.”
For this year’s Dallas Dances, DBDT will be presenting Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Execution of a Sentiment set to music by Ezio Bosso. The company premiered the piece at its 2019 Spring Celebration Series. Talking about the concept of the work Mack says that the piece does not have a general feeling. Instead it has many different feelings sprinkled throughout its three sections.
“There are moments of somber stillness. Then, there are contrasting moments buzzing with intensity. In fact, the mission of the movements is to physicalize emotions that are normally communicated verbally.”
As far as what he feels when performing the work, Mack says, “I feel electrically charged. Especially during the third section. There is something about the dramatic music and the dazzling work of my beautiful team that gets me going!”
DBDT will be performing Execution of a Sentiment as part of Dallas Dances’ Saturday program at Moody Performance Hall.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre explores the fleeting nature of time and memories in Joy Bollinger’s new work, This Time, part of the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre.
Dallas — It has been a fall to remember for Joy Bollinger who not only will be presenting her first program as artist director of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) this month, but also showcasing her first commissioned piece at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Director’s Choice Series, Nov. 2-4, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. Bollinger’s new work, This Time, will be performed alongside works by Tommie-Waheed Evans, Lily Cabatu Weiss and Elisa Monte and David Brown.
“I have choreographed on BWD. I was asked to choreograph a piece on my alma mater Texas Christian University,” Bollinger says. “But this was the first time an outside professional dance company has asked me to choreography on them and that was just an exciting milestone.”
She adds, “I love being a choreographer and I hope in the future I can continue down that path in whatever way. I am just really thankful for this opportunity to work with DBDT.”
Bollinger was contacted over the summer by DBDT’s newly-appointed artistic director Melissa Young about setting a piece for the company’s Director’s Choice performance at the beginning of November. Young says she was blown away when she saw BWD perform Bollinger’s Carved in Stone in 2016, and began to wonder how her movement language would translate onto DBDT’s dancers.
“Since we are a repertory company, in my opinion our dancers do an amazing job of morphing into every style put before them,” Young says. “We didn’t have any works in our repertoire with Joy’s distinct movement language and overall tone. I knew whatever she chose to create would be a perfect fit. So, by adding This Time into our programming, our audiences will get to know Joy and her beautiful work as we travel across the country as well as get acquainted with another facet of how DBDT dancers move.”
Young adds, “The best part of this collaboration was the ease of how everything came together. From start to finish, I would consider it all Joy.”
Young and Bollinger’s history actually goes back almost 15 years when they danced alongside each other as part of a Bruce Wood Dance Company and DBDT collaboration in 2003. “There’s something about her calm energy that has always drawn me in. I really admired Joy as a person and her artistic abilities. The special care and attention to detail that she puts into her own dancing resonated with me over the years.”
If you have seen Bollinger’s previous works, Carved in Stone and Hillside, then you have probably noticed her penchant for large scale visuals, dynamic groups sections and musically-driven movement phrases. As we sat talking at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery last Friday Bollinger notes that this piece for DBDT is very different from anything she has done before.
“For this piece I am using a much smaller group, only seven dancers, and since they will be performing in a smaller space I kept the architecture of the dance pretty simple. She jokes, “Plus, I don’t think we have any storage space left [at BWD’s studio] for another one of my props.”
What didn’t change this time around is Bollinger’s need to find music before jumping into the choreography. Bollinger already had a piece of music on her mind going into the process, but due to its length, she had to do a quick pivot and find something else, which she admits was a little challenging. “Finding music is crucial for me because I like to choreograph musically. So when I realized the first idea wasn’t going to work I was like “okay” what do I do now, but I just had to go with it.”
She laughingly adds, “I now realize I have a love affair with Olafur Arnalds because I start searching for music and when I realize I like something guess who it is. So, the three tracks I picked were done in collaboration with someone else and there is the sound of water in the music but also violence and sweeping and piano. You know, music you want to move too.”
This Time was inspired by Bollinger’s relationships with her children and grandmother and how over time these images become fractured and blurry, thus increasing our desire to hang on to these precious memories. To help the dancers find more personal meaning within the work Bollinger says, “I tell them what it means to me and then I say that’s not what it has to mean to you, but I want you to find what in your life connects and resonates with what that means to you.”
The most challenging part of the process for the dancers was learning a new movement vocabulary, Bollinger says. Audiences are very familiar with Bruce Wood’s unique aesthetic which features a strong balletic core so the dancers can effortless execute his off-axis turns, quick changing body positions and pendulum-like arm and leg movements.
“There were definitely a few things in the vocabulary that were new to them and probably countered how they often do things such as running low and in the floor and also the group aesthetic within the work. They are such dynamic performers, and I know every one of them has the capability to be a fantastic soloist, so they now have to keep that but also feel the group.”
You can see Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Joy Bollinger’s This Time at the company’s Director’s Choice Series at the Wyly Theatre this weekend.
Mark your calendars! The 2018 [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) will take place Oct. 12-13 at Ann Richards STEAM Academy in Dallas.
Entitled Back Together Again, SDDF will feature a performance on Friday evening and master classes on Saturday with the Melissa M. Young, the newly appointed artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The whole week will include master classes at two public schools, plus an open master class, a roundtable discussion and performances. The performances will include several companies, groups and soloists, including Jordan Willis, currently at Point Park University and the 2018 recipient of the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship.
The goal of SDDF is to encourage collaborations between area artists and companies and to support each other’s growth and impact on the local community.
General admission: $15 for adults and $10 for students, seniors, members of Dance Council of North Texas and the Star System.
Lot’s of great news has been coming out of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) organization the last couple of weeks, including today’s announcement that Melissa Young will be taking over as artistic director.
Young has been with the company for 25 years and has experience in all facets of the organization. We meet while on the board of directors for the Dance Council about 10 years ago and her commencement and passion for dance and DBDT was as strong then as it is now. She is patient. She is kind. But she also knows when to lay down the law. As they say, third times the charm, so I wish Young good luck in new position!
DBDT also announced last week that it has been selected to receive funding through the Communities Connecting Heritage (CCH) exchange program for its new cultural heritage project with Macedonian filmmakers. Only five artistic organizations in the nation where chosen to participate in this cultural exchange program.
Entitled Widening the Lens, DBDT and Association MakeDox from Macedonia will work together with 12 African-American dancers and 12 Macedonian filmmakers to create a 50-minute documentary exploring and celebrating African-American culture through dance and Romani heritages music. DBDT will incorporate aspects of the project into its Spring Celebration Series in addition to holding three free screenings of the film in July.
What a unique experience for these dancers. Not only do they get to travel around the world exploring different dance cultures, but they will also get to see how a dance documentary is put together from start to finish.
And right behind this announcement came the news that DBDT has invited Joy Bollinger, the newly appointed Artistic Director of Bruce Wood Dance, to set a piece for the company’s annual Director’s Choice performance coming up in November.
According the media release, Bollinger’s new work, This Time, is a reflection of the fleeting nature of the time in her relationships with her children and grandmother and the constant desire to steal moments and capture memories. If its anything like her previous works then audiences are in for large scale visuals, dynamic group sections and a roller coaster of emotions.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates 40 years through video clips, audio recordings and dance in Sean J. Smith’s Interpretations, part of DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series.
Dallas — “This is just magical! I had never been in a theater before…!” As Ms. Ann Williams reflects in a pre-recorded interview about her first visit to the opera and seeing dance for the first time, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) Company Member Claude Alexander III leisurely makes his way to the center of the large rehearsal space, which occupies most of the second floor of DBDT’s home on Ann Williams Way in downtown Dallas. As Ms. Williams’ voice fades, it is replaced with the bright and powerful sounds of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet in Birth of the Blues, which Alexander emulates through his explosive jumps, smooth leg circles and cutting arm movements.
A dance hall vibe ensues as the rest of DBDT’s main company enters and exits from different parts of the stage sometimes singularly and other times in pairs or trios while performing a lush variety of jazz, ballet and contemporary moves in the first section of DBDT’s Company Member Sean J. Smith’s newest work, Interpretations. The approximately 30-minute work tells the story of the company’s 40-year legacy using dance, video clips and audio recordings that feature DBDT alums and faculty members, including Deena Chavoya-Ellis, Darrell Cleveland, Nycole Ray, Kathleen Sanders, DeMarcus Williams and Melissa M. Young, just to name a few. The piece also features music by Smooth Jazz All Stars, Les Miserables Brass Band, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sarah Vaughan and Chris Botti.
In addition to acting as the thread tying all seven dance sections together, the audio recordings also serve as a reference point for each dance break. For example, prior to the second section Ms. Williams talks about the company’s early days and its founding members. As the audio is playing Hana Delong, Kayah Franklin, Alyssa Harrington, Jasmine White-Killins and McKinley Willis enter with a black folding chair. The dancers proceed to lean, stand and droop across the chairs, and as the ladies move circularly from chair to chair you get this feeling of time passing which is intensified when the men join in. The choreography in this section flows seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with a couple Fosse-inspired moves thrown in for some added zing, including head bobs, shoulder shimmies with elbows close to the body and walks with tilted hips.
“I use a multitude of styles, not just one,” Smith says about his movement choices for Interpretations. I have a couple sections that are jazz orientated, but also contemporary. I also incorporate some fast foot work and some adagio movement that celebrates DBDT’s diversity, which I don’t think I could’ve done by sticking to just one style.”
Smith has a diverse dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and contemporary techniques. His dance idols include Gregory Hines, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Michael Jackson. He has trained at many well-known dance institutions such as Toronto Dance Theatre, Ballet Creole and The Ailey School before joining DBDT in 2010. Over the last six years Smith has performed featured roles in works by Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle and Jamal Story. As a choreographer he has produced 11 works for the last seven Black on Black performances and created his first full-length piece entitled Monologues for the company in 2013.
When Ms. Williams approached Smith about making a piece showcasing the evolution of DBDT for its 40th anniversary season Smith says he was honored to work on a project of this magnitude. “I am appreciative to Ms. Williams for giving me this opportunity. Anyone can go to the website and read our history, so the challenge is how do I make this material more engaging and interesting. To me we are not Dallas Black Dance Museum. We are Dallas Black Dance Theatre and so it is important to make this a special experience as you get all this wonderful information from the last 40 years.”
When asked about the meaning behind the title Interpretations, Smith says it speaks to the true nature of being a member of a repertory dance company. “Interpretations is an important title because that is what we do as dancers; we interpret. We have a 40-year history of diverse and challenging repertory that spans many different genres and we as dancers have the responsibility to maintain the integrity of the work. So, the idea is when you step on stage the steps are the same, but the person conveying the message will always change as every body and spirit carries with it a different set of experiences that they will convey through the choreography.”
As the piece comes to a conclusion in a rip roaring big band number featuring the men performing a series of leaps, turns and slides while holding on to canes that they periodically extend out as if passing the baton to the next generation of DBDT dancers, a female voice suddenly cuts through the noise. She says something along the lines of “This is what I have been waiting for! I am in awe of the company now!” The finale, which features the entire company dancing in unison for the first time throughout the whole work, gives us a glimpse into DBDT’s future and will hopefully leave you feeling uplifted and inspired.
The premiere of Interpretations was made possible in part by an award from the MidAmerica Arts Alliance. You can experience the work for yourself during Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 17-19, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District. The program also includes an excerpt of Bruce Wood’s Smoke (2001), Asadata Dafora’s Awassa Astrige/Ostrich (1934), Darryl Sneed’s …And Now Marvin (1995), and Wood’s solo The Edge of My Life…So Far (2010) performed by DBDT: Encore! Artistic Director Nycole Ray.