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Q&A: Tamsin Carlson

The former Merce Cunningham dancer on performing solos by the legendary American choreographer at the 16th annual Modern Dance Festival this weekend.

Photo: Reed Hutchinson/CAP UCLA Tamsin Carlson performs in Night of 100 Solos:  A Centennial Event at UCLA’s Royce Hall

Fort Worth — Thanks to the Merce Cunningham Trust, audiences across Dallas-Fort Worth will get to experience some of the revolutionary American choreographer’s most memorable solos as well as new works inspired by his methods at the 16th annual Modern Dance Festival, presented by Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth (CD/FW) in collaboration with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The festival’s roster includes works by many well-known locals in the modern dance genre, including Loris Anthony Beckles (Beckles Dancing Company), Kerry Kreiman (CD/FW), Muscle Memory Dance Theatre and Momentum Dance Company. Other familiar names include Lynn Lane and Jennifer Mabus of The Transitory Sound and Movement Collective (Houston) and Mel Mobley and Tina Mullane of M2 (Monroe, LA).

Also participating in this year’s Modern Dance Festival is master teacher and former Cunningham dancer Tamsin Carlson. The associate artistic director of Vox Dance Theatre in Los Angeles, Carlson was a member of R.U.G (Repertory Understudy Group) for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1996 to 1999. From 1999 to 2000 she performed with Lucinda Child’s 25th anniversary tour and also worked with Jonathon Appels, Charemaine Seet, Ellen Van Schylenburch and Beth Toll.

Carlson is a graduate of the Arts Educational School and London Contemporary Dance School. She has been working with Rudy Perez as a member of his ensemble since moving to Los Angeles in 2000. She also is currently the chair of modern dance at the Colburn School and is part-time faculty at Renaissance Arts Academy.

This weekend Carlson will perform the Cunningham solos she learned for Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event. This special project originally took place on April 16 in New York City, Los Angeles and London and featured 25 dancers at each location performing a selection of 100 solos by Cunningham.

TheaterJones caught up with Carlson to discuss her introduction to Cunningham’s Technique, being part of the Night of 100 Solos event in Los Angeles and performing excerpts from these solos for audiences at the Modern Dance Festival this weekend.

TheaterJones: How did you get involved with the 16th annual Modern Dance Festival?

Tamsin Carlson: Kerry Kreiman contacted the Merce Cunningham Trust for potential performers from the recent Night of 100 Solos (Cunningham’s Centennial performances) for the Modern Dance Festival. I was one of the dancers who performed in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful coordinated event, with performances taking place in New York and London as well, all on the night of April 16,, 2019. After contacting the Cunningham Trust, Kerry reached out to me and we found the dates worked within my schedule of teaching and performing and I was thrilled to be able to participate.

Why is it important to you to be a part of festivals such as the Modern Dance Festival?

I believe festivals and performances in alternative spaces to be vital, both culturally and for reaching audiences. For making the work accessible, for connecting with wider, more diverse audiences and to potentially inspire and exhilarate with dance those who might not ordinarily be exposed to such an experience. And as this is Merce’s Centennial year, it is important that his work be an ongoing part of that celebration of world dance. With the Cunningham Company no longer performing, it is always a special opportunity to see his work in live performance.

Please talk about your history with the Cunningham solos you will be performing.

What was so wonderful about learning the solos is that all of the dancers got to work with actual stagers (former Cunningham company members) from the Cunningham Trust rather than learn the work off of video, which often happens. And what was particularly rewarding and special with regard to my four solos I performed in LA is that I got to work with each of the original Cunningham dancers that the solos were created on. They are Susana Hayman-Chaffey, Victoria Finlayson, Banu Ogan and Lisa Boudreau, each wonderful to work with. And as always performing Cunningham, it is an eloquent connection directly back to Merce, who I knew in New York and was on faculty at his School.

How did it feel to be a part of Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event?

To say it was an honor to participate in such an event is absolutely true, but to your question about how did it feel, I found it to be incredibly moving and somewhat transcendent, if that doesn’t sound too abstract. To be a small part of this worldwide cultural celebration of Merce, and to add one’s efforts to such an amazingly gifted and dedicated corps of dancers unified in celebrating a special life and fulfilling the expression of that life on stage. There were four generations of dancers in Los Angeles, all of us in awe of Merce’s enormous, indescribable body of work. We found rich community together during the rehearsal process and culminating performance, an experience none of us will ever forget, but we now get the opportunity to share Merce’s work with others such as during the Modern Dance Festival.

Describe your introduction to Cunningham Technique? Did it immediately feel right on your body? Were you intimidated by any of his choreography?

So interesting you phrase the question that way, because it did immediately feel right on my body! In a way I feel Cunningham has been a part of my life forever, and this is very nearly true. I first encountered and fell in love with Cunningham technique as a teenager in London when I was at dance college. I then sought out teachers throughout London who were teaching Cunningham technique.

When I moved to New York in 1996 it was with the primary aim of studying at The Cunningham School. I was thrilled to become an understudy (what was called R.U.G.) in 1997 and then to join the faculty in 1998. Merce’s choreography was so intimidating! As well so thoroughly physically and mentally demanding, but also absolutely exhilarating for the same reasons. With Cunningham there was and is no halfway — you just had to dive in and give beyond that which you thought you were able!

For those unfamiliar with Cunningham’s Repertory Understudy Group (R.U.G) what was the purpose of this company?

We were literally understudies in the classic sense that should a dancer become injured, the understudy was ready always to perform in their stead, though I must say that rarely happened as Merce’s dancers were always so conditioned and strong. In my time as a R.U.G., the understudies also constituted an outreach program; we were representatives of the School who would tour as dancers the elementary, middle and high schools in the surrounding boroughs of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and New Jersey.

We performed Cunningham repertory and after performances would hold Q&A sessions with the students. These times also could be so rewarding, to see some of the kids’ faces light up and their barely contained excitement made these tours special in their own right. Also, in later years when Merce would no longer tour with the main company, we R.U.G.s would be Merce’s dancers that he would choreograph on toward developing and staging the work.

What are some of your fondest memories performing with R.U.G?

So many! I mean, I loved being in the studio with the Company whilst Merce was creating new works and being part of that. In my time Merce created PondwayScenario, Biped, and he would start by teaching us phrases he had created (Merce often used the computer system “Dance Forms”) and Merce would assign counts for each movement of the torso, legs, arms, head. The series of counts and movements would build to a phrase and over time these counts would morph into a complex rhythm and then eventually you’d no longer count, but simply the rhythm would sustain you in a thrilling way as you navigated such challenging choreography. Merce was a genius and to have had the opportunity to work with him in New York is beyond anything I could have conceived while studying to be a dancer growing up in England.

Doing the tours, when we performed in the schools, I think for the majority of the children it was their first experience certainly with modern dance, and again they were so enthralled and excited by the performances and seeing live work that it was just really moving and created memories I have to this day.

 How does Cunningham’s method influence the work you are doing today?

Things from Merce stay with you always. The development of the phrase, the building process, the absolute commitment, trusting in the process of counts to liberating rhythm. I find when creating phrases for class or working on choreography, through Merce I am really focusing on rhythm. Merce’s technique makes the body extremely strong and versatile. It would have to be to perform the work.

When choreographing, I also find ‘chance’ to be an enormously helpful tool. Chance can aid in the placing of phrases in such a way that becomes original and unexpected. You know, it is inevitable sometimes, I find we tend to have impulses that follow some expected or obvious choices, and chance can shake this up, lead to some fascinating outcomes, or sometimes just refresh and reset the work.

Keeping things unpredictable can potentially result in more arresting work, both for audience as well as the performers. Part of Merce’s lasting legacy, I believe, is his unique way of using space; any and all coordinates are potentially important, any facing can be used. Merce was really the first choreographer to make those choices and it reflects on all choreographers today.

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

 

 

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Q&A: Stephanie Rae Williams, Dance Theatre of Harlem

Stephanie Rae Williams of Dance Theatre of Harlem returns home for the Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival and the Dance Council Honors this weekend.
Stephanie Rae Williams 2017 (1)
Stephanie Rae Williams. Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dallas — As the oldest of six siblings, Stephanie Rae Williams says her parents had to get creative when it came to financing her love of dance, especially classical ballet. Williams credits her mom with discovering the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which also happens to be where she will be performing this weekend, along with attending the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence by the Dance Council of North Texas. “My mother is such an amazing woman and she just wanted me to have all these different opportunities in dance and so, she was really the one who sought out different scholarships that were available and helped me apply for them,” Williams says. Her mom’s hard work paid off in 2005 when Williams was awarded the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which she used to attend Julliard’s summer intensive that same year. The scholarship also gave Williams the opportunity to perform at the SSDF, which was a big deal for the 16 year old at the time. “I think I performed a classical piece, which is nothing like the solo I will be performing this time.”

The event, newly renamed Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival in honor of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), runs Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School and includes performances by Williams, Sydney Winston (2017 SDDF scholarship recipient), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. The schedule also features a master class with former Bruce Wood Dance Company member Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase and an industry roundtable. The event is made possible by Arga Nova Dance with the support of Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center.

For SDDF, Williams will be performing José Limón’s Chaconne, courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Out of the four casts, Williams was the only female chosen for the solo, which she describes as modern-based and challenging, yet extremely satisfying to perform. “There’s something really gratifying about the way Jose Limon choreographed this piece. It feels like you evolve as a human being throughout it and by the end of it you’re like dead, but alive at the same time.”

Growing up in Allen, Texas, Williams started her dancing at Texas Ballet Theater School (formerly Dallas Dance Academy) when she was 8 years old. She grew up training in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and hip-hop with Joyce Seaborne Bader, Lyndette Bader and Fiona Fairrie. After graduating from Allen High School, Williams joined Ben Stevenson’s Texas Ballet Theater for a season before heading to New York City. There she worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden at Complexions Contemporary Ballet before joining DTH’s ensemble company in 2010. After DTH returned from hiatus with Virginia Johnson at the helm in 2012, Williams was then asked to join the revived company and has spent the last five years here gaining more confidence in herself and her craft. “It’s the first company that I was able to make my home and really feel like I could grow and be nurtured there. What’s interesting is that half that dancers that came with us to Dallas in 2014 have moved on and yet I am still here. It’s surreal being one of the veterans that the new company members now come to show them the ropes.”

When asked if she ever gets the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, Williams responds, “Yes, I do sometimes get the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, and I have done that with Virginia’s approval, but DTH remains my home base.” Williams mentions that she just completed four shows with the Seattle-based Arc Dance Company, which she says Johnson was nice enough to allow her to do. “It a lot of fun because for once I wasn’t the seasoned dancer. I was the new girl and I feel like it’s really important to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable anywhere, and so I am really thankful I have a director that encourages these types of opportunities.”

As far as what Williams is looking forward the most at SDDF, she says, “Just mingling with everyone there and also seeing so many smaller dance companies from professional to the local high schools perform. And because it’s not just the professionals performing this really does feel like the whole South Dallas community is coming together to celebrate dance throughout these three performances.” Williams adds that she is also looking forward to seeing the kids attending the festival as she believes there are not enough black dancers for them to look up to in the industry today, especially in classical ballet. “I was the only black girl in my entire dance school, but I just thought that this was the norm. It wasn’t until I walked into DTH to audition that I noticed there was this whole other side missing from my dancing because at DTH when we dance there’s this whole other type of soul that we bring to the stage.”

While in town Williams will also be attending the DC Honors where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence. The event takes place at Dallas Black Dance Theater on Sunday afternoon and will include food, a silent auction and performances by local companies and scholarship recipients. In addition to Williams, this year’s honorees also include Kathy Chamberlain, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy. As far as Williams’ reaction to the award news she says, “I was both humbled and excited when I heard I would be receiving this honor. It’s just really nice knowing that I have so much support here in Dallas and it means so much to me to be recognized in this way.”

» For more information about Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival, please visit www.becklesdancingcompany.org, and for more information about the Dance Council Honors, please visit www.thedancecouncil.org

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Get Crackin’

Get into the holiday spirit with any one of these Nutcracker productions, from the traditional to Nearly Naked, offer across Dallas-Fort Worth. Plus a list of other holiday dance.

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The Nutcracker from Texas Ballet Theate. Photo: Steven Visneau

It’s that time of year again! In between all the shopping, decorating and baking you have planned this holiday season make sure you set some time aside to check out one of the numerous Nutcracker productions being offered by many of the professional and pre-professional dance companies across Dallas-Fort Worth. For audiences west of the DFW Airport, Texas Ballet Theater will be running Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker for multiple weekends at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Additionally, Ballet Frontier of Texas and North Central Civic Ballet will be presenting their annual Nutcracker performances at Will Rogers Auditorium.

For residents north of Dallas there are myriad Nutcrackers to choose from, including versions by LakeCities Ballet Theatre in Lewisville, Festival Ballet of North Central Texas in Denton, and Allen Civic Ballet in Allen. The Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, will soon be bursting with holiday cheer when Chamberlain Performing Arts, Dallas Repertoire Ballet, Royale Ballet Dance Academy, Tuzer Ballet and Collin County Ballet Theatre bring their Nutcracker productions here beginning Thanksgiving weekend and continuing till Christmas. The Irving Arts Center is another popular venue for local Nutcracker productions, including versions by Ballet Ensemble of Texas, International Ballet Theater and Momentum Dance Company. And in Dallas the Moscow Ballet returns to McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University with its rendition of The Great Russian Nutcracker, featuring new costumes and set designs.

You can even hear Tchaikovsky’s full Nutcracker played by the Dallas Symphony, without dancers, if you’re so inclined.

And if you are in need of a change this season, check out any number of the holiday dance shows being offered, including Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday Celebration at Dallas City Performance Hall; Epiphany DanceArts Tis the Season at the Eisemann; Texas Ballet Theater’s The Nutty Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall; and even a burlesque show in Dallas aptly named Nearly Naked Nutcracker. A full list of all the Nutcrackers and holiday productions in the area can be found below.

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Sarah Lane (ABT) and Daniel Ulbricht (NYCB) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in LBT’s 2014 version of The Nutcracker. Photo: Nancy Loch

Nov. 20-21 Ballet Frontier of Texas presents The Nutcracker with choreography by Chung-Lin Tseng at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. $40-$50. Call 817-689-7310 or visit www.balletfrontier.org

Nov. 20-22 Moscow Ballet return to Dallas with its rendition of The Great Russian Nutcracker at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium. This year’s production features new costumes for Act I by designer Arthur Oliver and two new backdrops by Academy Award Nominee Carl Sprague. $28-$88. Call 800-745-3000 or visit www.tickmaster.com

Nov. 27-29 Chamberlain Performing Arts annual showing of The Nutcracker featuring New York City Ballet Principal’s Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $15-$100. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Nov. 27-29 Momentum Dance Company brings the holiday tale to life with choreography by Jacquelyn Ralls Forcher at the Irving Arts Center. $15-$25. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Nov. 28-29 LakeCities Ballet Theatre celebrates its 25th annual production of The Nutcracker which features live music from Lewisville Lake Symphony and guest artists Sarah Lane of American Ballet Theater and Daniel Ulbricht of New York City Ballet. $20-$45. Call 972-317-7987 or visitwww.lakecitiesballet.org

Dec. 4-6 Dallas Ballet Company presents The Nutcracker featuring guest artists April Daly and Miguel Blanco from Joffrey Ballet at the Granville Arts Center in Garland. $23-$24. Call 972-205-2790 or visit www.garlandarts.com

Dec. 5 Local dancers Harry Feril (Bruce Wood Dance Project) and Yulia Ilina (Avant Chamber Ballet) join theInternational Ballet Theater for its production of The Nutcracker Sweet at the Irving Arts Center. $28-$38. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 5-6 Ballet Ensemble of Texas, under the direction of Joffrey alum Lisa Slagle, presents the holiday classic at the Irving Arts Center. $25-$30. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 5-6 Rowlett Dance Academy presents its 14th annual production of The Nutcracker at Garland High School. $10. Call 972-475-8269 or visit www.rowlettdanceacademy.com

Dec. 5-6 Royale Ballet Dance Academy offering of The Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $20-$25. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 5-6 North Central Civic Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. $30. Visit www.nutcrackertickets.com

Dec. 5-10 New York City Ballet brings George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker to the big screen in various movies across the DFW Metroplex. $16-$18 Adult. Visit www.fathomevent.com 

Dec. 11-27 Texas Ballet Theater takes the stage with Ben Stevenson’s version of The Nutcracker at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Call 877-828-9200 or visit www.texasballettheater.org

Dec. 11-13 Dallas Repertoire Ballet brings its rendition of the beloved holiday tale to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $22-$42. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 12 Colleyville Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker for one-night only at the Irving Arts Center. $25-$30. Call 972-252-2787 or visit www.irvingartscenter.com

Dec. 12-13 Festival Ballet of North Central Texas showing of The Nutcracker at Texas Woman’s University, Margo Jones Performance Hall in Denton. $11-$36. Call 940.891.0830 or visit www.festivalballet.net

Dec. 19-20 Tuzer Ballet presents The Nutcracker with guest artists Rie Ichikawa (Boston Ballet) and Zack Grubbs (Cincinnati Ballet) at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $15-$50. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 19-20 The Allen Civic Ballet presents its annual production of the holiday classic with live musical accompaniment by the Allen Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra at the Allen High School Performing Arts Center in Allen. $15-$25. Visit www.allencivicballet.org/nutracker

Dec. 19 The Art Ballet Academy presents The Nutcracker at Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield. $16. Visit www.abacademy.com

Dec. 22-23 Collin County Ballet Theatre’s annual production of The Nutcracker features live music from Plano Symphony Orchestra at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $22-$77. Call 972-744-4650 or visitwww.eisemanncenter.com

 

OTHER HOLIDAY DANCE

(including non-traditional takes on The Nutcracker)

Nov. 19 Avant Chamber Ballet returns to White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake with its holiday production of Nutcracker: Short and Suite. This one-act Nutcracker presented by Apex Arts League includes new choreography by Katie Cooper and music by Tchaikovsky. $15-$20. Call 800-481-8914 or visit www.apex-arts.org

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Avant Chamber Ballet will present Holiday Celebration. Photo: Mark Kitaoka

Nov. 27-29 The Dallas Symphony Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s complete The Nutcracker (no dancers), and featuring the Children’s Chorus of Collin County, at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas. Call 214-692-0203 or visit www.mydso.com

Nov. 27-Dec. 27 MBS Productions presents its annual hit The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents a Bur-Less-Q Nutcracker, in which a church has to do a last minute substitution of its dancers for The Nutcracker, at the Addison Theatre Centre’s Studio Theatre. $29. Call 214-477-4942 or visit www.mbsproductions.net

Dec. 6 8&1 Dance Company closes its third season with In The Spirit, featuring live music and heart-warming chorography at the Quixotic Word in Dallas. Visit www.8and1dance.com 

Dec. 6 Dallas Youth Ballet presents a Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall with special guest Arron Scott from American Ballet Theatre. $20-$75. Visitwww.parkcitiesstudios.com

Dec. 10 Avant Chamber Ballet’s Holiday celebration at Dallas City Performance Hall incudes Katie Cooper’s Sleigh Ride and Nutcracker: Short and Suite. $20-$30. Visit www.ticketdfw.com

Dec. 11-12 Bruce Wood Dance Project presents a Christmas Cabaret benefit with Broadway stars Aaron Lazar, Liz Callaway and Joseph Thalken, at the BWDP Studio, 3630 Harry Hines Boulevard, Suite 36, Dallas. $350-$1,000. Call 214-428-2263 or visit www.brucewooddance.org

Dec. 12 Ballet Concerto presents its annual A Holiday Special at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. The program includes Winter Wonderland, The Princess and the Magical Christmas Star, O Holy Night and A Cool Yule. $8 for daytime performances and $12-$25 for the evening performance. Call 817-738-7915 or visit www.balletconcerto.com

Dec. 12 Contemporary Ballet Dallas offers their spin on Charles Dickens’ classic tale with Boogie Woogie Christmas Carol at McFarlin Memorial Auditorium on the Southern Methodist University campus. $18-$30. Visitwww.contemporaryballetdallas.com

Dec. 18 Texas Ballet Theater brings The Nutty Nutcracker, its PG-13 spoof of The Nutcracker, to Bass Performance Hall for one night only. $40-250. Call 877.828.9200 or visit www.texasballettheater.org

Dec. 18-19 Epiphany DanceArts celebrates the holiday season with its production of Tis the Season at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. $17-$27. Call 972-744-4650 or visit www.eisemanncenter.com

Dec. 19 Broads & Panties presents Nearly Naked Nutcracker: A Burlesque Ballet featuring aerial performances, circus arts, ballet and burlesque at Trees in Deep Ellum. $20-$44. Visit www.treesdallas.com

Dec. 19-20 Denton City Contemporary Ballet presents A Gift for Emma at Margo Jones Performance Hall at Texas Woman’s University, Denton. $15-25. Call 940-383-2623 or visit www.dentoncitycontemporary.org

Dec. 19-20 ImPULSE Dance Project celebrates the season with Snow at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater. Program includes works by Artistic Director Anastasia Waters and company members Krista Langford and Kristin Daniels. $17. Visit www.impusedanceproject.org

This list was originally published on TheaterJones.com.