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.
The Dance Council Honors has thankfully split from Dallas DanceFest and will return to its more intimate setting at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
I know I am not the only person happy about the fact the Dance Council Honors(DC Honors) will no longer be squeezed into Dallas DanceFest (DDF). For the last few years the DC Honors has occurred in conjunction with DDF and unfortunately has suffered as a result with the main complaint being the length of each evening’s program.
The presentation of the awards also lacked the comradory and celebratory atmosphere that has always been a part of the DC Honors, which is why I am glad that the event has split from DDF and will be returning to Dallas Black Dance Theatre on Oct. 29 for some food, fun and fantastic dancing. And, of course, we will hear from this year’s DC Honorees, which include Kathy Chamberlain, Stephanie Rae Williams, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy.
Over the last couple of decades, these incredible individuals have made huge strives to better our local dance community thanks to their passion, dedication, knowledge, cultural awareness and above all love for the art form of dance. Because God knows we are not in it for the money!
I know I will be there to watch Kathy Chamberlain as she receives the Mary Bywaters Award for her lifetime contribution to dance.
I met Kathy one day at Sandy’s Shoes and Dancewear back in the summer of 2009. I had just moved to Dallas from Cleveland and knew absolutely no one in the local dance community. She took me under her wing and she and I had multiple phone conversations about the ins and outs of the Dallas dance scene. She is the one who lead me to local dance writer Margaret Putnam. I started off by reading a lot of Margaret’s reviews, which at the time were published in the Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones.com (TJ). This eventually lead me to contact TJ where I have now been writing dance previews, Q&As and reviews for the last six years.
Kathy was ultimately the one who jump-started my career here in Dallas and I will forever be grateful to her. And her willingness to help me is also one of the things I like most about our local dance community. Although everyone is technically in competition with one another they are always willing to lend a helping hand and offer up support when needed. So, I recommend offering your support to the dance community by coming to this year’s DC Honors. Even if you don’t know any of the honorees you should still come. I did when I first moved to Dallas and it taught me a lot about the city’s dance culture and the wide range of work being made here as well as the wealth of talent being fostered in our city schools and studios. You should definitely check it out!
I have included the official press release below:
For Immediate Release:
WHAT: Dance Council of North Texas 2017 Honors
WHEN: Sunday, October 29, 3:00 P.M.
WHERE: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 2700 Ann Williams Way, Dallas, TX 75201 in Dallas Arts District
Dance Council of North Texas is pleased to honor five people within the area dance community who have made a significant contribution to world of dance.
Kathy Chamberlain is receiving the Mary Bywaters Award, which recognizes a person who has made a lifetime and significant contribution to dance. Dance Council of North Texas is delighted to join with Chamberlain School of Ballet, (CSB) Plano, as itcelebrates its 40th Anniversary. Chamberlain School of Ballet is the supporting school for Chamberlain Performing Arts, a leading North Texas pre-professional dance company founded by Ms. Chamberlain. She received the prestigious Ford Foundation Scholarship for study at the School of American Ballet, NYC.
Stephanie Rae Williams is the recipient of theNatalie Skelton Awardhonoring a person who is currently performing. Ms. Williams was featured in Dance Magazine’s “On the Rise” in 2013. In 2005, she received the South Dallas Dance Festival Scholarship from DCNT. Stephanie was a Fellowship recipient at the Ailey School, a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Winner as well as a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Finalist. As part of DC Honors, Stephanie will perform My Funny Valentine, choreographed by Darrell Mourie. She appears through the courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem, NYC.
The Mary Warner Award for service in dance recognizes Patty Granville, who exemplifies
the individual whose vision is essential to the dance community. Ms. Granville has been the Director of the Garland Center for the Performing Arts since its opening in 1982. As one of the founders, she has served as producer for Garland Summer Musicals since 1983. In 2003, the Garland City Council unanimously voted to rename the Performing Arts Center to the Patty Granville Arts Center. Patty provides countless opportunities for performers, musicians and craftsmen to participate in musical theatre.
Larry White Educator Awardrecognizes Alpana Kagal
Jacob for her inspiring and innovative contributions to her students’ development. After her Arangetram and graduation, she has been teaching Bharata Natyam to young children and adults. Alpana has been a guest lecturer at both UNT and TWU and has served as choreographer and teacher for Dallas Theater Center Summer Workshop projects. Alpana has taught at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Brookhaven College and Richland College. She is a disciplined and loving teacher to all her students.
Buster Cooper Tap LegendAward celebrates the exemplary contributions of Malana Murphy to America’s original dance form: tap. Malana began her professional career at the age of 14 while performing in the production of Calling All Kids, choreographed by Gracey Tune. In addition to graduating from Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Malana has performed commercially and in industrials. Malana’s love for tap dancing has inspired her to share her passion and knowledge with students locally and across the United States. She is also the head of the local tap dance festival RIFF, which stands for Rhythm and Fusion Festival.
DBDT: Encore! will perform as well as Dance Council 2017 scholarship recipients. The opening number is generation# (sic) choreographed by Tammie Reinsch of Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Doug Voet of Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie will serve as the event’s emcee with Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran Nycole Ray providing production assistance. Reception, refreshments and a silent auction will complete the afternoon’s agenda.
$35 – ADULT
$30 – MEMBERS, Dance Council of North Texas
$20 STUDENTS, ages 13 through 18.
STUDENTS, ages 12 and under: Free when accompanied by an adult
Nycole Ray working with the dancers for Dallas Opera. Photo: Celeste Hart
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran on stepping into the opera world as choreographer for Dallas Opera’s production of Samson et Dalila.
Dallas — Nycole Ray is a prime example of what it takes to maintain a career in the ever-changing dance field. For the last 20 years she has made a name for herself within the Dallas Black Dance Theatre organization first as a company member and later as the artistic director of the second company, now DBDT ENCORE! Ray is also the director of DBDT’s Summer Intensive program and has served in the past as assistant rehearsal director for DBDT and the director of Bloom, Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Preforming Ensemble. But over the years Ray’s dance talents have exceeded beyond DBDT as is evident through her collaborations with other Dallas arts organizations such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art as well as various performance opportunities with the Dallas Opera and Bruce Wood Dance. Ray is also a certified Dunham technique instructor and has been a teaching assistant and adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University. Her choreography has been featured at the ninth FINTDAZ festival in Iquique, Chile, the 10th annual Choreographers Choice Series in Dallas and at Vienna’s 2003 International Black Dance Festival.
As a performer Ray has danced with Bruce Wood Dance, Walt Disney World Entertainment, Christopher and Friends directed by Christopher L. Huggins, the Lula Washington Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II and the Zadonu African Dance Company. She has also worked with noted choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Dianne McIntyre, Alonzo King, Donald Byrd, Rennie Harris and Camille A. Brown. In addition to her concert work, Ray has also appeared in music videos and industrials in the U.S. and Europe.
Always open to new opportunities Ray did not hesitate when the Dallas Opera approached her about choreographing its production of Samson et Delilah, which is performed Oct. 20, 22, 25, 28 and Nov. 5 at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The opera, which runs in repertory with Verdi’s La traviata, is based on the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah found in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. The story tells of the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Philistines and when Samson urges them to resist their masters the High Priest of Dagon sends Delilah in to destroy Samson. The Dallas Opera’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ three-act French opera is directed by Bruno Berger-Gorski with conductor Emmanuel Villaume, costumer designer Carrie Robbins, set designer Peter Dean Beck and lighting designer Alan Burrett. The cast includes Clifton Forbis, Olga Borodina, Richard Paul Fink, Michael Chioldi and Ryan Kuster as well as eight dancers of Ray’s choosing.
TheaterJones caught up with Ray in between rehearsals to ask her how she is enjoying this experience as well as her inspiration for the movement and how choreographing for an opera differs from setting work on a dance company and the challenges that come with it.
TheaterJones: How did you get involved with Samson et Dalila?
Nycole Ray: The Dallas Opera was looking for a choreographer for the production of Samson et Dalila and they reached out to me and I was eager to step up to the plate!
How did you get along with the director on this project?
With this being my first time choreographing for this art genre (though I have danced in opera productions before), it has definitely been an interesting process and very different than just creating a work how I see fit, but it has been a really good challenge for me. I mean, you’ve got so many people on stage at the same time and just navigating through that has been quite challenging. But what has been so wonderful is the director, Bruno Berger-Gorski, has been so much fun to work with. He is high energy all the time and he knows what he wants, so trying to create those visions for him has been fun and interesting. He is sure in his ideas, but he is also open to my creativity. He has very specific things he is looking for and things that he wants to happen, so I have been charged with making those things happen within in his vision as opposed to just creating whatever I want. Collaborating with him has been a lot of fun; we have had no dull moments in this process.
What exactly was Bruno’s vision and how did he convey this to you?
Before we started rehearsals, he and I had a five-hour meeting where we were able to watch and talk about the opera, and he was able to give me more insight about the opera itself and his vision for this production. He didn’t want to go mainstream with it. He wanted it to be this beautiful production, but he wanted it to be real in what was really happening at that time. So, for the bacchanale, which is usually this beautiful ballet, he said he didn’t want it that way. There is some sensuality in it, but he didn’t want this huge ballet production. He also has the chorus and the supers [extras] really involved along with the dancers in creating all of these little vignettes that happen in that piece of music. You’re going to have to shift your eyes all over in order to see all these things happening at the same time.
Was it difficult adapting to this new environment?
I did learn a lot about the process of the opera and I continue to learn in rehearsals. When I go to rehearsals for dance it is me, my assistant and the dancers. Here, you’ve got the stage manager, the assistant stage manager, the union reps, wardrobe, props. All of these people and how they work in tandem is so awesome to see and it is an experience for sure. I mean you’ve got the assistant stage manager telling people what to do while they’re singing. He has Bruno’s notes on the way he wants things to happen and he’s telling them what to do and where to go while they’re singing. It’s fascinating, absolutely fascinating and watching the inner workings of it has been really insightful for me. I really enjoyed doing this and the process of it.
What challenges did you come across in the rehearsal process?
At the rehearsal hall everything is taped out on the floor, but you truly don’t get a sense of what it is such as a platform or some stairs until you get into the theater with the sets and see what changes we need to make. Also, the dancers do not have much room to move, and so navigating through stepping off the platform and into the dancing while the supers and chorus are all around them, it is a challenge making sure everyone is safe. I tell the dancers just to be cautious and keep moving.
What was your time frame on this project? How did it differ from the time you usually get in the dance studio?
I did have a longer time to think about the choreography than I usually do. After I was approached, which was very early in the year, I then had a Skype conservation with Bruno in probably June where he gave me some of his ideas. I then thought about these ideas while listening to the opera and started having some choreographic ideas that went along with his vision. So, I had a little bit of time and then we had our five hour meeting, which was two days before our first rehearsal. Despite this, I would say that I probably didn’t get as much time with the dancers as I would in a dance studio.
What types of feelings or ideas for movement did listening to the opera bring out of you?
From the start I wanted to do something a little bit different than this opera’s previous productions, and I am mostly speaking about the bacchanale, which is this big beautiful scene that usually involves a lot of dancing. And so I wanted to marry classical ballet technique with more grounded modern movements that also included some sensual elements as well. I wanted it to be very mixed in terms of movement and also include partnering, of course. I wanted it to be actually very rooted in its movement. I am not going to say African, but there is a little of that. I really pulled from a lot of different genres and styles of dance that I mixed in there and I hope it reads well to the audience.
What’s in store for those coming to see this opera for the first time?
As not really an opera goer, after listening to and seeing Samson et Delilah I thought, how could I identify and connect with this? Now that I have had a chance to delve deeper and truly understand the opera itself, I have a greater appreciation for the art form. When we got into rehearsal with the chorus and the singers for the first time they blew my mind! They had me sitting up in my chair and thinking this was so beautiful even with just a pianist for accompaniment. So, even with that simple instrumentation, I look forward to the orchestra itself as well as the voices of the leads and the chorus. They are just amazing! I think for people coming just seeing all these elements together, including the live musicians, the live singers, live dancers and the scenery and then having this story that involves a lot of drama and combining that with Bruno’s direction and how he has put it together: This opera’s going to be something else.
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.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre II pushes itself physically and emotionally in Artistic Director Nycole Ray’s Opaque, part of DanceFest 2015 this weekend.
Dallas — Starting out as a student-driven secondary company formed in 2000 by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams, Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (DBDT II) has flourished into a high caliber performance troupe made up of eight young and hungry semi-professionals from all over the place. This year’s troupe alone includes dancers from Washington, D.C., Chicago, Mexico and Jamaica. Every dancer has a unique story of how they became involved with DBDT II that they readily shared with me when I stopped by Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) main studio last Thursday to watch them prepare for the upcoming Dallas DanceFest.
Surprisingly only one company member comes from the Dallas Black Dance Academy while everyone else came in contact with DBDT through college workshops, summer intensives, tours in New York City and the International Association of Blacks in Dance conferences. Artistic Director Nycole Ray points out that these dancers are here voluntarily, working tirelessly toward the goal of one day moving up to the main company. “DBDT II is really the training company for DBDT,” Ray says. “Last year six out of the 12 main company members came from the second company.” Ray adds that this has always been Ms. Williams’ vision for DBDT II. “When I took over the second company six years ago Ms. Williams told me she wanted the group to have the same technical excellence and strength as the main company such that audiences wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two.”
With that goal in mind Ray is constantly challenging the dancers by introducing them to a variety of movement styles and choreographers, including Christopher L. Huggins, Bruce Wood, Ray Mercer, Dianne Grigsby, Cleo Parker Robinson and DBDT company member Richard A. Freeman, Jr. DBDT II’s touring schedule has included stops in South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Virginia and Arkansas. Internationally the company has travelled to Ireland, South Africa, Austria and Peru, just to name a few. Ray says the company is very excited to add Mexico and Chile to their touring schedule this year.
When it comes to her own choreography Ray says she likes to challenge the dancers physically and emotionally, which comes across in abundance in her aptly titled work Opaque. “The piece is about things not always being transparent no matter how much you want them to be. The thought process stems from a person and not so happy feelings, which then evolved into something that made me feel good and positive.” You get a sense of this optimism through the dancers’ lifted upper bodies, unyielding trust in one another and purposeful use of each dancer’s (male and female) long, black skirts. “The skirts purposely cover the dancers’ feet to create this illusion that they are floating while also reflecting on the theme of transparency and what you can’t see.” The skirts are not just for ambiance. The dancers use them throughout the work as extensions of their bodies, links to one another in one section where they unravel across the stage and even for extra resistance in the partnering sequences. The effect is dramatic, yet not overdone.
» The second Dallas DanceFest is Sept. 4-6. Performances will take place on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the 2015 Dance Council Honors awards ceremony and performance showcase occurring on Sunday afternoon.
Hundreds of ballerinas from Texas and neighboring states took part in the 2014 Regional Dance America/Southwest Festival at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.
Richardson — A lone dancer dressed in country western wear (fringe top, black bottoms and cowboy hat) executes a series of slow leg extensions and turns on pointe in front of the silhouette of a gigantic cowboy hat. As the stage lights lift, the 30×15 foot cowboy hat is flown up revealing 20 or so dancers dressed in the same country attire. All together they performed a high energy Texas tribute complete with heel clicks, knee slaps, doe-se-does and hat tilts.
Top Hat, choreographed by Judy Klopfenstein and Cyndi Jones Littlejohn and performed by Dallas Ballet Company (DBC), kicked off the Emerging Choreographers showcase, part of the 2014 Regional Dance America/Southwest (RDA/SW) Festival which took place March 21-23 at the Renaissance Hotel and Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson.
As the evening went on, dancers from companies including Houston Dance Theatre, San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet, Midland Festival Ballet, Corpus Christi Ballet, Twin City Ballet and City Ballet of Houston just to name a few, took to the stage and gave engaging performances that highlighted their strengths which ranged from classical ballet and contemporary to more theatrical and jazz-based numbers.
These talented dancers travelled from Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas just to be able to take class from some of ballet’s best in addition to performing in front of their peers and auditioning for scholarships. “The dancers understand that the festival is not just about performance, but the complete experience,” says Collin County Ballet Theatre Co-Director Kirt Hathaway. “Excellent classes, being among like-minded young artists in an extended period, performing, watching performances, admiring others and wanting to become more than they are and challenging oneself is really what the RDA/SW festival is all about.”
For the faculty roster, event organizers and DBC directors Judy and Brent Klopfenstein used a lot of teachers who are either from or currently working in Dallas, including Jason Fowler (repetiteur for Christopher Wheeldon and former DBC student), Chris Koehl (So You Think You Can Dance Season 8 and former DBC student), Kim Abel (consultant with the dance department at Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts), Thom Clower (former member of Dallas Ballet), Leslie Peck (Associate Professor at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts) and Nycole Ray (member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre).
Ballet royalty Christine Spizzo, Mary Margaret Holt and Jock Soto were also on the schedule as well as Kurt A. Douglas (modern) and Tyler Hanes (theater dance). “I knew these teachers would be great, but in the end they were even better than I could’ve ever imagined,” Judy Klopfenstein says. “I knew I wanted a diverse faculty within the different styles of ballet, but I also wanted to throw in something new and different like African.”
She adds, “We also had between 25 and 35 scholarships to hand out this year. There were scholarships given by American Ballet Theatre, BalletMet, Colorado Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Alonzo King LINES Ballet as well as scholarships given by multiple local companies.”
The local pre-professional ballet companies participating in the festival included Collin County Ballet Theatre (CCBT), Ballet Ensemble of Texas (BET), Dallas Metropolitan Ballet (DMB) and of course DBC. “It was an amazing festival,” Hathaway says. “In speaking with my dancers the classes were so exciting for them and the faculty was awesome. They felt that the instructors could relate to them while at the same time not expecting anything less than their full effort.”
Many other festival participants felt the same way. After learning a vigorous George Balanchine variation from Jason Fowler, BalletForte company member Schuyler Buckler says that even though the variation was tough, Fowler was very encouraging. “He’s the good kind of strict that makes you want to do your best every time.”
Kristen Wright with BET adds, “The way he teaches is just so fun and he is very motivating.”
It also helps when the teachers are just as passionate and excited to work with the students. “I have always wanted to be a teacher,” Spizzo says. “Throughout my career I have honed my teaching skills and I have found a nice balance between verbiage and execution. I have learned that if you throw too much verbiage at younger dancers they won’t be able to process it. To me, teaching is the highest esteem.”
In addition to the variations class students also took partnering, ballet, pointe, modern, Pilates, theater, African and hip-hop. “I really liked Chris Koehl’s hip-hop class,” says BET company member Jimena Flores-Sanchez. “He really helps you break out of your shell.”
Buckler of BalletForte also enjoyed Koehl’s class, but admitted it takes her a little longer to pick up hip-hop movement than ballet choreography. “I just think hip-hop takes a lot more brain power whereas ballet has a lot more to do with muscle memory.”
When asked about the competitiveness of their career choice the students all agreed that the bar has definitely been raised higher in terms of technique and training. “The level of competition out there is really high,” Buckler says. “Today you’re expected to be able to do it all. You really have to be diverse in all styles of dance and the RDA/SW festival helps prepare us for that.”
Dallas-based modern dance choreographer Bruce Wood casts a spell like only he can.
While nearly every other dance company is offering The Nutcracker as a holiday fundraiser, leave it to Bruce Wood to come up with a sophisticated twist on warming up the Christmas season.
Wood successfully staged a one-night only, cabaret-style performance called Mistletoe Magic on Dec. 14 at the historic Fairmont Hotel in downtown Dallas.
He smartly captured the supper-club vibe, not only by keeping the show to an hour but serving up a candle-lit dinner as well. And he keenly took advantage of Broadway talent that arrived in North Texas, along with dancers from his Bruce Wood Dance Project collaborative.
The show featured six of Wood’s dancers, and Broadway stars Elizabeth Stanley (in the Tony-award winning Company) and Jason Graae (A Grand Night for Singing, Falsettos, Stardust, Snoopy! and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?) dancing and singing to holiday tunes.
Authenticity is what comes to mind when watching the dancers alongside Stanley and Graae and a five-piece band on the cozy stage in the hotel’s elegantly appointed Venetian Room. In such a confined space there was nowhere to hide. It was an ideal setting for Wood to reveal what’s currently considered his dream team: Joy Atkins Bollinger, Albert Drake, Harry Feril, Kimi Nikaidoh, Nycole Ray and Christopher Vo.
Bollinger and Nikaidoh both danced with Wood’s previous company. Drake and Feril, both SMU alumni, have performed with Wood for the last three seasons. Ray is a long-time Dallas Black Dance Theater dancer, while Vo, formerly with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly With Me, performed in Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH.
Wood has a gift for taking dancers of all shapes, sizes ,and ethnicities and uniting them through movement. He constructs works in such a way where viewers see past these differences. He is a true artist in this sense. A perfect example was the trio the men danced to an orchestrated version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Dressed in tuxes, shiny black dress shoes and bowler hats, Feril, Drake and Vo entertained with a series of slick hat moves, punctuated hand gestures, and Michael Jackson inspired pelvis thrusts. The dancers’ height differences disappeared as they lifted and caught one another as they glided across the stage.
As Stanley serenaded the group with ballads like The Very Thought of You and My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year), the dancers sat in chairs, swaying and tapping their feet, completely engrossed in the moment.
Graae kept things light with The Twelve Days After Christmas, Happy Holidays and Let Yourself Go. The dancers accompanied him in a few of the songs including the silly, yet well-staged Let Yourself Go. All six dancers performed a series of wrist flaps, head bobs, shoulder shrugs and hip swivels with a smoothness that is signature Wood. Bollinger, Nikaidoh and Ray showed their sultry side as they skimmed the floor in a number of uninhibited partnering moves with Feril, Drake and Vo. The cannon leg crosses and drunken role play on the chairs at the end was quite clever and memorable.
Wood’s fascination with touch was evident in Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas when, one by one, the dancers touched a shoulder or held hands, creating an unbreakable bond. As the song’s lead lyrics echoed through the room, the group broke into pairs, the women placing their heads on the men’s shoulders as they slowly strolled back to their seats.
As the Bruce Wood Dance Project enters its fourth season, audiences hope to see more of his genuine and human movement, and more of these technically brilliant dancers.
Dance Council of North Texas Honors is This Sunday!
Don’t forget the 2013 Dance Council Honors is this Sunday, Sept. 29 at Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT). Honorees include Ann Etgen and Bill Atkinson, Nycole Ray, Solomon Espie, Sharen Bradford and Peggy McCaslin. Honorees’ bios are below.
The event also includes performances by selected Dance Council scholarship recipients and DBDT II as well as a reception and silent auction featuring arts-related items and theater ticket packages.
Ann Etgen and Bill Atkinson – Mary Bywaters Award for Lifetime Contribution to Dance
The husband-and-wife team of Bill Atkinson and Ann Etgen is truly a Dallas institution. Each had extensive professional ballet careers in New York, Canada, and South America before coming to Dallas. Etgen was a member of the New York Metropolitan Ballet Company and Atkinson has performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Ballet AAA. In addition to maintaining the Etgen-Atkinson Ballet School and directing the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet, Etgen has also served on the Dance Panel of Texas Commission on the Arts and Humanities and both have held offices in Regional Dance America/Southwest (RDA/SW).
Nycole Ray – Natalie Skelton Award for Artistic Excellence
A Detroit native, Nycole Ray graduated from The California Institute of the Arts with a BFA in dance. She received additional training at the California State Summer School of the Arts, Wayne State University and as an exchange student at the London Contemporary Dance School in England. Ray has performed with the Bruce Wood Dance Project, Walt Disney World Entertainment, Christopher and Friends directed by Christopher L. Huggins, the Lula Washington Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II and the Zadonu African Dance Company. This year marks Ray’s 16th season with Dallas Black Dance Theatre and her 4th season as the artistic director of DBDT II.
Solomon Espie – Larry White Dance Educator Award
An Ohio native, Solomon Espie graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in physical education. He taught for the Columbus Public Schools and was an assistant track and field coach at OSU before moving to Dallas in 1985. It was his daughter who encouraged Espie to take a ballet class at Dallas Black Dance Academy and the experience would lead him to start the Lisbon Elementary School “Character Counts” Dance Company. Currently, Espie serves as President of the Board of Trustees of ARGA NOVA DANCE/Beckles Dancing Company where they have initiated a Resident Artists Program at the W. E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy.
Sharen Bradford – Mary Warner Award for Outstanding Contribution to Dance
Sharen Bradford is a successful dance photographer whose interest in capturing dance on film began when she received a 35mm camera from her father. Bradford has also studied dance with Dottie Hunt and has a BFA and MFA in dance from Southern Methodist University. She was the Executive Director of Allen Street Photography Gallery and taught photography classes for SMU’s School for Continuing Education. She is also the owner of The Dancing Image and has photographed dance companies, including the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet, Bruce Wood Dance Company/Bruce Wood Dance Project, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, TITAS and more.
Peggy McCaslin – Texas Tap Legend
Peggy McCaslin began her training at the age of 10 at the Ballet Academy and is currently celebrating her 42nd year of teaching. After receiving her BFA from Texas Christian University in 1972, McCaslin taught at The Wilshire Academy of Dance under the direction of Mary Wilcox and Pam Sparks. The studio became the Dallas Ballet Center in 1987 and McCaslin established the DBC Tap Connection in 2002. The Tap Connection has appeared in numerous National Tap Day events and tap festivals, including The Rhythm Junkies’ ‘Everything On Tap’ festival and The Drawbacks Youth Tap Ensemble.