Tag Archives: Plano Texas

Q&A: Avery-Jai Andrews

Avery-Jai Andrews (bottom) in Notturno with Keyhole Dance Project. Photo: Mario Squotti

The Dallas native on coming home and starting Don’t Ask Why Dance Company, which makes its world premiere this Friday.

Plano — As in any industry, the Dallas dance market has seen its fair share of highs and lows since I moved to the city almost a decade ago. In the two years following the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2009, the Dallas dance community saw an impressive rise in the number of professional dance companies in the area, including Avant Chamber Ballet, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Bruce Wood Dance. The dance scene’s next noticeable growth spurt happened around 2014 with the influx of more local dance festivals such as Dallas DanceFest, Rhythm in Fusion Festival and later, Wanderlust Dance Project. Since then the dance market has plateaued, with many dance companies and organizations struggling to find cost effective ways to increase funding and ticket sales without disrupting their bottom lines.

Now, the Dallas dance market is about due for another growth spurt and I believe it will come in the form of fresh talent like Avery-Jai Andrews, who grew up in Dallas but left to pursue dancing elsewhere and is now returning home to start her own dance company. Like many serious dancers here in Dallas, Andrews attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before being accepted into New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating from NYU in 2014, Andrews decided to move overseas where she danced professionally with artists in Italy, Israel and Germany.

In 2016 Andrews made the decision to come home to Dallas and start making her own work, which is how her dance company, Don’t Ask Why, came into existence. The company’s first performance is this Friday, with performances at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., at the White Theater, part of the state-of-the-art facilities that make up the new Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano. Titled GESTALT, which is a German word meaning an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts, the 45-minute piece features Italian-based contemporary dance company Keyhole Dance Project.

TheaterJones talked to Avery-Jai Andrews to find out more about her European contemporary dance style, the lessons she has learned abroad and what viewers can expect to see at Don’t Ask Why Dance Company’s premiere performance.

TheaterJones: What made you decide to come back to Dallas to form your own dance company?

Avery-Jai Andrews: Dallas is such a vibrant city, and I know for me and my dance friends when we come back home there is always something new happening in the dance community, and I think that is what’s pulling a lot us [professional dancers] back to the area. With that said, I have spent the last three years traveling between New York, Europe and Israel, and I finally had enough of that and wanted to come back to Dallas with the intention of settling down and creating my own work. So, in October 2016 I made the decision to start changing things so I could start to create my own non-profit.

Avery-Jai Andrews. Photo: Courtesy

How has your perception of the dance scene in Dallas changed since leaving for college in the fall of 2010?

I remember we moved into the new section of Booker T. at the end of my Freshman year, so I really got to experience the changes happening in Arts District first hand, but by the end of my Senior year I was ready to leave home and experience being a college kid. I feel like when I left that dance wasn’t something that I wanted to do here in Dallas. I thought that I needed to be in New York in order to make it as a professional dancer. My mind wasn’t opened up to the idea until I left America and I started seeing what was happening dance-wise in other countries and as my own voice started to become more clear. During this period of time I started to have more desire to share and to create, and I think that’s when the urge to find a place to settle down and start choreographing began to take over.

I mean when I went to college I had no idea that I really wanted to create and start my own company. I was just ready to be a dancer, join a company and to be living that New York fast-paced life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love New York City, but I have started to realize that you are limited there. Everything is very expensive there, so when it comes to creating your own work in the city, you know outside of working to make money to pay your rent, you also have to find the free time and the money to be creative and I felt that would be more possible here. I just feel like Dallas is asking and wanting the young, different voices too. They want different flavors and there are a lot of people who want to support the arts. It’s so great to go to shows here and see an audience that is excited to be there and I feel like sometimes you miss that in the big cities where there are always dance performances happening.

Why did you chose to pursue a dancing career abroad after graduating from college?

I was blessed to study abroad over the summer to Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria and that was my first taste of dance outside of the U.S. and more specifically the European contemporary style. It showed me a whole other world. I mean, just the way they use the space, sets, lights and costumes; it’s such an integrated feel that I think sometimes I’m missing out when I’m here in America. The experience opened my mind up to all that dance can be. That dance can be something more than I already see and so, when I got back and entered my last year of school I knew that I wanted to go back and felt like I needed to immerse myself in dance outside of the U.S. So, as soon as I graduated I ended up going to Israel to Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Dance Journey program for five months.

Even with all the conflict that was happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis during this time, I still had a great time and the program helped me acknowledge that I have the tools and skills to be an artist and that I could go forth and be a professional. And because it is an international program I got to meet so many wonderful people from around the world and it is actually where I met Matteo Zamperin from Italy who started Keyhole Dance Project. I also met Elise Cleaver there, and I was in Hamburg with her in 2015 creating a new work. So, I still kept in contact with a lot of those people and that has afforded me the opportunity to travel more just from that program. The Dance Journey program really set me up to continue this deep desire of whatever was brewing in me to get out and explore the world. And just being in other cultures and living there, not just visiting or being there a week or two, but living in other countries has really expanded me as a human and had me questioning a lot about who I want to be and how I want to live my life.

As of today, how would you classify your movement style to audiences?

I am definitely not classical and I wouldn’t even say modern because I even see modern as a bit more classical so, I would say I am within the realm of European contemporary dance. What I like to focus on as a creative is, the dancers have to be physical and dynamic with their bodies but yet still relate to the people who are watching them. How can we still show that we are human, but then also be more expressive within our own bodies? So, I definitely put in those lines and we have big movements and we take the space and travel, but then I want us to be able to transition into just being human and being a body at the same time.

Can you explain Friday evening’s program to me?

The program is 45 minutes long with no intermission and I would describe it more as a performance experience.GESTALT is a collaboration with my friend Matteo and his Italian-based company, Keyhole Dance Project. He and I formed a good rapport through Kibbutz’s Dance Journey program and I knew that I wanted that again so, when I decided to produce my own show as a premiere for Don’t Ask Why I immediately reached out to him.

The theme of the show comes from its title GESTALT, which basically means the perceived whole is more important than the individual pieces that make up the whole image. That has served up very well in the creation process because Matteo hasn’t been here this whole time and just being a start-up we have been rehearsing here and there and so we were literally creating in pieces. And some of the material we worked with had been planned a year ago so most of our collaboration came into play when we started putting all these pieces of movement together. GESTALT is a very dynamic and layered piece and I’m personally enjoying that each of the seven performers is having an experience of their own throughout the work.

What is the inspiration behind the name Don’t Ask Why?

Well, when my mom came to my shows she would tell me ‘that was great, but why did that happen?’ and I would say, ‘Mom you don’t need to fully understand what I was thinking. I just want you to experience the movement.’ In my mind, as long as the show made her feel something then the job was done. I just want people to feel something when they see my work and that’s one of the reasons behind the name. The other is more personal and goes back to when my best friend Micaela White passed away right before I went to college and a year later I was in another scary situation with a close friend who was in the hospital and these experiences made me started questioning why me? Why am I in this place? At that time this felt like a very dangerous place psychologically to be in and so, I told myself that I was going to stop asking why and just keep moving forward. I have taken this philosophy with me since then and it has been a very productive thing for me to live by.

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




Review: Chamberlain Performing Arts’ Nutcracker

Chamberlain Performing Arts delivers strong technique and spectacular guest artists at the company’s 31st Nutcracker production this weekend.

Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle in Chamberlain’s Nutcracker. Photo Ryan Williams

Richardson — Oh, the weather outside was definitely frightful last Friday evening, but the mood inside the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts was festive as audiences eagerly took their seats for the Chamberlain Performing Arts’ (CPA) 31st showing of The Nutcracker. What sets this company’s Nutcracker apart from other productions in the area is Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain and her team’s minimalist, yet effective approach to the stage design and movement choices, thus turning the typically cumbersome party scene into an exciting dance narrative filled with nonstop action and clean choreography.

The simple set design in the party scene, which included a handful of gifts, a large grandfather clock, a couch and a chair enabled the audience to focus more on the children and adult dances as well as the subplots taking place around the room. Choreographers Chamberlain, Richard Condon, Lynne Short and Catherine Turocy combined rudimentary ballet steps i.e. chasses, balances, relieve plie and bourrees with various regimented formation changes and even some boy/girl partnering walks in the children’s dances, creating an effect that was both clean and captivating. By intermingling the adults and children into one waltz section, the choreographers successfully kept the energy and storyline moving at a chipper pace.

Katherine Patterson (Clara) perfectly captured a child’s innocence and wonder when it comes to Christmas with her endless energy and shining stage presence. And while Patterson had a tendency to cut her movements short, when she did complete her line in an arabesque hold or sous-sus in fifth, it rivaled the lines of the older company members. With more time and training she will be a force to be reckoned with in coming years. Clara’s friends (Madison Cox, Emily DeMotte, Annika Haynes and Mary Rose Vining) displayed beautiful musicality and body control in their petit adagio section, which featured alternating leg extensions and arm placements and deliberatepique steps, all the while holding baby dolls. Guest artist Joshua Coleman really played to the younger audience members in his role as Herr Drosselmeyer with his over-the-top facial expressions and well-executed magical illusions, which included an impressive disappearing act.

CPA Senior Company Member Bethany Greenho did a commendable job as the Snow Queen. Even her sometimes stiff back arches and locked hip joints in her battements couldn’t take away from her swan-like arms and nimble pointe work nor the way she fearlessly went for the pas de deux’s momentous lifts.  Dallas native Travis Morrison, who performed with the Colorado Ballet from 2006 to 2012, inspired Greenho’s confidence with his unwavering strength and razor-sharp focus during the lifts and tricky counterbalance body positions spread throughout the dance. The snowflake dance lacked some of the elasticity demanded by Tchaikovsky’s score, which falls more on the choreographer’s shoulders than the dancers as the movement in the section catered toward more gliding steps and sustained body positions rather than constant spritely jumps and steps. The hand-held fan-like props with tiny snowballs attached at the ends drew attention to the dancers’ strong body lines and made for a memorable ending to the first half of the show.

The second half in which Clara and her Prince entered the land of sweets gave the whole company the opportunity to show off their artistic growth and technical versatility and also featured some amazing performances by special guests, including Harry Feril (Bruce Wood Dance Project) in the Arabian section and Tiler Peck (New York City Ballet) and Tyler Angle (New York City Ballet) as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Peck and Angle’s chemistry was undeniable as they executed the complex reverse promenades into a ponche arabesque and the multiple over-the-head lifts including the dynamic fish bowl dip at the end with expressive abandonment. Their luminous auras and technical finesse portrayed at the end of each move, especially after the lightening-quick seven assisted pirouettes into a sustained back arch, is not something that can be taught. Their magnetism as a couple didn’t fade in their solo sections, which featured impressive jumps and controlled landings by Angle and bold lines and unwavering confidence from Tiler in the infamous diagonal chaine, pique turn combination in time to the changing rhythm of the music.

Lisa Hess Jones’ clever choreography in the second half played to each group’s specific skill level from the synchronized walking patterns of the itty bitty angels and the simple soft shoe work of the intermediate bakers and bon bon’s to the more technically advanced pointe work of the marzipans and the Waltz of the Flowers. The end result was one of the most well-rehearsed and lively second acts of the Nutcracker I have had the pleasure to see this season.

Senior dancer Luke Yee wowed audiences with multiple toes touches in the Chinese dance as well as in the Russian dance where he performed alongside Southern Methodist University dance major Alex Druzbanski. Henry Feril showed off his modern background with his hinged-back body layouts and swooping arm movements before assisting Katherine Lambert in a number of shoulder lifts and body dips in the Arabian section. Greenho, Breanna Mitchell, Raquel Dominguez, Aidan Leslie and Serena Press enthralled viewers with their beautiful lyricism and solid pointe work while playing their flutes in the marzipan dance. The whole senior company returned for the Waltz of the Flowers in which they effortlessly captured the nuances in the music with their constant weight shifts on pointe and dynamic crisscrossing jumping sequences. Definitely, a Nutcracker worth seeing again next season!

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


Review: 8&1 Dance Company, Exchange Street

Sarah Beal Photography.
Khalid Beard, head trainer at Title Boxing Club in Uptown in Exchange Street. Sarah Beal Photography.

8&1 Dance Company enthralls audiences with its full-length dance drama Exchange Street, which highlights the parallels between dance and boxing.

Plano — Outside of boxing the term heavyweight refers to a person of great influence or importance. Watching 8&1 Dance Company receive a standing ovation after the presentation of the company’s full-length dance dramaExchange Street Saturday evening at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano, it’s safe to say that 8&1’s Artistic Director Jill S. Rucci has earned her title of a dance heavyweight in Dallas. Drawing inspiration from personal experiences, all Rucci’s work over the past five years has radiated an authenticity that appeals to audiences on a primitive level. Add in her vast knowledge of producing and directing and an eclectic group of dancers and artists well-versed in all forms of dance and performance art and you have the makings for a dance company unlike any other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Staying true to form 8&1 Dance Company’s latest production, Exchange Street, was inspired by Rucci’s grandfather and pays homage to the sport of boxing in the 1960s. Written and choreographed by Rucci,Exchange Street follows boxer Barry “The Bull” Leonard (Khalid Beard) on his rise to the top as well as his struggles to find a balance between boxing and his home life with his girlfriend (Hannah Fozkos). Rucci’s genius music choices, which include James Brown, Dean Martin, Simon & Garfunkel, Kenny Rogers and Dorothy Moore, not only reflected the time period, but also contained lyrics that directly tied into the characters’ narratives. Rucci’s movement choices seamlessly blended popular social dances such as the mashed potato, shimmy and twist into the mainly jazz-driven choreography. Costume Designer Sherri Fozkos and hair and make-up’s Kendra Hibbs and Jessica Scharff completed the image with beehive hairdos, floral dresses, form-fitted capris, suspenders, bright scarves and newsboy caps.

Sarah Beal Photography
Sarah Beal Photography

Company members Lauren Daniels, Kendra Hibbs, McKenzie Rollinson, Shelby Stanley, Pat White and Tesla Wolfe opened the show with a vivacious Fosse-inspired jazz number to Louis Armstrong’s Cabaret. Dressed all in black with black fishnets and character shoes, the six performers executed Fosse’s signature hips swivels, shoulder isolations and wrist flicks with rigor and poise. Rucci layered these moves with subtle head tilts, stop and go action and explosive leaps which matched the varying rhythms of Armstrong’s trumpet playing. While the dance was exciting and inviting, there was another scene that would have packed a stronger punch as the show’s opener.

Sitting on a bench on a dimly lit stage, the audience was glued to The Bull (Beard) as he methodically taped up his hands and slid on his boxing gloves before standing up and shadowboxing. As the head trainer at Title Boxing Club in Uptown and a trained fighter, there was nothing artificial about the way Beard moved. Every little detail from the number of times he wrapped the tape around his wrists to the unconscious way he scratched his head and thumbed his nose came across natural and uncensored. Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” added complexity and intensity to the scene without detracting from the simplistic beauty of watching Beard navigate through his routine.

After his workout at the gym The Bull headed to a local bar where he would meet his soon-to-be girlfriend Fozkos. While they were getting to know each other, Rucci used this time to highlight the company’s proficiency in other dance styles outside of modern, including jazz, musical theater and swing dance. While not always together, the ladies showcased unwavering control and playful musicality in a sultry group number to “Man’s World” by James Brown. The whole cast let loose during Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got That Swing” with dancers Trent Hyman and Stanley stealing the show with a swing duet full of continuous twists, spins, lifts and flips garnering generous applause from the audience. As the night came to an end narrator Avery D. Wilson walked out to give us a status update on the couple and teased us with some foreshadowing on the second half. Wilson’s charming smile and suave aire immediately put the audience at ease while his silky, yet punctuated manner of speaking had us hanging on his every word.

Sarah Beal Photography
Sarah Beal Photography

The men dominated the second half, which also included the highly anticipated fight between The Bull and Terrell “Lights Out” Lopez (trained boxer Brian Lacy). Leading up to the fight The Bull struggled to find a balance between boxing and spending time with Fozkos, which the couple acted out to Kenny Rogers’ “Don’t Fall in Lovewith a Dreamer.” Fozkos vented her frustration with the situation by writing a letter as a recording of her voice transcribed it aloud. The letter writing then led her to perform a technically clean and passionate contemporary solo to Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue.” While slightly over conceptualized, the scene was still one of the most touching moments in the show. Before the fight dancers Ruben Benitez, Chad Geiger, Trent Hyman and Nick Leos let it rip with a series of barrel turns, leg jumps and traveling grapevines in what can only be called an exuberant display of stamina and swag.

Rucci did an admirable transforming the theater into a real life boxing match with the help of dim lighting, a pseudo boxing ring prop and boxing official Johnny Carrasco who played the role of referee. Beard and Lacy didn’t hold anything back in the ring. Like dance, the pair’s boxing moves had a pulse that changed tempo when the two moved toward and away from one another. There was also a graceful quality to the way their feet shifted back and forth. The two art forms finally came together when five of the dancers whose faces were obscured by white hoodies, started punching, ducking and drop and rolling to Gnarls Barkley’s aptly chosen song, Run. Perhaps this dance would have been taken to the next level if Beard and Lacy had joined in the mayhem instead of freezing when the dancers came out. Or if the fighters were boxing to music instead of in silence. But as it was, the audience ate it up, shouting out encouragements like “Let’s go Bull” and “Hit him with a left!”

Talk about a knockout.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.