Tag Archives: Richardson Texas

The Nutcracker: Collin County Ballet Theatre

ccbt2016nut
Collin County Ballet Theatre Presents The Nurcracker. Photo: Fermaint Photography

This year’s Nutcracker season concludes with Collin County Ballet Theatre’s spirited version featuring stunning guest artists and live music at the Eisemann Center.

Richardson — With more than 15 professional and pre-professional The Nutcracker productions running from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year, ballet company directors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have to continuously find new ways to up their production value if they want to stand out from the rest of the Nut pack. For some ballet companies this means tweaking choreography, storylines and stage setup while for others it means adding live music and big names from local and national dance companies to draw in the crowds, which is exactly what Collin County Ballet Theatre (CCBT) does with its Nutcracker production. While the promise of live music and notable guest performers is what initially got me to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts last Tuesday evening, it was the budding technical range and intuitive musicality displayed by the Senior Company (Brittany Chambers, Emily Dunaway, Aurelia Han, Lauren Huynh, Abigail Linnabary, Marissa Storey and Carissa Weaver) as well as Junior Company Member Alisa Ishikawa’s luminous performance as Clara that puts CCBT’s Nutcracker production in a class of its own.

For those unfamiliar with the 19th century holiday ballet originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, here is a quick synopsis: The story begins at the Silberhaus’ annual Christmas party where family and friends have gathered to eat, drink, dance and exchange gifts. Herr Drosselmeyer arrives late and entertains the children with magic tricks before handing out toys to everyone, including a nutcracker doll for young Clara. After Clara falls asleep she dreams of her nutcracker doll coming to live and battling an army of mice led by the Rat King. Once the Rat King is defeated the Nutcracker Prince escorts Clara through the Land of Snow and across the Lemonade Sea to the Kingdom of the Sweets where couples from different nations are waiting to dance for her, including the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Most Nutcracker productions have the cast enter the stage during the musical introduction at the beginning, but CCBT Director’s Kirt and Linda Hathaway cleverly chose to leave the stage blank and just let the audience soak in the crisp, pervasive sounds of the Plano Symphony Orchestra (PSO) led by Hector Guzman. Nothing beats live music at a dance performance. It adds new depth and excitement to a dancer’s performance, which we clearly saw in the Merlitons and The Waltz of the Flowers variations as well as the Grand Pas de Deux with the Cuban Prima Ballerina Adiarys Almeida (Melian Izotov Dec. 22) and World Ballet Competition Gold Medalist Taras Domitro (Shea Johnson Dec. 22).

The Hathaway’s kept the movement in the party scene simple with repetitive combinations that included waltz steps, pas de chats, glissades, piques and detournes, which the adults and children cleanly executed while also changing directions and group formations. Timing was off here and there and movement appeared fuzzy at times, but the performers continued to garner strength and confidence as the scene progressed. Alisa Ishikawa (Clara) was a guiding light for the younger dancers on stage. She confidently led the children across the stage in a number of skipping and running passes. She also exuded youthful vigor and technical brilliance in her solo moments which showcased her supple pointe work and graceful arms. Additionally, Ishikawa had some endearing moments with Kirt Hathaway (Drosselmeyer) who charmed audiences with his gleeful expressions and dynamic gesturing.

Once Clara is asleep chaos ensued in the form of tiny dancers dressed up as mice. They scurried around the stage as dancers dressed in red and white solider uniforms tried to coral them with their militant arm movements and clipped marching steps. The battle scene was where CCBT’s Resident Company began to shine. Jamie Thompson (former member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre) was a ball of controlled energy with his multiple jumps and grand battements, and Lauren Gonzales (CCBT instructor and choreographer) was the most agile Rat King I have seen all season with her head whacking leg extensions and multiple fouette turns.

The momentum in the battle scene carried over into the snow scene thanks to the striking violins offset by a brass counter melody that the dancing snowflakes then paralleled with their springy yet sometimes heavy footwork and fluttery arm movements. CCBT Resident Company Member Ashton Leonard’s rigid spine kept her from filling out some of the poignant musical notes in the Snow Pas de Deux, but she countered that with beautiful control during the adagio sections and a fearless approach to the numerous lifts. Guest Artist Shea Johnson continues to work on his technical control and onstage chemistry, which was evident in his tight landings and the confident way he led Leonard through the intricate partnering skills.

The second act contained even more exuberant dance sequences, standout instrumentals by PSO and exquisite performances from individual CCBT company members and guest performers. The dim lighting at the start of the Lemonade Sea section prohibited us from seeing the pretty green hues of the Sea Maidens and Sea Sprites costuming as well as most of Carissa Weaver’s Sea Queen choreography, but the lights did brighten up as we were welcomed into the Kingdom of the Sweets by a dozen cute cherubs.

The variations in the second half were hit or miss. While Brittany Chambers, Marissa Storey and Adrian Aguirre (CCBT Resident Company) had the tendency to rush at times, the trio did handle the playful shifts from staccato to sequential movement in the Spanish dance with polished ease. A stumble earlier in the act threw Emily Dunaway off her game in the Arabian duo, but kudos to her for maintaining the slow, hypnotic feel of the music with her unhurried back arches and leg extensions aided by Michael Stone (CCBT Resident Company). Katelyn Benhardt and Sophie Ludwig were not always in unison during the Chinese variation, but they attacked the nuances in the fast-paced number with exacting pointe work and endless energy.

ccbt2016nut2
Photo: Fermaint Photography

Aurelia Han, Lauren Huynh and Abigail Linnabary did not miss a beat or, in this case, a ballonne (a step in which the dancer springs into the air extending one leg to the front, side or back) in the Merlitons variation, while Reid Frye (CCBT Resident Company) wowed viewers with his acrobatic skills as the Trepak. Linnabary, Huynh and Weaver also embodied the ethereal qualities of the lead fairies in the Waltz of the Flowers with their flickering foot work, graceful arm positions and subtle musicality.

The highlight of the evening was the Grand Pas de Deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy (Adiarys Almeida) and her Cavalier (Taras Domitro). Almedia was the epitome of a prima ballerina with her technical fortitude, amazing body control and musical maturity. It appeared as if her body was the source of the music as she twirled, leaped and fluttered across the stage. Domitro also entranced the audience with his tender handling of Almedia during the various dips and balances in the partnering sections as well as his explosive leaps and quadruple pirouettes.

<< This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Advertisements

This Woman’s Work

ACB-Womens
Avant Chamber Ballet presents Woman’s Choreography Project. Photo: Mark Kitaoka 

Avant Chamber Ballet’s second annual Women’s Choreography Project features more dynamic works by international female choreographers and live music.

Richardson — If there is a need in the Dallas dance community especially if it pertains to ballet, then you can bet that Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) Artistic Director Katie Cooper is already looking for a way to fill it. After all, Cooper started her company three years ago because she saw a need for more live music at local classical ballet performances. “When we started ACB no other professional dance companies were using live music in DFW and we are still the only ones who always have live music at every show,” Cooper says. “Musicality and the connection between the dancers, music and choreography to me is inseparable.”

So, when Cooper noticed so few female choreographers being represented on many local and national professional dance companies seasonal programs, she knew she had to do something about it. And that is how the Women’s Choreography Project came into being in 2015. “I know firsthand how hard it is to get commissions in such a male-dominated field. One of the reasons I started my own company was to give myself opportunities to create my own work and to also work with the dancers I wanted to work with. I wanted to try and give other female choreographers the same opportunities, which is why I started the Women’s Choreography Project.”

Last year’s inaugural event at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson featured the members of ACB in five diverse works produced by well-known regional choreographers, including Amy Diane Morrow, Elizabeth Gillapsy, Emily Hunter as well as two pieces by Cooper. Most of the pieces alternated between neo-classical and contemporary dance styles with the exception of Morrow’s String Theory, which had the dancers manipulating various strings stretched halfway across the stage.

Photo: Avant Chamber Ballet. Shauna Davis, left, and Janie Richards

This year Cooper says audiences can expect even more variety at the second annual Women’s Choreography Project which takes place May 7-8 at the Eismann Center. The program for this year’s event features two new classical works by Cooper, a musically inspired pointe piece by Canadian choreographer Janie Richards and a retrospective modern-based piece by New York choreographer Shauna Davis. While all four works are vastly different in terms of concept, costuming, music and movement style, what Cooper believes ties them all together is the choreographers’ fine attention to detail and the dancers’ technical execution of the steps in each work. All the works will be accompanied by live music under the guidance of ACB Musical Director David Cooper.

Shauna Davis is no stranger to the Dallas dance scene. She is a graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts and also spent a season with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, which also happened to be the same year the company performed Joshua L. Peugh’s jjigae at ACB’s fall dance concert in 2013. “That was the first time I had seen her dance and she was just really magnetic on stage. She has such a gregarious, outgoing and open personality and I think that you can really see that in her process. She brings a lot out of her dancers and makes them feel really comfortable, which is important because her piece is a little more modern, which is not many of the dancers’ primary style.” Davis’ piece, Untitled, set to Schubert’s trio op.100 features five dancers and focuses on the idea of technology and how it impacts our self-worth in this modern age, which she depicts on stage with the use of mirrors. “She has a very distinct idea behind what she is doing and uses a more modern vocabulary to describe the feelings and emotions the dancers are dealing with, which is quite different from Janie’s work which is more inspired by the music.”

During the selection process Canadian choreographer Janie Richards immediately caught Cooper’s attention with her very thorough application, which included an eight-page PowerPoint presentation highlighting every detail of the piece from costuming and lighting, and even a choreographic layout of the almost 20-minute work. Cooper describes Richards’ L’inverno as a very intense, intricate and high energy contemporary pointe piece set to Vivaldi’s Winter. “Her intent is to capture the crispness, brightness and hard edges of winter, but also then the melting of winter and the coming of spring. It’s a really cool piece with a lot of technically challenging material.”

Rounding out the program is Cooper’s full-length version of Harlequinade composed by Riccard Drigo and a solo Cooper created for company member Emily Dixon called Piros set to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. “I knew we were going to do Harlequinade way before I saw anyone else’s pieces. I knew if I was going to commission new work it was not going to be a traditional tutu classical ballet. Harlequinade is just really fun and cute, and it showcases some of the dancers really well.” And as for working with Dixon on Piros, Cooper says, “I just love working with Emily. She is a beautiful person inside and out and that really comes across in her dancing. She lives for these moments on stage, so I knew she would be able to hold an audience for six minutes.”

You can check out these new commissioned works by Katie Cooper, Shauna Davis and Janie Richards when Avant Chamber Ballet presents the Women’s Choreography Project May 7-8 at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Sossy Mechanics

sossy mechanics
Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan in Trick Boxing. Photo: Ed Bock

Richardson — If you are looking for something out of the ordinary to do this weekend, then check out Sossy MechanicsTrick Boxing: Swingin’ in the Ring, Feb. 11-14, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. In this 80-minute show, husband and wife team Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan bring the aesthetic of classic 1930’s movie musicals to the stage with four puppets playing 16 different characters, rapid-fire dialogue, physical comedy and beautiful ballroom dance sequences reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Sossy Mechanics is a dance theater company based out of Minneapolis that combines the vast performance talent and wild imaginations of Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan. Since forming the company in 2000, Sossy Mechanics has developed a devoted public following and their show Trick Boxing has garnered critical acclaim in various cities across the U.S. and abroad, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edinburgh, Prague, London, Vancouver, Seattle and New York City. Sossy Mechanics made its Dallas debut at WaterTower Theatre’s 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival where Trick Boxing was well received by both audiences and critics.

 

Sostek and McClellan met while performing with the percussive dance theater company Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum in Minneapolis. Over the years Sostek has parlayed his background in various dance forms, his life long experience with comedy and fascination with verbal and physical into a successful career in the arts as a writer, director, choreographer, performer and teacher. He is a recipient of a 2014 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, a 2005 Sage Award for performance and the 2010 MN Bride Magazine award for Best Dance Instructor.

McClellan’s first professional dance job had her portraying a water molecule at a sewage treatment facility for a site-specific choreographer in Minneapolis. Her other performance credits include Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, Shapiro & Smith Dance and Black Label Movement. Since joining forces with Sostek in 2000 she had added writing, acting and choreography to her repertoire. In 2003 McClellan was awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship in Dance and was named Artist of the Year in 2012 by City Pages (Minneapolis).

TheaterJones askes Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan about combining their backgrounds in dance, theater, acting, writing and puppetry to produce Trick Boxing, the challenges of putting together a show as unique as this one and the different styles of puppetry.

TheaterJones: How were you two introduced to the performing arts?

Megan McClellan: Our backgrounds are vast. Brian was brought into the arts at a young age through his parents. His mother was a talented dancer and his father was a talented actor, director and stage manager in New York. He was always interested in acting and theater, but it wasn’t until college when he started taking dance much more seriously, which then lead him to becoming a ballroom dance instructor and getting into tap dance.

Brian Sostek: I graduated from college with a degree in English, and afterward I moved to Minneapolis where I started auditioning for different things. I quickly found that I didn’t really like the audition pieces so, I started writing my own audition pieces and getting work based on those. And one thing lead to another and I started writing longer, more involved character pieces and started performing them around town. So, long before I was working as a legitimate actor I was sort of working in the fringe of what was then called the performance art world.

McClellan: My backstory is that I am one of four girls and a brother, and all the girls were put into dance at a very early age. I strictly danced up until the first time we put this show together. I consider myself the type of dancer who always believed that I am an actor while on stage. I was more a strict tap, jazz and ballet dancer who then got her modern dance education from the University of Minnesota. I later ended up in a tap and percussive dance company, and that is where Brian and I met. I have also choreographed for a lot of musical theater, but I do not have a strong singing voice so I was never really pulled into the theatrical side until Brian took me there.

Is this showing of Trick Boxing the same one you presented at the Out of The Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre in 2014?

Sostek: The full production has changed since 2014. We rewrote the show and changed the beginning for a premiere in St. Paul, Minnesota at the beginning of 2015. We have revised the show various times over its lifetime. The history of the show starts back in 2002 when we premiered a 50-minute version at a local fringe festival. It was very successful so the following year we took it on the road and did the Canadian circuit and the Edinburgh Fringe for a month, and by that point we had rewritten it a little bit. We periodically make adjustments and because it’s our show and it’s just the two of us sometimes we make adjustments minutes before going on stage. We put the show on the shelf for about five years while we were having kids and working with other companies in Minneapolis.

In 2010 we decided to get back to doing our own work and got into the New York International Fringe Festival and got some really nice press from the New York Times. From there we did another major rewrite to take Trick Boxingfrom an hour long show to an hour and a half with an intermission. The main reason we do rewrites is to improve the story and include choreography that we felt was missing from the show. The beginning of last year we still felt there was something lacking in the story structure and the choreography so, we added a new beginning and a couple other changes within the show that really flushed out some of the characters.

Was it hard coming up with choreography that you could perform while delivering dialogue through multiple characters?

Sostek: What we do is actually a lot easier than performing in musicals because in musicals the singing takes a lot more vocal control. We sometimes call our show a dance-ical because instead of bursting into song we burst into dance, and then most of the dialogue happens between dances. We also do a lot of movement sequences that are more text-based.

McClellan: One of the elements in the story is that my character Bella teaches two different characters in the show how to be better boxers by teaching them how to swing dance, and she does all this through a simple, reinventing of the Patty Cake nursey rhythm. There are all sorts of speaking and dancing elements in the story, but when it comes to the dance sequences these are more silent movie moments.

Sostek: And all the dances in the show are organic to the show’s cosmology. In other words it’s not like we go off on a tangent and say “OK, now these two characters are going to dance.” They’re dancing either because they are moving in a stylized way as in boxing or training to box or because one of the characters is a dancer and she is dancing with the other characters. In that way we really tried to make every movement piece real to the world of the story.

Does Trick Boxing personify the type of work you both envisioned of doing when you started Sossy Mechanics?

McClellan: The message within the show really personifies who we are as artists. We like to make work with positive elements. We spent a lot of time working in the concert dance world and Brian also spent a lot of writing for dance and so, we walk the line between theater and dance a lot. One of the main things we consider ourselves to be is storytellers. And we use dance, theater and puppetry to tell a story. We are not likely to make our pieces abstract. Working in the concert world the choreographers who have touched us the most are the ones who create work from their hearts instead of their heads and personal demons. We like to create positive work. We also make work about love and that is the other most important component about our work.

Brian, how did you get into puppetry and where does one go to learn these skills?

Sostek: When we started this show I had done rudimentary puppetry on my own because I have always been fascinated with it. Since the first time we created the show I have worked quite a bit at the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis which has fantastic puppetry. They bring in puppet artists from around the world to create, design, build and teach the different styles of puppetry. Everything from giant five-person operated puppets like we see in Alice in Wonderland to the shadow puppets in Peter Pan. Minneapolis and St. Paul have a really great driving puppetry design, performance and education environment. There are also more puppet theaters that are offering puppetry classes. There’s a company out of Chicago called Manual Cinema which has a developed a whole new style of puppetry that uses overhead projectors and drawing and shadows. If people are looking for training I think they need to start with the puppet theaters. Just like dance has many different styles such as postmodern, modern, tap or jazz, it is the same with puppetry. There are many different styles of puppetry so is it hard to say how do you study puppetry. You kind of have to just immerse yourself in the culture and go from there.

What style of puppetry do you use in the show?

Sostek: The style of the show is very simple. It’s called ludicrous puppetry because without giving much away it involved some silly prop objects that we threw together including a beanie baby. And the power of it does not so much come from the technique of puppetry. I have become a much better puppeteer since creating the show, but we haven’t changed the puppetry in the show to match my skills so, the magic is really about how the audience’s imagination is being engaged. One of the things we set out to do was rely on the audience’s imagination. We have no set other than some scrims in the background and our props consist of an old steamer trunk. It’s really minimal in terms of script. We use our bodies, light design and sound design to tell the story. By the time we get to the puppetry in the show the idea is that people are along for the ride and they’re playing the game so, we have people cheering for these absurd looking puppets. It’s crazy!

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.

CPA-NUT
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: Epiphany DanceArts, Diamonds

Epiphany DanceArts in Diamonds at the Eisemann Center. Photo: Sarah Beal
Epiphany DanceArts in Diamonds at the Eisemann Center. Photo: Sarah Beal

Precious Gem

Epiphany DanceArts stretches itself technically and emotionally in an encore performance of Diamonds at the Eisemann Center.

Richardson — Bold. Edgy. Emotionally volatile. One wouldn’t typically use these words to describe Epiphany DanceArts. Created by Melissa DeGroat six years ago, Epiphany has made a name for itself in the Dallas dance scene with its strong storytelling, uplifting content, and unique blend of ballet and liturgical movement stylings. But as everyone in the dance community knows, the key to surviving in this oversaturated market is to keep evolving, which is exactly what Epiphany did last season with its compelling work Diamonds. The show was so well-received that the company decided to bring it back for an encore at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson this past weekend.

In Diamonds, which is inspired by Max Lucado’s children’s book You Are Special, DeGroat uses removable fabric swatches adorned with either dots or stars to express the internal battle everyone goes through when choosing between who they want to be versus who everyone expects them to be. Throughout the 75-minute work the dancers depict identity struggles that show in poignant movement choices, especially the removal of the dot and star swatches at the end.

The “diamond” element of the story is depicted through Abel Garcia’s live painting during the show, of a dancer suspended upside down. Garcia’s pastel-colored strokes worked in sharp contrast to the black and red tones presented onstage. Unlike other live collaborations I’ve seen, here Garcia and the dancers maintained a connection throughout the performance, sometimes by simply stopping what they were doing to make eye contact, or in DeGroat’s case, by coming over and dancing in Garcia’s space. DeGroat’s opening solo effectively introduced Garcia into the storyline. She kept her movements simple yet deep, with sweeping arm gestures, shifting leg extensions and breathy body contractions as Garcia worked behind her.

Unlike past Epiphany productions where the focus was on a singular emotion such as love or loss, in Diamonds DeGroat pushes her dancers to emote myriad feelings on this winding journey of self-discovery. And while all 13 dancers displayed beautiful body lyricism and natural facial expressions, some delivered more feeling than others. For example, in several stop-action moments in the opening number, the dancers needed to exude energy from every inch of their bodies while holding various poses.

Epiphany veterans DeGroat, Ivy Koval and Anna Wueller Diaz commanded the audience’s attention with their unending lines and wonderful use of breath in their sustained movements. In contrast, at times the newest company members held too much tension in their chests, causing their forms to shrink instead of expand. The dancers’ diagonal pathway was a great use of symbolism, cleverly used throughout the show.

With a playlist that included music by the Piano Guys, the XX, Two Steps from Hell, Fort Minor and Bruce Rowland, choreographers DeGroat, Koval and Jennifer Guess challenged the dancers with tricky ballet sequences and sharper movement quality. In one of the most dynamic dance sequences, the dancers had to dig deep to control their leg extensions and stag leaps while their hands remained bound. The dancers rose to the challenge with seamless standing-to-floor transitions and wicked pirouettes.

The group also got to exercise their acting chops in sections such as “Hurting People Hurt People,” where they stood whispering and ignoring people before physically engaging one another. Later, as Diaz contorted into various yoga-type poses, the others stood making faces in the background.

The final dance, performed to an instrumental medley of “Over the Rainbow” and the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” encompassed everything audiences have come to appreciate about Epiphany DanceArts, including elegant technique, unique musicality and strong emotional content. This has been the company’s most cohesive and captivating production to date. It will be interesting to see what it brings to the table for its December holiday performance.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Forward Thinkers: Katie Puder, Avant Chamber Ballet

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

With numerous successes in its short history, including its first full-length ballet and performance at Dallas DanceFest, Puder’s Avant Chamber Ballet is one step closer to its goal of reconnecting live music and dance.

Over the past three years Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has accomplished what takes most small ballet companies years to do. Along with bringing together a cohesive group of talented professional dancers and building a solid audience base, ACB is also filling a void in the Dallas dance scene with the use of live chamber music at its performances. This feat can be attributed to Artistic Director Katie Puder’s tenacity and resourcefulness both artistically and enterprisingly speaking.

Puder began her ballet training with Wichita Falls Ballet Theater before moving to Fort Worth at age 13. She continued training with Paul Mejia and Maria Terezia Balogh and at 17 she joined the Metropolitan Classical Ballet. The idea for starting ACB came to Puder while attending multiple Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) concerts. “I was inspired to start doing more choreography just from hearing so much fantastic live music. Our first choice for the musicians for our performances are always DSO musicians, and I think very few ballet companies in the world can say they have musicians of that quality performing with them.”

With the aid of DSO principal horn David Cooper, ACB’s focus is on strengthening the ties between live music and dance in the Dallas area. Since its inception in 2012, ACB has performed eight new works, including Puder’sExactly Woven and Carnival of Animals, which premiered at the Eisemann Center in October 2014. This past year ACB also produced its first full-length ballet, Alice in Wonderland, with a commissioned score by resident composer Chase Dobson to positive reviews. “It seems that dance audiences have really missed live music. We also have a part of our audience who are music fans and we are their first exposure to dance performances. I love hearing from people who are discovering how exciting live ballet and music can be for the first time.”

Not one to idle, Puder is always looking for news way to increase exposure while also enriching the local dance culture. Participation in local dance festivals this year, including the {254} DANCE-FEST in Waco and the reimagined Dallas DanceFest at the Dallas City Performance Hall has helped ACB expand its reach within these communities. Puder’s plans for 2015 include the company’s first Women’s Choreography Project, which happens this weekend at Richardson’s Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts and a collaboration with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s SOLUNA: International Music & Arts Festival in May.

The Women’s Choreography Project, a series she plans to continue, features work by Puder and local choreographers Elizabeth Gillaspy and Emily Hunter, as well as guest choreographer Amy Diane Morrow.

A firm believer in supporting other local artists Puder has invited local dance companies such as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance to come perform with ACB. Puder is beginning to see this supportive stance spread across the whole dance community. “I have this feeling of a real community between different companies and circles. There is more awareness of what other people are doing and people are being supportive.” With Puder’s work ethic ACB will continue to draw in new audiences and raise the bar for other professional dance companies in the area.

This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Q&A: Parisa Khobdeh, Paul Taylor Dance Company

Photo: Paul Taylor's Cloven Kingdom. Photo: Courtesy of PTDC
Photo: Paul Taylor’s Cloven Kingdom. Photo: Courtesy of PTDC

Dallas native Parisa Khobdeh shares what it means t be a Paul Taylor dancer, fostering her free and easy movement quality and the company’s upcoming performance at the Eisemann Center.

Richardson — It takes more than strong technique and individual virtuosity to make it as a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. It also takes humility, authenticity and a natural self-awareness as company member Parisa Khobdeh has discovered over the past 12 years.

Born and raised in Plano, Khobdeh trained with Gilles Tanguay at Dance Consortium and Kathy Chamberlain at the Chamberlain School of Ballet. It was Chamberlain who encouraged her to audition for Southern Methodist University’s dance program where she got the opportunity to work with choreographers, including Robert Battle, Judith Jamison and Donald McKayle. Her path as a professional modern dancer wasn’t cemented until she attended the American Dance Festival (ADF) as a Tom Adams Scholar where she saw the Paul Taylor Dance Company perform Promethean Fire (2002). The first time she auditioned for the company she didn’t make it, but that didn’t deter her from her ultimate dream of becoming a Paul Taylor dancer. After attending a Taylor intensive in New York Khobdeh made it through her second audition and premiered with the company at ADF in summer 2003.

One of the last living pioneers of modern dance, Paul Taylor first presented his choreography with five other dancers in Manhattan in 1954. Over the last 60 years he has become a cultural icon thanks to his vivid imagination, all-encompassing intellect and quick eye for uncovering a person’s character, which continues to captivate audiences around the world. Formed in 1993, the Paul Taylor Dance Company has performed in more than 540 cities in 64 countries, representing the United States at arts festivals in more than 40 countries and touring extensively under the aegis of the U.S. Department of State.

The company returns to Dallas Feb. 7 for a one-night only performance at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX. The program includes the Dallas premiere of Diggity (1978), Beloved Renegade (2008) andCloven Kingdom (1976). There will also be a screening of the Paul Taylor documentary Creative Domain, presented by the Eisemann and the Arts Incubator of Richardson, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson. Tickets for that are $10.

TheaterJones asked Parisa Khobdeh about her training in Dallas, becoming a Paul Taylor dancer and having work set on her by the legend himself.

TheaterJones: You have been with the Paul Taylor Dance Company for more than 10 years. What is it about the man that instills such loyalty from his performers?

Parisa Khobdeh: I don’t see it as loyalty so much as it is a commitment to him and his work. We are really a family and look out for one another. Mr. Taylor has an eye for uncovering a person’s true character. He notices things that aren’t always apparent to the rest of us when he is auditioning people. He chooses not only really beautiful dancers, but also people with really great souls. And because of that you don’t see a lot of turnover among the dancers in the company. I joined the company at 22 and it has been a place that fosters artistry. There are a lot of revolving-door companies out there. They emphasize the technical virtuosity and not necessarily the depth of humanity, which is what Mr. Taylor’s work, embodies. His work reflects his physicality, beauty and well-structured physique. And then the dance itself is structured to show architecture through space and that is something that sets his work apart from others choreographers.

In a 2007 Dance Magazine article Mr. Taylor refers to the way you move as eye-popping. How does it feel to receive such a compliment from such an illustrious source in the modern dance world?

Oh gosh! I don’t really think about it to be honest. What I feel for Mr. Taylor is complete love and support. He has a beautiful soul and such a big heart. Every day we get the opportunity to work around a genius. So, back to your question I really don’t think about the things you just mentioned. This has definitely been a wonderful place for me to foster my artistry. Mr. Taylor really allows the dancer to speak and fulfill the role given to them. And I think that’s why his company attracts more mature dancers. It’s woven into the work, these subtleties of being human. He sees things a certain way and then shows you where to look and it’s really just been a wonderful place to expand and experience life for myself. To learn from him, watch him create and then to be created on is such an honor.

You are the focus of his works Lines of Loss (2007) and To Make Crops Grow (2012). What is the atmosphere like in the studio when the company is working with Mr. Taylor?

We are all very present when he is creating. Entering the studio Mr. Taylor already has the music broken-up and counted out; he has his notebook; and he knows what and how many dancers he is going to use, but he knows there is only so much you can plan. It’s now a matter of going into the studio and having the process and that’s when the energy between the dance maker and the dancer really comes to life. And you need that process and coming into the studio. You can’t just make a dance in your head in your house. It’s exciting and seldom is it disappointing because if you are not being created on then you are watching him create which is a gift in and of itself. Sometimes he will articulate what he wants and if you don’t get it then he will get up and show you and you get to experience the dancer that he is. There is such a beauty when he comes up and touches you. When he actually moves you there is a touch memory there that stays with you even after performing the work for the hundredth time. It’s really a sacred process.

When did you come to the realization that modern dance was the right path for you?

I actually started my dance training with Julie Lambert and Gilles Tanguay at Dance Consortium with would later merge with Kathy Chamberlain’s school. I was 14 at the time and I really danced because it was fun. With Gilles I learned a lot of modern movement, but when I joined Kathy’s school the focus was more on classical ballet. The school also offered classes in other styles of dance, but most of the students spent their summers at the School of American Ballet and I was never really moved by the storybook ballets. I appreciated them, but the form didn’t really speak to me.  It was Kathy who encouraged me my senior year of high school to audition for the Southern Methodist University’s dance program. So, I auditioned and got in and really had no idea what I was getting myself into. At the time I wasn’t interested in becoming a dancer, but I began to waver after taking Graham technique and working with various choreographers such as Robert Battle, Judith Jamison and Donald McKayle. But most importantly I was seeing a lot of modern dance work created by Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham. I was starting to see works that really spoke to me and that was a big game changer. So, it wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I went to the American Dance Festival (ADF) where the Paul Taylor company premiered Promethean Fire (2002) that I knew this is what I wanted to do. I didn’t just want to dance for Paul Taylor; I had to dance with Paul Taylor.

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

Looking back how did attending festivals such as ADF prepare you for your future as a professional dancer?

The SMU dance program required you to attend festivals, but Kathy Chamberlain has always encouraged her dancers to go and see dance and for good reason because perspective is everything. And honestly I didn’t know what dance was capable of doing. And I sense that had I not seen some of those performances I wouldn’t have known what I wanted.

As a dancer who is over 30 years old how do you avoid burning out or becoming jaded by the industry?

I think it’s about awareness and consciousness and you are ultimately in control of all of that. Nothing external to you like a choreographer, job or partner will make you happy. Happiness is our birth right. Ultimately, we all have our different paths, but it’s still up to us to have that consciousness to dream up what our life could be. We all have the same potential and it’s just a matter of how bad do you want it. How hard do you want to work at it and I think that’s just consciousness. Mr. Taylor beautifully transmits content and depths of life. There are probably a lot of young dancers that it’s all about becoming a star and in that case the Paul Taylor company is probably not right for them. It’s definitely not the place for them because it’s not about you. If you can come from a place of true contentedness and not competing with other dancers then the work doesn’t become hard or unenjoyable. It becomes an experience and it becomes gratitude. You get to see the beauty in life for its simplicity and sweetness.

The other part of it is being healthy and not smoking or drinking, and to really have a clean lifestyle. That’s what I need to be able to do the work that I’m content with and happy about. I am not saying any of these things are wrong. The kind of vigor and the expectations that the work demands of an artist actually causes me to eat consciously. I had a major injury that took me out and it was really a gift because it allowed me to want to come back to dancing. It was a gift to be able to watch work and watch my colleagues do what they love to do it. It gave me perspective. And then to be able to go back to doing it, I only felt gratitude.

How does it feel to get to perform in your hometown?

I definitely feel like I have come full circle. But what is most exciting is seeing how the city and dance community has changed since I left 12 years ago. That’s really the beautiful part of coming back to Dallas. It’s wonderful that there are presenters like the Eisemann Center and TITAS to bring in such amazing dance companies. You know, it’s not just about the dance schools, but it’s also about seeing dance and gaining perspective.

The evening’s program includes Diggity (1978), Beloved Renegade (2008) and Cloven Kingdom (1976). Which pieces will you be performing and how does each piece speak to you?

I will be performing in Beloved Renegade and Cloven Kingdom. Having a strong ballet background and exposure to other styles thanks to Kathy and SMU made learning the material easier for me. And obviously Mr. Taylor is from the school of Graham so his style is not too far off from what I am use to. Still, I was young when I joined the company, 22, so there was a lot for me to learn and it takes years to become a Taylor dancer. With more than 140 works in his repertoire these three pieces give you only a small taste of Mr. Taylor’s aesthetic. He shows you where to look in all his works, but then you have to do the discovering for yourself. Beloved Renegade is a perfect example of this. It’s inspired by Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” And how it looks to me is Mr. Taylor is reflecting on his own life or man reflecting on his own life and reminds of a quote “find death before death finds you.” I think Mr. Taylor even said that all stories end the same way and that’s with death. That’s the one thing we do know. But the work is not morbid at all.

Cloven Kingdom is the earliest work on the program and really reflects Mr. Taylor’s intellectual hunger. You can see the tension between the Baroque and modern music, but also the tension among the dancers as they struggle with social conformity as they try to disguise their own animal motives. So, you see that struggle and that conflict and the movement vocabulary within the work ultimately came out of this tension between what’s socially acceptable and our true primitive nature. Diggity is a work Mr. Taylor did with long-time collaborators Donald York (composer) and Alex Katz (sets and costumes). There’s 20 some cutouts of dogs placed around the stage which in turn creates an obstacle course for the dancers.

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

Review: Dallas Repertoire Ballet’s The Nutcracker

DASHING DANCE

DRB company member Hannah Morris as Clara in this year's production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Kim Voorhies
DRB company member Hannah Morris as Clara in this year’s production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Kim Voorhies

At the Eisemann Center, Dallas Repertoire Ballet delivers one of the most exuberant and technically spectacular Nutcracker productions of the season.

Richardson — Having seen multiple Nutcracker performances already this season critics sometimes feel like they are on autopilot when sitting in the audience for another show. Ballet companies have to find new ways to freshen up their Nutcracker without deviating too far from the ballet’s renowned origins. Dallas Repertoire Ballet (DRB) managed to accomplish this Friday evening with a fast-paced and choreographically exceptional Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. Artistic Director Megan Willsey-Buckland and choreographers Kathy Willsey and Audrey Rusher Mitts made some bold choices when it came to story development and prominent dance numbers such as Snow and the Waltz of the Flowers that kept the audience, including moi, engaged for the duration of the show.

The dashing pace of the show was set from the get-go. The curtains opened up to reveal the inside of the Stahlbaum’s house where Mr. Stahlbaum, his wife, daughter Clara and son Fitz are preparing for their annual Christmas party. The stage is simply set with a grandfather clock, some chairs and a sofa. The vastness of the space is quickly forgotten as 50 plus children and adults swarm on stage to greet the party hosts. These introductions, which usually take minutes in many productions, took mere seconds in DRB’s version leaving the dancers with more time to show off their bountiful technique, stamina and individual artistry. Clara (Hannah Morris) and her friends excelled in their allegro numbers, performing the repetitive petite jumps and traveling steps with ease. Chaos was avoided with practiced entrances and exits and visually pleasing traveling patterns. The choreographers took a risk by minimizing the grand gesturing that is typical, replacing it with more dance sequences, a decision that in this case worked thanks to the commitment of the adults and younger dancers. The older party goers displayed their intermediate waltzing skills while Morris wowed us multiple times with her far-reaching lines and unrestrained enthusiasm.

The drama of the battle scene was enhanced by the fog machines and the tour de force that is Albert Drake in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Drake’s background with the Bruce Wood Dance Project added dimension to the otherwise typically flat princely character. Drake also did not hold back when it came to the military-precision arm motions and repetitive toe touches to the delights of viewers. Not wanting to waste such a talent, Drake also makes an appearance in the Snow scene with a pas de deux with Morris which, while quite lovely, did take some of the shine away from the Snow Queen (Ashlee Gilchrist) and Bruce Wood Dance Project member Harry Feril as the Snow King. Feril effortlessly manipulated Gilchrist through the various body shapes and over the head lifts that are staple points of this particular scene. While Gilchrist’s upper body appeared stiff during certain lifts, exhaling while executing movement will enrich her performance. Choreographer Megan Willsey-Buckland’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ background shone through the Snow Corps’ sharp arm placements and various movement contagions.

Photo: Kim Voorhies
Photo: Kim Voorhies

The first half’s steady pace and eclectic display of skills continued in the second half of the show. Feril pulled double duty as the Cavalier to Grace Ludwinski’s Sugar Plum Fairy. Ludwinski’s slight frame made it easy for Feril to execute the press up lifts and various running leaps sprinkled throughout the grande pas de deux. Ludwinski proved herself capable of handling the exacting partner work as well as the fast foot work and exploding turn sequences in her solo section. Feril’s low center of gravity added extra excitement to his leaps and tour en l’airs to the knee. Other standouts in the second half include Lynnae Hodges’ wicked fast pirouettes in Spanish Chocolate, Bella Rusli’s unnatural body contortions in Arabian Coffee and the whole cast in the Waltz of the Flowers. The intricate pointe work of the soloists mixed with the various rhythmic patterns of the wreath holders transformed the stage into one big beautiful moving picture.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Classy Menagerie

Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Avant Chamber Ballet goes wild with its newest character-driven work, Carnival of Animals, at the Eisemann this weekend.

Richardson — The smell of sweat is pungent in the room where Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) is rehearsing for its fall performance, Carnival of Animals, at Park Cities Dance Studio in Dallas. Staggered around the room are about 12 dancers stretching, chatting and checking their pointe shoes. Everyone is attired in colorful leotards and snug-fitting bottoms with their hair swept up into secure buns. When ACB Artistic Director Katie Puder says, “Ok, guys let’s run through the show,” the dancers rise and take their places. It’s obvious these dancers mean business and it’s not just about having fun. “These are professional dancers,” Puder says. “Everyone has either graduated from a college dance program or danced with a professional company. Some of the girls and I danced together at Metropolitan Classical Ballet.”

Having known many of the dancers for many years’ works to Puder’s advantage especially when it comes to the company’s newest character-driven work, Carnival of Animals, set to the Saint-Saëns suite The Carnival of the Animals. The ballet has two performances this weekend at the Eisemann Center for the Arts in Richardson.

Carnival of Animals is set up like a circus show with the dancers portraying the various animals. Each dancer shares similar traits with her animal adding humor to the otherwise classical number. Sarah Grace Austin is the ferocious lion; her movement a mix of slow, elongated walks and explosive jetes. She and her lion tamer (Tagir Galimov) play a flirty game of cat and mouse before one of them is finally tricked into jumping through a hoop. As the cuckoo Kirsten Conrad bourrées rapidly across the room with her arms fluttering and executes a number of entrechats,soubersauts and royales with boundless energy. Natalie Anton’s elegant zebra is depicted through a series of prancing steps and traveling spins.  And, of course, Yulia Illina is the quintessential peacock with her majestic lines and slow, controlled body movements.

Most of the animals perform solo acts while others, including the fish, elephants and birds, perform in pairs or small groups. Then everyone comes together for the big finale. Here Puder plays with contingent movements and weaving jumping passes. Her George Balanchine roots come through the dancers’ body positions and linear formations, but the tricky point work and constant directional changes are all Puder. “I’ve always had a short attention span. I have to keep changing things up so I don’t get bored watching the piece. I am not a fan of posing. I like it when everyone on stage, including the corps, is always moving.”

Watching Puder’s movement is like watching an expert work a Rubik’s cube. The speed and exactness of the steps keeps viewers in suspense, but if the steps aren’t executed correctly the end product won’t come out right. Puder understands this and its one of the reasons she no longer performs with the company. “I just couldn’t wear all those different hats. With ballet especially it’s hard to check spacing and alignment when you are also dancing. This way I can really focus on the details.” During rehearsal Puder would sometimes call out a correction in the middle of a section, but more often than not she’s waits till the end of said section. The dancers and Puder are so in tune with one another that they usually know what she is going to say before she says it. With the show only days away the corrections are minor such as where the height of an arm should be or if the hips should be more croise. It’s these little details that elevates a ballet from good to great.

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Ballet Fete, Collin County Ballet Theatre

Guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood perform a Pas De Deux from Sylvia. Photo: Fermaint Photography.
Guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood perform a Pas De Deux from Sylvia.
Photo: Fermaint Photography.

Collin County Ballet Theatre effectively hits on every part of the ballet spectrum with the help of some local talent in Balle Fete Esprit de Danse.

Richardson — From classical and romantic to contemporary and avant garde, Collin County Ballet Theatre’sBallet Fete Esprit de Danse had something for everyone to enjoy at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts last weekend. To accomplish such a feat CCBT Directors Kirt and Linda Hathaway called upon some local dance companies for assistance, including Ballet Frontier of Texas, Epiphany DanceArts and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet as well as guest artists Yuliia Ilina, Michele Gifford, Harry Feril and Ronnie Underwood. What could have been an unbalanced collaboration was instead an exciting display of varying balletic forms and individual artistry with a couple of standout moments from CCBT’s own pre-professional company members.

The show opened with Kirt Hathaway’s Simple Symphony which had its premiere in 1982 with Lexington Ballet. Like the title states, this piece was very simple, from the pointe work to the formation changes, but by no means boring. The rudimentary steps (bourrées, changements, jetes) were done with exacting precision and uniformity. The six dancers skimmed across the floor with their triplets and bourrees as they weaved through one another. While the dancers point work was not always in sync, they paid meticulous care to their upper body positioning. Ilina and Feril’s pas e deux was a lesson in partner proficiency and artistic expression. Ilina’s wicked extensions and technical poignancy was complemented by Feril’s undeniable strength and innate ability to anticipate his partner’s needs. They never missed a hand connection and Feril handled the tricky press up lifts with ease.

Next up was August Bournonville’s (1805-1879) Reel performed by Ballet Frontier of Texas to music by Lovenskold. Dressed in white tops, plaid kilts, black knee socks and character or jazz shoes, this 31-person ensemble performed a fast-paced Scottish jig that featured rhythmic stomping, quick partner exchanges and continuous formation changes. Bournonville was not into flashy jumps or overheated gestures and he preferred accenting the downbeat in the music; the dancers took to Bournonville’s demi-character style with a vigor that left the audience breathless by the end.

Epiphany DanceArts piece, Rebirth, fused classical ballet technique with the expressive gesturing and wide arcing movement that we have come to expect from the group. The 12 dancers, dressed in various black tops and bottoms, executed a number of leg tilts, side reaches and back lunges as they continuously ran diagonally across the stage. A mashup of Beethoven and One Republic’s “5 Secrets” covered by The Piano Guys only heightened the sense of urgency in the dancers’ movements.

The most surprising work of the evening came from Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. Choreographed by Victoria TranShades draws from the mythological idea that ghosts or spirits of the dead reside in the shadows of the underworld, according to the program notes. The movement is inspired by butoh, a form of avant garde performance art that arose in Japan in 1959. Adorned in flimsy white dresses and pale-painted faces or painted bodies as in David Sanders case, the dancers moved stiffly around stage as if in a trance, stopping intermittently to convulse or lackadaisically sway side to side. Their body shapes were disjointed (broken wrist and turn-in feet) and everything was done in a slow manner to the unsettling hum of Tibetan singing bowls.

The second half showcased the more traditional side of ballet with CCBT’s Mendelssohn, Longing for Spring and Le Corsaire Divertissement as well as the Snow scene from The Nutcracker performed by Ballet Frontier of Texas andSylvia Pas de Deux choreographed by Paul Mejia and performed by guest artists Michele Gifford and Ronnie Underwood (Oklahoma City Ballet). Gifford’s strengths came forth in her flexible spine and dynamic leaps and turns. Underwood surprised us all with his technical grace and exquisitely soft landings despite his broader frame.

It was hard to take your eyes off CCBT company member Kade Cummings in Mendelssohn and Le Corsaire Divertissement. He has come a long way over the last two years. Gone is the cheeky Fitz (The Nutcracker) character and in his place a more disciplined dancer. He oozed grace and confidence. His far-reaching lines, precision turns and effortless jumps set him apart from the other dancers. CCBT member Emily Dunaway displayed great emotional depth with her solo in Ilina’s Longing for Spring. Her conviction could be seen from her tense fingertips down to her punctuated pointe work.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.