Tag Archives: Sean J. Smith

Preview: Interpretations, Dallas Black Dance Theatre

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Sean J. Smith. Photo: DBDT

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.”

DBDT will also perform …And Now Marvin this weekend. Photo: Enrica Tseng

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.

In other DBDT news, next week in Austin the company will receive a Texas Medal of the Arts award in Arts Education.

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

 

 

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Higher Ground

Dallas Black Dance Theatre pushes itself to new heights in Jamal Story’s aerial ballet The Parts They Left Out, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series.

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Alyssa Harrington and Claude Alexander III in the Jamal Story dance The Parts They Left Out. Photo: Amitava Sarkar

Dallas — Expectations were high as a small group of us gathered at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s main studio back in December to watch the company perform segments from Jamal Story’s new aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, a continuation of his duet What to Say? Notes on Echo and Narcissus, which the company performed at its Spring Celebration in May 2015. Looking around the space I had a feeling Story was going to surpass my aerial expectations when I saw three different apparatuses suspended from the ceiling versus just one last year.

Positioned upstage, stage right was a swing with a wooden seat where company member Sean J. Smith was testing his balance as he shifted from a standing to a seated position. Two long strips of red fabric were hanging unattended downstage, stage left while a familiar white hammock made of silk was situated in the center of the room. In an interview with Story the day before I learned that each aerial apparatus plays a significant role in his retelling of three well known Greek myths. “In this rendition I deal with Echo/Narcissus, Orpheus/Eurydice and Hades/Persephone, and all three of those duet relationships in a much bigger context.” He adds, “I knew there was no way I could tell all three stories with just the hammock so I added in two more. One of the new apparatuses is a swing made out of silk that will serve as a throne for Hades and the other is two strains of red silk that will serve as the pathway in and out of the underworld for Eurydice and Orpheus.”

Photo: Courtesy of Jamal Story

The preview began with a section from the underworld where Hades (Smith) remained perched on the swing while company member Kayah Franklin (Persephone) frantically tried to escape from his clutches. Smith’s movement on the swing was minimal, slight weight changes and body movements, which was in direct contrast to Franklin’s off-centered body lines and compulsive foot work. Story’s jazz and modern background showed through the dancers various body swings, back arches and pelvic tilts.

Audiences are going to be blown away when they see what Story has created with the two long red silks in Orpheus and Eurydice’s duet. As the music built two dancers manipulated the material around themselves while pulling the silks across the stage creating an incline, which Hana Delong than began to climb, strategically weaving and wrapping her body in the material as she made her way to the top where Keon K. Nickie was waiting for her. You don’t even realize Delong is prepping herself for aerial trick until she lets go of the material, unraveling to the ground in a heart-stopping death drop. It’s moments such as this one that emphasize Story’s uniqueness as an aerial artist. For him, it’s not about showcasing the build up to the tricks, it’s about creating smooth and cohesive transitions throughout the work.

“Most aerial work focuses on the ta-da moment and what I want to do, and what I did in the first duet is to eliminate the ta-da moment by creating a context for why the person does whatever he or she does. It is extremely difficult because in an ordinary apparatus circus presentation you’re just doing the tricks for the ta-da effect. I’m not interested in that here.” He continues, “So now I have to think about why she does that wrap and the drop and what does that have to do with the story we are telling. As long as I stay focused on what I am trying to do, then it works out.”

When it came time to teach certain aerial skills to the company members using the three different apparatuses Story says the challenge this time was the fact he didn’t have a lot of time to workshop the material on the actual silks. But he says this challenge was balanced out by the fact he was creating the movement on the dancers unlike the Echo and Narcissus duet that was created on him, which he later transferred to DBDT. And speaking of the duet, audiences will be excited to hear that Claude Alexander III and Alyssa Harrington will be reprising their roles as Narcissus and Echo in this continuation.

The couple has put the extra time they have been given to work on the duet to good use which was evident through their clean and confident handling of the material and more pronounced emotional connection with one another during this rehearsal. In the continuation audiences will get to see more of the couple’s backstory that eventually leads to their climatic duet. “What I am doing this time around is creating material with the other Greek characters that give Echo and Narcissus their context. What you saw last season is a duet about a stunning individual who would eventually fall in love with his own reflection thanks to a curse put on him by one of the gods. And this particular person happens to be pined after by a person who doesn’t have the ability to make her own words. What I am trying to give you in this ballet is the back story to how Echo got into this position.” He continues, “And not just that story, but also the development of these other Greek myths including Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre will present Jamal Story’s aerial ballet, The Parts They Left Out, at this season’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 19-21, at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee & Charles Wyly Theatre. The program also includes the world premiere of former Alvin Ailey dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s Furtherance and Bridget L. Moore’s new work Unearthed.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.