Tag Archives: South Dallas Cultural Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Bench Strength

Beckles Dancing Company demonstrates steady artistic growth and maturity in the company’s annual spring performance simply titled 21.

Photo: Beckles. Beckles Dancing Company

Dallas — Simple body lines. Subtle musicality. Intense emotional connections. These were the common threads that elevated Beckles Dancing Company’s spring show, 21, at the South Dallas Cultural Center last Friday evening. While there were some noticeable discrepancies among the works on the program mainly pertaining to the content and context or lack thereof in some of the pieces, it was an improvement from last year’s show which was a less consistent mix compared to this year’s more cohesive blend of professional and student-based choreography.

A few of the works that didn’t quite hit the mark in terms of concept and content, with content also pertaining to facial expressivity, were Loris Anthony Beckles’ group pieces Magical and Whispering Wolf as well as his solo Clifton-Bainbridge-Park set on long-time company member Tina Mullone. In Magical, dancers Lacy Brent, RoseMarie Sanders, Amaya Scoggins, Kaleb Smith, Angel Sparks and Taylor Townsend executed the Afro-Caribbean movements, including hip swirls, shoulder rolls and rhythmic foot stomping, with a natural ease and uniformity that comes from years of training and dancing together. And while the lively spirit of the dance was not reflected in the dancers’ expressions, which remained stoic throughout, the dancers fully embodied the steady drumming in Betty Carter’s composition with their playful gesturing (i.e. head bobs and open-close hand pulses) and deep leg lunges with swooping arms.

The dancers’ facial performances were also lagging in Beckles’ Whispering Wolf, but the dancers redeemed themselves with their competent technique, which featured rudimentary ballet steps layered with constantly changing arm movements and directional changes as well as luscious Graham torso contractions and weighted walks. One of things audiences can appreciate about Beckles’ choreography is that it never feels rushed. For him it’s about the journey, which is why when Mullone performed a series of simple plie tendues with proper epaulement in Clifton-Bainbridge-Park, viewers felt like they were seeing these well-known ballet steps for the first time. If the solo was meant to be ironic then the passive expression Mullone wore as Sam Cook crooned Nat King Cole’s I Love You For Sentimental Reasons was a clever choreographic choice.

Photo: Beckles Dancing Company

Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, Alma Alvarado, Kyndall Ash, Kaleb Smith and Jacqueline Rea (members of Espie’s After School “Character Counts” Dance Company) did a phenomenal job of capturing the anxiety and urgency in Gonzalez’s Washed in the Blood with some dynamic movement choices and intense facial expressions. And while the lack of transitions between certain tricks (i.e. cartwheels to the knee, stag leaps, backward shoulder rolls and side leg tilts) minimized their shock value, the dancers’ intensity, both physical and emotional, stayed true throughout.

The other student piece on the program, Layla Brent’sStages, featured edgy pointe work and exciting partnering skills and a well-rounded structure. Both couples (Layla Brent and Jared Smith and guest artists Erin Brothers and Kade Cummings) displayed amazing control and technical fortitude throughout the fast-paced piece. Later on Layla Brent and Smith showed great stylistic diversity when they nailed the sustained movements and luxurious body contortions in Andre R George’s Du Lahka. When I saw these two dancers perform the piece at last season’s show I was enraptured with the couple’s beautiful lines and intricate counter balance poses. This time around I knew what to expect movement wise which gave me and others more opportunity to relish in the beautiful love story driving the movement.

Another highlight of the night was Beckles’ Benchmarks. Broken into five sections, the work featured a variety of dance styles from ballet and modern to African improvisation at the end, as well as various moods that were represented through the dancer’s bodies and the different colored fabrics the dancers peeled off the ever present bench. Beckles cleverly incorporated the bench in every section of the work by having it act as a physical support and in one section a barrier for the performers. In the first section Lela Bell Wesley and Mullone used the bench to accentuate their reactions to one another such as when Wesley bent Mullone backwards over the bench. Lacy Brent used the bench as a home base during her more balletic solo, while Sanders used the bench as barrier as she slowly revealed different body parts. The African dance jam at the end was engaging and gave each company member a moment to shine.

>>This review was originally posted on www.TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Simple Touches

Courtesy of Beckles Dancing Company.
Courtesy of Beckles Dancing Company.

Beckles Dancing Company celebrates 20 Years of Madness & Magic with a classic yet fresh performance at the South Dallas Cultural Center.

Dallas — In this age of dance sometimes less is more, as the Beckles Dancing Company demonstrated Friday night at the South Dallas Cultural Center with its annual spring show, 20 Years of Madness & Magic. Over the last two decades Artistic Director Loris Anthony Beckles has developed a movement style which focuses on sustained body positions and clean technique over flashy tricks and unnatural flexibility. All 12 pieces on the program, which included six new works, featured basic ballet, modern, jazz and African dance technique, but when you add in Beckles’ signature swooping arms and legs, subtle gesturing and stoic body positions, suddenly these moves appeared new and exciting. Prime examples were Beckles’ Claret Tango (premiere) and Peace-Blues-Song(2014) presented in the first half of the show.

In Claret Tango, one of the best works of the night, longtime company members Tina Mullone and Lela Bell Wesley performed an unconventional tango to music by Astor Piazzolla. Using one another for support, the dancers performed a series of glides in a waltz-like fashion around the space, pausing every so often to shift into a counter balance pose. Simple moves such as a releve in first position or a lunge in fourth were enhanced with swinging arms and deep contractions. A bench enabled the dancers to reach new heights with their movement choices. But what stood out the most was the easy-goingness of the piece. The dancers never rushed, instead they luxuriated in the process of extending an arm or stepping into arabesque. Peace-Blues-Songs with music by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson started on a somber note with the whole company slowly uncurling on the floor. One at a time they rose up to perform a series of lunges and plies made more challenging by subtle weight shifts and alternating arm patterns. The piece picked up momentum when the dancers broke into solos and trios that highlighted their musicality and quick foot work. The constantly changing entrances and exits from the stage added a layer of anticipation to the work. What the dancers need to work on going forward is maintaining the same energy and commitment to the movement throughout the whole piece.

Beckles showed audiences his playful side in his new work Magical to the lounge-type musing of Betty Carter. In this piece Beckles used head bobs, upper body isolations and hip swivels to emphasize the various pulses in the music. Just like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, the dancers scurried across the floor while executing a series of hand gestures, hip isolations and head bobs in perfect sync with the music. Even though the piece ends somewhat abruptly the continuity of the dance stays with you. In Second Movement, set to music by Maurice Ravel and Herbie Hancock, Beckles showed yet another side of himself with this endearing pas de deuxbetween Momentum Dance Company members Ian Forcher and Gianna Lentzen. Here Beckles blended classic point work and steadfast partnering with gestural nuances to create something relatable and distinctly human. It’s also one of the few works with a satisfying ending.

The second half contained a short, expressive solo by dancer Stacey Lotten entitled Yor (2007) and the well-conceived and purposefully danced group piece, WaterWays (2014). The evening ended on a high note with Du Lahka (1995). Choreographed by company founder Andre R. George, this duet between Layla Brent and Jared Brown was a heady mix of controlled body manipulations and moments of unfiltered vulnerability. Dressed in a skin-toned unitard (Brent) and leggings (Brown) audiences could see every muscles in their arms and backs flex as they pulled away from one another in a counter balance hold. Connection was key as they tested their balance in a number of one-legged extensions and interlocking body shapes, such as when Brent has her legs wrapped around Brown’s front and slowly arched backwards to the audience.

 This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Q&A: Loris Anthony Beckles of Beckles Dancing Company

Photo: Supreme Dream Photography
Photo: Supreme Dream Photography

The Artistic Director of Beckles Dancing Company on its upcoming performance, Eighteenth Movement in Space and Time, and its active role in the Dallas dance community.

The Beckles Dancing Company continues to celebrate the creative and inspiring power of dance with its spring performance entitled Eighteenth Movement in Space and Time, April 5-6, 2013, at the South Dallas Cultural Center in Dallas. The program includes works by guest artists Tina Mullone, Prathiba Natesan and Exhibit Dance Collective as well as a collaboration with jazz singer Jennifer Ann Beckles.

Loris Anthony Beckles is the artistic director of Beckles Dancing Company and the executive director of ARGA NOVA DANCE. A native of Guyana, he received a BA in Dance from Adelphi University where he studied ballet, modern, jazz and African dance. He has also studied at the New York School of Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. Beckles has performed with the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble, Eleo Pomare Dance Company, Capitol Ballet and the Syracuse Ballet Theatre.

Beckles has taught ballet and modern at Park Cities Performing Arts Center in Dallas, modern and jazz at the South Dallas Cultural Center and jazz dance at Dream Catcher and Infinite Bounds in Plano. He is also the founder and coordinator of the South Dallas Dance Festival, which celebrated its 12th season in November.

TheaterJones asks Loris Anthony Beckles about what he hopes the audience will take away from Eighteenth Movement in Space and Time, collaborating with guest artists and the company’s role in the Dallas dance community.

TheaterJones: For those unfamiliar with your company can you please give us some background?

Sure! It is a modern dance company with ballet, African and jazz influences. The ages range from 14 to 40 and we try to blend them into an ensemble. So, we are really a multi-age dance ensemble. It’s mainly my choreography, but we are also opened to guest choreographers.

Did you always want to have such a wide range of ages in your company?

I am just opened to it. I think it’s good because people have the impulse to move when they are young and when they are older they bring a certain maturity to it so, it’s good to have all that in the company.

What was the inspiration behind the title Eighteenth Movement in Space and Time?

Well, the company was formed in 1995 by Andre R. George and when he passed in 1996 I took over the company. So, it has been 18 years now and that was the inspiration behind the title Eighteenth Movement in Space and Time. It sounds very heavy and competent and in a way it is, but it’s really about celebrating our 18th year.

To what do you attribute your company’s longevity in the Dallas arts community?

Just the determination to keep going.

Are you presenting works that cover the last 18 years or is it mainly newer work?

It’s mainly newer work. The oldest work is from 2001 and it’s a solo called Suite Beauty (Parts I and II). There are four parts total and parts I and II are usually done by themselves. I actually started making it on a man and then I worked with woman and 4 years later I did it with a man and a woman. So, it has been interesting to see the different energies and how each individual’s personality shaped the work. I will also be premiering a new piece entitled Exile which I worked on with my sister Jennifer Ann Beckles.

Can you tell me a little bit about the other guest artists who will be appearing in the show?

Tina Mullone was a member of the company and now she teaches at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. She will be performing a short work by me called Thing Thing. Michelle Gibson from Exhibit Dance Collective will be presenting something that is quite different from what I do. She has a whole different vocabulary and it’s a really nice piece. And Prathiba Natesan is an Indian dancer who I have worked with before and she will be performing the solo No Net Ensnares Us which she also choreographed. So, there is quite a variety.

The Beckles Dancing Company is very active in the Dallas dance community, including the South Dallas Dance Festival and the Barefoot Brigade. Was that your goal from the beginning?

Beckles Dancing Company
Beckles Dancing Company

It wasn’t my goal to do a whole lot of things, but curiosity and need pushed me in those directions and I was happy to go. In the Barefoot Brigade we wanted to present a forum for different companies to pool their resources. And in the South Dallas Dance Festival I wanted to see companies I had only heard about dance in the same place at the same time. There is also an artist-in-residence program at Greiner Middle School which I am a part of. I want to hopefully enrich and inspire students there.

What would you like the audience to take away from the performance?

Hopefully they will hum a tune and a certain sequence of movement will get stuck in their memory. And hopefully they will connect the movement to what they see every day like sunrise, sunset, movement of traffic or an emotion like frustration. Hopefully they can identify with those things and just remember something that was particularly moving to them.

What are your future plans for the company?

I would like to continue choreographing and I would like the organization to be stronger and to continue the various programs that we are doing, including the Barefoot Brigade, the South Dallas Dance Festival and the artist-in-residence program. So, if we could just continue to grow that would be great. And we will continue to expand because there will be more children, more companies and more dancers.

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