Tag Archives: Southern Methodist University

Homeward Bound: Bruce Wood Dance Project Journey’s Performance Preview

bwdp

Bruce Wood Dance Project humanizes the refugee crisis in Albert Drake’s Chasing Home, part of the company’s Journey’s performance this weekend.

Dallas — Emily Drake tenderly cups David Escoto’s face in the palm of her hand before he scoops her up and spins her around in childlike glee while the rest of the dancers quietly celebrate in the background. As the duet progresses, the two twist, duck and arc around one another while always maintaining their connection through physical touches and eye contact. This marriage ceremony is just one of many poignant moments viewers get to witness in Albert Drake’s new work Chasing Home, which depicts the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps as they seek to reclaim their identities. The work features an original score by Joseph Thalken, which will performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) Journeys performance June 16-17 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s Schmetterling (2004) and Zero Hour (1999).

Out of the full 20-minute piece, it’s the duet with Emily Drake and Escoto where we really get to see who Albert Drake, Emily’s husband, is becoming as a choreographer. Yes, Wood’s aesthetic is visible in the dancers’ swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing, but there is a vulnerability and sensuality in the couple’s partnering that is uniquely Albert Drake. “It is not sexual at all,” Albert Drake says. “It’s sensual in that it’s more about seeing, touching, hearing and feeling. It was about finding those intimate connections between the dancers.” Wood’s influences can also be found in the couple’s silky smooth transitions and momentum-driven partnering and floor work, whereas the dynamic bodying shaping and contrary movement phrases showcased in the dancer’s individual moments cater more to Albert Drake’s artistic sensibilities.

When asked about his evolving movement tastes Albert Drake says, “There are definitely a lot of influences from Bruce in my work just because I adore and respect him. I have also found a lot of connection to his work from my concert training at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.” Before attending SMU in the fall of 2008 Albert Drake says his knowledge of concert dance was limited. It wasn’t until he took Graham technique with Professor Myra Woodruff that he fell in love with the art form. It was also during this time period that he met Bruce Wood who came to SMU looking for dancers to perform in the first concert of BWDP.

(Woodruff’s teaching methods were recently praised on Dance Teacher magazine’s website by former student Corinna Lee Nicholson. Check it out here.)

“There were a lot of connections between my Graham classes and Bruce’s work, so I never felt as if I was starting over with a new aesthetic,” says Albert Drake about his first year with the BWDP after graduating from SMU in 2012. “And these connections definitely and heavily translated in my first work Whispers. That piece kind of came out of nowhere and so, I definitely played from what I knew.” Since the premiere of Whispers last season, Albert Drake says he has been trying to find more of his own self in the movement. “Dynamic range has always been important to me. Also, suspension, release, contraction, expansion, soft and aggressive. I like playing around with all these elements and I hope this comes across in my work.”

Circling back to the marriage ceremony mentioned earlier, Albert Drake says the idea came from one of the multiple documentaries he has watched pertaining to the refugee crisis. He was particularly touched with a story about a couple that had met, fell in love and gotten married while living in a refugee camp. “I was inspired by the fact that even with everything else that was going on people came together and found items like pieces of fabric and makeshift flowers to adorn the bride and groom in. It’s these moments of hope and of being able to move forward and progress while still living in this situation that is really what this piece comes down to for me.” A wedding isn’t the only communal activity featured in the piece. Albert Drake also brings soccer and the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, into the fold with movement sequences dedicated to fast, syncopated foot work similar to an Irish jig and rhythmic soccer drills performed by the men.

albertand joseph
Albert Drake (Left) and composer Joseph Thalken (Right). Photo: Brian Guilliaux

After watching Albert Drake and Joseph Thalken converse at the end of rehearsal about the music for the final section it’s clear the two have an amicable working relationship and seem to be on same page in terms of the bigger picture. When I mentioned this to Albert Drake later he chuckled and admitted it has taken a lot of time and mind mapping for them to get to this point. “In our first meeting we wrote a lot of stuff down on paper in terms of content, tune and mood and then we just starting tying all these things together.” He adds, “Joseph and I broke everything into sections with working titles, so there really is no beginning, middle or end to the piece. Instead I created different chapters or vignettes with the hope audiences will focus more on the dancers’ connections than following a narrative.”

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

 

Advertisements

Dancing in Tongues

Fabio Liberti works with DCC on Here Is Not There. Photo: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance explores movement through text in Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti’s Here Is Not There, part of the company’s Spring Series in Fort Worth.
Fort Worth — The number of new works being produced in the area by international emerging artists continues to climb as Italian choreographer Fabio Liberti gets ready to make his U.S. debut with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (DCCD) this weekend. His new work, Here Is Not There, explores the underlying meaning behind different individual’s responses to the question “how are you,” as well as our constant struggle to find balance in our lives, which the dancers depict through a variety of modern and contemporary movements and individual monologues based off past memories. “The question ‘how are you’ refers to those moments when out past and present meet and how we feel when we are trying to find balance between our past and present lives,” Liberti says. “I have always been interested in the combination of text and dance, so it was a natural choice for me to use both in this piece for DCCD. They are a talented group of dancers and it has been great experience working with them.”

The text-driven work features six dancers (DCCD Company Members David Cross, Chadi El-Khoury, Alex Karigan Farrior, Sarah Hammonds, Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh and Kelsey Rohr) and includes minimal music by Marguerite Monnot and Nancy Sinatra. Liberti’s Here Is Not There will premiere at DCCD’s annual Spring Series, April 29-May 1, at the Erma Lowe Hall Studio Theatre on the Texas Christian University Campus in Fort Worth. The program also includes Peugh’s prom-inspired version of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which the company premiered at Dallas City Performance Hall in March.

Since graduating the Codarts-Rotterdam Dance Academy in Italy, Liberti has performed professionally with Conny Hanssen Danst in Holland, Stadttheater Hildesheim in Germany, Stadttheater Saint Gallen in Switzerland, AIEP-Ariella Vidach in Italy and most recently with Danish Dance Theatre in Denmark. He received third place at the Copenhagen International Choreography competition in 2013 and received the Critics’ Award at the Hannover International Choreography competition in Germany. It was at the Hannover competition where Liberti meet Peugh backstage and their artistic friendship only blossomed from there.

Watching DCCD rehearse Liberti’s Here Is Not There at Southern Methodist University back in January, it was easy to see what drew these two curious minds to one another. Liberti and Peugh both have similar movement tendencies such as expansive gesturing, heavy tailbone traveling steps and the use of unlikely body parts like the stomach or elbow to connect with one another, as well as a knack for finding humor in even the most intense situations. Authenticity also plays an important role in both choreographers’ creative processes. “I am always searching for authenticity in my movement,” Liberti says. “So, I add in what I like, but I also keep in the personality of the person I am working with and what feels good to them when it comes to the choreography.” In Here Is Not There, Liberti accomplishes this feat by assigning each dancer a composition task to which he later adds more layers too himself. He also sent out a questionnaire to the dancers prior to arriving in Dallas which Liberti used as the foundation for the text in the work. The responses, which Liberti says could be answered truthfully or not, became poignant monologues reflecting on specific moments and memories from each dancer’s past and present.

While the idea of combining movement and spoken word is not uncommon in the modern dance world, this is the first time DCCD is exploring this particular avenue. When asked about the challenges of moving and talking at the same time company member Hammonds says, “It was definitely a learning experience as I am not the best at memorizing text. Kelsey and I spent a lot of time working on the text we have to say together. We had to sit down and break down which words we were going to emphasize and which ones we weren’t.” The section Hammonds is referring to is what the group calls the twin section where Hammonds and Rohr reflect on the various questions twins get asked such as do you finish each other sentences and do you even like each other in a sing song cadence while Cross and El-Khoury slink, roll and army crawl across the floor decked out in matching striped tops. “The challenge for us was to execute the phrasing without thinking about what is coming next while also keeping pace with the text, but not relying on it for movement cues,” Cross says.

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

>>Also check out my preview of Josh Peugh’s Rite of Spring.

 

Dallas VideoFest Preview: Metropolis

SMU students Aaron D’Eramo and Avery Lewis rehearse for Metropolis in a vacant warehouse in Trinity Groves, Dallas. Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones
SMU students Aaron D’Eramo and Avery Lewis rehearse for Metropolis in a vacant warehouse in Trinity Groves, Dallas. Photo: Robert Hart/TheaterJones

MODERN MARVELS

Christopher Dolder plans to bring the classic sci-fi flick Metropolis into the modern age with compelling choreography and stunning visual effects at this year’s Dallas VideoFest.

Dallas — As is common when watching one of Christopher Dolder’s rehearsals there are multiple elements at work, including behemoth props, video projection and special lighting techniques. In this instance, Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction film Metropolis is playing on a screen above center stage while a dozen freshman dancers from the Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts ascend out of what will be the orchestra pit and up a 32-foot tall and 4-foot elevated raked stage. The dancers’ rigid posture and weighted toe heel walks parallel the architecture of the buildings in the movie’s opening scene.

The suspense of the moment is heightened by Austin-based composer Brian Satterwhite’s new film score which will be performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at the showing of Metropolis, Oct. 13, at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of Dallas VideoFest 28. As the next scene begins the dancers stop and face the audience on a diagonal to perform a series of robotic gestures in a cotangent.

On the other side of the stage will be a couple of platforms of varying heights that the dancers will maneuver around and on throughout the film. Mind you, none of these props were present at the rehearsal I watched last week in the basement of the Owens Arts Center at SMU. Instead Dolder showed me images of the stage layout on his phone as well as pictures of the raked stage which he built by hand in a warehouse off of West Commerce Street near Trinity Groves. “I wanted to build something that three dimensionalizesthe space and the film,” Dolder says. “I wanted to create something lofty to represent the upper world in the movie and something mechanical and chunky to represent the underworld.”

For those unfamiliar with the movie, Metropolis is the name of a Utopian society that exists above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers. When a wealthy youth (Freder Fredersen) discovers what is happening underground he tries to help the workers, which puts him at odds with the upper class and especially his father. This silent film has paved the way for other movies in the sci-fi genre, and Dolder observes that even through the movie was made almost 90 years ago its main theme of the one percent versus the other 99 percent is still relevant today.

With so much going on in the film already between the live music and various plot lines Dolder says his biggest challenge has been trying not to over conceptualize his contributions. “My goal is to enhance the film with live theater and multimedia; not detract from it with these components.” The main way Dolder is doing this is by incorporating only 30 minutes of contextualized movement into the 82-minute long movie. He focuses on iconic scenes such as the story of Babel and the creation of the robot as well as individual characters, including Freder, his love interest Maria, Freder’s father and Rotwang the Inventor to elevate the storyline without distracting from the film’s original intent.

Dolder explains, “When the film is busy, I am less busy. I use some of the iconography from the film as well as simple gestures to quantify the characters.” In some cases Dolder will replicate a scene such as when the workers are clustered together with the emphasis on their hands reaching upward. Other times he changes the dynamic of a scene with his use of speed and repetition such as a memorable scene where Freder switches places with one of the workers. As Freder struggles to move the hands on a giant clock in the film, Dolder has his dancer repeat the same winding movement sequence over and over, increasing his speed every time to the point of collapse. “I want the audience to feel nervous,” Dolder says.

Dolder’s background in Graham Technique is well-suited for this project. Graham’s signature back hinges, concaved shapes and constant weight exchanges among the dancers complement the radical themes of the movie. During the retelling of the story of Babel, the dancers use compulsive arm gestures to emulate speaking in tongues. As the dancers grab and pull their hands away from their mouths Dolder shouts out encouragements such as “speak louder” and “make people watch.”

This is the first time a collaboration of this magnitude has been attempted here in Dallas. Will the addition of movement, set design, video projection and live music amplify the audience’s overall experience or will it be too much visual stimuli? Viewers can find out for themselves when the Video Association of Dallas kicks off Dallas VideoFest 28 with its showing of Metropolis Oct. 13 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The festival runs through the 18th and features approximately 125 screenings of local, region and internationally produced media art programs. More information is available at www.videofest.org.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

DESTINATION DANCE

The second annual Dallas DanceFest promises more variety and exceptional dancing from individuals and groups throughout the region.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA) founder Joshua L. Peugh and company dancer Alex Karigan Farrior in Critics of the Morning Song. Photo Robert Hart
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (USA) founder Joshua L. Peugh and company dancer Alex Karigan Farrior in Critics of the Morning Song. Photo Robert Hart

Dallas – The perception of dance in Dallas has changed dramatically over the last five years largely due to the development of the Dallas Arts District; the rise in the number of professional dance companies based in the city; the restructuring of veteran dance groups like Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and the creation of local dance festivals, including Rhythm In Fusion Festival (RIFF) and Dallas DanceFest (DDF). All of these factors are helping to transform Dallas into a grand destination for dance. Keeping this in mind the Dance Council of North Texas (DCNT), in partnership with the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, is planning to deliver more vitality, diversity and excellence in dance with the second annual DDF which takes place September 4-6, 2015 at Dallas City Performance Hall. This prestigious event features performances on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. and concludes Sunday afternoon with the Dance Council Honors.

The impact of the festival isn’t just felt around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex but across the region as well. Houston-based METdance (formerly Houston Metropolitan Dance Company), an original participant in the Dallas Morning News Festival, was disappointed when that festival disbanded in 2004 as it had looked forward to performing for Dallas audiences. But artistic director Marlana Doyle says, “We were grateful to be a part of DDF last year and had the thrill of enjoying the Dallas audiences and arts community in such an amazing venue once again. METdance appreciates the efforts of the Dallas Dance Council and looks forward to celebrating the arts in Texas.”

Kimi Nikaidoh, artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance Project here in Dallas, adds, Given the all-consuming nature of running an arts organization, it’s impossible to see what all of the many other groups in the area are accomplishing. Dallas DanceFest brings us all out of our respective “workshops” and gives us the chance to be inspired and challenged by each other.”

Curated by top dance professionals Lauren Anderson, Fred Darsow, Bridget L. Moore and Catherine Turocy, DDF 2015 will feature 19 exceptional artists and companies from all across the region including – Houston, Austin, Oklahoma, Alabama, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Audiences can expect each performance to be a unique and thrilling display of dance styles including – classical ballet, modern, tap, hip-hop, traditional Indian dance and Ballet Folklorico. The programs will also feature performances by well-known and beloved Dallas institutions such as Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Bruce Wood Dance Project along with some new names including the Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers.

“It was incredible to see such a tremendous response to DDF 2014,” says DCNT President Kirt Hathaway. “The Dance Council made the decision to re-implement this wonderful dance event after it had sat idle for so many years. With the inclusion of the Dance Council Honors, DDF has immediately become one of DCNT’s marquis events. Producing such a wonderful weekend of dance would not have been possible if the organization had not experienced such growth over the past several years. It truly shows that there is a great commitment by the board and staff to support dance in North Texas and beyond. This year promises to be even more exciting.”

This year’s participants include:

Ballet Ensemble of Texas (Coppell, TX) – Formed in May 2001 under the leadership of Lisa Slagle, the company’s goal is to present quality ballet performances for the local communities and to provide advanced ballet students with the opportunity to prepare for a career in dance. It is the official company of the Ballet Academy of Texas.

Bell House Arts, Inc. (Owasso, OK) – Founded by Rachel Bruce Johnson, The Bell House is a collaborative dance and art cooperative dedicated to creating opportunity for artistic exchange. At The Bell House, we are interested in the collaboration of ideas, people and movement language that challenge the status quo and conventional ways of making art by elevating art as a process. Its fosters meeting points for artistic connection between people rather than elevating the art as product in order to activate the transformative nature of movement that can be experienced both in the practice, performance and witness of dance.

Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) Repertory Dance Company I & II (Dallas, TX) – BTWHSPVA is “the cradle of the Dallas Arts District.” In 2015, the school was awarded the Texas Commission of the Arts Medal of Honor for exemplary training in Arts Education. The department’s philosophy is to provide a broad dance education that challenges the students artistically, intellectually and physically and to prepare qualified students for collegiate and professional careers in dance and related professions.

Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Bruce Wood Dance Project (Dallas, TX) – BWDP was launched in 2011 to champion the vision, leadership and artistry of nationally acclaimed Texan dance-maker Bruce Wood. BWDP picked up where the successful Fort Worth-based Bruce Wood Dance Company left off. Under Wood’s direction the company produced six word premieres and a TITAS Presents Commission for Command Performance Gala. Currently in its fifth season the company is now under the direction of Kimi Nikaidoh after Wood’s passing in May 2014.

Chamberlain Performing Arts (Plano, TX) – Established in 1984 by Artistic Director Kathy Chamberlain as a student ensemble dedicated to providing students a stepping stone to professional dance careers. Chamberlain is dedicated to serving North Texas and the surrounding community by providing professional quality performances and outstanding outreach programs. The company takes great pride in the ongoing efforts to expand its cultural diversity through performance collaborations.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Dallas, TX) – Founded in 1976 by Ann Williams, DBDT consists of 12 full-time dancers performing a mixed repertory of modern, jazz, ethnic and spiritual works by nationally and internationally recognized choreographers. Over the years the company has grown from a community-based, semi-professional organization to a fully-professional dance company that is renowned in the U.S. and is noted for its rich cultural diversity, history of inclusion and high-level of artistic excellence in contemporary modern dance and educational programs

Dallas Black Dance Theatre II (Dallas, TX) – This semi-professional company created by Dallas Black Dance Theatre Founder Ann Williams in 2000 consists of eight aspiring artists from around the nation. Under the guidance of Nycole Ray, DBDT II provides an opportunity for young artists to develop their dance skills while serving the Dallas/Fort Worth community and touring across the nation. Going into its 16th season performing works by recognized and emerging artists, DBDT II performs a diversified repertoire of modern, jazz, African, lyrical and spiritual works.

Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blues Dancers (Irving, TX) – Founded in 2009, DCRB is a high-energy co-ed hip hop dance team and drum corps. Lead by Jenny Durbin Smith DCRB brings an innovative, unique and exciting element to the Cowboys legendary game-day entertainment line-up. The dance teams dynamic routines feature breakdancing and hip hop-based movement requiring both strong musicality and level of dance ability. Presented by Miller Lite, DCRB was conceptualized under the direction of Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President of Brand Management Charlotte Anderson and is the first and only entertainment concept of its kind in the National Football League.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance (Dallas, TX) – Originally formed in Seoul, South Korea by Joshua L. Peugh and Cho Hyun Sang, Peugh started the USA branch of the company in 2013 bridging the gap between East and West. DCCD is dedicated to bringing the progressive work of international choreographers and dancers to a worldwide audience. It strives to educate the public on the power of movement in communicating ideas.

AJ Garcia-Rameau (Austin, TX) -AJ Garcia-Rameau is an independent contemporary ballerina based  in Austin. AJ trained at Houston Academy of Dance and Austin School of Classical Ballet. She received additional training under scholarship with Alvin Ailey School, Joffrey Jazz/Contemporary and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. AJ earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering and Dance minor from the University of Texas. She has performed with Exclamation Dance Company, Austin Classical Ballet and BHumm Dance Company.

Pictured: Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble
Pictured: Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble

Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble (Houston, TX) – The ensemble is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, and is led by Artistic Director Amy Blake. This ensemble was designed for the dancer seeking collaboration with exemplary worldwide professionals in the industry to help them obtain greater levels of achievement in the arts through classical training in ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary. The ensemble provides dancers with a positive working environment and opportunities for master classes, private coaching, YAGP participation and multiple international showcases and performance venues.

METdance (Houston, TX) – Founded in 1995, Houston Metropolitan Dance Center Inc. strives to educate and revitalize a passion for dance through the finest instruction and performance. Under the direction of Marlana Doyle MET Dance Company has performed throughout the United States in dozens of theaters receiving high acclaim, performing works by some of the most influential and talented choreographers of our time. The company is the sister organization to the MET Dance Center.
Mosaic Dance Project of Dallas (Dallas, TX) – Created in 2014 by Giovanna Godinez Prado, Mosaic Dance Project’s mission is to create, educate and inspire individuals that desire to grow not only as dancers, but as artists as well, along with our cultural and ethical awareness and values.

Natyananda: Joy of Dance (Birmingham, AL) – Founded in 1978 by Sheila Rubin, Natyananda performs both traditional and original choreographic works in the classical Bharatanatyam style of Southern India. Through student, professional and guest artist presentations Natyananda promotes understanding of universal artistic and cultural themes while showcasing the rich and unique heritage of Alabama’s Asian Indian-American community.

NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D. Photo: Lynn Lane
NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D. Photo: Lynn Lane

NobleMotion Dance (Houston, TX) – NMD was co-founded by Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble in 2009. Over the last five years it has distinguished itself as one of Houston’s most important dance companies. NMD brings a fresh perspective to their community with its mission of integrating technology and dance, and is a Resident Incubator at the Houston Arts Alliance and is currently on the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) touring roster.

LaQuet Sharnel Pringle DDF 2015 commissioned premiere (Austin, TX) – A Booker T Washington HSPVA alum, Pringle attending the North Carolina School of the Arts before making her Broadway debut in 2005 in Sweet Charity with Christina Applegate and Dennis O’Hare. She has also performed in productions of The Lion King and Memphis. Today, Pringle is an adjunct professor at Texas State University teaching Jazz Dance in the Musical Theater Department. She is also the artistic director and founder of Fearless Young Artists (FYA) and was the headliner of Dance Planet 19.

Rhythmic Souls (Dallas, TX) – This small company if wicked fierce rhythm tapper is captivating local audiences with their unique blend of style, charisma, innovative choreography and rapid-fire footwork. The company is on the cutting-edge of dance choreography with cross-genre repertoire that infuses rhythm tap dance with body percussion, sand dancing, contemporary movement, flamenco, swing dance and anything else that might lend itself to their rhythmic percussion. The company strives to bring the spirit of tap dance back to the stage and continue the legacy of an American art form.

Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts Dance Division (Dallas, TX) – The SMU Division of Dance offers both conservatory dance instruction and a liberal arts education. The dance program develops disciplined, versatile artists through professional training in ballet, modern and jazz techniques as well as theory. Undergraduates can earn a B.F.A. in Dance Performance or a minor in Dance Performance. Students perform masterworks of the great choreographers of the 20th century as well as works by contemporary masters.

Texas Ballet Theater School (Fort Worth, TX) – Training the next generation of dancers and arts patrons is the mission of TBT Schools. Starting with the very young, we nurture aspiring artists to discover their greatest potential and to develop a love of movement, a passion for creativity and an appreciation for the beauty and athleticism of classical dance.

Tickets for DDF 2015 available August 1 through TICKETDFW: online at www.TICKETDFW.com, by phone (214) 871-5000, or in person at the box office 2353 Flora St, Dallas, TX 75201.

More information about the festival is available at www.DallasDanceFest.org.

This feature was originally seen in the Aug.-Oct. 2015 issue of DANCE! North Texas which is published by The Dance Council of North Texas.

Loud Whispers

Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image..
Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

Albert Drake makes his choreographic debut with his work Whispers, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s upcoming performance marking the company’s fifth anniversary.

Dallas — After watching Albert Drake rehearse his first piece for the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) Monday afternoon at the company’s studio in the Design District it struck me that Dallas is now not only a breeding ground for uniquely qualified dancers, but also choreographers. Drake has made a name for himself in the North Texas dance community as a founding member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project as well as for his work outside the company, including teaching at Park Cities Dance and Southern Methodist University where he received his BFA in dance performance from the Meadows School of the Arts.

As a dancer, Drake is known for his explosive movement quality and innate lyricism and it was nice to see these traits represented in his first chorographic endeavor, Whispers, part of BWDP’s 5 Years performance June 19-20 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The work follows eight dancers, including Drake and BWDP’s Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh, as they search for the meaning of happiness. Starting with an R&B vibe and then shifting into a fast-paced piano phrase, the 20-minute piece is broken up into various duets, trios and group sections depicting the various relationships among the dancers.

“I wanted to play with relationships that weren’t necessarily just about love,” Drake says. “There is a duet toward the end of the third section that has more of a protective quality to it and has this feeling of you and me against the world. And there are other duets and trios that more about trust and support.”

The blind support Drake talks about allows the couple to transfer their weight back and forth without qualm as they glide across the floor. Their momentum never stops even as the female slides into a split and is pulled through her partner’s legs into a steadfast fourth position relevé. The trios are dotted with dynamic leaps, wicked fast turns and buoyant floor work. A composed backward walking phrase is used multiple times, but the dancers’ changing directions keep viewers on their toes.

“I don’t like predictability,” Drake says, as he explains his penchant for the unexpected. This also makes for some exciting transition changes, such as when the dancers sprint out of the wings or get picked up one by one as a dancer runs by. And in one exuberant section all the dancers dash across the stage leaving a lone dancer to execute a controlled headstand into a series of one-footed balances performed in silence. “Creating transitions is difficult because they have to flow and take the audience on a journey without taking them in and out. As a choreographer you have to find a way to keep the audience involved and keep the whole thing circular.”

Kimi in Whispers, part of the BWDP's Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.
Kimi Nikaidoh in Whispers, part of the BWDP’s Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

The cast is a mix of company veterans including Harry Feril and Nikaidoh and newcomers such as Eric Coudron and David Escoto. While the group danced seamlessly together Drake says it did take some time for everyone to adjust to the creative process. “The first week it was just about making sure everyone was present because, for some of the newer dancers, they haven’t gotten a lot of chances to work in the creative process. A lot of dancers get drawn into a repertory company where you learn old works over and over. In the creation process you have to be patient, moldable and willing to let go.” Drake admits that was a struggle, but once everyone got into it he says they were able to absorb the movement without prejudice and some good stuff came out of it.

It’s easy to spot Wood’s influences in Drake’s choreography. After all, Drake spent more than half his career training with the notable North Texas choreographer who passed away suddenly last year. “I adopted him early on as the mentor I wanted to be around and learn from. His previous dancers adored the man and followed him religiously and I see why. So, he invested in me and I invested in him and it was a great relationship.”

Wood’s quirky foot work, deliberate gesturing and emotional pull are seen throughout Drake’s piece, but most poignantly in the opening section where the four females each perform a gestural phrase of movement that slowly builds in intensity.

“His principles are a part of me so it wasn’t challenging to stay within his realm of movement. The hard part was moving away from it and standing out and not necessary being a replica of him. Now, I didn’t try to stray away from them, but I did want to take his principles and use them in a different context.” Wood also had the unique ability of connecting with audiences on a deeply emotional level, something Drake hopes to accomplish with Whispers. “I don’t want the physicality or the prettiness of the piece to determine how people feel. My main purpose of this piece is to keep people emotionally involved.”

The concert will also feature the Dallas premieres of Wood’s Requiem and Polyester Dreams.

This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Q&A: Choreographer John Selya

Courtesy of SMU
Courtesy of SMU

The Twyla Tharp dancer on his journey from ballet to Broadway and creating his new work, Darkside, as part of the SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts Spring Dance Concert.

Dallas — John Selya is not your typical ballet dancer. In addition to classical ballet, Selya is also well versed in Twyla Tharp’s free flowing movement style and is an authoritative voice when it comes to the ins and outs of dancing on Broadway. A native New Yorker Selya attended the School of American Ballet before joining American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in the late 80’s. It was here Selya was exposed to Tharp’s classical, yet quirky way of moving for the first time. Selya spent 11 years with ABT before leaving to join Twyla Tharp Dance. In 2003 he made his Broadway debut performing the central role of Eddie in Tharp’s Tony-winning show, Movin’ Out. His performance earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a musical, an Astaire award for outstanding dancing on a Broadway stage and a Theater World Award for outstanding Broadway debut. Since then, Selya has also appeared in Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls and Tharp’s recent Come Fly Away.

Selya is currently an artist-in-residence at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where he is working with students on his new work, Darkside, part of the Meadows Spring Dance Concert which runs March 25-29 in the Bob Hope Theatre. Using music from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, Darkside adds a visual element to the groundbreaking musical composition (which is the second best-selling album of all time after Michael Jackson’s Thriller according to Wikipedia). The work follows an inquisitive philosophy student named Emily on her journey to decipher the teachings of her professor and fulfill her destiny. The program also includes Danny Buraczeski’s acclaimed 1999 piece Ezekiel’s Wheel, inspired by the life and work of author and Civil Rights activist James Baldwin and a new work by Dallas-based choreographer Joshua L. Peugh entitled The Hi Betty Cha-Cha.

TheaterJones asks John Selya about his experience working with the legendary Twyla Tharp, transitioning from ballet to Broadway and creating his work, Darkside.

TheaterJones: Going into rehearsals did you have a clear vision of what you wanted Darkside to look like?

John Selya: Going in I knew I wanted to use Tom Stoppard’s radio play which is inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. The radio play is split up between dialogue and music, and the more I listen to it and the more I see the work; it’s more like a musical than just a dance. You have your spoken word passages and Tom Stoppard has segued seamlessly into songs from the album. So, when I initially decided to use this for the SMU piece I did have a clear aesthetic vision. I had a vibe that I wanted to create. I wanted to go for an interactive dance piece where the dancers were not confined just to the stage. In the musical Hair, the director, Diane Paulus, had the actors come out into the house and I thought this would be a great exercise for young performers such as the students at SMU to really become comfortable with being themselves at close range. So, that’s what my aim was.

Darkside follows a strong storyline. Do your prefer creating more story-driven pieces vs. abstract work?

I really go for a mix. I like to rely on the storyline just as a general compass, but then I don’t like to adhere to it too much. But what really appealed to me about the Tom Stoppard/Pink Floyd collaboration was that I feel Stoppard was able to add another element independent of what the songs had already said. So, you’re not just reflecting it; you’re adding to it. But that storyline has your compass pointing you where you want to go, and once I go there then I try to become abstract. I also want to add that this radio play is not a simple storyline. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it takes me a long time to fully absorb what Stoppard is saying and why he is saying it. So, I wouldn’t call this a simple storyline. At least not for me.

Were any of the dancers familiar with Pink Floyd prior to this piece?

Some of them knew their greatest hits, but not everyone was familiar with the music and frankly there wasn’t much time to delve into the history and the body of work of Pink Floyd. And I’m sure the dancers kind of felt uncomfortable like they were flying blind because I didn’t explain much to them while we were working except for the basic quality of physical movement that I wanted. I think it was tough for these dancers to not deal with definites. A lot of times in my process of choreographing the intention of a part is unclear and I’m waiting for it to reveal itself. Again that is kind of flying blind and is a much different approach to making work than they’ve been used to so, that was a learning curve all around. They would ask me questions like what are we here and the most I could tell them was that they are the weather of the piece.

After this experience what would you say is the biggest difference between choreographing for college students and seasoned professionals?

I think for the students it’s just a matter of trusting their own artistic identity. They haven’t had that long to forge their own artistic identity and their own movement quality, and I think they’re not used to relying on that and capitalizing on the individuality that they bring to a piece. That’s the biggest difference between so called seasoned professionals and students. I chose these dancers for the piece because there was something about their individuality that appealed to me and that fit right in with what I wanted to do.

What can you tell me about the dance sequences in the piece?

It’s mostly group dances onstage, but there are pas de deux that happen in the audience. What I wanted to set up is the protagonist, named Emily, goes on this journey as cliché as that sounds. So, I have her travelling around the auditorium and ultimately coming onstage to join the other dancers at the end. So, it is mostly group dances and the transitions, I hope, are seamless because as a director that is what I really work hard at is making things flow naturally. I tell the dancers it’s like these Italian road bikes are made really well and the way you see the craftsmanship is the links between the tubes where all the ornamenting is so, I go for that. I hope it flows and if it doesn’t there is still work that needs to be done.

What kind of atmosphere are you trying to create for the audience?

I would say it runs the gamut it terms of emotions. I do like psychedelic especially in the theater, but then there are moments of darkness and at the end I have attempted to do kind of an epiphany.

Looking back on your career what made you decide to leave ABT and join Twyla Tharp Dance?

I met Twyla at ABT when she was hired as the artistic associate and as a result the company absorbed some members of her company. I was amazed to see these totally different dancers in our ranks. ABT had been a solely classical company and in comes Twyla’s group of free formed versatile dancers. Classically trained most of them, but they had something that I had never heard before called movement quality. It was just amazing to have that kind of exposure to a whole other vocabulary of movement. So, anyway Twyla saw me in class during my first tour and she came up to me after and gave me a bunch of corrections on grande jetes and ever since then she has always invited me to work with her. I was just so fortunate that someone took an interest in me and was able to take my training as a classical dancer and extend it into something a little more accessible. Which is what I love about Broadway because you access a whole other audience.

What was the hardest part of transitioning from classical ballet to Broadway?

I don’t think it was hard at all. Working with Twyla on Movin’ Out I just felt at home and I felt like I had a role that was kind of tragic and I loved it. I mean it wasn’t Tommy Tune’s Broadway we were in. We weren’t in tap shoes and sequin vests. My character in Movin’ Out was a mix of Michael Jordan and Bob Dylan and it was a role I could really relate too. I would say it’s more difficult leaving Broadway. For me it’s the ultimate way to really work on your dancing. You have the same thing to do every night and you really get to refine it and really get into the role. It’s fantastic!

How was Twyla’s Broadway work different from what other choreographers were doing at that time?

What Twyla brought to Broadway it was she calls deep dancing. You are basically telling the story through the dancing and very seldom is that done. And it is not done as extremely as it is done by Twyla. I think she crafted a story that was relatively easy to follow, but for me was challenging to execute. Her trust in dancing to tell a story to a Broadway audience is the main thing I think she brought to the industry.

What are some of the lessons she has taught you as an artist?

I’ve learned from her to take no short cuts in the work that you do. I’ve learned to always keep it interesting for yourself. I’ve learned never to keep a regular rhythm when you dance. And I am still learning. There’s a new lesson basically everyday with Twyla.

This Q&A was originally published 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: SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Concert 2014

Dancin' Man. Photo: Sharen Bradford
Dancin’ Man. Photo: Sharen Bradford

Intricate lighting, Illusions and props take center stage at this year’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble Fall Dance Concert.

Dallas — Light played a pivotal role, literally and metaphorically, at this year’s Fall Dance Concert presented by Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble. The Bob Hope Theatre on the SMU Campus was packed Friday night for the preimere of Christopher Dolder’s Handle as well as works by Bob Fosse, Adam Hougland and Alex Sanchez.

In past viewings The Meadows Dance Ensemble has proved itself to be a versatile and resilient group of dancers with a high level of professionalism. The pieces chosen for this year’s program challenged the dancers to take on multiple roles from lighting and prop mover to singer and hat trickster. This generation of dancers must know about all aspects of the performance and these students are well on their way.

The program opens with Dolder’s kaleidoscopic work Handle with music by Andhim, Eduardo Castillo, Fabricio Cavero, Farfan Herman Hupfeld, Moby, Thomas Newman and Avro Part. Through special lighting techniques, video projection, costuming and permeable walls, Dolder takes the public’s perception of what dance should look like and flips it on its head. One faceless dancer in a white body suit performs a series of wavy, bird-like movements before appearing to freeze in mid-air and being absorbed into one of the two 10-foot-tall permeable walls (one black and one white). On the white wall, two dancers covered head-to-toe in black emerge from the wall and perform a horizontal duet consisting of high upper back arches and gentle push and pull movements before disconnecting themselves from their tethers.

The piece climaxes during the dogfight where four couples take turns whipping and tugging at one another aided by the handles sewn into their costumes. The movement is grounded and concaved, evidence of Dolder’s extensive knowledge of Graham technique. This is also the first time we see the dancers’ faces and we are able to see them as humans versus objects. Even with all the added elements, the piece has a clear beginning, middle and end with the take away message being to handle each other and our environment with care.

Choreographer Christopher Dolder's new work Handle. Photo: Robert Hart.
Choreographer Christopher Dolder’s new work Handle. Photo: Robert Hart.

Hougland’s To the Fore also incorporates unique lighting techniques, but in this piece it’s the dancers controlling the light. Four work lights attached to long extension cords capture the four female dancers as they explode onto the stage in a series of quick bourree steps, saute jumps and turns on pointe. As the dancers approach their light it is suddenly pulled away, placing them in shadow. Four men appear and trail the light along their partner’s body as they bend and contort into different shapes. While the extension cords were intended to be props in their own right, obstacles around which dancers had to maneuver, at times they distracted from the dancers’ athletic quality of movement.

Hougland displays his talent for narratives in his second piece Cigarettes, set to different versions of the song “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” by Patsy Cline, Pickin’ On, Georgette Dee & Terry Truck, Smokers Die Younger and k.d. lang. The story describes a woman’s encounter with three different men and the affect she has on them. Kelsey Rohr was exquisite in this role. Her matured body awareness enables her to move easily from luxurious back stretches and weightless leaps to frantic gesturing and leaded walks. On this night, Zachery Biel, Christopher Dorsey and Dexter Green displayed their prowess in a series of acrobatic moves and tricky lifts with Rohr.

The evening closes with Alex Sanchez’s homage to Bob Fosse. The work is split into three sections that represent different periods of accomplishment in his life. Fosse’s admiration for Fred Astaire is evident through the white socks with back shoes and slacks, wide-rim hats and tight arm movements in Dancin’ Man. No big jumps or multiple pirouettes, just clean, staccato hat tricks and rhythmic walking. The loss of a hat did break the Illusion for a moment and brings up the question whether a dancer should ever retrieve a lost prop or just keep on going. In this instance they went with the lather.

Reid Conlon, Hope Endrenyi and Reid Frye did a commendable job in Fosse’s classic “Steam Heat.” Dressed in black suits and bowler hats, the trio nailed the Fosse shoulder isolations and turned-in foot work. The hat flips and traveling knee spins were big crowd pleasures. The men shone in the final section with their elongated runs, knee bobs and shimmies to the upbeat notes of “Sing, Sing, Sing.” While the angels’ balletic movements in between the sections don’t seem to add much to the work, the image of the hat bathed in a single spotlight at the very beginning is certainly arresting. Having everyone lip-sync the peppy show tunes also adds more authenticity to the piece.

This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

 

Get A Grip

Choreographer Christopher Dolder's new work Handle premieres at this year's Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert. Photo: Robert Hart.
Choreographer Christopher Dolder’s new work Handle premieres at this year’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert. Photo: Robert Hart.

Christopher Dolder’s new work Handle challenges how audiences perceive dance using multi-media elements at this year’s Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert.

Dallas — “Release the hounds,” Choreographer Christopher Dolder announces. Three pairs of dancers  double check their nylon body harnesses one more time before taking their positions, one partner on all fours and the others standing over them, holding on to one of the handles sewn into the  costume. It’s the quintessential image of a man and his dog preparing for the hunt. When the music starts the dancers charge at one another in a primitive manner. The handles on the dancers’ costumes enable them to toss and tug at one another freely, intensifying their aggressive state. During this section two 10-foot-tall permeable walls (one white and one black) will move in and out changing the framing of the space. The walls also happen to be interactive. Before the dog fight there is a dancer standing on top of the white wall and another standing in front of the black wall. They are both tethered to the walls giving them a wider range of movement. In another section two dancers emerge out of the white wall and perform a horizontal duet. “I play a lot with dimensionality here,” Dolder says, “The light will hit the dancers in a way where their shadows will be reflected above them hopefully creating this 3D-like effect.”

This is just a prelude to what Dolder has in store for audiences with his new work Handle, part of this year’sSouthern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert, Nov. 5-9 in the Bob Hope Theatre of the Owens Arts Center on the SMU campus. Through the use of video projection, motion sensing, permeable walls and costuming, Dolder challenges our perceptions of what dance should be. His expansive knowledge of lighting and video projection techniques creates an environment where nothing is as it appears and will have the audience continuously asking what, how and why. “I don’t mind people’s confusion. I want them asking these questions throughout the piece. And if I laid everything out correctly then they will understand the meaning at the end.”

Dolder is a former soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company and has spent the last 15 years choreographing and performing with his wife and their company, Westwick/Dolder Dance Theater. He has spent the last five years teaching modern, dance kinesiology, composition and dance for camera at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. He is also a fellow in the Center for Creative Computation at SMU where he is designing and developing a 3D interactive computer software program for teaching dance kinesiology. Dolder’s Graham background is prevalent throughout the work, but especially in the dog fight section mentioned earlier. Graham technique requires a strong core and a low center of gravity, enabling dancers to change directions and body positions quickly and regularly. “The dancers wouldn’t be able to do this section if they didn’t already have a strong understanding of Graham technique.”

Dolder describes Handle as a cautionary tale. The piece looks at how people handle certain situations, objects and environments. The hound dance, for example, depicts man’s aggressive handling of animals and/or any creature they feel are inferior to them. In the opening section a man dances with a suitcase on wheels to the song “As Time Goes By.” His handling of the suitcase alters from gentle caresses and slow glides to forceful shoves that send the suitcase spinning out of control. Our perception of the suitcase as just an object is shattered when it starts sprouting human arms and legs. Our senses are further manipulated by the fact the entire section is done in silhouette.

When it was time to review the fish section Dolder moved rehearsal to one of the smaller stages in the Owens Arts Center where the two permeable walls reside. These 10-foot tall solid structures consist of three levels wrapped from top to bottom in layers of elastic bands. These bands allow the dancers to slide their hands in and out of the material quickly and easily. By the end of the section the dancers are revealing half their bodies from different parts of the wall, leaving the audience in constant suspense.

Handle concludes with a Cirque du Soleil-esque group number incorporating all the elements used throughout the piece from videos and still projections to aerial and tethered movements. Dolder draws my attention the fact this will be the first time we see any color other than black and white being used in the work. “The backdrop will be in bluish hues and the dancers are wearing black, sliver and blue unitards signifying that we are approaching reality.” Prepare to have your mind blown.

The Meadows School of the Arts 2014 Fall Dance Concert takes place Nov. 5-9 and also features Adam Hougland’sTo the Fore and Cigarettes and Alex Sanchez’s Dancin’ Man, an homage to Bob Fosse.

This piece was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Dance Council of North Texas Announces 2014 Honorees

Dylis Croman. Photo courtesy DCNT
Dylis Croman. Photo courtesy DCNT

The Dance Council of North Texas recognizes the accomplishments of Nita Braun, Suzie Jary, Beth Wortley, Joe Cutaia and Ann Briggs-Cutaia, Dylis Croman and Buster Cooper.

Dallas — Every year the Dance Council of North Texas selects five individuals whose excellence in education, performance and community support for dance have greatly impacted the art form in North Texas. While the mission of the Dance Council Honors hasn’t changed, attendees are in for a few surprises at this year’s event. For the first time the Dance Council Honors will take place at Dallas City Performance Hall on Aug. 31, 2014, and will coincide with the inaugural Dallas DanceFest which runs Aug. 29-31. The Dance Council Honors has previously been held at Dallas Black Dance Theatre. The event begins with a reception followed by the presentation of awards and includes performances by 2014 DCNT scholarship recipients and professional companies.

“That Dallas Black Dance Theatre opened its doors to the annual Dance Council Honors was a wonderful gift,” says Honors Chairperson Janice LaPointe-Crump. However, “each year people had to be turned away because of the limited amount of seating. With more capacity and better sight lines the City Performance Hall is truly a contemporary, yet elegant environment. And becoming part of the Dallas DanceFest closes the space between our youthful scholarship recipients, professionals at the height of their careers and the presentation of the Honor awards to those who have preserved and excelled throughout their professional lives.”

Buster Cooper. Photo courtesy DCNT
Buster Cooper. Photo courtesy DCNT

The DCNT will also be honoring Dallas tap icon Buster Cooper, who passed away in March, with the final Texas Tap Legend Award. The award has been renamed the Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award. This year’s Dance Council Honorees are:

Nita Braun – Mary McLarry Bywaters Award for Lifetime Achievement

Nita Braun’s teaching career spanned nearly 35 years, 25 of which were spent running Nita Braun’s Talent Workshop in Farmers Branch. Braun’s passion for dance also extended beyond her studio. For many years she served as a Secretary and a Vice President of the Dallas Dance Council, working to expand the audience for dance in Dallas through education, outreach, and performance. In 1946 she married Philip Henry Braun, a chemical engineer and World War II veteran. Together they raised four children – Cathie, Mary, Lisa, and Griff – and were married for 56 years, until Phil’s death in 2003. Braun passed away in January 2012 at the age of 85.

Suzie Jary – Mary Warner Award for Service to Dance

For more than 20 years Suzie Jary LCSW, TEP has been providing psychotherapy and counseling in the areas of addiction, mental health, grief and loss and career development. She graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work, CUNY, in New York, and trained and worked in New York City before relocating to Fort Worth, TX. Jary is a recognized specialist in the issues faced by performing and creative artists. She has spoken internationally and domestically about artists’ career development and career transition issues. She was profiled in The New York TimesWall Street Journal, and New York Daily News for her work with Career Transition for Dancers, a national not-for-profit organization. As Client Services Consultant for the organization she travels nationwide presenting action-based career development workshops for professional dance companies, college dance major programs and dance conservatories. Jary’s background is as a professional musical theatre dancer having performed in Europe, in national tours and on Broadway.

Beth Wortley – Larry White Dance Educator Award

Growing up in Dallas, Beth Wortley studied classical ballet with Nikita Talin. She also has training in jazz and modern dance. Wortley received a BFA in Theater from University of Texas at Austin and a MFA in dance from Southern Methodist University in 1973. After graduation she served as Artistic Director of Ballet of Dallas for 5 years before moving to Boston where she taught ballet at Tufts University and Boston University. Wortley returned to Dallas in 1989 and was soon hired as Director of the Dance Department for the Hockaday School. In 2008 she was named the Chair of the Performing Arts Department. Outside of her Hockaday responsibilities, Beth has been directing, choreographing and acting in productions for the Rotunda Theater for the last 50 years. She has choreographed countless musicals for other local theaters and high schools throughout the Metroplex. Wortley also was a pioneer for Liturgical dance at First United Methodist Church Dallas.

Buster Cooper – Texas Tap Legend Award

Leonard “Buster” Cooper started dance lessons at the age of 10. At 17 he attended a workshop in Chicago where he was asked to stand in for Gene Kelly’s brother, Fred. His career as a dancer and teacher flourished from there. He was drafted for WWII in 1942 and afterward spent his summers dancing in Chicago and New York. Cooper moved to Dallas in 1951 to head up one of Fred Astaire’s dance locations. A year later he left the company and opened his own studio. For 52 years he owned and operated The Buster Cooper School of Dance and for more than 30 years served as the head of dance at Hockaday School. Scores of his alumni went on to dance in production at the Dallas Summer Musicals and on Broadway in shows, including The Music ManThe Pajama GameWest Side StoryA Chorus Line and Cats. Cooper passed away in March 2013 at the age of 90.

Joe Cutaia and Ann Briggs-Cutaia – Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award

Texas native Joe Cutaia has studied dance in Dallas, New York and Chicago. His professional experiences include the Broadway national touring companies of Little Me with Donald O’Connor, George M with Ken Berry and Hello Dolly with Carol Channing. As an actor, Cutaia studied with Adam Roarke at the Film Labs at Las Colinas, Lou Diamond Phillips and the DSM Musical Theatre School. He also has worked for the Dallas Children’s Theatre and has appeared in various television commercials. Cutaia is an active member of the Dance Council of North Texas and for the past several years has been a committee chairman of the National Tap Dance Day celebration in Dallas. He and his wife Ann are members of three Dallas ballroom dance clubs having presided as presidents for one group and are currently holding the position of President-Elect for another. They are also the owners of The Chaplin Cotillions LLC, and travel around the state of Texas conducting etiquette and ballroom classes for students in grades 2 through 9.

Ann Briggs-Cutaia studied dance in Dallas, TX with Texie Waterman and Buster Cooper. Briggs holds a BFA in dance from Southern Methodist University. She danced professionally as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader and has appeared in various commercials, television shows and movies in the United States and Japan. Briggs also holds a Masters of Science in Counseling and is certified by the Texas State Board for Educator Certification as an instructor of dance and speech as well as a school counselor.

Dylis Croman – Natalie Skelton Award for Artistic Excellence

Dallas native Dylis Croman is best known  for her success on Broadway in shows, including Sweet Charity,FosseA Chorus LineApplauseOklahoma! and presently Chicago. A quintessential ballerina, Croman once danced with the renowned FeldBallets/NY (now Ballet Tech Company) before becoming Ann Reinking’s assistant and eventually a Fosse aficionado and legacy keeper, then launching her triumphant career on Broadway. Croman trained in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with Laura Price, Dana Davis Bailey, Dian Clough West, and TuzerBallet. She graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before moving to New York. This year Croman was the guest star for DCNT’s Dance Planet 18 festival.

Tickets for the 2014 Dance Council Honors will be available beginning August 1. Visit www.thedancecouncil.org for more information.

This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.