Lot’s of great news has been coming out of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) organization the last couple of weeks, including today’s announcement that Melissa Young will be taking over as artistic director.
Young has been with the company for 25 years and has experience in all facets of the organization. We meet while on the board of directors for the Dance Council about 10 years ago and her commencement and passion for dance and DBDT was as strong then as it is now. She is patient. She is kind. But she also knows when to lay down the law. As they say, third times the charm, so I wish Young good luck in new position!
DBDT also announced last week that it has been selected to receive funding through the Communities Connecting Heritage (CCH) exchange program for its new cultural heritage project with Macedonian filmmakers. Only five artistic organizations in the nation where chosen to participate in this cultural exchange program.
Entitled Widening the Lens, DBDT and Association MakeDox from Macedonia will work together with 12 African-American dancers and 12 Macedonian filmmakers to create a 50-minute documentary exploring and celebrating African-American culture through dance and Romani heritages music. DBDT will incorporate aspects of the project into its Spring Celebration Series in addition to holding three free screenings of the film in July.
What a unique experience for these dancers. Not only do they get to travel around the world exploring different dance cultures, but they will also get to see how a dance documentary is put together from start to finish.
And right behind this announcement came the news that DBDT has invited Joy Bollinger, the newly appointed Artistic Director of Bruce Wood Dance, to set a piece for the company’s annual Director’s Choice performance coming up in November.
According the media release, Bollinger’s new work, This Time, is a reflection of the fleeting nature of the time in her relationships with her children and grandmother and the constant desire to steal moments and capture memories. If its anything like her previous works then audiences are in for large scale visuals, dynamic group sections and a roller coaster of emotions.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre leaps into a new era with Stephen Mills’ Bounce and two works by new Artistic Director Briget L. Moore at its annual Spring Celebration Series.
Dallas — A rollercoaster of emotions, movement that changes in texture, weight and dimension, and jumps – lots of them. With its strong classical foundation and pas de deux like couplings, Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills’Bounce is a detour from what we normally see from Dallas Black Dance Theatre(DBDT). Well known for presenting works that honor the African American culture and related dance styles, it’s easy to forget that DBDT is also well-versed in modern, jazz and classical dance forms. The dancers prove this in Bounce, which will be performed alongside works by Twyla Tharp and DBDT’s new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore at the company’s annual Spring Celebration Series, May 19-21, at the Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre in the Arts District.
In Bounce, the dancers’ strong classical training can be seen in their port de bras, controlled arabesques and jumps with deep plies, which Mills cleverly fused with grounded foot work, curvaceous spine movements and elastic body positions for a more contemporary look. And with no plotline or hidden messages to decipher the audience can just sit back and enjoy the way the dancers’ bodies interpret the music, which is an original score by Austin-based composer Graham Reynolds. Reynolds’ work has been featured in numerous movie soundtracks, including Before Midnight, Bernie and A Scanner Darkly and he is one of Mills’ favorite collaborators for original dance music.
Mills has always had a penchant for all things musical. Growing up in a small town in Kentucky, Mills’ extracurricular activities included piano lessons and drama club. It wasn’t until his first year of college when one of his theater requirements included him taking a ballet class that he discovered his passion for the art form. From there he jumped into every class he could find, including ballet, modern, jazz, tap and even African dance at the Ailey School. He would later join The Harkness Ballet and The American Dance Machine in New York before moving on to work with Ohard Naharin, Katherine Posin and Mark Dendy.
Since becoming artistic director of Ballet Austin in 2000, Mills has created a number of innovative and memorable works for the company, including Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew and Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, his two-year, community-wide human rights collaboration. Most recently, Mills was awarded the Steinberg Award, the top honor at Le Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition for One/the body’s grace.
Mills’ sophisticated understanding of music can be seen throughout Bounce from the opening sequence where the dancers bounce side-to-side to the syncopated beats of a xylophone; to his visually compelling use of movement canons and moments of stillness in the quartet with Claude Alexander, III, Zion Pradier, Sean J. Smith and De’ Anthony Vaughan accompanied by the harmonious tinkering of a piano. While I didn’t get to see Mills at the rehearsal of Bounce I attended last week at DBDT’s main studio in downtown Dallas I did get to see international choreographer and Dallas native Bridget L. Moore in the studio – an opportunity I have been looking forward to since it was announced she would be taking over as artistic director earlier this year.
I was eager to see how she would interact with the dancers now that she has become a permanent fixture in the organization. She has worked with the company on many different occasions, but it has always been in a visiting artist capacity. While I wasn’t surprised with her straight-forward, hands-on approach during notes, I was inspired by her thoughtful individual critiques, which were focused on helping the dancers continue to growth artistically for the long haul and not just in the moment.
A prime example was her feedback for Alyssa Harrington regarding one of her duet sections with Alexander. “You have such beautiful lines, but there’s still more you can do to bring us in,” Moore says. “Push to elongate more and reach behind that knee. Don’t just rely on the lines you have.” The movement phrase Moore was referring to is when Harrington developes her right leg up as she leans into Alexander before she springs back onto that leg in an arabesque hold with her arms reaching forward. Harrington’s mind/body connection was much stronger after hearing Moore’s comments. She was able to stretch through her movement more, which did indeed draw my eye in.
One of the things Moore wanted the group as a whole to continue working on is their performance quality. Because the work keeps bouncing back and forth between various emotions and moods such as anger, longing, flirtation and joy, it’s imperative that the dancers remain in the zone if they want the piece to keep the audience engaged from start to finish. “You have to continue building your performance quality while also executing the movement at the same time. You need to figure out how to connect more with the movement and your partner so the piece reads well.”