Tag Archives: The Dancing Image

Preview: Alice in Wonderland, Avant Chamber Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet puts its classical technique and acting skills on trial in Alice in Wonderland at Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend.

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The 2014 production of Avant Chamber Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — One by one the eight dancers place their hands on the waist of the person in front of them as they step into a wide second position. After a slight pause, the group slinks off stage as one using small, synchronized steps. If you are familiar with the characters in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which follows a girl named Alice after she tumbles through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar creatures than you can probably tell that the eight dancers are personifying Absolem, the Hookah-smoking caterpillar.

It was clever of Artistic Director Katie Cooper to use multiple dancers to depict the caterpillar in Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) presentation of Alice in Wonderland which comes to Dallas City Performance Hall Feb. 11-12. Not only do the dancers get to show off their exemplary adagio skills, including sustained balances, graceful arm placements and fluid movement transitions, but the human-made caterpillar also gives Cooper the opportunity to play around with the dancers’ musical timing, something that Cooper is well known for along with her meticulous attention to technical details and imaginative use of space and movement patterns.

A prime example of Cooper’s artistic attributes can be found in the Flower dance, which resembles the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker both in costuming and the dancers’ fluid movement quality. But unlike most traditional ballets Cooper doesn’t like to use the corps as stage ornaments; instead she prefers to have them moving on the sides of the stage at all times. She also likes to feature the corps in in various geometric traveling patterns and opposite movement sequences that pay homage to Cooper’s Balanchine roots.

Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Cooper’s balletic interpretation of the classic children’s tale sticks close to the original story with Alice chasing the White Rabbit into Wonderland where she encounters a host of eccentric beings, including Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and of course the Queen of Hearts, who sentences Alice to death after she insults the Queen during a game of croquet. Cooper puts her own spin on the story with the addition of a human-made caterpillar, dancing mushrooms, a tea party gone haywire and a Greek chorus representing jurors in the trial scene.

While Cooper says little has changed choreographically since ACB first presented Alice in Wonderland back in 2014, she points out that viewers will notice substantial changes in both the venue and cast size. “Dallas City Performance Hall is quite bigger than Bank of America Theater in the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts,” Cooper says. “This allows us to have larger casts and do a few effects and stagings the way I really wanted to do last time, but there just wasn’t enough space.” She adds, “The Company has also grown so there will be more professional dancers and children in the show this time around.”

Today, ACB has more than 15 company members from all across the U.S., including California, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Texas and Virginia as well as a few international members hailing from Russia, Ukraine and Japan. The production also feature 60 young dancers from studios across the Metroplex, including Park Cities Dance, Mejia Ballet and Legacy Dance Center.

Company members Madelaine Boyce and Yulia Ilina will reprise their lead roles as young Alice and the Queen of Hearts, which not only suit their physical appearances, Cooper says, but also their individual personalities and technical tendencies. “Physically Madelaine looks like the almost perfect Disney Alice, but I also choreographed it just for her so it is very suited for her. And I can’t picture anyone else doing the Queen as well as Yulia Ilina. She is tall and long limbed so she literally towers over Alice. But Yulia is also a great comedian and actor, which might surprise you if you’ve only seen her in tradition ballerina roles.”

I got to see Boyce in action when I sat in ACB’s rehearsal of Alice in Wonderland at Park Cities Dance in Dallas last week. (Ilina was unable to attend this rehearsal). Boyce was very quiet and focused as she stretched her limbs before practice. Even the way she adjusted her hair and tightened her ballet skirt was accomplished in a calm lyrical manner. Cooper has wisely chosen movement phrases for Boyce that complement these individual traits, including long, sustained reaches, smooth shifts in epaulement, complex foot work and thoughtful gesturing.

Like the rest of the company Boyce also exhibits an excellent ear for music, a skill Cooper put to the test in rehearsal by switching out the musical recording for one with a slightly faster tempo. Boyce barely blinked an eye before speeding up her turns and battements to match the new tempo. The score is written by Chase Dobson (now Mikayla Dobson) and features the piano and strings, and will be performed live by members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Brad Cawyer.

Working on this ballet has also given Cooper the opportunity to reflect on her own artistic growth and that of her dancers over the last three years. “When we did Alice the first time I spent almost half a year on it. I still have my big binder of all the steps I wrote out and meticulously planned. At this point, I trust my own ability and creativity more. I don’t go into each rehearsal for a new ballet with quite so much structure.” She adds, “My dancers have also grown tremendously. At a small company like ours everyone has opportunities in casting that are sometimes few and far between in large groups. That can push you as a dancer in a very good way.”

Avant Chamber Ballet presents Alice in Wonderland Feb. 11-12 at Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.

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

 

 

 

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Review: Dallas Youth Ballet’s Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular

Dallas Youth Ballet channels The Rockettes in its highly entertaining Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall.

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Dallas Youth Ballet in Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — While most pre-professional dance companies in the area are focusing solely on their balletic form during this time of year the Dallas Youth Ballet, comprised of students at Park Cities Dance (PCD) and The Dallas Conservatory, is honing a wide range of skills from acting and singing to Broadway, contemporary and ballet dance stylings, which the company efficiently and enthusiastically put on display at its seventh annual Rockefeller Christmas Spectacular at Dallas City Performance Hall on Sunday.

The Rockettes-inspired dances and festive Christmas caroling in the first half were a welcomed reprieve from the multiple Nutcrackerproductions currently being offered across Dallas-Fort Worth. Choreographer and PCD Artistic Director Jacqueline Porter and her band of Santas, soldiers, elves, ballerinas and candy canes set the pace for the show with a fun and flashy opening number entitled A Rockefeller Christmas. Dressed in sparkly red dresses edged with white faux fur and donning black character shoes, the 10 Santa dancers did a commendable job of channeling the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes with their regimented formations, clean upper body lines and clear foot work as they mined classic tap moves, including time steps, drawbacks and Shirley Temples (also known as Broadways). Audiences actually felt like they were at Rockefeller Center thanks to a vibrant backdrop Porter was able to rent, thus completing the overall effect of a New York Christmas.

The acoustics in the Dallas City Performance Hall did a nice job of picking up the Dallas Conservatory’s Children’s Singing Ensemble sweet harmonies and distinct enunciation as they charmed audiences with some fun holiday ditties, including “The Man with the Bag,” “All I Want for Christmas” and “White Christmas.” Music Director Lynn Ambrose also incorporated some basic tap steps in “The Man with the Bag” and cutesy gesturing in “All I Want for Christmas.” Student Allyson Guba also showed dynamic range and stage presence as she sang a hauntingly beautiful version of “Christmas Lullaby.”

In “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the 10 dancers’ showcased an abundance of shakes, shimmies and sass so as to not be outdone by the song’s energetic pace and bold musical accents. In today’s dance world where tricks and flexibility are taking priority over strength building and technical foundation work, audiences were pleased to see simple jazz walks, sharp flicks and kicks and a variety of beveled foot poses scattered throughout the routine.

In Cool Yule 10 dancers performed an exuberant 42nd Street-inspired number complete with shimmery dresses and character taps and featuring classic tap steps, including running flappes, wings, drawbacks and time steps. And while slightly darker than the other numbers with its aggressive contemporary movements and relentless running patterns, Clair Culin’s Pursuit kept inside the Christmas genre with a fast-tempo instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells.”

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Choreographers Porter, Culin, Haylee Bargainer and Olga Pavlova had the daunting task of blending multiple skills levels into the second half of the show, which started with Act 2 of The Nutcracker where Clara enters the Sugar Plum Palace and ended with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Rachel Rohrich) and Cavalier’s (Arron Scott, American Ballet Theatre) grand pas de deux. Bargainer accomplished this feat with simple tendues, plies, and epaulement arm gestures for the itty bitty dancers in the Spanish, Arabian and Chinese corp roles. The result was a darling mass of clumsy cuteness adorned with sparkly costumes and tiaras.

The Snowflakes’ movement in the opening number of the second half lacked some of the bounciness and rhythmic nuances typically associated with this dance segment, but the dancers made up for this with some lovely cascading arms gestures and interweaving pathways and alternating circular formation changes. And while her pointe work came across clunky at times, particularly in the landings of her jumps, Julie Shilling did display impressive musical timing and technical fortitude in her consecutive pique and chaine turns in her Snow Queen solo.

Kali Kleiman’s nimble feet and angelic features made her an ideal choice for the role of Clara. Her natural grace and childlike giddiness showed through her fluttering bourrées and springy petit jumps and jete leaps.

The Arabian, Russian and Chinese variations were clean, yet not as choreographically imaginative as some of the other dances in the show. Margot Tortolani (age 14) did an admirable job as the Dew Drop Fairy, drawing out the musical phrases with slow descending arms in her tour jetes and travelling balances as well as her leg lines inarabesque. The flower corp, including company members Claira Russell, Dani Van Creveld, Eden Ryder, Emma Odom, Michelle Arriaga, Summer Sexton, Taylor Waller and Shilling executed some of the most challenging technique of the night with multiple turning sequences and constantly changing epaulement positions to complement their crisp pointe work.

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Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

The biggest surprise of the night was 14-year-old Rohrich’s professional-quality interpretation of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Rochrich’s airy arm movements and punctuating pointe work were enhanced by Scott’s trusting presence and strong hand holds in the partnering sections. And while Rohrich could have used her breath more to release some tension in the shoulders, she stayed rhythmically invested in the movement even after her music cut out during her solo.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

 

 

DC Honors This Sunday

Dance Council of North Texas Honors is This Sunday!

Don’t forget the 2013 Dance Council Honors is this Sunday, Sept. 29 at Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT). Honorees include Ann Etgen and Bill Atkinson, Nycole Ray, Solomon Espie, Sharen Bradford and Peggy McCaslin. Honorees’ bios are below.

The event also includes performances by selected Dance Council scholarship recipients and DBDT II as well as a reception and silent auction featuring arts-related items and theater ticket packages.

You can purchase tickets here!

More info about this year’s event is available at www.thedancecouncil.org.

 

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Ann Etgen and Bill Atkinson – Mary Bywaters Award for Lifetime Contribution to Dance

The husband-and-wife team of Bill Atkinson and Ann Etgen is truly a Dallas institution. Each had extensive professional ballet careers in New York, Canada, and South America before coming to Dallas. Etgen was a member of the New York Metropolitan Ballet Company and Atkinson has performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Ballet AAA. In addition to maintaining the Etgen-Atkinson Ballet School and directing the Dallas Metropolitan Ballet, Etgen has also served on the Dance Panel of Texas Commission on the Arts and Humanities and both have held offices in Regional Dance America/Southwest (RDA/SW).

Nycole Ray – Natalie Skelton Award for Artistic Excellence

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A Detroit native, Nycole Ray graduated from The California Institute of the Arts with a BFA in dance. She received additional training at the California State Summer School of the Arts, Wayne State University and as an exchange student at the London Contemporary Dance School in England. Ray has performed with the Bruce Wood Dance Project, Walt Disney World Entertainment, Christopher and Friends directed by Christopher L. Huggins, the Lula Washington Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II and the Zadonu African Dance Company. This year marks Ray’s 16th season with Dallas Black Dance Theatre and her 4th season as the artistic director of DBDT II.

 

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Solomon Espie – Larry White Dance Educator Award

An Ohio native, Solomon Espie graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in physical education. He taught for the Columbus Public Schools and was an assistant track and field coach at OSU before moving to Dallas in 1985. It was his daughter who encouraged Espie to take a ballet class at Dallas Black Dance Academy and the experience would lead him to start the Lisbon Elementary School “Character Counts” Dance Company. Currently, Espie serves as President of the Board of Trustees of ARGA NOVA DANCE/Beckles Dancing Company where they have initiated a Resident Artists Program at the W. E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy.

Sharen Bradford – Mary Warner Award for Outstanding Contribution to Dance

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Sharen Bradford is a successful dance photographer whose interest in capturing dance on film began when she received a 35mm camera from her father. Bradford has also studied dance with Dottie Hunt and has a BFA and MFA in dance from Southern Methodist University. She was the Executive Director of Allen Street Photography Gallery and taught photography classes for SMU’s School for Continuing Education. She is also the owner of The Dancing Image and has photographed dance companies, including the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet, Bruce Wood Dance Company/Bruce Wood Dance Project, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, TITAS and more.

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Peggy McCaslin – Texas Tap Legend

Peggy McCaslin began her training at the age of 10 at the Ballet Academy and is currently celebrating her 42nd year of teaching.  After receiving her BFA from Texas Christian University in 1972, McCaslin taught at The Wilshire Academy of Dance under the direction of Mary Wilcox and Pam Sparks. The studio became the Dallas Ballet Center in 1987 and McCaslin established the DBC Tap Connection in 2002. The Tap Connection has appeared in numerous National Tap Day events and tap festivals, including The Rhythm Junkies’ ‘Everything On Tap’ festival and The Drawbacks Youth Tap Ensemble.