AKA: Ballet offers up a unique experience for both viewers and performers at the Latino Cultural Center tomorrow night.
From left: Carter Alexander, Hailey von Schlehenried, and Albert Drake of aka: Ballet. Photo: AKA: Ballet
Dallas — Hailey von Schlehenried is one of many local choreographers reaping the benefits of the changes that have been made to the Dallas dancescape over the last several years. Von Schlehenried first caught the public’s eye at Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2017 Women’s Choreography Project (WCP) and then again at Dallas DanceFest (DDF) later that summer. She has also recently been asked to set a piece for Wanderlust Dance Project, which marks another first for the blossoming artist.
It was at DDF where von Schlehenried met Carter Alexander (associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts) who asked if she would be interested in doing a collaboration the following summer. One thing lead to another and von Schlehenried is currently in the final stages of two new works, which will be presented alongside new pieces by Alexander and Albert Drake of Bruce Wood Dance at AKA: Ballet’s premiere performance at the Latino Cultural Center this Friday.
The performance will feature many familiar dancers, including Kaitlyn McDermitt, formerly with Avant Chamber Ballet; Alyssa Harrington, formerly with Dallas Black Dance Theatre; Alizah Wilson, Adrian Aquirre of Bruce Wood Dance; and Riley Moyano, Amanda Fairweather and Alex Danna of Texas Ballet Theater.
“We are so happy to have these dancers and they have been working so tirelessly in preparation for the show,” von Schlehenried says.
For this performance von Schlehenried has created two pieces: a classical pointe number and a more contemporary work. She describes the pointe work as fluid and free, and in contrast the contemporary work is visually darker, which meshes well with its theme about sinning. “I was really inspired by the music for the contemporary piece which is really centered on the idea of sin. The dancers pass around this scarf throughout the dance, which represents this idea of passing off our sins to someone else,” von Schlehenried says. “And the pointe piece is all about letting go and getting the dancers outside their classical boxes so that they appear to be surrendering to a situation.”
Von Schlehenried says her dancers played a big part in the creative process for both pieces. “I really wanted this to be a collaboration so I had the dancers brainstorm with me, which really makes them feel like they have a say and also relaxes the dancers. They all possess this amazing creative energy which helped make the process so much easier.”
Von Schlehenried is especially close with McDermitt who has had a role in almost every work she has put out since 2013. She even goes as far as calling McDermitt her lucky charm. “It just seems that every time I am working on a special project Kaitlyn is always in it. She is such a lovely person and is so into what she is doing, which really makes her a positive force for me and the arts community.”
McDermitt has definitely been paving a way for herself in the Dallas arts scene with gigs, including a couple of seasons with Katie Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet, performances at local festivals such as Plano Dance Festival and DDF as well as partaking in local arts events, including Dallas RAW and AKA: Ballet. She also teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and is a member of Ballet North Texas. She graduated from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts with a BFA in dance performance in 2012.
You can see McDermitt and the other performers in von Schlehenried’s, still untitled, works this Friday evening at the Latino Cultural Center. Tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com. You can make a donation to the show at www.fracturedatlas.org.
Contemporary Ballet Dallas (CBD) continues to rev up its image with a new name that will differentiate itself from the pre-professional school known as the School of Contemporary Ballet Dallas. CBD will be launching its new name, Ballet Dallas, at its spring concert May 17-18 at the Latino Cultural Center near downtown Dallas.
CBD was co-founded in 2000 by Valerie Shelton Tabor who has since served as one of the company’s choreographers and is now the company’s artistic director. Since its inception, CBD has participated in a number of local art and dance festivals, premiered more than 50 original works and has additionally commissioned eight new works from respected choreographers.
When I started writing about the Dallas dance scene for TheaterJones.com nine years ago, CBD was really a mystery to me. I felt that it lacked some clarity in its name, marketing and the types of work being produced and commissioned. And you would never see the same dancers perform in multiple shows. Thankfully, CBD has become more consistent with its dancers over the years. The name change also puts to bed any confusion regarding the company’s status as a professional dance company. For awhile there I thought CBD was a pre-professional troupe of dancers similar to that of Chamberlain Performing Arts, Collin County Ballet Theatre or Ballet Ensemble of Texas. I realized pretty quick that my assumption was incorrect, but I can’t be the only one to have made this error.
OK! back to the company’s upcoming performance at the Latino Cultural Center. It looks like it will be a fun and eclectic evening of dance with four new works by choreographers Kevin Jenkins (Boston Ballet School), Hailey von Schlehenried (Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas), Carter Alexander (Chamberlain Performing Arts) and Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Dallas-based Bombshell Dance Project.
AKA Ballet’s first performance will feature new works by Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander, but they need your help!
Summer is usually a slow time for dancers as most dance companies take a break during the hot summer months to prepare for the next season. And most dance schools have changed their schedule to focus primarily on dance camps, which leaves many teachers with less hours and a smaller income. It is especially hard for freelance dancers to find work during the summer as the job market comes to a standstill and won’t pick up again till September when Nutcracker preparations begin.
With all this in mind three local choreographers are looking to change things up this summer with a new choreography project!
Albert Drake, Hailey von Schlehenried and Carter Alexander have joined forces to create AKA Ballet, a new choreographic endeavor which features six new works to be presented at the Dallas Latino Cultural Center in July. The catch is the three creators are hoping to raise the funds needed to pay the dancers, musicians and technical crew prior to show, thus making the event FREE to attendees.
A lot of dance companies in the area have turned to crowdfunding to finance certain projects, performances or specific individuals. I typically just scroll past these posts on Facebook, but something about AKA Ballet’s project made me pause and click on their link https://www.gofundme.com/akaballet
I ended up contributing to this project because I have seen work produced by all three choreographer so, I know they will give us something that is high caliber as well as aesthetically moving and stylistically diverse. If you are not familiar with these three individuals: Drake is a member of Bruce Wood Dance and has produced two works for the company, Whispers (2015) and Chasing Home (2017). Von Schlehenried teaches at Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas and her choreography has been featured at Dallas DanceFest 2017 and Avant Chamber Ballet’ Women’s Choreography Project. Alexander is the associate artistic director for Chamberlain Performing Arts and has set work on local dance companies like Contemporary Ballet Dallas. He also served as school prinicpal at the Miami City Ballet School for seven years before returning to Dallas.
When asked about the idea of free admission von Schlehenried says, “We really just want people to embrace the art and come see what we are doing and tell us what they think. We also want to provide more job opportunities for those working in the arts community which is why we are asking for donations so we can also pay for the music and the lighting and the theater as well as the dancers.”
She adds, “Carter is really the one that got the ball rolling on this project. He approached me last year after Dallas DanceFest about doing some kind of collaboration next summer and of course I said YES! I just think this is an awesome idea and hopefully it can become something bigger in the future.”
Drake is also pumped for the opportunity to create work outside his comfort zone. He writes on this Facebook page, “I’m excited to challenge myself on a new front and dive into an experience I didn’t know was possible. The chance to work with some really talented individuals with the freedom of expression is the dream baby.”
Hailey also hinted that the three of them might be working on a piece together in addition to their own individual works. I am interested to see what a classical, modern and Flamenco dancer can come up with.
As the time draws closer I will be making visits to rehearses to see how the collaboration is going as well as get a sneak peak at the works, which I will then share on my blog. So, please mark your calendars for July 29th and don’t forget to donate!
The Artistic Director discusses the Limón Dance Company’s upcoming Dallas performance and preserving Limón’s legacy.
Mexican dance pioneer José Limón (1908-1972) succeeded in creating a company that still entices audiences decades after his passing. Based off the movement experiments of his mentors Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, what is known as the Limón technique emphasizes the natural rhythms of fall and recovery and the interplay between weight and weightlessness.
Founded in 1946 by Limón and Humphrey, the Limón Dance Company is now led by Carla Maxwell. Maxwell attended The Juilliard School before joining the company in 1965. She soon became a principal dancer under Limón’s direction and was appointed artistic director in 1978. Acclaimed as a brilliant dramatic dancer, Maxwell danced many major roles with the company, including the title role in Limón’s final ballet Carlota (1972). She teaches internationally as both a representative of the Limón Dance Company and a guest artist-in-residence.
TheaterJones asks Carla Maxwell about the company’s collaboration with Rodrigo Pederneiras, the inspiration behind the technique and preserving Limón’s legacy.
The Limón Dance Company will be presenting three Limón classics, including Chaconne (1942), The Moor’s Pavane (1949) and There is a Time (1956) as well as a new commission by Brazilian choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas this Saturday. (The concert, originally scheduled for October 2012, was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.)
TheaterJones: Can you tell me a little bit about the pieces the company will be performing?
Well, you’re going to see 70 years of dance. We have three Limón classics starting with his first important solo in 1942, Chaconne in D minor; then The Moor’s Pavane (1949) which is his retelling of Othello; and then we’re also doing There is a Time (1956) another signature work with an original score by Norman Dello Joio which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. It’s a beautiful lyric telling of the life cycle and is based on a quote from Ecclesiastes “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
And then we’re closing the program with our newest commission Come With Me which is collaboration between Rodrigo Pederneiras from Grupo Corpo and Paquito D’Rivera who did a beautiful new score for us. If you don’t know him he’s like a superstar in the Latin Jazz genre and also an extraordinary classical musician. It was a thrilling collaboration and a beautiful stretch for our dancers.
I always try to have a range for the company to dance. Mixing up classic work with new commissions is always tricky so, for me it’s very important that whoever we invite has a strong sense of composition, musicality and that there is humanity in the work as well. We’ve been performing Come With Me for a year now so the work is really in the dancers’ bones and I think they look spectacular. So, it’s going to be a real high to end the evening.
For those who are not familiar with Limón technique how would you describe it?
Well, his mentors Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman really started a whole new movement vocabulary and as José put it they wanted to show themselves as mature men and women dancing about themes that were important in their own lives. Humphrey and Weidman really wanted to create a movement vocabulary that was as human as possible. So, this idea of using the natural movements of the body and the natural actions of everyday life became the basics for their movement.
José would sometimes tell people that we just use every day things like walking, falling and turning. So, the work looks effortless, but that takes hours of work and tremendous practice. It’s not like in ballet where you can see the physical effort of how many turns they can do. We have the same kind of virtuosity as needed, but it manifests itself differently.
The work itself is very formal. It’s not a free-for-all. The architecture alone of each Limón work can tell you the message. It’s a holistic philosophy. Through the movement, idea, the spatial concepts, every element has to contribute to the idea that we’re trying to tell.
The technique itself can look very lyric, but it’s really a rhythmically-based, dramatically-oriented technique. It’s also action-oriented. It’s not movement for movement sake ever. There’s always an objective. The idea again is that we’re not trying to show the technique. We’re trying to take you on a journey. And I think the choreographers that have come to work with us are always pleased and surprised because of the training and exploration that we do.
What other modern techniques have you trained in?
I was lucky enough to go to Juilliard where I trained with Martha Hill who had a diet of ballet, Limón and Martha Graham. That was a terrific combination to hone my skills and learn. There were always overlaps between them. We also had Antony Tudor whose musicality and artistry was integrated into his classes as well as José’s.
When looking at choreographers how familiar would you like them to be with the company and Mr. Limón’s philosophy?
I would like them to be familiar with our work and I think any choreographer looking to collaborate would want to be. We had a wonderful collaboration with Lar Lubovitch. He allowed us to do his Concerto 622 which I think is one of his greatest works. And it was a way for him to learn about the company and the dancers. Then he made a beautiful new work for us for our 60th anniversary called Recordare, which was a play on the day of the dead. I always prefer this or if somebody comes and does a workshop with us.
Again, I think it’s very important for the choreographers to know about the company and dancers. Even with the work with Rodrigo we were touring in Brazil and he came to see us in Sao Paulo. He stayed for two shows and we got to meet. And then he and Paquito met over Skye so the whole collaboration was very interesting.
How do you stay competitive in today’s dance arena?
It’s very hard because I think economics is ruing the day for everyone. You just have to keep enticing people. Everyone wants what’s new and fast.
I think part of it is also education and reaching out to new audiences. We have been connecting more with the Hispanic and Latino audiences to let them know who José was as a person because his life alone is so inspiring. He immigrated to the United States when he was 7 from war-torn Mexico with his parents. It was 1915 when he came and he wasn’t welcomed with opened arms. He had every possibility to drop out of society, but he didn’t. He took every life challenge and turned it into something positive and creative. And that is very inspiring to young people no matter who they are.
He wasn’t even 65 when he passed away, but we have existed 40 years after him and we were the first company to do so. People always ask how that is possible and I just have to go back to the work. If the work wasn’t relevant and if it still didn’t move people and engage them then we wouldn’t be here.
I also have to pay tribute to my colleagues who are working and teaching his work all over the world. We have a wonderful Limón community especially those who knew José personally.
How do you instill the memory of Mr. Limón in the dancers who never knew him?
We do it through the work. The work is the same. And all the time he spent with his colleagues and his company he never talked about his personal life. He was very formal and very private, but not standoffish. This man struggled with all kinds of issues of identity and of being accepted and you can see this in his work. The Moor’s Pavane is a perfect example.
It’s also through education and teaching. When people come and learn the technique and realize how difficult it is they leave with a new appreciation for what we do. It’s also a technique that feels really good when you do it. It’s also just constantly being out there and talking about José and realizing that what we are trying to bring forward as a company is much greater than him the person.