Tag Archives: TheaterJones.com

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s 2019 Cultural Awareness Series

Justified Movement

Dallas Black Dance Theatre celebrates singer and Civil Rights activist Odetta Holmes in Matthew Rushing’s Odetta, part of the company’s Cultural Awareness Series at the Wyly Theatre.

Matthew Rushing. Anddrew Eccles

Dallas — The moments that have stayed with me days after watching Dallas Black Dance Theatre rehearse Matthew Rushing’s Odetta (2014) were, interestingly enough, not the full bodied-movements, grandiose jumping passes or powerful partnering skills, though these elements were incredible and well suited for the dancers. No, it was the quieter moments where the dancers relied on basic instinct and human connection to fulfill their roles that have left an imprint on me.

A perfect example is the opening scene when company member Kayla Franklin (who shares this role with Lailah Duke) slowly walks toward the audience as she cuts through the space with her arms and curves her spine over. As the opening notes of Odetta Holmes’ rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” fill the space, a joyous expression crosses Franklin’s face as she circles her hips and bounces from heel to heel to an internal beat that soon takes over her entire body.

Another memorable instance is the section where Jasmine White-Killins and De’Anthony Vaughan use mainly arm gestures while sitting on side-by-side stools in center stage to “There’s a Hole in The Bucket” sung by Holmes and Harry Belafonte. The song is fun and playful and White-Killins and Vaughan do an admirable job of conveying the emotions in the catchy tune. For example, as White-Killins begins to lose her patience, her arm movements become sharper and more pronounced, such as when she demonstrated how to sharpen an ax by rubbing her forearm intently across her right thigh.

And yet another picturesque moment occurs as Sierra Noelle Jones and Zion Pradier dance on a self-made dock to Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water” while the rest of the dancers watch attentively from their seated positions. At first I thought the couple was dancing on a stage, but as Jones cups her hand and extends it over the edge of the stage it transforms into a dock. The dock is actually six benches constructed of different-sized squares, which enables the benches to interlock with one another to appear as train seats as well as add a cool visual affect when they are placed vertically in other sections of the work.

“I wanted to work with something that was interchangeable and from scene to scene could kind of morph into whatever the scene was about,” Rushing says about the set. “I knew I would be dealing with a lot of different sections because Odetta Holmes’ work was so huge that I would be working with Blues and Jazz, protest songs and works from musical theatre so I knew it would be very layered within itself. So, whatever the set would be it would have to be able to morph and change in these different environments and settings.”

Come to find out, the idea for the set was actually a miniature I.Q. test that Rushing says he found while on tour in Germany and what we see onstage today is a much larger replica of these wooden Lego-like parts of this cubed puzzle.

This work also requires a high level of maturity, vulnerability and trust, which, when watching the dancers rehearse, it’s obvious to see DBDT possesses these qualities in spades. These ingrained abililties can also be attributed to why DBDT is the first company to perform Odetta outside of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

“They are extremely versatile dancers,” Rushing says about DBDT. “They are able to go in and out of different genres of dance and that skill is required for the ballet Odetta so I just felt it was an easy fit.”

He adds, “They are incredible artists who are also extremely expressive as well as technically strong in different styles of dance. And just like Odetta’s work was extremely diverse and layered I feel that the artists of Dallas Black Dance Theatre are exactly that as well. They are extremely diverse and they have many layers to their artistry.”

This is not the first time Rushing has worked with DBDT. The rehearsal director for the Ailey Company choreographed Tribute for DBDT in 2016, which was also when he first brought up the subject of DBDT possibly doing Odetta sometime in the future.

“I remember being in tech rehearsal sitting next to Ms. (Ann) Williams and it hit me at that point. I could really see the dancers of Dallas Black Dance Theatre performing Odetta,” Rushing says in a press release from DBDT.

As for Rushing’s inspiration for this work, singer and actress Odetta Holmes, he says, “One of the biggest “aha!” moments I had with choreographing this piece was finding out just how Odetta Holmes used her gift as an instrument and as a weapon for social justice. That spoke to me directly and it encouraged me and challenged me that I could do the same with choreography and with being a dance artist.”

He adds, “She might not have been the person leading the marches, but she was the person who led the rallies before the marches and I was like WOW how amazing that we all in a sense have a piece in this puzzle about making this world a better place. And she was very confident and clear that her place fell into using her gift as a singer and musician and I really connected with that when I found out about her work and how she literally changed the world with her gift.”

Odetta makes its Dallas premiere at DBDT’s Cultural Awareness Series, Feb. 15-17, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. The program also includes Dianne McIntyre’s Nina Simone Project, an evening-length work DBDT premiered back in 2011.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Advertisements

Preview: Ballet Frontier of Texas’ 2019 Director’s Choice

Dancing Cowgirl

Company dancer Elizabeth Villarreal on her roles in Rodeo and Bamboo Flute Concerto, part of Ballet Frontier of Texas’ Director’s Choice this Saturday.
Elizabeth Villarreal. Photo: Courtesy of Ballet Frontier of Texas

Fort Worth — Like most aspiring ballerinas Elizabeth Villarreal fell in love with ballet at a very young age. She was put in her first dance class at the age of three, and 15 years later she’s still passionate about the art form. A Fort Worth native, Villarreal has spent the last 10 years training with Ballet Center of Fort Worth, under the tutelage of Chung-Lin and Enrica Tseng, and is currently celebrating her eighth season with Ballet Frontier of Texas.

“They are amazing and worked with me so well and took the time to know me and my needs,” Villarreal says about her training at Ballet Center of Fort Worth. “They knew what I needed to grow and therefore I never felt like I needed to leave.”

(Photo: Ballet Frontier of Texas
Elizabeth Villarreal and Marlen Alimanov)

Villarreal has had the fortune of performing in all of BFT’s productions with some of her favorite roles being that of the Dew Drop Fairy, Lead Arabian, Flowers and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker as well as Chung-Lin Tseng’s Variation on a Rococo Theme and Roy Tobias’ Mozart K379. In her spare time Villarreal enjoys teaching and is currently on the ballet faculty at Ballet Center of Fort Worth. The 19-year-old also plans on going to school to become a physical therapist.

“I spent a lot of time in physical therapy for my own injuries, and it just really seemed like something that would work for me because I like to be moving around and active,” Villarreal says about what draws her to the field of physical therapy. “I also like the idea of helping younger dancers really focus on their injuries and how to properly strengthen their bodies.”

This Saturday Villarreal will be performing in BFT’s Director’s Choice at I.M. Terrell Academy in Fort Worth. She will be performing a solo and pas de deux with Marlen Alimanov in Chung-Lin Tseng’s Bamboo Flute Concerto as well as portraying the main cowgirl in his rendition of Rodeo. The program also includes performances by Dallas-based dance companies: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance and DBDT: Encore!

“It’s a lot of fun and super relatable,” Villarreal says about dancing in Rodeo. “I feel like it’s more of a coming of age story for this young cowgirl who doesn’t quite fit in and is just figuring herself out and where she belongs.” She adds, “I love all of the choreography and there’s lots of laughs in it and it’s really nice to be able to push past my own comfort zone to play the cowgirl.”

Regarding the show’s lineup BFT’s Co-director Enrica Tseng says, “The dancers are challenged in multiple ways with style and technique. They will be dancing neo-classical choreography to classical Chinese music, a contemporary work by Lee Wei Chao and Rodeo, which is a short story ballet composed by Aaron Copland. So three very different pieces.”

And as for the guest companies that will be performing Enrica Tseng says, “The guest companies bring a different variety of styles and techniques, which makes the performance of Director’s Choice very versatile. Both companies are not local to the city of Fort Worth and we like the fact that this will give an opportunity to the Fort Worth audience to watch them perform.”

From a dancer’s perspective Villarreal says being around these dance companies gives her and her co-workers an opportunity to see how they work and how they encourage and support each other while they’re dancing. She adds, “It’s also nice to be exposed to these different kinds of pieces because it’s not classical ballet and it’s not just neo-classical. It’s a very different kind of contemporary style and they are touching on so many different subjects through their dancing. It’s really amazing to get to watch and learn from them.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Paul Taylor Dance Company

A Modern Celebration

The new artistic director of Paul Taylor Dance Company on following in his mentor’s footsteps and the company’s celebration tour which comes to the Eisemann on Saturday.

Michael Novak and Laura Halzack. Photo: Courtesy of Paul Taylor Dance Company

Richardson — It has been six months since the passing of American modern dance pioneer Paul Taylor, but the loss still sits heavy for many who have had some kind of connection to the iconic dance maker, whether it be through books, documentaries, dance classes, lectures, performances, or, for me, speaking to him on the phone for an article. These Taylor encounters are the reason why Paul Taylor Dance Company’s (PTDC) new Artistic Director Michael Novak has decided not to dance with the company at its performance at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, on Feb. 9.

“I am not dancing in Richardson because it’s important for me to be out in the house to mingle with a lot of the residents there,” Novak says. “It actually has been a really powerful experience to meet people especially as part of Paul’s passing away. There are a lot of people who come to me to introduce themselves and they almost always have some kind of relationship to Paul and it’s important that I hear those stories from different people and let them feel heard. I think Richardson is a great place to engage with people in that particular way and I am looking forward to doing that.”

Engaging with the audience is something Taylor requested that Novak do, along with continuing to dance with the company. “When I had met with Paul he had specifically requested that I keep on dancing. Obviously it meant that I had to refocus how often I was actually going to be dancing because one of the things that Paul also wanted me to do is not only be on stage performing as an artist. He also felt that it would be important for me to be out in the actual house meeting with audience members.”

Michael Novak. Photo: Bill Wadman

Novak adds, “It’s a balance that is new for me and one I am having a fun time figuring out.”

As far as what has been the most challenging part of his new job position Novak says, “taking a step back and looking at how much Paul Taylor actually did in his career and how do you celebrate that in a way that gives people who know his work so well an opportunity to be reminded of how great it was and gives them this massive overview. But also how do you do it in a way that entices new audiences to come in and to use this opportunity to really celebrate the company in a way that takes us forward?”

Originally from Illinois, Novak started dancing at the age of 10. In 2001, he was offered a Presidential Scholarship to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the following year he became an apprentice at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet Society. After an injury caused him to take some time off from dance, Novak decided to go back to school. He attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies where he was awarded scholarships for academic excellence. It was at Columbia where he became interested in the study of dance history, which ignited his passion for modern dance.

Novak started dancing at the Taylor School in 2007 and was asked to join the company in 2010. Since then he has danced 56 roles in 50 Taylor dances, 13 of which were made for him, including Three Dubious Memories(2010), which happens to be the focus of the Paul Taylor documentary “Creative Domain,” which will be shown at the Eisemann on Thursday following master classes with company members Robert Kleinendorst and Sean Mahoney.

On Saturday the company will perform four iconic works by Taylor: Aureole (1962), Three Epitaphs (1956), Piazzolla Caldera (1997) and Promethean Fire (2002).

In our discussion about these choices Novak says, “Aureole really established him as one of the emerging choreographers of the mid-20th century. It was also the first time in Paul’s career that he explored this notion of not only the Baroque music, but also this very fluid, beautiful and simple approach to dance making.”

He goes on to say that Three Epitaphs is well known for its costumes, which keep the dancers’ faces covered, and describes Piazzolla Caldera as a steamy, gritty and energizing tango piece that doesn’t have a single tango step in it. The final work of the night is Promethean Fire, which Novak says many audiences have associated with the events of 9/11 and centers around this idea of a community of people overcoming obstacles in order to maintain hope and move forward.

Looking back on his time working with Taylor, Novak says his experience was incredibly positive. He admits that in the beginning all he wanted was for Taylor to enjoy his dancing, but says that over time it became more about reading his mind and his physicality. “As a dancer who worked for him you were often waiting on him to tell you what to do or to give you an idea of what he was looking for and you tend to not respond verbally, but you tend to respond physically.”

“The relationship is built on trust and it’s based on this intuitive understanding of where the other person is at and trying to make art. So, over the course of my eight years, I got to know him very well in the sense of being able to read his mind a little bit and figuring out how best we could collaborate.”

The trust that Novak speaks about also played a major role in his appointment by Taylor as the next artist director of PTDC. “When Paul invited me over for a meeting where he told me that he wanted me to take over his company he said that he trusted me, and that was a huge moment for me because Paul was not a man of many words. Usually if he liked what you were doing he wouldn’t say anything. So when he would give a compliment or say something was beautiful it usually meant that it was almost transcendent.”

He continues, “So when he said that he trusted me it was very touching and probably the most profound thing he could ever say to any of his artists and to me in particular. It has also given me a great deal of confidence to know that he believed in me and what I bring.”

This confidence has also helped as Novak preps for the company’s future. His plan includes building off what Taylor started five years ago when he created Paul Taylor American Modern Dance at Lincoln Center. “It’s this three pillar approach to presenting modern dance that wasn’t just Paul Tayor and his repertory. It also included historic modern dance works from the entire cannon. Coupled with that are the contemporary choreographers that we bring in to work on the Paul Taylor Dance Company.”

Novak adds, “I am incredibly passionate about those three aspects and figuring out after we have this celebration dance maker tour how we can continue that going forward. I am determined to do both in the sense that there are important modern dance historical works that haven’t been seen in a long time both within the Taylor cannon and modern dance that I would love bring back and share with audiences. But I also believe in curating new artists to come in and make work. We really have to do both.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

The Year in Dance

Here are my favorite new dance works of 2018!

Face What’s Facing You by Claude Alexander III for Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Photo: Anne Marie Bloodgood

This year saw the creative juices flowing from well-known local dance artists, including Joshua L. Peugh, Katie Cooper and Kimi Nikaidoh as well as guest artists who brought styles that had yet to be seen in Dallas such as Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary dance style and Gabrielle Lamb’s bird-like quality and theatricality. We also saw the resurgence of authentic jazz technique from Southern Methodist University (SMU) Artist-in-Residence Brandi Coleman and the expansion of Bombshell Dance Project’s technical fortitude in a new piece by visiting choreographer Amanda Krische.

A few of the works on my list this year also featured live accompaniment, including Cooper’s The Little Match Girl Passion, Nikaidoh’s The Face of Water and Peugh’s evening-length work Aladdin,حبيبي. We also saw more musical collaborations with local talent such as Cooper’s Avant Chamber Ballet with Verdigris Ensemble and Peugh with SMU alum Brandon Carson who worked on both Aladdin and Lamb’s Can’t Sleep But Lightly.

Relatability also played a big part in my decision making for this list, and while every piece made me feel something, the one that spoke to me the loudest was Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you! He managed to address a number of issues affecting individuals with humility and an uninhibited movement quality.

As far as what I’m looking forward to in the coming year I am excited to see what Bridget L. Moore is cooking up with her new company, B Moore Dance, as well as Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s winter showcase, Avant Chamber Ballet’s Romance and Ragtime and Bruce Wood Dance’s gala fundraiser entitled Dances from the Heart. I am also looking forward to seeing Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs at the Winspear Opera House in March.

And my wonderful husband got me tickets for both Anastasia and Hamilton at Dallas Summer Musical in Fair Park. I am already counting down the days!!!!!

My dance writing goals for 2019 include talking and visiting with even more local dance companies and choreographers as well as attending some shows outside the dance realm, including plays, musicals and opera. Can’t wait to get started.

Until then, here are my favorite new works made in 2018:

 

The Little Match Girl Passion by Katie Cooper

Avant Chamber Ballet and Verdigris Ensemble

December

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Always one willing to break the mold when it comes to classical ballet, Katie Cooper paired her company, Avant Chamber Ballet, with the vocalists of choral outfit Verdigris Ensemble for a very sobering and elegantly danced performance of David Lang’s A Little Match Girl Passion at Moody Performance just a few weeks ago. Cooper took a very different approach for the choreography in this performance. Instead of bouts of group allegro and adagio movements Cooper had the corps act as scenery and story imagery, which only added to the balletic lines and character portrayal of lead dancer Juliann McAloon. ACB took a risk with such a somber show, but while the show brought to the surface the feelings of loss and sadness, it also presented airs of beauty and spiritual awakening.

 

Aladdin,حبيبي by Joshua L. Peugh

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

October

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Sixth Floor Studio Theatre, Dallas

Peugh stretched his artistic boundaries with his first evening-length work, Aladdin, Habib, which Dark Circles Contemporary Dance performed back in October as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Known for giving very few details about his pieces to his dancers, Peugh admitted Aladdin was a completely new experience for himself. He stepped outside his comfort zone with repurposed set design, strong character portrayals and live music. The movement was a blend of Peugh’s signature heavy-footed walking steps, twisty curvy floor work and subtle gesturing with more accented hips, body ripples and staccato movements typically associated with Middle Eastern dance cultures. The narrative is based on “The Story of Aladdin” as well as company member Chadi El-koury’s own personal story of coming to America with his family as a young boy, which he approached with calm determination and an emotional intensity we had yet to see from him.

 

Brandi Coleman’s And One More Thing… at SMU. Photo: Meadows Dance Ensemble

 

And One More Thing… by Brandi Coleman

Meadows Dance Ensemble

October

Southern Methodist University, Bob Hope Theatre, Dallas

One of the few jazz choreographers in the U.S. trained in Jump Rhythm Technique, Coleman wowed the audiences with her funky and loud jazz number, And One More Thing…, at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts Fall Dance Concert in October. Originally created in 2015, Coleman added on three new sections with a grand finale that featured a large group of females dressed in casual street clothes moving and grooving to “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The piece played between the juxtaposition of stillness and hotness, which the dancers demonstrated through subtle gestures and sassy expressions as well as their sudden bursts energy and scat-singing, a fundamental element of Jump Rhythm Technique. It was fun and rambunctious and definitely a work worth seeing again.

 

LUNA by Amanda Krische

Bombshell Dance Project

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Repetitive phrases that travel every which way was the foundation for New York-based choreographer Amanda Krische’s LUNA, which was part of Bombshell Dance Project’s Like A Girl performance at Moody Performance Hall last June. Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tapped into their inner beasts in order to maintain their energy levels throughout the 10-minute work which started out with the two of them walking a specific number of steps before the monotonous phrase was broken up with gestures, pauses and abrupt floor work. The girls described the piece as a slow burn and they definitely had to dig deep as the intensity continued to build and the music switched from meditative to pulsating. It was a pleasant departure from the bombshells signature robust movement style.

 

Can’t Sleep But Lightly by Gabrielle Lamb

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

March

WaterTower Theatre, Addison

New York-based choreographer Gabrielle Lamb challenged the dancers’ mathematical skills as well as their artistic sensibilities in her piece for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s showing at WaterTower Theatre’s Detour Festival back in March. Methodical walks, balletic lines and alien-esque body shapes are woven throughout this cleverly crafted piece. What I liked most about this piece is its lack of physical partnering; instead the dancers relied on simple human contact to produce authentic connections with one another. It was a very trippy ride indeed and a complementary pairing of artistic minds.

 

The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

 

The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh

Avant Chamber Ballet

April

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Nikaidoh used a range of emotions and the highs and lows within Argentine composer Osvaldo Gojilov’s 2002 chamber piece Tenebrae to drive the movement in her new work for Avant Chamber Ballet’s 2018 Women’s Choreography Project last April. Nikaidoh described the piece as more of an emotional journey focused primarily on hope and new beginnings, which was depicted in the longer, sweeter notes in the music. The combination of classical movements such as pas de deuxs and standard corps body lines and formations with Nikaidoh’s penchant for subtle musical gesturing and unlikely body shapes was a delightful juxtaposition for these talented dancers. Add in the dancers’ emotional conviction and you had a winning work.

 

Begin Again by Yin Yue

Bruce Wood Dance

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

Bruce Wood Dance did an admirable job of presenting New York-based choreographer Yin Yue’s FoCo contemporary techniques to audiences at its Harmony performance last June. The cyclical nature of the piece is an extension of Yue’s movement style that features liquid body rolls, continuous arm circles and wide, sweeping leg lifts and floor work. The piece showcased the bond of the group, a staple of many of Bruce Wood’s works, in which the dancers appeared as one living organism before breaking off into smaller pairs and individual movement sequences. A musical mover Yue’s choreography came across as one continuous line of thought that dips, daps, weaves and loop-de-loops around an individual’s personal space, which led to some unexpected and visually pleasing moments.

 

Face what’s facing you! by Claude Alexander III

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

May

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Dallas

Dallas Black Dance Theatre tackled their own unresolved issues in Claude Alexander III’s Face what’s facing you!, part of the company’s Spring Celebration Series back in May. As a rising choreographer Alexander delivered a strong voice in this work, which centered around some unresolved issues in his life in order to start the healing process. The piece was cathartic and heart pounding at the same time as the dancers meshed smooth walks and sustained lines with explosive jumps and multiple turns. Alexander didn’t waste any time getting to the theme of the piece and the action-packed stripped-down choreography was a breath of fresh air.

 

This list was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Review: The Nutcracker, Chamberlain Performing Arts

Holiday Highs

Chamberlain Performing Arts delivers another delightful showing of The Nutcracker to a packed audience at the Eisemann.

The Nutcracker from Chamberlain Performing Arts. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Richardson — There are only a few Nutcracker productions that I would be willing to see year after year in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and Chamberlain Performing Arts’ (CPA) annual The Nutcracker definitely makes the list based on the following criteria: Location, special guests and entertainment value.

Conveniently located right off Central Expressway and the President George Bush Turnpike, the Eisenman Center for Performing Arts is an easy drive for those living in North Dallas and Collin County. Parking is a breeze and there is no bad view of the stage anywhere in the 1,550-seat Hill Performance Hall, which was more than half full at CPA’s Saturday afternoon showing of The Nutcracker. The large stage easily accommodated all of the company’s vibrant set designs, including a portable sleigh, a large grandfather clock, and a twinkling Christmas tree that grows to twice its size during the show. Glitzy costumes in an array of festive colors and well-suited lighting as well as a reliable sound system all created a sturdy foundation for the CPA dancers and guests, which included Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle of New York City Ballet.

This is the fourth time I have seen Peck and Angle perform as The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier in CPA’s Nutcracker and these two crush these roles every year. Their musicality and performance quality undeniable as was evident in their lifts, dips and transitions between body frames in the grand pas de deux. Both demonstrated unyielding strength and control during their solo sections in which Peck effortlessly completes a series of piques in a large circle while Angle ate up the stage with his grand jetes and front and back traveling brises.

It was also a pleasant surprise to see Adrian Aguirre of Bruce Wood Dance in the Arabian variation and in the mighty role of Snow King. His upper body strength could have been used more for the ballet-inspired movement in the Arabian dance, which he proved capable of earlier in the lifts in the snow pas de deux with CPA’s company member Katherine Patterson. Patterson nailed the back arcs and fluttering arm movement that are signature of the Snow Queen and also appeared confident in the assisted turns and off-centered partnering poses with Aguirre.

Special guest Michael Stone did a nice job of guiding us through the party scene at the beginning with his younger, hipper interpretation of Herr Drosselmeyer. His exuberant pantomiming and quick walking steps kept the other performers, especially the adults, on their toes during their dance sequence. The children did well at following directions and drawing the audience’s attention to different parts of the stage. I would have liked to see the youngsters performing more rudimentary ballet travelling steps to get them from place to place instead of the shuffling runs they were doing. Their posture and turn out prove they are capable of more.

Andrea Ghisoli did a commendable job as Clara. She was strong and clear with her gestures and soft shoe work, but needs to continuing working on her feet so that they are pointed at all times even when she is pretending to sleep on the couch. Laila Aranha, Angela Fan, Selim Kim and Sara Ann Posey displayed beautiful epaulement during their petit allegro section in the party scene, but should also continue to work on strengthening and lengthening their legs moving forward.

Both Annika Haynes and Zander Magolnick excited the crowd with sharp hand and leg placements and clean turns as the ballerina and soldier doll while company member Bianca Burton brought a fresh perspective to the battle scene with her Rat Queen characterization. Her swishing hips and sassy tutu were a welcomed addition to the otherwise standard choreography, which featured militant formations and syncopated foot work and a short sword fight between Burton and The Nutcracker played by Brian Tseng.

The battle scene smoothly transitioned into the kingdom of snow where members of CPA’s senior company captivated the audience with their spritely pointe work, dynamite musicality and sparkling performance quality. The choreography really highlighted the dancers’ athleticism with its various jumping passes across the stage and complicated petit allegro jumps in center. The peak of the dance came when the dancers entered holding fans with large pom-pom balls on the end, which they flipped back and forth in time to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s well-known score as bubble snow started to fall.

The snow scene set the bar for the second half of the show, which did encompass more challenging technique and a wider range of dance styles, including contemporary, jazz, acrobatics and folk dance.  After Clara and her prince take their seats in the kingdom of sweets, groups from around the world, including Russia, China, Spain and Asia took turns entertaining the couple with a cultural dance.

In the Spanish variation Rachela Distefano, Mika Eppstein, Elisabeth Housley, Cady Johnson, Avery Sifferman and Tori Tseng were fun and playful toward to the audience with their foot flicks, rolling shoulders and saucy skirt swishes. This playfulness was carried through to the Chinese variation where the dancers created some lovely living pictures such as the rotating flower using colorful oversized hand fans. Magolnick returned in the Russian group dance where he once again wowed us with his stamina with his repeated toe touches and triple turns while guest artist Jared Fletcher kept us laughing with his over-the-top gestures as Mother Ginger.

Rachel Weingarden had a little trouble finding her center during her open solo as the Dewdrop Fairy, but quickly found her balance and earned a round of applause for her breathy release after a series of fast chaines into an arabesque hold.

I appreciated the cohesiveness of the upper body lines of the roses (Housley, Lowe and Patterson) as well as their turnout when executing the adagio movement in the Waltz of the Flowers. The rest of the senior company captured the essence of the waltz with traveling triplet steps and swirling formation changes that ended in a dynamic group picture. In some places the dancers’ pointe work did not match the energy radiating from their arms, but that is something that can be corrected in the studio.

As mentioned earlier, Peck and Angle closed the show with their magnetic performance in the grand pas de deux, which will be one of the reasons I put CPA’s Nutcracker on my calendar for next year. In addition, the show’s finely-tuned setup from lighting and set changes to well-rehearsed children sections makes it a great bet for any family’s annual holiday dance tradition.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: The Nutcracker presented by Ballet North Texas

New Nut In Town

For its premiere season, Ballet North Texas is taking its Nutcracker production on the road to venues in Dallas, Terrell and Palestine.

BNTNutcracker
BNT rehearsing The Nutcracker. Photo: Robert N. Johnson

Dallas — There’s a new professional ballet company in town and they’re upping the local Nutcracker game with a traveling production that will make stops in Dallas, Terrell and Palestine this holiday season. Ballet North Texas (BNT) is the brainchild of Nicolina Lawson, a classically trained dancer who had been traveling between her home in Wichita Falls and Dallas for the last five years for dance jobs before officially settling down in Dallas with her husband and kids last year.

Lawson grew up training at her mom’s dance studio in Redding, California. From there she went to San Francisco where she studied with Alonzo King, Summer Lee Rhatigan, Arturo Fernandez, Julie Tobiason and Meg Potter. In 2006 she moved to Venice to dance with Teatro De La Danza Italia under the guidance of Salvatore Gagliardi and Stefania Sandrin. She met her husband abroad and started freelancing to accommodate all the moving around they had to do with his job.

Throughout her professional career Lawson has danced classical and contemporary roles with Redding City Ballet, Alaska Dance Theatre and Momentum Dance Collective. In Dallas, she has performed in works presented by Contemporary Ballet Dallas (now Ballet Dallas) and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. She currently teaches and choreographs for The Hathaway Academy of Ballet in Plano; Studio C in Burleson; and is a teacher and rehearsal instructor for Wichita Falls Ballet. Lawson also holds two Bachelor’s of Science degrees in business economics and marketing from the University of Maryland.

So, what motivated her to start a ballet company in Dallas? Lawson says, “I know a lot of the ballet schools in the area do story ballets and other classical works, but unless you’re dancing with Texas Ballet Theater I find that a lot of the professionals don’t get the opportunities to dance these classical roles.”

She adds, “I also love ballet! I grew up in the studio and it was like this part of me that was just missing.”

Lawson admits that is was also a case of being in the right place at the right time because around then a friend of hers, the dance director of the Lakewood Conservatory of Fine Arts, was looking for new ways to expand upon its offerings and so the Lakewood Conservatory is now home for BNT. The company currently has 18 dancers, many of whom also perform alongside other local dance companies, including Ballet Dallas and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet. Some names you might recognize include Whitney Hart, Hannah Rae Kleimeyer, Heather Dods and Tristan Rodney.

Lawson says the opportunity to perform in other Texas cities presented itself during her search for a venue for the Dallas performance. One of her phone calls was with a board member of the Terrell ISD Excellence Foundation who broached the subject of hosting BNT’s Nutcracker since the community hasn’t had a professional showing of the holiday classical come through in a while. Lawson says Palestine has a similar story in which the community hasn’t seen a professional company perform The Nutcracker in almost a decade.

To make these communities feel even more included, Lawson held auditions in each city and each performance will have a different cast of children from that community as well as a different company members in the lead roles such as The Sugar Plum Fairy, Cavalier and Nutcracker Prince. The role of Clara will also be performed by a company member, except for the show in Dallas where local pre-professional Amelia Dodson will be playing the character.

For someone with so much riding on these Nutcracker performances Lawson sounded very calm and focused during our phone conversation earlier this week. When I asked what is was like putting together her first Nutcracker production, and with three different casts no less, she replies, “It was a learning experience for sure. There’s all these things that I never had to think about when I was performing, such as what music is going to be playing when the audience walks into the theater so it is not silent.”

On the flip side, Lawson says creating the choreography for the show was a pretty organic process as the idea for how she wanted the story to go had been in her head for quite some time. “I took a little more of the original story with the Nutcracker and the Rat King and infused that into the version that most of America knows. So, in my production the Nutcracker turns into the Cavalier and my Clara is still Clara and doesn’t turn into the Sugar Plum Fairy. She’s actually on the journey with the Nutcracker/Cavalier to return him back to the Land of the Sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy is waiting for him because he has been cursed to begin with.”

Lawson is also well aware there are a number of professional dance companies already operating out of Dallas. So, as far as where she thinks BNT is going to fit into the local landscape Lawson says, “Originally I would have said we were for anyone that wanted that kid-friendly environment, but with all the opportunities that we’ve had to tour I really feel like that is going to be our niche moving forward.”

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Review: The Nutcracker, Dallas Ballet Company

Closing this week on Sunday Dec. 9. Next performance on Friday Dec. 7 at 7:30pm

Mice and Men

Dallas Ballet Company shows the value added with male dancers of all ages and abilities in its annual Nutcracker performance at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.
The Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker. Photo: David C. Harris/Time Frames Photography

Garland — In addition to musically enchanting choreography and well-placed comedic moments, what Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performance—which has performances with a second cast Dec. 7-9—also had an abundance of talented young men playing pivotal roles in every scene of one of the best recreations of The Nutcracker I have seen from a local pre-professional ballet company in quite some time.

A fast-paced show that ended right on two hours, DBC’s Nutcracker was a whirlwind of bold colors, delicious looking props, splendid dancing and beautiful storytelling that brought new life to the 300-year-old ballet, which features movement by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov and a score written by Pyotr Ilyich Tch Tchaikovsky. The DBC’s performance contained elements from the original story written by E.T.A. Hoffmann as well as moments from George Balanchine’s Nutcracker, which is the stage production that audiences are most familiar with.

The story begins at the Silberhaus home where the family entertains its close friends with a grand Christmas Eve celebration. The party includes a visit by Herr Drosselmeyer (local actor Randolph McKee) who sets the action for the rest of the performance when he gifts a nutcracker doll to his goddaughter Clara played by the charming Anna Speer. This makes Clara’s brother, the endearingly awkward Julien Pham-Davis as Fritz, unhappy, and he shows his displeasure by breaking her nutcracker doll near the end of the party.

This was the only somber moment in an otherwise jubilant scene that was made possible by the fun and technically fair dance sequences executed by both the young children, Clara’s friends and the adults. It was also made possible with some well-timed comedic moments such the side-eye Malcolm Miranda (Butler) gave to party guests, the assistant governess trying hopelessly to catch the coats being tossed her way and the adorable little party girl who tripped Fritz and then smiled gleefully to the audience.

After all the guest, leave Clara falls asleep, and when she awakens she is surrounded by numerous mice shaking their tails and cleaning their whiskers. At this point in the show the dancers began to integrate the set pieces into the action, which is something I have not seen done to this extent in other local Nutcracker productions. For example, mice jumped out of the grandfather clock, and four troublemaking rats ate cheese on the couch while watching the Nutcracker (Ciaran Barlow) and Rat King (Christian Otto) battle it out center stage. Benjamin Barr, Trey Hileman, Ashton Pham-Davis and John Scullion had the audience laughing out loud with their stage antics, which included playing a game of Whac-A-Mole with the little soldiers standing up in a straight line upstage and even added pop culture references with the Floss dance and Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown’s touchdown dance.

DBC’s Sophia Jackson and Chase Raine as the Snow Queen and King. Photo: David C. Harris/Times Frames Photography

Once the Rat King is defeated, Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are led into the Kingdom of snow where the Snow Queen (Sophia Jackson) and the Snow King (Chase Raine) are waiting for them. It was a rough start for the couple with their first lift, where Raine was supposed to arm press Jackson over his head. The error created a beat of tension for the duo before they completed the phrase with a fishbowl dip. Still, the couple didn’t let the mishap affect the rest of their partnering, which included various assisted jete leaps and press up shoulder sits. Raine was mindful of his hand placement when he assisted Jackson through a number of pirouettes and promenade in attitude, while Jackson tended to purse her lips in concertation before any turn, leg extension or lift, but then completed every movement with refinement.

The snow corps was also elegant in their body lines and group formations and attacked the springy pointe work with matching enthusiasm. And while their footwork started out heavy with the opening bourrees, the sound of their pointe shoes lessened as the dance went on.
In the second act of the show, Clara and her Prince are welcomed to the Kingdom of Sweets by a troupe of angels in the form of the youngest company members dressed in floor length gold gowns and bright smiles. As the couple is guided to their candied-covered throne The Sugar Plum Fairy (New York City Ballet’s Sterling Hyltin) and her Cavalier (New York City Ballet’s Andrew Veyette) make a grand entrance to much applause.

The second half of the show maintained the quick pace of the first half with divertissements that played to the dancers’ strengths, including flexibility, stamina, control, musicality and self-expression. Miguel Falcon and Macy Wheeler with Luke Hileman, Carlie Jacobs, Christian Otto and Audrey Ratcliff kicked it off with a sassy, syncopated performance in the Spanish variation filled with skirt swishes, grand battements and musical partnering.

Terrence Martin returned as a guest artist for DBC in the Arabian dance again this year, where he showed off his athetic ability in a couple of back hand springs as Lydia Louder and Isabella Poscente rhythmically moved around him. The Chinese variation, led by Courtney Raine, featured intricate pointe work and matching fan work.

The show had not one but four Russian Babas who were then matched with four young ladies in a very loud and boisterous dance number filled with stomping, clapping and unexpected partnering sequences. The grandest moment came when the boys paired off and then linked arms with each other and then two girls on their outside arms and began to run in a circle until they had enough momentum to lift the girls off the floor.

In DBC’s rendition, Mother Ginger (Gloria Ewerz) directed over a dozen gingerbread children through a series of elementary ballet moves as they waved their wooden spoons in the air. The Pastry Chefs in the back waving the oversized gingerbread men on large sticks were also a nice touch.

The Reeds didn’t quite keep up with the punctuated nuances in their music, but Lead Reeds Veronica Britt, Kendyll Jacobs and Tatum Jenkins all delivered strong performances. Flower leads Charlotte Kelsey and Christian Otto lacked chemistry, which impacted some of the physical connections in their partnering sequences, but they were much more confidant in their solo sections. At the same time the flower corps were enchanting with their graceful arm placements, accented pointe work and picturesque ending pose.

All this glitz and glam paved the way for guest artists Sterling Hyltin and Andrew Veyette as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier in the grand pas deux. The couple drew attention to the tender love story between the two characters with their purposeful hand and body connections as well as their expressive facials aimed at one another. Both sat in the pocket of the music, which heightened the audience’s admiration for the two professional dancers. Hyltin seems made for the Sugar Plum Fairy role with her breathy port de bra arms and risky pointe work. Veyette’s performance was a great example of what is expected from male ballet dancers in these classical roles.

In addition to his strength and dexterity in his solos, Veyette also showed the audinece what a strong support system he can be for Hyltin. Sometimes this meant stepping back while Hyltin performed a series of petit allegro jumps or simply walking in a circle while holding her hand. And of course Veyette was there to assist Hyltin when she jumped in the air and to effortlessly lift her over his head to the ooh’s and aah’s of the audience.

Audiences only get a taste of this type of partnering in most pre-  professional Nutcracker performances. But with a large cast that featured more than 20 young boys, teenagers and grown men, DBC’s Nutcracker performance gave the audience a unique opportunity to see traditional partnering moves in almost every dance sequence throughout the entire show, which then helped the female dancers to shine brighter.

» The second cast in Dallas Ballet Company’s The Nutcracker performs Dec. 7-9 at the Granville Arts Center in Garland.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce Performance

Shades of Bruce

Bruce Wood Dance celebrates the many sides of the trailblazer in its fall performance, All Bruce, at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

Bruce Wood Dance in Local 126. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Dallas — It has been four years since his death, but Bruce Wood’s philosophy that “It is about the work” continues to drive Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) forward, which is apparent by the title of the company’s upcoming performance, All Bruce, Nov. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall. The program features four memorable Wood works, including Echoes of Enchantment (1999), Bolero (2001), Local 126 (2001) and The Edge of My Life So Far (2010), featuring Nycole Ray of Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The performance also marks a first for Joy Atkins Bollinger in her new role as BWD’s artistic director and is really a reunion of sorts for those of us who were in the audience at the Montgomery Arts Center for Wood’s triumphant return to the Dallas dance scene in June 2011. Viewers were in awe of the talent of company veterans Kimi Nikaidoh, Harry Feril and Albert Drake who would later band together to help keep Wood’s memory and movement aesthetic alive after the choreographers untimely passing in 2014. Today, most of the company veterans have moved on and a new batch of talent is now working to maintain Wood’s legacy.

I got the chance to sit down with Bollinger a couple of weeks ago at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery and talk to her about how she is adjusting to her new role and how the newer dancers are acclimating to company culture.

“I was a little concerned when I saw how many new company members we have this season,” Bollinger says. “I just knew we had so many changes ahead of us with our infrastructure and our staff and then losing some of our veteran dancers, but I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by the intelligent, hardworking and earnest nature of these dancers.”

She adds, “We’re to the point now where almost the entire company is working toward this man’s legacy who they have never meet and it’s just their understanding of what was important to him and how that affected others that draws them in.”

The new company members include Lauren Hibbard, Lauren Perry, Chad Vaught, Seth York and apprentice Arden Leone. They will be dancing alongside Adrian Aguirre, Jillyn Bryant, Olivia Rehrman, Gabriel Speiller and Megan Storey. Emily Drake, the most senior company member, will only dance in Bolero for this performance.

So, the responsibility of articulating Wood’s movement really falls on Bollinger’s shoulders. An incredibly daunting task, as anyone who had seen Wood in the studio can tell you. “Bruce had this uncanny way of not speaking,” Bollinger says. “And the feeling in the room or the feeling coming off him was enough for the dancers to understand where he was headed with choreography. And then when you weren’t sure about that from him you could turn to the veteran dancers that had worked with him for many years and ask them for help.”

Watching Bollinger give notes to the dancers after they ran through Local 126 it’s obvious she has a gift for words when it comes to telling the dancers what she needs from then. “A more crisp arrival,” “sharpen your focus” and “brighter energy through the legs” were a few of the corrections Bollinger gave as well as the ever present “have fun.”

But what Bollinger says she spent the most time discussing with the dancers was Wood’s emphasis on the group dynamics within his works. “The one thing I was focused on for this performance was the importance he placed on the group. If you look at Local 126 there is no partnering in the entire thing. Bruce would say he could choreograph to Bach in his sleep pretty easily so he wanted to challenge himself by doing no partnering for this entire piece.”

Bollinger adds, “The dancers needed to understand that you don’t get the lift and fly relationship. They’re going to have a different feeling of their bodies working in unison and as one and in sculpture and line and the architecture of the piece is going to have to create that. That’s been something we talked about a lot for this show because we’re going to need that in every dance, especially in Bolero.”

Before starting Bolero Bollinger says she and Nikaidoh sat down and talked through their memories of the dance and what they remembered Wood expressing so clearly. And through this conversation they were able to reconnect with the feeling and the finer details of the work. “It’s hard because in this day and age, when the second generation perceives something as sensual they automatically think it’s a celebration of sexuality, but it’s not. Bolero is very dark, almost that to the detriment of every person on stage.”

She explains, “At the same time as these women are wielding the power over the men and manipulating each other it’s also building toward a chaos. Everyone is walking in these courtship manners and the women are wearing ball gowns and the men are in tuxes, yet in complete irony the dancing women are in lingerie.”

Bollinger adds, “There’s so many layers here as to what is happening and at the start of this piece Bruce told us, ‘You know, this isn’t the party. This is 3 a.m. and the party has already happened’.”

Come experience Bolero and other Wood works at Bruce Wood Dance’s All Bruce performance at Moody Performance Hall this weekend.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances: 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre

Executive director Marielle McGregor on carving out space in the local contemporary dance arena and presenting Brush to Canvas at Dallas Dances.

6 o’Clock Dance Theatre dancer Sophi Marass. Photo: Ace Anderson

Dallas — As the Dallas arts scene continues to grow so has the number of contemporary dance companies in the area. With well-established companies such Avant Chamber Ballet, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Ballet Dallas, Bruce Wood Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, 8&1 Dance Company and Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet claiming large chunks of the city’s ballet and contemporary dance audience, you have to wonder what a newcomer like 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre can possibly bring to the table.

Executive Director Marielle McGregor says the answers lies in the framework of the company, which was founded by Zach Law Ingram in 2014. “What makes us unique is that we are career professionals working across many industries in Dallas. But, instead of happy hour at 6 p.m., we meet to explore our art. We decided that dancers should not have to choose between art and a living wage. You can have both!”

She adds, “We have dancers who are UX designers, mathematicians, marketers and engineers. We have 9-to-5 jobs, but at 6 o’clock—that is when we dance!”

McGregor is currently the senior digital editor for Dallas County Community College District. She is also a co-founding member of 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre and serves as the executive director, managing company business and equipping the company dancers and choreographers for success.

6 o’Clock Dance Theatre will be performing Ingram’s Brush to Canvas as part of Dallas Dances’ Saturday evening program. Ingram is a Dallas native whose professional experiences include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. He was also in the Broadway production of The Lion King. He officially moved back to Dallas this summer.

In Brush to Canvas McGregor says Ingram was inspired by the fact that a painting has no real finish. “The painter begins not knowing the end,” she says. “He [the painter] creates his art by throwing out ideas to the canvas, mixing his paints and seeing what comes back. And at some point the painter—through feeling—knows it is a complete work. And yet, at any time, he could pick the brush back up and again continue to explore more.”

McGregor adds, “Zach was also inspired greatly by the music itself. He said it gave him a lot of freedom and rather than dictating what the movement should be, it just let him paint.”

Brush to Canvas is set to “Infra 8” by Max Richter and “Thunders and Lightings” by Ezio Bosso. The piece features company members Darwin Black, Shelby Stanley Campbell, Sarah Cat Hendricks, Constance Dolph, Katricia Eaglin, Sophi Marass, Madison McKay, Marielle McGregor, Katherine Parchman, Laura Pearson, Allison Wood and Alex Yap.

> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances: Tejas Dance

Founder Bhuvana Venkatraman on bringing the classical Indian dance style Baratanatyam to Dallas Dances this weekend.

Chintan Patel and Bhuvana Venkatraman of Tejas Dance. Photo: Tejas Danc

Dallas — Bhuvana Venkatraman is well known in the Dallas dance community for her roles as an instructor, performer, and advocate of classical Indian dance. More specifically Baratanatyam, which, when broken down, means the dance that encompasses music, rhythm, and expressional dance or Abhinaya and strictly adheres to the Natyashastra or the scripture of classical Indian dance. Venkatraman created Tejas Dance in 2014 as a way to enrich and popularize Bharatanatyam and also identify and encourage talent in the field. Venkatraman says she and Chintan Patel (artistic director of Tejas Dance) were drawn to Baratanatyam because of its vibrancy and the spiritual beauty it has to offer.

“We believe that Baratanatyam is looking at things beyond their actual appearance,” Venkatraman says. “We consider it a medium for finding metaphors in every event in our lives and finding its deeper roots in spiritual elevation.”

The duo has performed for many local organizations, including the Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation, the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, the 2017 Dallas City Council inauguration, Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple, Allen Radha Krishna Temple and Arathi School of Dance, just to name a few.

Tejas Dance will be presenting Ardhanareeshawara – Synchronization of Dichotomy at Dallas Dances this Saturday night. The work features music from Parshwanath Upadhye’s album Shambho. The dance will explore the age old question: Are men and women really different?

“This dance talks about the two aspects of our society—the masculine and the feminine. Thinking of both of them as separate energies is common, but the actual spiritual elevation lies in knowing and understanding that these two characteristics though so different are one and the same,” she says. “If we understand that these two are nothing but a complementing half of a major energy, we realize how futile our efforts are to prove one is superior to the other.”

“This dance gives out a strong message to think of someone’s quality and abilities beyond their gender and find beauty within everything,” she adds. “It’s a great way for adults to find themselves more elevated from the claws of society and an excellent opportunity for kids to learn important concepts that will mold them for a better future and eventually leading to a better society.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.