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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.

 

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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.

 

Dallas Dances: kNOwBOX dance

Co-creator Martheya Nyaard breaks down the company’ intentions and what they have planned for Dallas Dances.

YeaJean Choi. Photo: Visionstyler Press

Dallas — Looking over the lineup for Dallas Dances, it’s exciting to see so many first-time presenters blended in with event staples such as Texas Ballet Theater, Bruce Wood Dance and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. One of these new faces is kNOwBOX dance, which was created by local choreographers YeaJean Choi and Martheya Nygaard at the beginning of 2018.

Choi and Nygaard met while earning their MFAs in dance at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Their overlapping interest in making art that challenged contemporary and modern dance aesthetics lead them to becoming fast friends and dance peers. Choi was working as the dance department’s digital media coordinator and Nygaard as the department’s publicity coordinator when the duo starting brainstorming about what they were going to do after graduation. They came up with the question: how can artists have access to stay connected, make new work and share work globally, and from there kNOwBOX was born.

“We strive to say no to the box,” Nygaard says. “The box symbolizes the boundaries and confines that limit connections. We pursue experimental production and collaboration with other artists in order to create, discuss and advocate for art. …The vision of kNOwBOX dance is to use the digital space and alternative formats to collaborate and archive. Our social media-based Evolving Laboratories facilitate a global presence for our collaborators to make, capture and share art.”

For Dallas Dances Hyun Jung (Jenna) Change will be performing Choi’s 괴다 (The memory of love) to Donovan Jones’ song “The Memory of Love.” The piece uses Korean contemporary dance techniques to express one’s memory of love. Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Choi earned her BFA in Korean dance from the Sung Kyun Kwan University in 2012 and performed with Du-Ri Theater of Korea. Her work has been presented at World Dance Alliance-Americas in Mexico, Dallas DanceFest, Texas Dance Improvisation Festival, American College Dance Association, Seattle BOOST Dance Festival, Terrance M Johnson Dance Project, Big Rig Dance Collective and the Choreographer’s Series in Korea.

Later this year kNOwBOX dance will be co-producing, alongside the Dance Council of North Texas and the Dallas Public Library, the first Dallas Dance Film Festival. In terms of what they hope to accomplish with this new event Nygaard says, “It is our goal that this festival can support both local and international emerging and professional dance filmmakers and provide an affordable platform to share their work. This free festival also offers the community of North Texas a new way to engage with dance.”

“We hope this will be an annual festival that has the potential to grown into a weekend event with workshops, installations and guest artists.”

>This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Dallas Dances: Brandi Coleman Dance

The jazz dance professor on the fundamentals of Jump Rhythm Technique and her piece, What We Do with Time, part of Dallas Dances.

Brandi Coleman Dance. Photo: Andrew Garvis

Dallas — Just like every young dancer Brandi Coleman grew up learning all the basic dance techniques, including ballet, jazz, modern and hip-hop. It wasn’t until Coleman went to the Jazz Dance World Congress in 1992 and saw Billy Siegenfeld’s choreography for the first time that she realized she wanted to focus primarily on jazz. More specifically, she wanted to learn Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm® Technique. So, when she heard Siegenfeld was teaching at Jacobs’ Pillow along with fellow jazz choreographer Danny Buraczeski, Coleman knew she needed to go.

“This was a pivotal point for me,” Coleman says about her time at Jacob’s Pillow. “Up to this point I have had a variety of dance training, but this experience at Jacob’s Pillow working with both Danny and Billy really solidified my innate response, love and passion for jazz dance and specifically moving rhythmically and musically.”

“Jump Rhythm Technique just felt good innately to me both in the physicality and in my heart and soul.”

Today, Coleman is an artist-in-residence in jazz dance at Southern Methodist University and is also the associate artistic director of Jump Rhythm Jazz Project (JRJP), an Emmy Award-winning performing and teaching company that celebrates the communal core of jazz performance, including dancing, singing and storytelling in rhythmically syncopated conversations. She also holds a B.A. in dance from Northeastern Illinois in Chicago and an MFA in performing arts/dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

To put it simply Coleman says the goal of Jump Rhythm Technique is to turn the body into a percussive instrument. “So, it’s using the musical construct of jazz music, meaning we’re trying to play syncopation and swing in the body, but we are also trying to understand what it feels like to feel rhythm in the body and to shape energy over approaching movement from how my body looks in space. We do address shape, but we address time first.”

When explaining the fundamentals of Jump Rhythm Technique to her students Coleman uses a comprehensive step by step process. “So, in Jump Rhythm Technique we first say what is the rhythm. Then we improvise to that rhythm. Then we clarify the rhythm. Then we clarify the emotional intention behind the rhythm. And then we clarify where in space we do that rhythm.”

Coleman points out that the technique also involves a lot of vocalization, which she says is hard for many dancers because the perception is usually that dancers are to be seen and not heard. So, she usually starts out by asking the dancers questions so they can hear their voices out loud and then she has them sing the Alphabet percussively and then rhythmically. From there she has them start scat singing, which audiences will get to experience firsthand at Dallas Dances this Sunday in Coleman’s What We Do With Time.

“Rhythm and emotion primarily inform the movement and the narrative of the piece,” Coleman says. “It is a quirky, humorous comment on being stressed. It’s about meeting deadlines and missing deadlines and anticipating deadlines that you know you can’t or won’t make. It’s a universal theme that I anticipate anyone and everyone can empathize with.”

This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

SIDEBAR:

I asked Brandi if she thought classical jazz was a dying off and she told me that this is misconception because in order grow jazz dance has had to align with pop culture, which is where new styles like jazz funk and lyrical jazz come into play. So, classical jazz isn’t dying. It is just changing as is natural with all dance forms. She uses the imagery of  branches to example these newer styles of jazz, which she said I could read about in the book “Jazz: A History of the Roots and Branches” by Lindsay Guarino and Wendy Oliver.

Like the dance history nerd I am I immediately purchased this book on Amazon and it should be here in a day or two. I am looking forward to reading and will definitely put up a post about my thoughts on the book as soon as I am done reading it. Here is a link to the book if you will she purchase it too

 

 

 

 

 

Preview: Princess in Training, Texas Ballet Theater’s Cinderella

Paige Nyman on becoming a princess for Texas Ballet Theater’s production of Cinderella this weekend in Dallas.

Dallas — Every young girl dreams of one day becoming a Disney princess, including Texas Ballet Theater’s Paige Nyman who will get to live out her childhood fantasy in the company’s production of Cinderella at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House Aug. 24-26. “I have always related most to Belle and Cinderella,” says Nyman, who is celebrating her 10th season with TBT. “I relate to Belle because I love reading books too, and I have always admired Cinderella’s resiliency and her ability to find hope and make the best in every situation.”

Paige Nyman of TBT. Photo: Steven Visneau

Nyman started dancing at the age of 3 in her hometown of Kansas City. At 16, she received a scholarship to the Harid Conservatory where she trained under Svetlana Osiyeva, Oliver Pardina and Victoria Schneider. Nyman joined TBT in 2009 and since then has performed roles in Ben Stevenson’s DraculaSleeping BeautyPeer GyntRomeo and JulietCinderella and Four Last Songs, among others. She has also performed in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante, Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries, Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort, Harold Lander’s Etudes and the title role in Carlos Acosta’s Carmen.

This production marks Nyman’s first time performing a lead role in one of Stevenson’s acclaimed story ballets, an incredible opportunity Nyman says she is more excited than nervous about. “This is such a fun legacy to be a part of and I am enjoying finding who I am in the character. Cinderella has this wonderful innate sense of hope, joy and happiness, but also experiences deep hurt and sadness and it has been a fun challenge to learn how to internalize everything.”

In rehearsals the dancers work equal parts on technique and acting, which Nyman says is really what separates Stevenson’s story ballet from other ballet companies. “He just understands what audiences want to see and what we, the dancers, want to do. He is always finding new ways to keep the story ballets fresh.”

These story ballets are just one of many aspects Nyman enjoys about being a part of TBT. “This is one of the most welcoming places I have ever encountered. From the start I was afforded the chance to work closely with the other company members and choreographers and it has been a wonderful journey for me these past 10 seasons.” She adds, “Ben continues to stretch our boundaries while also staying grounded in his story ballets and I just feel at home here.”

Nyman admits that the road to becoming Cinderella isn’t all tutus and tiaras. “Dancing with inanimate object like a broom can be hard. It doesn’t reason with you,” she jokes.

Nyman is referring to the kitchen scene where she is imagining she is at the ball dancing with a handsome prince when in reality she is covered in filth dancing with a broom. This dance segment led to one of Nyman biggest questions about the process, which was how to keep the role authentic through these quick emotional changes. She explains, “I wanted to know how to create a natural transition from the high of imagining I am at the ball to suddenly realizing I am at home dancing with a broom.”

Nyman has also had to shift her mindset from being one of many dancers in the corps to taking center stage. “There’s this wonderful sense of camaraderie in the corps because we all have the same goal, which is to be the picture frame for the lead dancers. But when you transition into doing a lead role you have to step outside that mindset of amenity. You have to face the fact that the goal is that everyone is looking at you, and maintaining that level of engagement is a beautiful responsibility.”

And like all dancers Nyman has a ritual she does before every performance that might sound kooky to some, but continues to work in her favor. “In the dressing room I have to put my left eyelash on first, my left earring and my right pointe. That is my secret recipe.”

 

The Texas Ballet Theater season also features:

  • Ben Stevenson’s Cleopatra (accompanied by Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra) at Bass Performance Hall: Sept. 28-30, 2018
  • Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker at Winspear Opera House, Nov. 23-25 and Nov. 30-Dec. 2, before transitioning to Bass Performance Hall Dec. 7-9; Dec. 13; Dec. 15-16; Dec. 20-24. The Nutty Nutcracker, an unconventional take on the holiday classic, will be at Bass Performance Hall Dec. 14.
  • The first mixed repertoire, March 1-3, 2019, at Bass Performance Hall features the work of two renowned choreographers, William Forsythe and Christopher Bruce in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and Ghost Dances, respectively. TBT dancer Andre Silva will share his contemporary choreography in a world premiere called 11:11.
  • A collection of works by TBT Artistic Director, Ben Stevenson, O.B.E., is on the bill for the second mixed repertoire and includes Four Last SongsTwilightEsmerelda (pas de deux only) and L. The pieces will be performed at Bass Performance Hall March 29-31, 2019.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Camille A. Brown

This weekend, the award-winning dance and theater choreographer Camille A. Brown opens the TITAS Presents season with BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.

camilleabrown
BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Dallas — 2018 has been quite a year for Camille A. Brown whose powerful combination of storytelling and modern, African and hip-hop movements has been capturing audiences from every angle, including concert dance, on and off-Broadway, and television. Most recently, her work has been seen on NBC with the Emmy-nominated special, Jesus Christ Superstar LIVE, and also on Broadway with the 2018 Tony award-winning production, Once On This Island. Her other theater credits include A Streetcar Named DesireCabin in the Sky, Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick…BOOM and Dallas Theater Center’s world premiere productions of Stagger LeeFortress of Solitude, and Bella: An American Tall Tale.

The dancing It Girl is also a four-time Princess Grace Award winner, TED Fellow, Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner, Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and Audelco Award winner. Her work has been commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions, Ailey II, Philandanco!, Urban Bush Women, Ballet Memphis, and Hubbard Street II, among others.

With all these creative accolades it’s no surprise to learn that Brown has been choreographing since childhood when she would make up dances to cartoon shows. A lot of her movement is influenced by the social dances of her childhood, including hip-hop, African and step dance. She was also versed in salsa dancing and musical theatre thanks to her parent’s love of musicals and Latin social dances. Add in her point of view as a strong black female from Queens and you have the foundation of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play (2015); the second part of a trilogy that her troupe Camille A. Brown & Dancers will be performing as part of TITAS Presents in Dallas Aug. 24-25.

TheaterJones caught up with the busy dancemaker to talk about her current success, working on Once On This Island, finding her artistic voice and what Dallas audiences can expect to see from her dancers this weekend.

TheaterJones: Most young dancers dream of becoming performers, and yet you knew you wanted to choreograph from a very young age. Dancers don’t usually come across composition classes till they reach high school age, so how did you foster your interest in creating movement growing up?

Camille A. Brown: I have always been a quiet child. My voice was small, so I got teased a lot, and it made me more self-conscious about speaking. I watched Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson videos as well as musicals (which my mom introduced me to). I would spend hours learning all the routines from videos and musical numbers. I also created movement to the opening credits of cartoons I watched. Family gatherings were opportunities to put on a show with friends and cousins. My family would support our efforts and was always a great audience.

How has your upbringing in Queens influenced your artistic choices throughout your career?

One of the first works I did was about rush hour in New York City and what happens when everyone is waiting for a delayed train. I took all of my experiences riding the subway since 13 to create six minutes of material. The work was eventually commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. My most recent work is also pulling from my experiences growing up in the city. Some of it is inspired by my neighborhood. A couple in Queens walking down the street with their isms bold and bright. The guys that play basketball outside. The hand gestures (dab) they do greeting each other.

In BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, there are moments that are inspired by relationships with my mother, grandmother, and cousin. Q85, Farmers Blvd., Guy R. Brewer, Foch Blvd, E/F train (last stop), Green Acres Mall, Rochdale Village, grandma and granddaddy’s house. We carry our stories with us and they never let us go. 

Looking back, would you still have chosen to go to college before starting your professional dance career?

Absolutely! I wasn’t ready to be a professional dancer after I graduated high school, and still wanted to learn more as a student.

How did you get involved with Once On This Island? What research did you do leading up to teaching the choreography for the show?

I had never seen OOTI, but was very intrigued by the story. I knew it was a very popular musical, which made me nervous! It’s hard stepping in as a choreographer creating material for a show that’s been done thousands of times. I got a little bit in my head about it. I knew my role as a part of the creative team was extremely important. I wanted to honor the culture of Haiti and the Caribbean islands, but also honor my choreographic voice.

People ask me what the inspiration behind the movement for the show was. Culture always tells you where to go. The challenge was to create a language that combines culture, my voice and the actor’s creative identities. I connected with an Afro-Haitian/Afro- Cuban consultant, Maxine Montilus. We had four sessions together. I told her that these sessions were not so I could implant these specific steps into the show. It was about me knowing the origins of steps so they could help to inform my choreographic choices.

The other challenge for me was the production was staged in the round and I had never choreographed anything in the round before. I was creating my latest work, ink, at the same time so I used that creative process as an opportunity to practice. It’s interesting how many projects can support one goal. I’m grateful for it all.

How have your experiences working on Broadway and TV impacted the way you think about movement for your company dancers?

I have always been interested in telling stories, but working in theater with collaborators and putting an entire show together that has music, acting, dance, set design, sound design, costume design and orchestrations has made me a better storyteller and communicator. The information that I absorbed working in theater has helped me to create my movement language and given me the tools to communicate what I want to my dancers and musicians.

Can you please talk to me about the building of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play? Is it mainly autobiographical? Is it one complete story or broken up by experiences?

BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play is the second piece of the trilogy and it reveals the complexity of carving out a self-defined identity as a black female in urban American culture. In a society where black women are often only portrayed in terms of their strength, resiliency, or trauma, this work seeks to interrogate these narratives by representing a nuanced spectrum of black womanhood in a racially and politically charged world.

Kyra Gaunt’s book, The Games That Black Girls Play, talks about the contributions of black girls to hip hop through childhood games. If we look at the mechanics of the hand clap game “numbers”, it’s highly intelligent, mathematical and musical. Social dance grounds a time and place. The body has so many stories to tell and we can see them through social dance. We can also see people’s creative identities.

There is artistry in childhood games and social dance.

I am bringing all my stories, my personal experiences of being a woman and of being black into the work. BG:LP is about my childhood. It has glimpses of the relationship I have with my sister-friends, cousin and mother.

At what point did you know you wanted to make this part of a trilogy?

After creating Mr. TOL E. RAncE, my headspace was still in the world of black identity. My mentor and dramaturge, Talvin Wilks, encouraged me to go with the flow. Three evening length pieces later!

Where do you want to go from here?

I want to stay focused, clear and keep growing. It is my goal to continue creating works for my company, become a director/choreographer for musical theater and do more TV and film. Debbie Allen is a huge inspiration. She does it all. Her body of work makes me believe that all things are possible.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.