Tag Archives: Thom Clower

All Dolled Up


Coppelia at Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Photo: Cathy Vanover Photography

Ballet Ensemble of Texas gets ready to present George Skibine’s Coppelia at the Irving Arts Center this weekend.

Irving — Watching Ballet Ensemble of Texas (BET) as they prepared for their upcoming performance of Coppéliaat the Irving Arts Center this past weekend it was easy to see why BET is one of the most sought after pre-professional companies for young, aspiring dancers in the Metroplex. In addition to the company’s expansive dance curriculum, which includes rigorous training in classical, contemporary, modern and jazz techniques, the dancers are also being schooled in technical continuity and precision as well as artistic self-expression and character portrayal. These are the skillsets audiences have to come to expect from the company, and they were the main focus of criticism during last Saturday’s four hour Coppelia rehearsal at the Ballet Academy of Texas studio in Coppell.

“Hit your fifth,” rehearsal director Thom Clower calls out to Masumi Yoshimoto (Swanilda) during one of her many petite allegro jumping sequences in Act I. “More luxurious with the expression,” he says later as Yoshimoto executes a series of side bend stretches on pointe. “Feel the dilemma,” he shouts to Aldrin Vendt (Franz) as he tries to decipher his true feelings between his fiancée Swanilda and the mysterious girl in the window named Coppelia. Clower’s vibrant personality and positive teaching methods were well-received by the dancers as was evident through the razor sharp focus and high energy levels everyone maintained throughout rehearsal.

Photo: Cathy Vanover Photography. Coppelia at Ballet Ensemble of Texas

For those needing a refresher, Coppélia (1870) is a romantic comedy ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon with music by Leo Delibes. Most modern day productions are derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa and typically feature only two of the ballet’s three acts. Based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann entitled The Sandman, the ballet follows heroine Swanilda as she tries to win back her fiancée Franz who has fallen in love with a girl named Coppelia who is actually a  doll owned by the mysterious Doctor Coppelius. Franz gets caught sneaking into Doctor Coppelius’ workshop and Swanilda comes to his rescue by deceiving the doctor into believing that she is his doll come to life. In the final act Swanilda makes amends with the doctor and a wedding celebrates ensures for Franz and Swanilda.

BET will be performing George Skibine’s version of Coppélia, which includes all three acts. Skibine was a former director of the Paris Opera Ballet and also the founder of Dallas Ballet along with his wife Marjorie Tallchief (sister of Maria Tallchief). Clower and BET Artistic Director Allan Kinzie both danced professionally under Skibine’s direction and guidance. Coppélia isn’t the first work of Skibine’s that Clower has restaged for BET. Two seasons ago he reworked Skibine’s The Firebird on the company which was warmly received by both audiences and critics.

Clower’s strong rapport with the company makes for a very productive and positive environment for the dancers to work in. “He is just so easy to work with,” Yoshimoto says. “He is so fun and engaging and we really feed off his positive energy.” When asked about the notes she was giving during and after the first act Yoshimoto just smiles and says she doesn’t take the criticism personally. “I take the notes as new ways to help me grow as a dancer.”

I first saw Yoshimoto perform three years ago when she nailed the role of the Dew Drop Fairy in BET’s annual Nutcracker production. And while her technique and performance quality have grown over the years, the one thing that has remained the same is her ability to deliver technically consistent performances no matter what the part. In this case Yoshimoto’s unique abilities are well suited to the role of Swanilda. Her infectious stage presence and innate lyricism showed during the many gestural phrases in the first half as well as the less technical and more reactionary moments, such as when Swanilda catches Franz flirting with Coppelia and later when Franz calls off their engagement in front of the entire town.

Another dancer who has shown immense growth over the last couple of years is BET alum Aldrin Vendt. Gone are his boyish looks and leaner musculature and in their place a more toned and confidant leading man. His technique and body control has also improved, which he proved with his cleaner lines and sounder take offs and landings during his double tours and entrechats.

During a break in rehearsal I was surprised when Yoshimoto mentioned this was her first time playing a lead in a full-length ballet. She says the most challenging part of playing a lead in a full length ballet has been memorizing all of the choreography as well as building her stamina to keep up with all the dancing she is doing. When asked what she likes most about playing Swanilda Yoshimoto took a moment before replying, “I enjoy all the dancing and acting I get to do as well as all the playful pantomime my character gets to do.” Laughing a little she adds, “I see myself as a more reversed person so, it’s always fun when I get the chance to step outside myself and become someone completely different.”

Audiences will get two chances to see Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ presentation of Coppelia when it comes to the Irving Arts Center March 25-26.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.



Review: Ballet Ensemble of Texas Spring Concert

Breanne Granlund and Brett Young in The Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover
Breanne Granlund and Brett Young in The Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Ballet Ensemble of Texas delivers a near-flawless Firebird (and more) at the company’s Spring Concert

Irving — Luscious scenery, elaborate costumes, catchy compositions, authentic storytelling and proficient dancing: Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ restaging of George Skibine’s Firebird had something for everyone Saturday afternoon at the company’s Spring Concert at the Irving Arts Center.

Firebird, danced of course to the music of Igor Stravinsky, tells the tale of Prince Ivan’s encounter with the mystical Firebird. In the first scene he tries to capture the marvelous creature, but fails; the Firebird offers him one of her feathers instead. Next Ivan meets the beautiful Tsarevna and they fall in love. A battle ensues between Ivan and the evil Kostchei, and the Firebird is called upon to help defeat him. In the final scene Ivan and Tsarevna are wed and everyone lives happily ever after.

Firebird is a challenge that calls for dramatic flair and daring dancing—and the dancers responded with commitment and consistency, a tribute to stager Thom Clower’s passion and BET director Lisa Slagle’s training. Breanne Granlund thrived in the role of the Firebird. Her commanding stage presence, innate musicality and clear-cut pointe work were a match for Skibine’s detailed choreography and Stravinsky’s quick staccato composition. Even her smallest movements—fluttering arms, twitching head—seemed to entrance the audience. Texas Ballet Theater’s Brett Young excelled as Prince Ivan. He made the transition from hunter to lover appear effortless, though his solo in the opening scene must have tested his endurance with its multiple grande jetes and tours.

Young proved also to be a solid partner, executing the tricky over the head lifts and counter-balance holds with ease during the pas de deux, but softening his movements when dancing with his love Tsarevna (Abby Granlund). Abby exuded tranquility, creating the illusion that her movement never stops even when she is standing still. The surprise performance of the evening came from Aldrin Vendt, who played Kostchei. Under heavy makeup and layers of clothing, he compensated with exaggerated gestures and a sense of tension that radiated from every part of his body.

Fernando Bujones’ Splendid Gershwin and Marius Petipa’s Paquita, both restaged by American Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jones, rounded out the rest of the show. The company showed off its aptitude for more traditional ballet movement in Paquita. Yuki Takahashi sparkled in this role. Her beautiful breathing technique, inhaling as she elongates and exhaling into balance holds, added texture and anticipation to her performance. Soloists Masumi Yoshimoto, Natalie Tsay, Jimena Flores-Sanchez and Breanne Granlund gave solid performances that highlighted their musicality and poignant pointe work. Guest Artist Shea Johnson ate up the stage with his gravity-defying leaps and turning sequences. While at times his movement appears labored, he can execute a triple pirouette with ease.

The men stole the show in Splendid Gershwin with their Fred Astaire-like grace and personality. Dressed in tuxes and top hats, Samuel Chadick, William Sheriff, Aldrin Vendt and Johnson glided across the stage in a series of turns punctuated with pivots and drag steps in “Embraceable You.” Roman Mejia charmed the audience with his consecutive toe touches and cheeky air as he attempted to impress four female dancers in “Ladies & The Tramp.”

After seeing Ballet Ensemble of Texas deliver on consistency, authenticity and versatility with this Spring Concert one has to wonder, is there anything BET can’t do?

This review was originally published on TheaterJones.com.


Can’t Be Tamed

BET company member Breanne Granlund as the Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover
BET company member Breanne Granlund as the Firebird. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ production of George Skibine’s The Firebird gets ready to take flight at the Irving Arts Center this weekend.

Coppell, TX — She moves confidently and uninhibited almost to the point of falling off pointe or missing a step, but she doesn’t. Hands twitching, body pulsating with unrestrained energy, Ballet Ensemble of Texas company member Breanne Granlund is the quintessential Firebird. Granuald’s feisty footwork coupled with Igor Stravinsky’s fast staccato composition made for a delightful Tuesday evening at the Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell.

The Firebird is based on Slavic folklore and tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with the mystical Firebird. In the first scene he tries to capture it, but the firebird offers him one of her feathers instead.  In the next scene Ivan wanders through the forest until he meets the beautiful Tsarevna. They fall in love and a battle ensues between Ivan and the evil Kostchei. Ivan uses the feather to call upon the Firebird and together they dispose of Kostchei. Ivan and Tsarevna get married and everyone lives happily ever after.

The Firebird is a physically demanding role, something Granlund found appealing from the start. “I love the physicality of the role,” Granlund says. “The movement is a lot harder on your body, but I like challenging myself like this. It’s not often that you get to portray a bird and, I think mentally the role really suits me.” Granlund is right. Her penchant for quick footwork, dynamic body positions and overall vigor makes her well-suited for the part.

Coincidently the other female lead in the ballet is being performed by Granlund’s twin sister Abby. She is dancing the role of Tsarenva, a character Granlund says matches her sister’s dancing style really well. “Abby is really great in these types of roles. She’s a very expressive dancer.” Abby’s movement does have a softer quality to it. Her feet hardly make a sound when she bourrees and she’s able to emote feeling from every muscle in her body.

And the man caught in between the Granlund sisters is Texas Ballet Theater Corps dancer Brett Young. His athletic physique and unyielding core strength make him an admirable partner and confident soloist. The pas de deux between Ivan and the Firebird contains multiple lifts in addition to alternating handholds for lengthy balances and turning sequences. With a little more fine tuning this pas de deux will surely be a scene stealer.

What makes Ballet Ensemble of Texas stand out from other pre-professional companies in the area is the consistency you see throughout the company in terms of technique and performance quality. There is no weak link in this production of the Firebird. All seven male company members showcase high jumps, long lines and controlled tours. All the ladies display proficient pointe work and authentic stage presence. “You must act or it’s just going to look like another recital,” says Thom Clower, the person responsible for restaging George Skibine’s Firebird on BET.

All the talk about Clower’s eccentric approach to teaching is completely true. While giving notes it’s common for him to use sounds effects and vivid imagery to describe what he wanted. For example, when telling the princesses how they should be peeking out from behind the apple tree he said, “The movement needs to have more resistance. I don’t want it slower, just thicker.” He is also not opposed to shouting things out during the run through like “I need more!”, “Slow down!” and “Yes, that was lovely!” His knack for blending corrections with compliments has a very positive effect on the students. After a long evening of rehearsing, the students leave laughing with their heads held high. “Thom is really great with the students,” says BET Director Lisa Slagle. “He really inspires them to work harder and give their all every time.”

Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ spring concert takes place April 4-5, 2014 at the Irving Arts Center. In addition to Firebird the company will also be performing the revival of Fernando Bujones’ Splendid Gershwin and the classic ballet Paquita, staged by American Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jones.

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.



Southern Charm

Photo:  David Harris/ Time Frames Photography
Photo: David Harris/ Time Frames Photography

Hundreds of ballerinas from Texas and neighboring states took part in the 2014 Regional Dance America/Southwest Festival at the Eisemann Center in Richardson.

Richardson — A lone dancer dressed in country western wear (fringe top, black bottoms and cowboy hat) executes a series of slow leg extensions and turns on pointe in front of the silhouette of a gigantic cowboy hat. As the stage lights lift, the 30×15 foot cowboy hat is flown up revealing 20 or so dancers dressed in the same country attire. All together they performed a high energy Texas tribute complete with heel clicks, knee slaps, doe-se-does and hat tilts.

Top Hat, choreographed by Judy Klopfenstein and Cyndi Jones Littlejohn and performed by Dallas Ballet Company (DBC), kicked off the Emerging Choreographers showcase, part of the 2014 Regional Dance America/Southwest (RDA/SW) Festival which took place March 21-23 at the Renaissance Hotel and Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson.

As the evening went on, dancers from companies including Houston Dance Theatre, San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet, Midland Festival Ballet, Corpus Christi Ballet, Twin City Ballet and City Ballet of Houston just to name a few, took to the stage and gave engaging performances that highlighted their strengths which ranged from classical ballet and contemporary to more theatrical and jazz-based numbers.

These talented dancers travelled from Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas just to be able to take class from some of ballet’s best in addition to performing in front of their peers and auditioning for scholarships. “The dancers understand that the festival is not just about performance, but the complete experience,” says Collin County Ballet Theatre Co-Director Kirt Hathaway. “Excellent classes, being among like-minded young artists in an extended period, performing, watching performances, admiring others and wanting to become more than they are and challenging oneself is really what the RDA/SW festival is all about.”

For the faculty roster, event organizers and DBC directors Judy and Brent Klopfenstein used a lot of teachers who are either from or currently working in Dallas, including Jason Fowler (repetiteur for Christopher Wheeldon and former DBC student), Chris Koehl (So You Think You Can Dance Season 8 and former DBC student), Kim Abel (consultant with the dance department at Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts), Thom Clower (former member of Dallas Ballet), Leslie Peck (Associate Professor at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts) and Nycole Ray (member of Dallas Black Dance Theatre).

Ballet royalty Christine Spizzo, Mary Margaret Holt and Jock Soto were also on the schedule as well as Kurt A. Douglas (modern) and Tyler Hanes (theater dance). “I knew these teachers would be great, but in the end they were even better than I could’ve ever imagined,” Judy Klopfenstein says. “I knew I wanted a diverse faculty within the different styles of ballet, but I also wanted to throw in something new and different like African.”

She adds, “We also had between 25 and 35 scholarships to hand out this year. There were scholarships given by American Ballet Theatre, BalletMet, Colorado Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Alonzo King LINES Ballet as well as scholarships given by multiple local companies.”

The local pre-professional ballet companies participating in the festival included Collin County Ballet Theatre (CCBT), Ballet Ensemble of Texas (BET), Dallas Metropolitan Ballet (DMB) and of course DBC. “It was an amazing festival,” Hathaway says. “In speaking with my dancers the classes were so exciting for them and the faculty was awesome. They felt that the instructors could relate to them while at the same time not expecting anything less than their full effort.”

Many other festival participants felt the same way. After learning a vigorous George Balanchine variation from Jason Fowler, BalletForte company member Schuyler Buckler says that even though the variation was tough, Fowler was very encouraging. “He’s the good kind of strict that makes you want to do your best every time.”

Kristen Wright with BET adds, “The way he teaches is just so fun and he is very motivating.”

It also helps when the teachers are just as passionate and excited to work with the students. “I have always wanted to be a teacher,” Spizzo says. “Throughout my career I have honed my teaching skills and I have found a nice balance between verbiage and execution. I have learned that if you throw too much verbiage at younger dancers they won’t be able to process it. To me, teaching is the highest esteem.”

In addition to the variations class students also took partnering, ballet, pointe, modern, Pilates, theater, African and hip-hop. “I really liked Chris Koehl’s hip-hop class,” says BET company member Jimena Flores-Sanchez. “He really helps you break out of your shell.”

Buckler of BalletForte also enjoyed Koehl’s class, but admitted it takes her a little longer to pick up hip-hop movement than ballet choreography. “I just think hip-hop takes a lot more brain power whereas ballet has a lot more to do with muscle memory.”

When asked about the competitiveness of their career choice the students all agreed that the bar has definitely been raised higher in terms of technique and training. “The level of competition out there is really high,” Buckler says. “Today you’re expected to be able to do it all. You really have to be diverse in all styles of dance and the RDA/SW festival helps prepare us for that.”

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.



RDA/SW 2014 Festival Happening This Weekend!

RDA Logo 2014_tanIT’S HERE!

Approximately 750 bunheads from Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas will converge at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson, TX, this weekend for the 2014 Regional Dance America/Southwest Festival, hosted by Dallas Ballet Company.

Aptly named Deep in the Heart…There’s Dance!, this year’s RDA/SW Festival features a variety of master classes from ballet, pointe and partnering to theater and hip-hop as well as an emerging choreography concert, showcase performance and a closing gala happening each evening at 7:30pm at the Eisemann.

Tickets for the performances are $30 and are available through the Eisemann Center and Dallas Ballet Company.

Some of our local talent will be in attendance, including Collin County Ballet Theatre, Ballet Ensemble of Texas and Dallas Metropolitan Ballet.

And of course there will also be some amazing guests artists teaching at the festival, including Jason Fowler, Tyler Hanes, Kim Abel, Jock Soto, Kurt A. Douglas, Mary Margaret Holt and Thom Clower, just to name a few.

I will be there all weekend observing classes and watching performances. Come on by and say HI!