Tag Archives: TITAS

Favorite New Dance Works in 2017

Donkey Beach from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. Photo: Mark Lowry

It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.

And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.

We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.

So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.

And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.

In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:

Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou

Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.

Meant to be Seen from Bombshell Dance Project. Photo: Lynn Lane

Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman

In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.

Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger

Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.

HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh

Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.


Albert Drake rehearsing Chasing Home for Bruce Wood Dance. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Chasing Home by Albert Drake

The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.

Interpretations by Sean J. Smith

Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.

Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate

Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.

This 2017 in dance review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.









Q&A: Bridget L. Moore, AD Dallas Black Dance Theatre

Bridget L. Moore. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

The artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre on her new role and the world premiere of her Uncharted Territory at the TITAS Command Performance this weekend.

Dallas — Bridget L. Moore is no stranger to the Dallas dance scene. She was born and raised here, and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) in 1989 before heading to The Ohio State University where she earned a B.F.A dance and a concentration in choreography. She would later go on to earn a M.F.A in dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2006.

As a professional dancer Moore toured with New York-based Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE/Dance Company from 1999-2008. She was the first recipient of Project Next Generation, a commission to an emerging female choreographer by Urban Bush Women Dance Company. She was also commissioned by the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography to work with Philadanco Dance Company in a creative residency. She also co-directed This Woman’s Work with colleague Princess Mhoon Cooper and was listed as one of Dance magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2006.

Throughout her professional career Moore has returned to Dallas numerous times to teach and set works for many arts institutions, including Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT), University of Texas at Dallas and BTWHSPVA where she was also the artistic director of the World Dance Ensemble. In May of 2016 a group of Moore’s students from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, were asked to perform at DBDT’s Spring Celebration. All of these experiences as well as her close rapport with DBDT Founder Ms. Ann Williams make her an ideal candidate for the artistic director position. The selection committee obviously agreed because at the beginning of this year it was announced that Moore would take over for Ms. Williams effective Feb. 1.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Moore’s work then you are in luck because her new work Uncharted Territory, which was commissioned by TITAS, is on the roster for the annual Command Performance Gala at the Winspear Opera House this Saturday. The piece includes music by Kangding Ray and features DBDT Company Members Claude Alexander III and Kimara Wood, who is filling for Matthew Rushing of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The evening’s program also includes works by Alvin Ailey, Wang Yuanyuan, Moses Pendleton and Dwight Rhoden, just to name a few.

TheaterJones asked Bridget L. Moore about coming home to Dallas, her plans for DBDT’s main company and working with Matthew Rushing and Claude Alexander, III on her work Uncharted Territory for this year’s Command Performance Gala.

TheaterJones: How are you settling into your new role as artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre?

Bridget L. Moore: It’s been going very well. I’ve had some time to learn about the day-to-day operations, but of course you are talking about 40 years of history and commitment to the field so there is still a lot that I have to learn. Fortunately, I have been able to shadow Ms. Williams which is really great and it has been very special to have her there with me. I have really appreciated her advice and guidance.

What type of growth would you like to see within the main company under your leadership?

What I really want and I’m planning to do is to build on the legacy and the excellence that is already present at DBDT. Now, I would like to continue to expand our national and international touring as well as enhance and continue to push our educational outreach program through our academy. As well as foster relationships through our community and connect our community through culture, dance and innovative programming. And also put forth initiatives that ensure the mission and the structure of the organization and that also empower our next generation of artists.

What made you decide to come home to Dallas?

Well, I have spent that last three years in South Korea teaching at Sungkyunkwan University as a visiting professor and it was such a wonderful opportunity, but I love Dallas and I was ready to come home. And now I have the opportunity to share those experiences with others.

What motivated you to apply for the position?

One of the main things that attracted me to DBDT is their mission statement which is to create and produce modern dance work at its highest level of artistic excellence. And because they also have the arts and education program as well as the educational outreach program that really support my overall personal and goals. It just seemed like a great fit for me and it’s something I was already thinking about doing while I was in Korea. I was trying to come to an agreement with myself in terms of what I wanted to do in the next phase of my career. I absolutely love teaching and choreographing, but to be able to do all of it and support the professional dancers on that level is definitely something I am excited to do.

What changes in the Dallas dance scene have you noticed since returning home?

I would say that particularly in the Arts District I am noticing a lot more collaborative projects and community engagement projects that really involve the people that they serve. And I think it’s so important that we are involving and working with our community because that truly drives the economy and also just really connects us. So, I am seeing a lot of collaborative projects that I didn’t necessarily see as much before.

What was your inspiration for your piece, Uncharted Territory, for the TITIS Command Performance?

Conceptually, a lot of the piece comes from my travels while I was in South Korea. I was able to venture out to several neighboring countries, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Japan. And I travelled alone to these countries which was very unusual and awkward at times, but still very enjoyable yet unfamiliar. So, I wanted to choreographically challenge myself with this new work by finding new ways to approach the movement. I tried to take a very experimental approach to creating the work. It is a duet with two men and I eventually want to make it a larger work for the company.

Why did you select Matthew Rushing and Claude Alexander III to be in the number?

Charles Santos has always liked the idea of connecting dancers from different companies such as Alvin Ailey and DBDT, which both have rich history and are very dynamic. So, Charles thought it would be great to have Matthew and then I decided on having Claude from DBDT. They are both dynamic dancers and have such beautiful artistry and sensibility when it comes to movement that I knew they would look great together. But unfortunately Matthew is injured so Kimara Wood of DBDT will go into his place. I think it’s going to be fantastic and I can’t wait!

Choreographers Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky have received a lot of heat recently for their responses to a question in a New York Times article asking them why most of the major choreographers in classical dance are male. As a female choreographer who has travelled around the world what are your thoughts on this imbalance? Where should the change begin?

First, we need to recognize and acknowledge that there is indeed a problem and that there is definitely a disproportion between women and men choreographers in terms of equal opportunities. There is a lack of presence of women, but we are doing the work and we definitely have women choreographers that are clearly capable and are just as technically capable as the men. In 2003 a college of mine, Princess Mhoon Cooper, and I created and designed a performance work as a response to that notion as a platform for women to present their work. And so, how do we solve the problem. I think the first initiative would be to come together and have dialogue to continue to talk about why there is an imbalance among women and men choreographers. I think we just have to support each other and lift each other up by using our platforms and our resources to empower one another.

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


Q&A: Jonathon Young, Electric Company Theatre

The ensemble of Betroffenheit. Photo: Wendy D Photography

The director of Electric Company Theatre on working with Choreographer Crystal Pite to explore the effects of PTSD in Kidd Pivot’s Betroffenheit, presented by  TITAS at Dallas City Performance Hall.


Dallas — Audiences are in for something different when TITAS presents two of Canada’s most groundbreaking performing arts companies, Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre, in a one-of-a-kind dance theatre experience this Thursday and Friday evening at Dallas City Performance Hall. The name of the work, Betroffenheit,is a German word that describes the shock or bewilderment that often follows in the wake of a violent or distressing event. In English it is loosely translated to mean “shock” or “a loss for words.” By combining text, design, story and dance, renowned choreographer Crystal Pite and Electric Company Theatre Artistic Director Jonathon Young hope to heighten the emotional state of their audiences as it pertains to the troubling aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The 120-minute work also features strobe-like effects, non-toxic theatrical haze, adult themes and coarse language.

Crystal Pite is a Canadian choreographer best known for her keen wit, brazen movement choices and theatrical flair. A former company member of Ballet British Columbia and William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, Pite made her choreographic debut in 1990, and since then has created more than 40 works for dance companies all around the globe, including Nederlands Dans Theatre, The National Ballet of Canada and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, to name a few. Pite is associate choreographer of Nederlands Dans Theatre I and Associate Dance Artist of Canada’s National Arts Centre. She was also appointed associate artist at Sadler’s Wells in London in 2013. Since 2002 her dance troupe, Kidd Pivot, has been racking up critical acclaim both nationally and internationally with its unique blending of classical and contemporary movements, breathtaking physicality and strong theatrical sensibility.

Jonathon Young is a Canadian actor best known for his role of Nikola Tesla on the SyFy show Sanctuary. His other acting credits include The Fog, Eureka and Stargate Atlantis. He is a graduate of the Studio 58 theatre school at Langara College and is a multiple Jessie Richardson Theatre Award Winner. Young is currently the artistic director of the Vancouver-based Electric Company Theatre, which he formed alongside fellow theatre school peers Kim Collier, David Hudgins and Kevin Kerr in 1996. What started out as a creative outlet for these young actors, directors and playwrights has quickly grown into one of Canada’s leading creators of live theatre. Over the last two decades Electric Company Theatre has created 21 original productions, including BetroffenheitTear the Curtain!, No Exit, Studies in Motion, Brilliant! and the feature film The Score. The Company has toured throughout Canada, to the U.S. and the U.K., and is also the co-founder of Progress Lab 1422, a 6,000-square-foot theatre creation space in Vancouver.

TheaterJones asks Jonathon Young about the evolving performing arts scene in Vancouver, coming up with the concept for Betroffenheit and bringing all the visual and technical elements together with the help of Crystal Pite.

Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian

TheaterJones: What does Betroffenheit mean? How did you come up with the concept for the production?

Jonathon Young: I found the word in a book called “Then We Act” by American Theatre Artist Anne Bogart. Betroffenheit is a German word that describes a state of being in the wake of a traumatic event.  In English we say “shock” or “speechless” or “being at a loss for words.” In Anne Bogart’s definition of the word she said it’s “a fertile and palpable silence….where language ceases and only the limits of language can be taken in.” So, on one level the word describes a tension between speech and action, which seemed perfect for a dance/theatre hybrid. Also, because there is no equivalent word in English, because it doesn’t translate, it seemed a very good title for a show about PTSD. It’s a big, mysterious word; bewildering and foreign, and that’s one of the troubling aspects of post-traumatic stress disorder: people who suffer from it feel “outside” life, they become cut off from others, it feels foreign and it’s very hard to describe to others what’s happening. I’ve never had it though, this is all from my research.

Can Dallas audiences expect to be taken on a more sensory or emotional journey during the production?

I would hope that the show would provide both a sensory and emotional experience for audience members. It is a personal and human story with thrilling technical elements.

All art forms struggle to find a balance between artistic expression and general accessibility. Do you think you and Pite found that balance in Betroffenheit? Can you give me a couple of examples?

Audiences who have seen the show so far seem to be “getting it” if that’s what you mean. It’s communicating a very specific story and yet, because it relies heavily on the more abstract expression of pure dance, there is plenty of room for interpretation. We’ve tried to stage the bewildering experience of PTSD, which involves something called “re-experiencing” (basically flashbacks that come without warning and seem very real). We’ve attempted to disorder the narrative structure in the same way that trauma can disorder reality. All this to say that there are some passages of Betroffenheit where an audience member who is expecting a very linear experience might feel lost or confused. But I suspect much of our audience is coming prepared to see a work of contemporary dance, and thus, isn’t going to be looking for a traditional scripted narrative.

Have you worked with Crystal Pite on previous projects? What makes her and her dancers such a good fit for this production?

I have worked with Crystal twice before. Electric Company hired her to do choreography for a play and a feature film that had dance sequences. This is the first time we’ve made something from scratch together. The Kidd Pivot dancers are not only rock star contemporary dancers, they’re also really good actors. I’m in awe of them all. I’d trust them with my life.

How did you and Pite go about blending the story, text, theatrics and movement in the show? Did you have any say when it came to Pite’s choreographic choices and vice versa?

Crystal and I just started talking. I sent her some writing that depicted a kind of dramatic zone disordered by an event in the past. She asked questions, responded with images, thought about design ideas and various characters, and then asked a bunch more questions. I would go away and write some more. Sometimes dialogue, sometimes stage directions that described specific action. We wanted to create a world where language and physicality were two essential halves of one whole. I started recording dialogues I’d written very early on and Crystal started using those recordings as a kind of music for the dancers to move to.  We worked together every step of the way to find the right balance between text, design, story and dance. She collaborated on all the writing and there is even one scene written by her. The choreography is all Crystal, but we talked endlessly about the overall shape and structure, the progression of events. It was probably the most thrilling and daunting collaborations of my career. The material is quite dark, but the process was often quite joyful.

The ensemble of Betroffenheit. Photo: Michael Slobodian

How would you describe the movement inBetroffenheit? Pedestrian? Modern-based? Athletic? Lyrical?

There’s contemporary dance, salsa, tap dancing, clown, soft shoe numbers, slapstick routines, puppetry… and then some straight up acting too.

What led you along with Kim Collier, David Hudgins and Kevin Kerr to form the Electric Company Theatre?

We got out of theatre school in Vancouver in the mid 90’s and had some very specific ideas about what we thought theatre could be, and I guess we felt like we weren’t seeing it being done anywhere, so we decided to do it ourselves. We were young and brimming with energy and ideas, and also the four of us had really different skill sets so together we were able to carve something out of nothing. I really learned to write from Kevin and David. Kim became a director by doing it. We just made it up as we went along. And I guess in many ways we still are.

How competitive is the performing arts scene in Vancouver today?

It’s a relatively small city, so there isn’t a whole bunch of opportunity for actors and directors and designers. A handful of companies to work for, and no real commercial scene to speak of, but there is a strong indie scene and the city still has that kind of DIY spirit that produces a really eclectic, smart, outlandish brand of theatre.

How has the performing arts scene in Vancouver evolved since starting Electric Company Theatre in 1996?

The city is constantly growing and changing. There’s many, many extraordinary artists living here working in visual arts and music and there’s a strong film and television industry. We have a thriving Shakespeare Festival, a fantastic annual performing arts Festival called PUSH that brings in shows from all over the world, and a great annual dance series called Dance House. It’s a cool place to live and produce work, but I also feel that it’s so important to leave, go elsewhere and see what other people are up to.

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

>> For more background on the evolution of dance theatre, check out Danielle Georgiou’s most recent Sixth Position column.


Q&A: Catherine Ellis Kirk, Abraham.In.Motion

Kyle Abraham dancer Catherine Ellis Kirk. Photo: Breton Tyner-Bryan
Kyle Abraham dancer Catherine Ellis Kirk. Photo: Breton Tyner-Bryan

The Dallas native on finding her stride as a concert dancer and performing with Kyle Abraham’s Abraham.In.Motion which comes to town this weekend on the TITAS season.

Dallas — As the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship as well as a 2010 Princess Grace and Bessie award for performance and choreography, it’s no wonder Kyle Abraham was recently dubbed the darling of the dance world by Dance magazine. Abraham started his training at the Civic Light Opera Academy and the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School. He holds a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase and an MFA from the New York University (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. His performing credits include David Dorfman Dance, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, The Kevin Wynn Collective, Nathan Trice/Rituals, Dance Alloy and Attack Theatre. For the last nine years his company Abraham.In.Motion has been captivating audiences across the U.S. and abroad with its provocative movement choices and strong social messages reflecting on current issues and attitudes.

Abraham’s raw approach to movement and eclectic dance background, which includes modern and hip-hop was a huge draw for Dallas native Catherine Ellis Kirk who joined his company two years ago. A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Kirk went on to earn her BFA in dance from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She has also studied with Movement Invention Project, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, the Gaga intensive in Tel Aviv and Springboard Danse Montreal, and has performed works by Fernando Melo, Ohad Naharin, Peter Chu, Andrea Miller, Robert Battle, Alex Ketley and Helen Simoneau. In addition to Abrham.In.Motion, Kirk also currently dances for Chihiro Shimizu and Artists and UNA Projects.

Kirk and Abraham.In.Motion will both make their Dallas debut Oct. 29-30 at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of TITAS’ 2015-16 season. The program includes Abraham’s The Quiet Dance (2011), The Gettin’ (2014) and the world premiere of Absent Matter with live music.

Catherine Ellis Kirk talks to TheaterJones about finding her artistic voice, Kyle Abraham’s creative process and her take on his new work Absent Matter.

TheaterJones.com: What initially drew you to concert dance?

Catherine Ellis Kirk: At Booker T. I took a lot of composition and improvisation classes so I knew pretty fresh off the gate that I wanted to join a modern company and be in New York if not Europe.

Why did you chose to attend New York University vs. pursuing a dance career after high school?

I never considered cutting off my education after high school. I have always loved dance, but I have also always craved more of an academic lifestyle. For my community of concert dancers it’s more of a conservation about whether you wanted to go to a university or conservatory. I tried a couple of conservatories, but I knew I needed something else aside from dance so I studied Political Science and Art History at New York University (NYU) as well. And looking back I definitely needed those three years of training at NYU to discover my voice in dance and how I wanted to move.

Can you give me some examples of individuals or classes that have helped you define your artistic voice?

Many of my “ah ha” moments came from being at Booker T. where I took composition classes with Kyle Richards and Lily Weiss as well as modern with Garfield Lemonius. While taking these classes I decided that I could put my life and my work and passion into these forms of dance, and going to NYU really seasoned that for me. I had so many amazing teachers at NYU, including Pamela Pietro, who taught me modern and composition my second and third year there.

What stood out to you the first time you saw Kyle Abraham perform?

The first time I saw Kyle dance was at Dance Space in New York where he performed an excerpt from one of his solos and I was immediately drawn to his unique movement style. He moves so organically and there’s a wide variety of techniques that he is influenced by such as house dancing, hip-hop, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. His movement is also very contemporary and looks very improv based, so it comes out of him very organically. There’s always an openness to his movement with lots of high arches and speed, but also just very human moments and almost a sense of acting that comes across very raw. I see all of this in Pavement, which I saw for the first time in fall 2013 right after superstorm Sandy hit. Pavement has a very direct purpose in that it talks about Kyle’s neighborhood growing up and that urban lifestyle in which race and economic classes play a pivotal role. Watching all these beautiful people dancing onstage together and having the same movement quality that Kyle does was really astonishing and I just fell in love with this work.

What is it like working in the studio with Abraham?

It’s super interesting! It is pretty improv based so he’ll start moving while someone films it and then gives us the tape and we’ll learn it from there. Other times he’ll do a catch what you can thing where he dances in front of us and we pick up what we can. He moves very fast and organically and habitually. It’s also nice to have us in the room because we all interpret the movement differently so we don’t use the same movement vocabulary over and over.

Do you and the other company members have similar dance backgrounds and training?

Our backgrounds are quite varied. I probably have the least technical training. I am much more composition and modern than balletic. There’s Tamisha Guy who went to SUNY Purchase College and is technically stunning with a background in ballet, pointe and modern. Penda N’Diaye went to NYU before I did and she also has a background in ballet and her and Guy both have beautiful lines. Connie Shiau also went to SUNY Purchase but she also trained in Gaga and works with Gallim Dance, which is just very wild, deep and grounded. The boys are also all very different. Jeremy Neal was a classical singer who started dancing in college, but had danced a lot in the club scene and house, which is very similar to Kyle’s journey. Matthew Baker went to the same college as Jeremy in Michigan, but he started out in gymnastics and then went into dance when he was younger to help him get more flexible. And then we have Vinson Fraley who is just stunning and started dancing when he was 16 at a competition studio so he is all legs and turns. Our careers and lives have taken us into different places, which kind of helps the variety, but it’s also nice because you look around the room and see different skin colors, heights and body types so the movement never gets too habitual or boring.

What is your interpretation of Abraham’s new work Absent Matter?

Absent Matter was actually choreographed before Kyle brought in the live music which includes songs by Kendrick Lamar and Kayne West. For the piece Kyle pulled a lot of inspiration from the Black Lives Matter campaign and also his feelings on cultural appropriation. Being in his late 30’s he has seen things that are just completely being lost in their origin. For example, cornrows which are just plaited hair that women in Africa wore to keep their hair out of the way is now being used on the fashion runways which is great, but it’s being renamed a French twist or French braid. That’s a lighter example, but it all goes back to cultural appropriation and Kyle feeling that as African-Americans we are losing our voice. So, there is definitely a nostalgia and a large sense of anger and riot in the work which feels much more present day than The Gettin’ which will come after. The Gettin’ feels more like a pre-riot gathering while Absent Matter feels more current to me with the Black Lives Matter Campaign and any culture aside from African American just getting lost or abused or not being recognized. Kyle’s very angry about that and it shows through this work.

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


Gayle Halperin: Nurturing Dance

Gayle Halperin’s latest endeavor opens new doors for the Dallas dance community. Literally.

BWDP rehearsing in the company's new space in the Dallas Design District. Photo: Sharon Bradford - The Dancing Image
BWDP rehearsing in its new space in the Dallas Design District. Photo: Sharon Bradford – The Dancing Image

Dallas – Bruce Wood Dance Project. TITAS. Dallas DanceFest. Dance Planet. These are just a few of the high profile dance organizations and events that Dallas arts patron Gayle Halperin has helped cultivate. Last year alone, Halperin steered the committee for the inaugural Dallas DanceFest while also continuing on with the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) fourth season after the loss of its founder a few weeks prior to the company’s June performance. Halperin’s drive and intuition when it comes to the needs of the local dance community led to her being featured in TheaterJones’ first Forward Thinker Series in December 2014. Halperin’s most recent contribution to the dance community not only gives BWDP a stable home, but also provides dance groups in the area with a more affordable option when looking for rehearsal and performance space.

“My dream has always been to have a rehearsal space that transforms into a minimal black box theater that can be used for small studio performances,” Halperin says. “I like a space that can only fit about 80 to 100 people and has minimal lighting and good sound, but without all the fancy trimmings.”

Halperin is turning this dream into a reality with the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery. Located at the corner of Howell St. and Levee St. in the Design District, the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery occupies approximately 6,000 square feet of the 12,000-square-foot white brick building. Right now BWDP is only using half of the space while the other half is being finished. The second space only became available for lease this past winter. Halperin says she hopes to have the company rehearsing in the second space, which is 400 feet bigger, by the end of the summer. BWDP’s current space features sprung flooring, high ceilings, a break area and plenty of natural light. “We ended up going with this location because it had high ceilings, no poles and didn’t need a lot of finishing up. We saw a lot of spaces, and it was quite difficult to find a space that only needed minimal repair. We were fortunate to find this corner property in the Design District.”

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

The process of finding a rehearsal space started more than a year ago, Halperin says, when Wood decided he wanted the company to start rehearsing during the day, Monday through Friday. “We always knew that if the company was going to go anywhere that it needed its own space. So, last year when Bruce announced that the company wasn’t going to rehearse in the evenings anymore I made that commitment to him to find a place for the company to rehearse.” She adds, “Bruce always said that’s how he worked when he had the Bruce Wood Dance Company. You have to work every day in order for the company to develop a cohesive style and to be challenged to become stronger.”

The company didn’t move into the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery till July 2014; one month after Wood’s passing. And even through Halperin’s name is on the lease she says the whole project has been a huge team effort. She credits BWDP’s Administrative Assistant Rebecca Butler for finding the space and board treasurer Danny Curry for masterminding the construction of the sprung flooring. “This was leap of faith, but Bruce made a huge impact on me so it’s all worth it.”

This article originally appeared in the Aug.-Oct. 2015 issue of DANCE! North Texas which is published by The Dance Council of North Texas.

Also check out the feature I did on BWDP Company Member Albert Drake who made his choreographic debut with Whispers in the company’s 5 Years performance in June.


Q&A: Adam Sklute, Ballet West

Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley
Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, performed by Ballet West. Photo: Luke Isley

Ballet West’s Artistic Director on participating in the reality series Breaking Pointe and what the company has in store for its first Dallas performance.

Dallas — As in any other industry, rising competition and the ever-changing economy have forced ballet companies across the nation to step outside the box when it comes to broadening their audience base and exposing more people to the art form. So when Ballet West’s Artistic Director Adam Sklute heard that BBC Worldwide Productions was looking for a ballet company to be the focus for a new reality series he jumped at the opportunity. After several interviews and screen tests Ballet West was chosen to star in the CW’s reality series Breaking Pointe, which premiered in 2012. Even though the show only lasted for two seasons, Ballet West is still feeling the impact with sold out shows and an expansive touring schedule.

The Salt Lake City-based company was formed in 1963 by Willam Christensen and is currently run by former Joffrey dancer Adam Sklute. At age 17 Sklute began training with the Oakland Ballet and San Francisco Ballet schools. He was one of the last two artists hand-picked by Robert Joffrey and spent 23 years with the Joffrey Ballet before joining Ballet West in 2007. During his time as a dancer Sklute got to perform leading roles in works by Gerald Arpino, Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Agnes DeMille and Robert Joffrey, to name a few. In addition to Breaking Pointe, Sklute’s other TV credits include The Joffrey Ballet’s Dance in America filmings of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Arpino’s production of Billboards as well as Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. In 2003 he assisted with and appeared in Robert Altman’s The Company and in 2012 appeared in The Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of Dance, a documentary chronicling the history of The Joffrey Ballet.

Since joining Ballet West Sklute has expanded the company repertoire and visibility through numerous world premieres, increased touring and greater focus on the Ballet West Academy. Over the last eight years Ballet West has presented more than 55 world/Utah premieres. The company has performed works by historical choreographers, including Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine and Michel Fokine as well as contemporary masters such as Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp. Sklute also oversees Ballet West’s Academy and is a guest teacher and coach for dance programs and workshops around the world.

Dallas audiences will get to see Ballet West in all its classical glory when they come to the Winspear Opera House May 29-30, closing TITAS’ 2014-15 season. The company’s diverse program will include George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) by William Forsythe and Jodie Gates’ Mercurial Landscapes (2013).

TheaterJones asks Adam Sklute about the changes he has made to Ballet West, bringing dance to larger audiences through reality T.V. and some of his fond memories working with Robert Joffrey.

TheaterJones: You have such a long rich history with the Joffrey Ballet. What convinced you to move to Salt Lake City and join Ballet West?

Adam Sklute: I had been with the Joffrey Ballet for 23 years starting as a dancer and eventually moving to the position of associate director. The company was going through a transition in 2006-07 where one of the founders, Gerald Arpino, was moving to the position of emeritus and they were going to do an international search for a new artistic director. I was told I would be in the running and I was very interested in the position, but I was also curious to see my market value would be outside of Joffrey. So, when I received a request to apply for Ballet West I thought this was the perfect opportunity to find out my market value. I went through the interview process and was asked to fly out to meet and work with the dancers and the staff, and while I was there I feel in love with the city and the company. I just thought that this was a place where I could really make a difference and I could be really happy living. In that moment my whole perspective changed and I knew it was time for a change and I have never regretted it.

Looking back over the last eight years are you satisfied with what you have been able to accomplish with the company?

Going in I knew I was joining a company that had a great legacy and history itself. I mean it was founded by one of the pioneers of American dance, Willam Christensen, and following him as artistic director was Bruce Marks, Sir John Hart from the Royal Ballet and Swedish dancer Jonas Kåge. And all of them had brought a unique and individual stamp to the company. I am a perpetual student so I enjoyed learning and understanding the company that I was going to be a part of and was going to lead artistically.

I set some very strong goals about what I wanted to do in terms of repertoire and expansion and I worked very hard to get them moved forward. On the other hand, you have to kind of move with the tide. I mean things would happen. Opportunities would come up and changes would occur. My goodness the economy fell out from beneath us just as I was hired. The best laid plans are always there to be modified and changed. What I would like to attempt to be is very much a forward thinker and an intense planner for the future, but then be able to move with the tide and go where its obvious things are happening. With that said I have been very proud of the accomplishments of Ballet West over the last eight years and yes, not a little surprised about some of it, and then also quite gratified.

How does Ballet West’s classical style differ from other ballet companies in the U.S.?

I like to use a poetic phrase to explain our dancers, which is they are as tall and dramatic as the Rocky Mountain region that we represent. What I mean by that is first of all I love long-limbed dancers and very linear kind of looks. What people are going to see is that very lengthy and expansive type of movement that comes from these long-limbed dancers. And even the shorter dancers have that same sort of length and expansion because that’s how we move and it’s how we dance. But on top of that we have a great deal of intensity and theatricality and the dancers understand who they are on the stage. They have a stage presence and the knowledge of how to captivate an audience. So, I think what’s special about us is that we are once a very linear company, but we are also a theatrical company and all that mixed together I think creates a very beautiful and unique look and style.

Do the three pieces on the program, Divertimento No. 15 (1956), In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated (1987) and Mercurial Landscapes (2013), clearly capture the company’s versatility and unique style?

In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling
In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated performed by Ballet West. Photo: Erik Ostling

Absolutely, and I have to say Charles Santos was a big part of the decision making process for the programming because he really knows his Dallas audience and he also wanted to represent us in our best light. And I appreciated that tremendously. So yes, the program does show off so many of the facets of what we have done and in a number of ways what I have done since I have been here with Ballet West.

How did you get involved with the reality series Breaking Pointe?

How it came together was BBC Worldwide Productions had been experimenting and shopping around this idea for a reality Television show all about ballet for several years. They had gone to a lot of companies that were bigger than ours who either said no they didn’t want to do it or said yes, but in the end they couldn’t work it out with all their company members and union rules. We were on a long list of companies that they were interviewing and they also wanted us to do a screen test where they would come and spend a week with us filming as many classes, rehearsals, meetings and social gatherings as possible. And also interview all of the dancers interested in being part of the show. We did that and they put together a promo for our company and shopped it around to the networks and the CW picked it up. Now, we were very specific about contracts and time such as when they could film us and when they couldn’t. Each individual had control over what they were allowing people to film and what not to. For instance, I said I was not going to have any cameras in my home. With that said, yes, what you are seeing is the real us and yes, every single situation that happened was real. What you have to remember is that how it is presented on the screen had a lot to do with how pieces were edited together.

When it came to the dance scenes in the show did you have a hand in the editing process?

So, what I was able to do was say “you can film this, but you can’t film that.” I wasn’t there in the editing room so I had to trust BBC a great deal. BBC told me they had two members of the Royal Ballet who would be viewing all of dance scenes in the editing process and would not let any less than desirable dancing go onto the screen. The thing that I can say is for a myriad of reasons we never had as much dancing in there as I wanted. A lot of that had to do with the various trusts and foundations for the choreography that we worked with who either did not want that much of it shown or who were charging a lot of money for that shot. And that also went for the music that we used in the show.

Are you happy with the way you and the company were portrayed on the show?

All of the drama and everything else aside, what I know is that every clip of the dancing came out good. Ultimately, the company showed itself well as a group of dancers and we showed the world the highest caliber of dancing. So, even if the show was based more on the drama stuff what was always there was the quality of the dancing. And I know it sounds cliché, but we also had loftier aspirations than just what the show could do for Ballet West. We felt like we were doing something for the world of dance and for ballet in general. We did not do this show for the thousands of people that know and love ballet. We did this show for the millions of people who know nothing about ballet.

Can you talk about some of your favorite moments working with Robert Joffrey?

By the age of 19 I was a professional dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. I was in class one day when Robert Joffrey showed up and invited me to one of his personal workshops in San Antonio, Texas. He said I needed to go to this and work with him personally. He would give these three hour technique classes and they were the most amazing things I have ever experienced in my life. I had never met anyone who was so meticulous, so detailed orientated and yet so inspiring. I never felt like the details were bogging me down. He hired me after very little study.

Robert Joffrey also had a quirky sense of humor. When he hired me he said to me “Adam, I am going to hire you for my company against my better judgment.” And I said OK what does that mean and he said that “you are smart so I know you are going to succeed. Now you just have to learn how to dance.” He knew that’s how I needed to be spoken too. I am not one for a lot of ego stroking. I respond better to a challenge. And he was right. I had the right proportions for ballet and could do the movements, but it didn’t look like anything because I had no sense of technique. And I spent my entire dance career learning and understanding technique. Like how to stand in fifth position and how to create lines. But Robert Joffrey saw that in me and that was a huge inspiration for me.

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


Q&A: David Parsons, Parsons Dance

UGH! I am behind in posting some articles here. Parsons Dance was in town last weekend and they were simply amazing. You can find out more about the man behind the company, David Parsons, below. Even over the phone the man has a commanding presence.

David Parsons. Photo: Lois Greenfield
David Parsons. Photo: Lois Greenfield

The contemporary choreographer on his inspirations, his famous solo Caught, and performing for TITAS.

Dallas — David Parsons is no stranger to Dallas. In fact, his solo work Caught which uses strobe lights to create the illusion that the dancer is flying has been featured at the annual TITAS Command Performance twice in the last five years. It’s one of those pieces you never get tired of seeing which is great since it will be making its third appearance in Dallas this weekend as TITAS presents Parsons Dance at the Winspear Opera House. This company is known for its physical and visual prowess so you definitely don’t want to miss them.

Raised in Kansas City, Parsons moved to New York City at 17 to begin his dancing career. He joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1978 where he danced many leading roles in works such as Arden Court, Last Look andRoses. Parsons has also appeared as a guest artist with the Berlin Opera, MOMIX, New York City Ballet and the White Oak Dance Project. He founded Parsons Dance in 1985 with lighting designer Howell Binkley who went on to win a Tony Award for best lighting design of a musical for Jersey Boys in 2006. Parsons and Binkley are currently working on a new project together which they will premiere in Kansas City this June.

Over the last three decades Parsons Dance has toured 30 countries and five continents and has performed in world class venues, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Maison de la Danse, Teatro La Fenice and Teatro Muncipal. His works have also been performed by Batsheva Dance Company of Irsael, Hubbard Street Dance Company, Nederlands Dans Theatre and Paris Opera Ballet just to name a few. Parsons is also a recipient of the 2000 Dance Magazine Award, the 2001 American Choreography Award and the 2011 Dance Master of America Award.

Parsons Dance will be in Dallas at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 25 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House. The evening’s program includes Parsons’ Caught(1982) Bachiana (1993) and Whirlaway (2014) as well as pieces by Robert Battle, Trey McIntyre and Natalie Lomonte.

TheaterJones asks David Parsons about breaking into the world of contempororay dance, developing his choreographic voice and the creative process for his phenomenal work, Caught.

TheaterJones: How did you enter the realm of contemporary dance?

David Parsons: I started out as a gymnast and I specialized in trampoline. So you can see where Caughtcomes from. Basically my mom didn’t know what to do with me during the summer so she would put me in arts camp and that’s where I was introduced to contemporary dance. In my mind it was incredibly challenging because dance isn’t just about moving around. It’s colors, lights, choreography, costumes and business, and it was a huge revelation for me. Then I started learning technique and you find freedom in technique. I then saw the Paul Taylor Dance Company and I knew I wanted to be in that company. I actually went to New York because I received a scholarship from Alvin Ailey, but once I got into Paul’s studio and he said I could hang around and understudy I knew I wasn’t going to leave.

What did you discover about your artistic self while dancing with Paul Taylor?

Paul Taylor is a genius and he was a great teacher for me. His work is so profound and I was totally attracted to the physicality of his work. I mean that is dance and we do the same thing at Parsons. You can’t come into this company and not be able to do a mild sprint I can assure you. It was probably a year after I joined Paul’s company that I knew I wanted to be a choreographer. I had done trampoline routines and other choreographic ventures, but I knew I needed to learn about music and lighting design and so I studied Paul like a sponge. I would study the tools and structures he used in his choreography as well as his business model. The experience turned out to be Taylor University for me.

The Dallas program includes Caught (1982), Bachiana (1993) and Whirlaway (2014). Looking back at what point would you say you found your choreographic voice and how does your work reflect this?

I really found my voice when I made three pieces within two years. They were Caught; The Envelope, set to Rossini, which was a comedy; and Brothers, which was done to Stravinsky and looked at sibling rivalry. Those three pieces kind of set the pace for me because they were all so different. I am somebody who pushes to have a huge variety in my program. Brevity is important too. But for me it was really about making the audience feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster. Meaning that we would do humorous and dark works all in one evening. So it’s like your day. You wake up and throughout the day you’ll laugh or maybe cry or be sad. We really like to take the audience through an emotional, visual and physical roller coaster. We also communicate well with the audience. I like to touch things that we’ve all experienced like The Envelope for instance. It’s about an envelope and the performers just can’t get rid of it. It keeps coming back on stage. Then there’s Sleep Study which is done with only the movement of sleeping and then Caught which connects you with flying and that inner dream that we all have. Then there’s just beautiful pieces like Whirlaway which connects you to New Orleans. It takes you on an actual trip somewhere.

Caught is always a crowd pleaser wherever you go. Can you talk me through the process you went through to put this work together?

I created the solo at a very young age. When I first came to New York at age 17 I worked a lot of odd jobs including being a stunt model. And on these jobs I worked a lot with photography and that’s how I found out that Caught could be done. That there was a way for me to connect with people’s primitive need to fly. We all dream of flying and that’s the connection I was interested in. Again, when I make dances I’m interested in touching everybody in personal way. I look for those things that we all have in common. So, once I understood that I could catch myself in the air on a dark stage and take the same shape and move it around it’s really like looking at a live photo shoot all, of course, hovering over the ground. It really was just trial and error and fun to put together this journey of a man who starts in a room in conventional lightening preparing himself to fly and then he takes flight. This is a little contemporary gem that people love to see over and over again with different casts, sometimes it’s a woman, and it’s quite an astounding piece.

Eric Bourne in David Parsons' Caught. Photo: Angelo Redaelli
Eric Bourne in David Parsons’ Caught. Photo: Angelo Redaelli

From the get-go did you know you wanted to use strobe lights?

Yes, the whole piece was wrapped around me finding the idea of working with a strobe light like that. Some people say it’s a gimmick, but I say it’s a darn good one.

Do you have to adjust the timing of the strobe lights or the dancer based on the size of the venue you are using?

Yes, depending on the size of the stage the dancer does have to change his timing. I mean this is millisecond timing we are talking about here. We also do this piece outside and sometimes there is extraneous light like there was in Rome and I went around and put garbage bags over every lamp on this pedestrian walkway. In this instance you have to flash the strobe lights a little bit faster when there is ambient light so that the audience can’t see the dancer moving in between shots. On a totally dark stage we don’t have that problem. So, there are a lot of things we have to do for an outdoor venue compared to indoor venue compared to a small stage or an Opera house. It’s all constantly changing.

You and your lighting director, Howell Binkley, have known each other for more than 30 years. How did you two meet?

Howell was brought in as the lighting supervisor for Paul Taylor so we toured together and became buddies. And one time when we were sitting on a bench in France I told him I was thinking about starting a company once we got back to New York and he said he was right there with me. Now he is one of the major lighting designers on the planet. He did the lighting design for Jersey Boys and [Lin-Manuel Miranda’s] Hamilton. We are currently working on a piece that will premiere in Kansas City at the [Kauffman Center] this June.


Q&A: Choreographer Ronald K. Brown

Photo: Ayodele Casel
Photo: Ayodele Casel

Choreographer Ronald K. Brown on 30 years of making dance stories, traveling to the birthplace of West African dance and his company’s upcoming performance for TITAS at AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Dallas — Ronald K. Brown doesn’t just make dances; he makes dance stories. Using a combination of contemporary and African dance styles, including Afro-Cuban and spiritual movement, Brown creates work that provides a unique view of human struggles, tragedies and triumphs. His choice of music, literature and spoken word reinforces these themes and helps acquaint audiences with the beauty of African forms and rhythms. This kind of physical storytelling along with Brown’s humility and emotional depth is why he is considered one of today’s leading contemporary choreographers.

A Brooklyn native, Brown began studying dance at a Police Athletic League summer program at age 6. His dream was to train with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, but in high school he changed his focus to creative writing and journalism. After spending the summer before college dancing, Brown realized his true calling and resumed his dance training. Brown has studied a variety of dance techniques, including Graham, ballet, traditional West African dance and Brazilian capoeira. At 16 he began studying at Mary Anthony dance studio in Manhattan, and two years later founded Evidence, which is named after the first dance he choreographed in 1985.

Entering its 30th season, Ronald K. Brown/EvidenceDance Company has traveled across the U.S. and abroad, including Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal, to name a few. In 2010 the company joined the U.S. State Department’s DanceMotion USA tour to perform, teach and conduct demonstrations. In addition to Evidence, Brown has also set works on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Cleo Parker Robinson Ensemble, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Jennifer Muller/The Works, Philadanco, Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago and more. He has collaborated with such artists as composer/designer Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, the late writer Craig G. Harris, director Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theater and composers Robert Een, Oliver Lake, Bernadette Speech, David Simons and Don Meissner. His other accolades include the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Choreographers Fellowship, New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, United States Artists Fellowship and The Ailey Apex Award for teaching.

Evidence will be performing at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas on Jan. 17. The program includes Brown’s Come Ye (2002) and On Earth Together (2011). Using music by Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, Come Ye is a call to all those willing to fight for their lives with the ultimate goal being peace. In On Earth Together Brown uses music by Stevie Wonder to reinforce this idea of a loving and compassionate place to celebrate a world view.

TheaterJones asks Ronald K. Brown about his travels to West Africa, incorporating his writing lessons into the choreographic process and the life experiences that ultimately led to the creation of the two works his company will be showing in Dallas, Come Ye and On Earth Together.

TheaterJones: Critics are always quick to comment on your poignant storytelling. How did you uncover this ability?

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

Ronald K. Brown: What’s interesting is that I had all these false starts with my interest and love for dance. I remember at 12 heading to an audition at the Dance Theatre of Harlem when my Mom went into labor with my little brother. I decided then to forget about dance and focus on being a big brother and a writer. So, I went to the Arts Center in Lower Manhattan where I studied creative writing and journalism with the intent of making this my career. It wasn’t long after that when I bit the bullet and realized I did want to dance and I wanted to have a company. I knew I wanted the work to be about something. A kind of physical storytelling in a way. So, when I am creating something I write a lot and I share that with the dancers to help them embody the words of the story. It’s not about acting it out or pantomime. It’s about capturing the true essence of what the story is.

How does your creative writing background aid you in your choreographic process?

I usually come into the studio with ideas and music, but no steps and am improvising while the dancers follow me around. So I build a phrase, which is just like writing a sentence, and from there I build paragraphs and organize it so that they make sense. So the structure of the work is similar to that of writing a story. Writing also makes me conscious of what is and isn’t necessary in the work. Even with that said editing a piece is still very hard. I remember in the early 90’s I was as physical as I could be in my dancing. And then I starting playing with gestures and getting a little more introverted with some of my work. In 1994 everything started to come together in terms of dealing with the physicality and gesturing of my movement.

In the early ’80s was physical storytelling a new concept to dancers and choreographers?

Trisha Brown was really popular in the 80s. The downtown dance world was really about the Alexander technique and about finding the facility in your body absent of emotion. In the history of dance everyone is trying to learn from the generations before, but I think with traditional modern dance a lot of us teachers were then having hip replacements and wanted to develop a teaching and way of moving that really takes care of the body. So, for a young black man from Brooklyn creating movement that was absent of emotion and story just wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Even though I was working downtown I was still trying to say something with it. I am also in the mindset of not harming the dancers’ bodies. There is nothing aloof about our dancing. An example is Doug Varone and his company. I am drawn to the fire of the company’s dancing and the overall physicality of it.

Can you tell me what was going on in your life during the creation of Come Ye (2002) and On Earth Together(2011) and how it impacted the work?

Our country had just gone into Afghanistan when I started working on Come Ye. And it got me thinking about the men and women willing to risk their lives for us and I am just so thankful for them. I was really aware of all the young people going over there. While my company was touring I remember seeing these young people in uniform sitting and playing on their portable video games and my heart felt so heavy. That stayed with me and one day while I was on my hands and knees cleaning my apartment this song by Nina Simone came on. And I had figured that I would do something to her music at some point. It was Come Ye, and in the song it says everyone who is dedicated to fighting for your life, it’s time to learn how to pray. And I realized that is how I feel. This song is over 30 years old, so what happened to all of the lessons we were taught by the revolutionaries who believed that in the time of war that the destination is still peace? The piece began to unfold as I thought about all the unrest in the world and how we try to deal with it. It starts with Simone’s Come Ye and goes into her Sunday in Savannah, Revolution and ends with a song by Fela Anikulapo Kuti nicknamed Amen. He wrote this song after his mother was thrown out of a window because he had spoken out against the government in Nigeria. So, the song speaks of this tragedy and yet is so full of prayer. In the last three minutes of the piece you see images of Gandhi, Bob Marley and all these people who are about liberation while the dancers on stage are trying to embody their warrior nature.

In On Earth Together there is a song in the third section called They Won’t Go When I Go, which is the same song I used for a solo I did back in 1987. My mom passed on in 1996 and my dear friend Dr. Johnson passed on in 2010 and so this section is really about legacy. There’s a moment when everyone’s on stage and one person walks around to check on a few people who are just standing there. I had to give notes to this person and I was so overcome with emotion that I had to walk out of the room.

How do you encourage your dancers to get to such a vulnerable place?

During the rehearsal process I do use different exercises and techniques to help them embrace the essence of the work. Sometimes we watch a movie or share written literature. So, the dancers do have to do a certain amount of homework in addition to learning movement. Another example is when I am trying to have them embody fear I will just scream as loud as I can so they can experience a natural reaction. I also look for dancers who have a simplicity in their performance and presentation. How do they deliver the material in an audition or in a class? There has to be a humility and an openness to their dancing.

You have traveled all over the world experiencing different dance cultures. What dance styles did you encounter?

When I traveled to West Africa in 1995 I think my exposure to traditional, social, contemporary and spiritual dancing helped me understand where I stood in this continuum of contemporary dance. Before that I think I was nervous about using traditional dance steps. I would deconstruct the rhythm or play with the technique but realized I wanted to do something else. And when I started working there I was told that when you touch African dance it automatically becomes something else. A similar thing happened when I went to Cuba for the first time in 2001. I was exposed to traditional and social dances that really broadened my vocabulary and my eye. There is this one style I encountered in Senegal called sabar that makes sense to my body, but then Afro-Cuban also feels really good on my body. And I incorporate all these techniques into my movement vocabulary.

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


Gayle Halperin: Dance Maven

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

After launching the Dallas DanceFest and positioning Bruce Wood Dance Project for its future following Wood’s death, Gayle Halperin is a major force in the dance scene’s growth.

When Gayle Halperin comes up with an idea that could benefit the Dallas dance scene, it is full steam ahead, regardless of the budgetary and timeline pressures associated with producing a large event such as the new Dallas DanceFest, or the personal challenges that can arise from continuing the legacy of the Bruce Wood Dance Project after the passing of choreographer Bruce Wood last May. While Halperin is quick to credit her “village of supporters, patrons and passionate dance lovers, it is clear that she is nonetheless an invaluable part of the local dance community, with her arts organization knowledge, list of contacts and passion for the dance art form.

Halperin’s intuitive sense of the community’s needs are why so many of the programs she has championed over the last couple of years have met with such success. “Looking back, my first project was Dance Planet and expanding exposure of dance at the community level—bringing all styles together at one venue. Then TITAS made living in Dallas manageable for me by bringing in nationally and internationally acclaimed dance companies. Then, I kept taking on more and more roles at the Dance Council of North Texas.”

Most recently Halperin steered the committee within The Dance Council of North Texas to create the Dallas DanceFest that took place in August at the Dallas City Performance Hall. With the number of artists living and working in the area growing and the exquisite Arts District at their disposal, Halperin saw a unique opportunity and pounced on it. “I was blown away and overwhelmed with the whole event. Each day was an amazing experience—shows had such a great variety of high caliber dance—all the dance companies were at the top of their game. Each show was inspiring and as excellent as the one before. The audiences embraced the variety and were enthusiastic.”

Halperin also has close ties with the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) since it was she who approached Wood about restarting the group and moving it to Dallas in 2011. After Wood died unexpectedly in May, some in the arts community questioned whether the company could sustain itself.  Thanks to Halperin’s and the other board members’ quick thinking the BWDP’s September performance went on as planned. “I was following my instinct. He taught me so much about courage, drive, passion, responsibility, work, and more. I could feel it in my bones that B. would want us to keep going. It’s been not easy going forward without him. Not easy at all. But as artists we know how to be flexible, how to problem solve, and so we continue. Bruce lives on through his choreography, aesthetic, teaching, and dancers. Continuing onward is the best way to celebrate his life.”

Halperin’s ultimate legacy may be succeeding in her goal of making Dallas a “dance destination” in the same vein as New York, Los Angeles, Miami or Chicago. The development of new local performance opportunities, and paying jobs, through projects and events such as those Halperin has helped spearhead are going a long way in helping artists make Dallas home rather than just another stop on a performance tour.

The 2015 Dallas DanceFest is scheduled for Sept. 4-6, 2015 (check the website for info about submitting an application); and the Bruce Wood Dance Project is rehearsing for its next performance at Dallas City Performance Hall. Also, a photography exhibit chronicling Bruce Wood and his work runs Jan. 10-Feb. 15 at the Arlington Museum of Art.

This profile was originally published on TheaterJones.com.


Q&A: Choreographer Brian Brooks

Photo: Erin Baiano
Photo: Erin Baiano

Choreographer Brian Brooks on his movement language, penchant for speed and the Dallas debut of his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, presented by TITAS.

Dallas — Many successful choreographers’ careers have started with a simple question. For Brian Brooks it was how to convey the emotions and experiences of running a marathon through the use of movement. By investigating the elements of running such as pace, duration and the feelings of inspiration and achievement commonly associated with the activity, Brooks has created a movement language that is fast-paced, compelling and uniquely human.

Originally from Hingham, Mass., Brooks moved to New York City in 1994. He started his dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Company, in 2002, which has performed in venues throughout the United States, South Korea and Europe. While this is the company’s first time in Dallas (presented by TITAS), it is not their first show in Texas. The company has performed in Austin and San Antonio during previous seasons. The company has also enjoyed repeat engagements at Dance Theater Workshop, Wesleyan University, North Carolina State University, SUMMERDANCE Santa Barbara and Alfred University.

As a dancer Brooks has performed with choreographers Eun-Me Ahn, Christopher Williams and Elizabeth Streb for whom he has also worked as a rehearsal coach and technique instructor. His most recent honor was an award from the National Dance Project supporting the development and performance tour of his work, BIG CITY (2012). Brooks has been on the Dance Department faculty of both Princeton University and Rutgers University-Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has also been an Adjunct Associate Professor of Dance at Barnard College of Columbia University and a guest artist at the University of Maryland, Illinois State University and Rutgers University, among others.

TheaterJones asks Brian Brooks about his distinct movement style, the creation of his signature solo, I’m Going To Explode, and the diverse program he has put together for his company’s first appearance in Dallas. The Brian Brooks Moving Company makes it Dallas debut Nov. 21-22 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, part of TITAS’ 2014-15 season.

TheaterJones: How are you feeling about your company’s Dallas debut this weekend?

Brian Brooks: I am really excited to bring our show to Dallas. We have performed in San Antonio and Austin. Not exactly Dallas, but my artistic work in Texas has started growing and I can’t wait to present to audiences here in town. I have a group of eight dancers that I am bringing with me and two of them are actually Booker T. Washington HSPVA alums. I have these two performing in some of my newest dance works so it will be a nice homecoming for them.

What would you say distinguishes your work from other New York-based contemporary choreographers?

One of the things I am distinctly known for in contemporary dance circles is speed. We have five different pieces on the program and they are some of my favorites. Two are newer pieces, but most of them have been performed at different venues around the country.  I think the variety and the breadth of the works in this collection is exciting and one of the things that stands out is my penchant for fast-paced movement. Three of the works are larger company works and I make very complex partnering sequences in them. The dancers’ joke that they can’t rehearse any of the material without everyone in the company there because they rely so heavily on interacting, touching, grabbing, catching, pushing, pulling into all the other company members several times a second. Without all the bodies there you can’t really practice the material. So, there’s an intricacy in my group work and a speed to it that is very distinct. I am also very interested in trying to expose effort in dance. So, rather than mask it I created an aesthetic that really pronounces the effort. I think it brings the effort and the intent of all the performers to your focus.

Do these qualities reflect your own personality?

I think I’m a fast-moving kind of guy. I like to have many projects, like many of us do, going on at one time. I also like being very active. You know, I struggled for years in both my classical and modern dance training with the question of what dance really means. For me, part of it is just my personality and I think the show represents the many different aspects of my interests and my being. I have also dedicated my life to creating dances that I find compelling and the things that keep my attention often are moving very quickly. So, I create work that moves at rapid fire speed to keep your attention and to move through movement at a pace that is similar to the wings of a hummingbird or the speed of an Amtrak train. It’s like the poetics of movement I suppose. Part of it is who I am, but a lot of it is also trying to craft movement situations that are compelling within themselves and then it provides meaning from that. There’s a lot of metaphors in my work. There’s a lot of visual imagery. It’s not story driven, but it definitely is interpersonal. It’s about community and the kinetic and physical relationships that we experience all the time.

Your solo, I’m Going To Explode, has been a signature piece in your repertoire for many years. What makes the work so appealing to mass audiences?

I do occasionally call it my signature solo because I have had it now for seven years. This is the longest I have done a piece so far and I am the only one who has performed it. I actually made it in this tiny little space in New York. This was just a really introspective, creative period for me. I usually focus my attention on my company so, it was unusual for me to focus my time on a solo. It was a turning point for me as a choreographer and over the last seven years it has become a work that people automatically associate with me.

I had a costume designer that I have worked with before create the suit that I wear. Like most of my pieces I started with the choreography and then went back and read the piece. Once I grasped the physics and physicality of what’s going on than I constructed these movement sequences that resemble a tidal wave of motion. Then I match the movement with different music and find ways to heighten the different themes that are coming through. Regarding the solo, it is quite convulsive and violent and then I paired with a song that is hilarious. The contrast of those two things together lightened the piece and made it really self-aware and tongue in cheek. And I feel the suit really humanized the work.

You have been performing your solo for seven years. How has time affected the way you perform the piece?

I like aging. Every time I perform the solo it’s like revisiting this physical practice that is similar to going to yoga. I am still doing the same positions and the same breathing pattern, but through this process I can reflect on what has changed in my body over the years. And the more time passes the more interesting that piece becomes to me. I have had offers from people who want to buy it, but I am not ready to give it to anyone just yet. I still have a lot of mileage left.

How do you balance your role as choreographer and performer?

A lot has changed within the last three years of my career. I am working full time as a choreographer now and touring most of the year. That change has been really astounding to me. But this is the time that I have also been having more trouble being in the work and making the work. So, in this show I perform two pieces. One is my solo and the other is the duet excerpt from my work Motor. I am very dedicated to performing. Doing something very deep and personal like my solo and having that be a work that people are interested in seeing is really reaffirming to me. It made me realize where to keep my focus when making new work.

Tell me about the newer works in the program, Division and Torrent?

You will be some of the first audiences to see these new works and I am very excited about presenting them. These pieces came out of intense work with the dancers over a period of months where we felt like we discovered a movement language. The form you will see in my pieces pulls a lot of influences together. You might see hints of line, shape, form and interaction that may remind you of other choreographers, but they kind of come-and-go and get bent as they need to be. Intricacy and partnerships are at the fore-front of these pieces. The teamwork is unbelievable. I have a nice group of dances right now and it’s special to watch them getting better at working together.

Division and Torrent share some similarities such as the way I make groups dependent on one another. So, the construction of the group works follow that co-dependency and cause and effect mentality. There’s also no traditional gender spilt in my work. In a lot of these pieces I have the women partnering the women and the men partnering the men so the action shifts your understanding of the relationship.

Torrent is to Max Richter’s recomposed score of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. You can’t recognize the Four Seasons in the piece. He used it as source material and literally cut it all up and selected which parts he wanted to use. So, the phrases and melodies are cut down and used very intelligently. It’s for the eight dancers in the company and it closes the show. It’s very fluid and momentous. It really sweeps you away. Division has an original score by Jerome Begin that is very different from Torrent. It’s not melodic at all. He’s taken the sound recording of the movement in the dance and has added in keys and chords. He has really orchestrated physical action. I feel that the variety in the program allows you to keep looking at things differently as the evening goes.

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