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Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series

Below the Surface

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance reaches new artistic depths in Sidra Bell’s new work Nervosa, part of the company’s Spring Series in Addison this weekend.

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance rehearsing Nervosa. Photo: Courtesy of DCCD

Addison — With only flesh-toned G-strings and dance belts covering their lower halves, one by one the dancers run into the space and execute an upper spinal curve that accentuates the muscular lines of their chests, thighs and glutes before being pulled off stage by some invisible force. This back and forth continues until, suddenly, all the dancers run on and form a circle in the right, upstage corner. Standing shoulder to shoulder the dancers remain motionless except for the heavy rise and fall of their bare chests and their eyes, which are actively searching the space.

This is just a taste of what New York-based Choreographer Sidra Bell has in store for Dallas audiences in her new work Nervosa, which premieres at Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series this weekend.

Bell is one of the hottest names in the dance world right now thanks to her unique style, which explores bodily forms through the modular lenses of flesh, bones, nerves, memory, site and history, according to her Web site. Her knowledge of visual art also plays an important role in her creative process. Bell’s work has been seen throughout the U.S. and abroad, including Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Slovenia, China, Canada, Korea and Brazil. Her company, Sidra Bell Dance New York, has rapidly garnered an international profile for work that reveals aspects of the human condition through a distinctly female lens.

After watching a run-through of Nervosa in February at Preston Center Dance, Bell sat down to talk with the small audience that was there about her creative process for this piece and answer any questions we might have for her.

Bell starts off by telling us that Nervosa is about making you and making me in two parts and is housed within a much longer work that her company is currently working on that focuses on the nervous system and how it affects the way a person feels and moves. “The piece is about relationships and what it means to really feel someone,” Bell says. “It’s also about what makes the nervous system tick and sensing the people around us with our eyeballs and skin.”

This statement definitely brings more clarity to that moment where the mostly nude dancers are standing in a circle watching one another as well as the following duet where Eric Lobenberg slowly walks around the space with Victoria Daylor draped over his shoulder. This is an extremely raw and tender moment between the couple, which thankfully isn’t diminished by their nudity; something Bell was hyper aware of when she made the decision for the dancers to be mostly nude for this part of the dance. (Note: The dancers wear black and gray long sleeved-unitards for most of the work)

“It was a late decision,” Bell says about the nudity. “It was made in an effort to export more of the human experience. The nudity in the duet feels natural and more innocent and does not conjure violence. It also brings attention to the lines of the body.”

“She made the decision with 30 minutes left to the end of our rehearsal the day before the preview,” Daylor says. So, we did it again with nudity and it just completed the work.”

Regarding the nudity in the duet Daylor says, “When Eric is holding me it feels comfortable. I feel close to him. His body feels like a layer of clothes against my back. I actually feel more vulnerable in the first part of the duet where we are not touching and the wind on my skin reminds me of my nudity.”

And as for working with Bell, Daylor says it was a wonderful experience and she was pleasantly surprised with how much personalized time Bell gave to them. “She gave us very individual things to work on that were not just about the choreography, but also things to help further our dancing going forward.”

Daylor uses her solo at the beginning of the dance as an example. After the group disperses, Daylor starts walking around the space and stops occasionally to contract her chest, which then ripples down into her hips and legs. Her movements remain fluid and evenly paced even when Nick Heffelfinger enters and begins convulsing on the ground.

“She gave me advice on things to do with my focus. She told me to think about the muscularity of my eyes and how deep set they are in my face. She also wanted me to be seeing everything around me in a way that is energetic.”

When I asked her if Heffelfinger’s frenzied movement ever made her lose her focus Daylor laughingly said, “I actually have no idea what he does because I am in my own world. For me, I am just here on earth and he is something on another planet and maybe we collide at some point, but I can’t give him too much attention.”

As for the control and stability Daylor exudes in her solo she says she has to give some of the credit to her outside training in the Gyrotonic method. “It has really helped me with my focus and stability of my breath when I’m dancing. Underlying it with my dancing has given me a good base.”

You can catch Daylor and the other members of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Bell’s Nervosa at the company’s Spring Series, March 22-24, at Addison Theatre Centre. The program also includes the premiere of Joshua L. Peugh’s Dialogue featuring Tejas Dance, a local Bharatanatyam Indian classical dance duo.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

Preview: Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Winter Series

Out of this World

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance aims to resemble alien rock stars in Mark Caserta and Mikey Morado’s new work Dregs, part of the company’s Winter Series at WaterTower Theatre.

DCCD rehearses Dregs. Photo: Brian Kenny

Addison — “An alien dark underbelly vibe, but with a gentle tone,” is how Mark Caserta describes the mood of Dregs, a new piece he and fellow choreographer and boyfriend Mikey Morado have created for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s (DCCD) Winter Series, which boosts works made by queer choreographers centering on gay identity in America. The program will also feature Eoghan Dillon’s Boys Are and Joshua L. Peugh’s Bud, which he did in collaboration with multimedia artist Brian Kenny. The performance will be held Jan. 24-27 at Addison Theatre Center, DCCD’s new home for 2019 thanks to its new partnership with WaterTower Theatre.

“It’s quite gender confusing, but very sexy,” Caserta says about the approximately 22-minute work, which includes an original score by Pittsburgh-based slowdanger whom he says mixed the track in the studio while the dancers worked. “It’s alien and out there, but also has a relatable vibe.”

As for the choreography in the piece Morado says, “We like to work with images that are more chic and simplistic and less confetti and more latex. So, what we made at the end of the day was a very alien world that has its own rules and doesn’t really operate within this 2019 America vibe.”

Morado and Caserta are both products of reputable dance institutions. Morado received a BFA in dance at Marymount Manhattan College before joining Sidra Bell Dance New York in 2013. Caserta trained at the Ailey School and graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in ballet performance. He has danced with Eleone Dance Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz De Montreal and Camille A. Brown + Dancers.

Mikey Morado in Mark Caserta’s Good Boy. Photo: Matthew Caserta
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.

“I have known of Dance Industry since my time at Complexions,” Caserta says. “The kids would come to New York City to attend workshops, and through them I developed a relationship with Christy and Jamie Anderson. They had offered me a job a few years before, but I was working, so it wasn’t until 2015 when Mikey and I were looking for a change that I asked them if the offer still stood and we moved to Dallas.”

Morado says that his relationship with Dance Industry didn’t start until after the couple had made their decision to move. “I had never met either of them, but we came out in March to teach and see what the vibe was here and Jamie and Christy picked us up from the airport and the second we got in the car with them there was an instantaneous certainty that we belong here. So, they brought me on and gave me basically the same amount of role that Mark has in the studio.”

It was about a year later when Wolverton-Ryzman handed over the reins of the Thriving Artist Project to Morado and Caserta. “This was something she had started the year prior to hiring us,” Morado says. “It was a small scale project and really more about her connecting with the kids and giving them professional advice.”

He continues, “I think she knew she wanted to amp up the program and that she wanted to do something that would extend beyond the walls of Dance Industry in a very real and practical concert dance sense. So her bringing Mark and I on, she knew that she would be well-connected to the current dance world that is still happening in New York and all over the world.”

So far Morado and Caserta have been living up this promise as evident by the list of names they have on the Thriving Artist Project’s event calendar online. The list includes high end choreographers such as Sidra Bell of Sidra Bell Dance New York, Jonathan Alsberry of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Micaela Taylor of TL Collective and Christie Partelow of Nederlands Dans Theater.

When I brought up that these are names you typically associate with local dance institutions such as Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Morado replies, “There are a lot of shiny and glitzy things in Dallas and particularly around Booker T. and so it’s very easy for that to be considered the mecca of ‘shiny dance things,’ but I think it’s really meaningful and impactful for these kids that Mark and I work with that we work in a way that is very humble and we choose to work with artists who reflect that humility.”

He adds, “What sets us apart as individuals, but also as a couple is our level of consideration and really making sure that the quality and connection is genuine. That it’s never forced and we work with artists who we truly support.”

It was through the Thriving Artist Project where Morado and Caserta meet Peugh who was at the couple’s first performance back in 2016.  “He was super complimentary and we clicked with him right away,” Morado says.

“It was such a bold and loving move for him to reach out to us,” Caserta says. “He is a smart businessman and has become a great friend.”

Mark Caserta. Photo: Matthew Caserta
The couple met via social media and began collaborating with each other soon after. They were living and working in New York City when they decided to move to Dallas to work for Christy Wolverton-Ryzman at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, in 2015.

The dance duo also had nothing but nice things to say about their time in the studio with the DCCD dancers. “We were super inspired by the dancers and just by that particular group that is with Dark Circles right now,” Morado says. “They have such a warm chemistry among them and the majority of them identity as gay or queer themselves, and I think particularly being in Dallas and connecting with people like that has a bit deeper of a ripple than it would in a place like New York because there is less of a demographic there for that.”

While discussing the creative process for Dregs, Morado says it was done in reverse order to what people generally consider normal. So, instead of giving the dancers specific movement phrases or specific motifs, he says they generated a lot of the movement based off of the tasks they had the dancers doing such as free writing and coming up with their own gesture movements, which they later combined into collaborative group phrases.

Morado explains, “The experience for them is very personal, and rather than giving them the details and having them form the piece around that we kind of had them form the piece and then said ‘oh that is a detail we want to put in.’” He adds, “We also made an effort to highlight each dancer individually and to not stick with one soloist. We wanted to equalize everyone and especially with a group this talented we would be short changing ourselves if we didn’t individualize the piece for them.”

For this work, DCCD has also paired with Youth First, a program of Resource Center and one of the only youth centers in the North Texas area aimed at meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth ages 12-18. The company has been teaching masterclasses for the teens which explore identity and self-expression through movement.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

The Year in Dance

Here are my favorite new dance works of 2018!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Little Match Girl Passion by Katie Cooper

Avant Chamber Ballet and Verdigris Ensemble

December

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

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

 

Aladdin,حبيبي by Joshua L. Peugh

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

October

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

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

 

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

 

And One More Thing… by Brandi Coleman

Meadows Dance Ensemble

October

Southern Methodist University, Bob Hope Theatre, Dallas

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

 

LUNA by Amanda Krische

Bombshell Dance Project

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

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

 

Can’t Sleep But Lightly by Gabrielle Lamb

Dark Circles Contemporary Dance

March

WaterTower Theatre, Addison

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

 

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

 

The Face of Water by Kimi Nikaidoh

Avant Chamber Ballet

April

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

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

 

Begin Again by Yin Yue

Bruce Wood Dance

June

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas

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

 

Face what’s facing you! by Claude Alexander III

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

May

AT&T Performing Arts Center, Wyly Theatre, Dallas

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

 

This list was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Q&A: Sossy Mechanics

sossy mechanics
Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan in Trick Boxing. Photo: Ed Bock

Richardson — If you are looking for something out of the ordinary to do this weekend, then check out Sossy MechanicsTrick Boxing: Swingin’ in the Ring, Feb. 11-14, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. In this 80-minute show, husband and wife team Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan bring the aesthetic of classic 1930’s movie musicals to the stage with four puppets playing 16 different characters, rapid-fire dialogue, physical comedy and beautiful ballroom dance sequences reminiscent of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Sossy Mechanics is a dance theater company based out of Minneapolis that combines the vast performance talent and wild imaginations of Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan. Since forming the company in 2000, Sossy Mechanics has developed a devoted public following and their show Trick Boxing has garnered critical acclaim in various cities across the U.S. and abroad, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edinburgh, Prague, London, Vancouver, Seattle and New York City. Sossy Mechanics made its Dallas debut at WaterTower Theatre’s 2014 Out of the Loop Fringe Festival where Trick Boxing was well received by both audiences and critics.

 

Sostek and McClellan met while performing with the percussive dance theater company Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum in Minneapolis. Over the years Sostek has parlayed his background in various dance forms, his life long experience with comedy and fascination with verbal and physical into a successful career in the arts as a writer, director, choreographer, performer and teacher. He is a recipient of a 2014 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant, a 2005 Sage Award for performance and the 2010 MN Bride Magazine award for Best Dance Instructor.

McClellan’s first professional dance job had her portraying a water molecule at a sewage treatment facility for a site-specific choreographer in Minneapolis. Her other performance credits include Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, Shapiro & Smith Dance and Black Label Movement. Since joining forces with Sostek in 2000 she had added writing, acting and choreography to her repertoire. In 2003 McClellan was awarded a McKnight Artist Fellowship in Dance and was named Artist of the Year in 2012 by City Pages (Minneapolis).

TheaterJones askes Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan about combining their backgrounds in dance, theater, acting, writing and puppetry to produce Trick Boxing, the challenges of putting together a show as unique as this one and the different styles of puppetry.

TheaterJones: How were you two introduced to the performing arts?

Megan McClellan: Our backgrounds are vast. Brian was brought into the arts at a young age through his parents. His mother was a talented dancer and his father was a talented actor, director and stage manager in New York. He was always interested in acting and theater, but it wasn’t until college when he started taking dance much more seriously, which then lead him to becoming a ballroom dance instructor and getting into tap dance.

Brian Sostek: I graduated from college with a degree in English, and afterward I moved to Minneapolis where I started auditioning for different things. I quickly found that I didn’t really like the audition pieces so, I started writing my own audition pieces and getting work based on those. And one thing lead to another and I started writing longer, more involved character pieces and started performing them around town. So, long before I was working as a legitimate actor I was sort of working in the fringe of what was then called the performance art world.

McClellan: My backstory is that I am one of four girls and a brother, and all the girls were put into dance at a very early age. I strictly danced up until the first time we put this show together. I consider myself the type of dancer who always believed that I am an actor while on stage. I was more a strict tap, jazz and ballet dancer who then got her modern dance education from the University of Minnesota. I later ended up in a tap and percussive dance company, and that is where Brian and I met. I have also choreographed for a lot of musical theater, but I do not have a strong singing voice so I was never really pulled into the theatrical side until Brian took me there.

Is this showing of Trick Boxing the same one you presented at the Out of The Loop Fringe Festival at WaterTower Theatre in 2014?

Sostek: The full production has changed since 2014. We rewrote the show and changed the beginning for a premiere in St. Paul, Minnesota at the beginning of 2015. We have revised the show various times over its lifetime. The history of the show starts back in 2002 when we premiered a 50-minute version at a local fringe festival. It was very successful so the following year we took it on the road and did the Canadian circuit and the Edinburgh Fringe for a month, and by that point we had rewritten it a little bit. We periodically make adjustments and because it’s our show and it’s just the two of us sometimes we make adjustments minutes before going on stage. We put the show on the shelf for about five years while we were having kids and working with other companies in Minneapolis.

In 2010 we decided to get back to doing our own work and got into the New York International Fringe Festival and got some really nice press from the New York Times. From there we did another major rewrite to take Trick Boxingfrom an hour long show to an hour and a half with an intermission. The main reason we do rewrites is to improve the story and include choreography that we felt was missing from the show. The beginning of last year we still felt there was something lacking in the story structure and the choreography so, we added a new beginning and a couple other changes within the show that really flushed out some of the characters.

Was it hard coming up with choreography that you could perform while delivering dialogue through multiple characters?

Sostek: What we do is actually a lot easier than performing in musicals because in musicals the singing takes a lot more vocal control. We sometimes call our show a dance-ical because instead of bursting into song we burst into dance, and then most of the dialogue happens between dances. We also do a lot of movement sequences that are more text-based.

McClellan: One of the elements in the story is that my character Bella teaches two different characters in the show how to be better boxers by teaching them how to swing dance, and she does all this through a simple, reinventing of the Patty Cake nursey rhythm. There are all sorts of speaking and dancing elements in the story, but when it comes to the dance sequences these are more silent movie moments.

Sostek: And all the dances in the show are organic to the show’s cosmology. In other words it’s not like we go off on a tangent and say “OK, now these two characters are going to dance.” They’re dancing either because they are moving in a stylized way as in boxing or training to box or because one of the characters is a dancer and she is dancing with the other characters. In that way we really tried to make every movement piece real to the world of the story.

Does Trick Boxing personify the type of work you both envisioned of doing when you started Sossy Mechanics?

McClellan: The message within the show really personifies who we are as artists. We like to make work with positive elements. We spent a lot of time working in the concert dance world and Brian also spent a lot of writing for dance and so, we walk the line between theater and dance a lot. One of the main things we consider ourselves to be is storytellers. And we use dance, theater and puppetry to tell a story. We are not likely to make our pieces abstract. Working in the concert world the choreographers who have touched us the most are the ones who create work from their hearts instead of their heads and personal demons. We like to create positive work. We also make work about love and that is the other most important component about our work.

Brian, how did you get into puppetry and where does one go to learn these skills?

Sostek: When we started this show I had done rudimentary puppetry on my own because I have always been fascinated with it. Since the first time we created the show I have worked quite a bit at the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis which has fantastic puppetry. They bring in puppet artists from around the world to create, design, build and teach the different styles of puppetry. Everything from giant five-person operated puppets like we see in Alice in Wonderland to the shadow puppets in Peter Pan. Minneapolis and St. Paul have a really great driving puppetry design, performance and education environment. There are also more puppet theaters that are offering puppetry classes. There’s a company out of Chicago called Manual Cinema which has a developed a whole new style of puppetry that uses overhead projectors and drawing and shadows. If people are looking for training I think they need to start with the puppet theaters. Just like dance has many different styles such as postmodern, modern, tap or jazz, it is the same with puppetry. There are many different styles of puppetry so is it hard to say how do you study puppetry. You kind of have to just immerse yourself in the culture and go from there.

What style of puppetry do you use in the show?

Sostek: The style of the show is very simple. It’s called ludicrous puppetry because without giving much away it involved some silly prop objects that we threw together including a beanie baby. And the power of it does not so much come from the technique of puppetry. I have become a much better puppeteer since creating the show, but we haven’t changed the puppetry in the show to match my skills so, the magic is really about how the audience’s imagination is being engaged. One of the things we set out to do was rely on the audience’s imagination. We have no set other than some scrims in the background and our props consist of an old steamer trunk. It’s really minimal in terms of script. We use our bodies, light design and sound design to tell the story. By the time we get to the puppetry in the show the idea is that people are along for the ride and they’re playing the game so, we have people cheering for these absurd looking puppets. It’s crazy!

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

Loop Review: NICE, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson
Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson

At Out of the Loop, DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) playfully takes on etiquette and gender in NICE.

Addison — If you have seen previous works by Danielle Georgiou then you know she dances to her own rhythm and is not afraid to push the audience outside its comfort zone. Her latest work for DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), NICE, which premiered in November as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, brings audiences face-to-face with the many underlining themes of what it means to be nice in today’s world. Georgiou and her conceptual partner Justin Locklear used spoken word, full-body movement and the catchy lyrical musings of composer and comedian Paul Slavens to drive their point home at Saturday night’s showing of NICE at the Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. The effect is a full emersion into a world that pokes fun at Emily Post and society’s addiction to false niceties especially in regards to women. A touchy subject indeed, but Georgiou’s satirical approach brings a lightheartedness to some of the more controversial themes present in the show.

The fourth wall is immediately brought down as the 10 performers escort us to our seats. They smile politely as they make comments on our wardrobe choices or lack of a wedding band. The overly fake smiles take the sting out of these comments and the interactions show Georgiou’s knack for pushing people’s buttons without pushing them over the edge. As the show starts the performers walk across the stage, make eye contact with an audience member and again offer a back-handed compliment such as “that juice cleanse looks like it’s really working for you” or “those jeans fit your body real well.” From here Georgiou sets up different scenarios using individual or group movement choices as well as spoken text and the grandfatherly advice of Slavens to pick apart this social norm of being nice.

Following a monologue by newcomer Nick Leos, who fits right into the group with his silky voice and grounded movement, a 50s-inspired housewife stands demurely by as her husband verbally belittles her and then physically pushes her down. In another scene two males grope a female as she tries to push them away to no avail. As the music swells the dancers begin shoving away from one another only to be pulled back together like magnets, caging the female between them. The tension that has been slowly building is suddenly released as two females run on stage in their underwear in an act of rebellion. Their movement is spastic yet free-flowing as they run and fall to the ground in alternating patterns.

These intense sections are broken up with more upbeat group dances, which make audiences members laugh despite their discomfort with the accompanying culturally insensitive tunes “Slap Her Down Again Pa” and the Polka classic “She’s Too Fat For Me.” The first is a flapper-inspired number where four females dressed in gold fringe dresses shimmy and shake as the male’s cat call to them. The movement was simple—foot shuffles and hand flicks—but the fast timing of the song added suspense. It was obvious the females were enjoying the attention they were getting, but still pretended as if the men weren’t there. Slavens also took part in the changes of pace with a role alternating between humor and the voice of reason. During the show, he emcees a “Dear Abby”-style Q&A where performers showcase racist views within earnest-sounding questions on “nice” behavior, and he responds with even more shocking advice or justifications that add comic relief to a potentially volatile theme.

Despite having received negative attention in the flapper number, when the women were ignored by the men in the final dance section, this was even worse. Spread diagonally across the stage the men remained stoic as the females tried to draw their attention by kissing them, flailing their arms, dropping to the ground and smacking their butts. When this didn’t work the female’s movements became more desperate as they screamed in the men’s faces to look at them. As this is occurring a lone female is having the same battle with a long panel of white paper hanging from the ceiling. In her desperation she rips the paper in half so she is now exposed to the audience. Her focus turns on us as she yells at us to look at her, once again pulling the audience into the piece.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.