Tag Archives: Winspear Opera House

Q&A: Dallas Black Dance Theatre Veteran Nycole Ray

nycoleray

Nycole Ray working with the dancers for Dallas Opera. Photo: Celeste Hart

The Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran on stepping into the opera world as choreographer for Dallas Opera’s production of Samson et Dalila.

Dallas — Nycole Ray is a prime example of what it takes to maintain a career in the ever-changing dance field. For the last 20 years she has made a name for herself within the Dallas Black Dance Theatre organization first as a company member and later as the artistic director of the second company, now DBDT ENCORE! Ray is also the director of DBDT’s Summer Intensive program and has served in the past as assistant rehearsal director for DBDT and the director of Bloom, Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Preforming Ensemble. But over the years Ray’s dance talents have exceeded beyond DBDT as is evident through her collaborations with other Dallas arts organizations such as the Dallas Holocaust Museum and the Dallas Museum of Art as well as various performance opportunities with the Dallas Opera and Bruce Wood Dance. Ray is also a certified Dunham technique instructor and has been a teaching assistant and adjunct professor at Texas Woman’s University. Her choreography has been featured at the ninth FINTDAZ festival in Iquique, Chile, the 10th annual Choreographers Choice Series in Dallas and at Vienna’s 2003 International Black Dance Festival.

As a performer Ray has danced with Bruce Wood Dance, Walt Disney World Entertainment, Christopher and Friends directed by Christopher L. Huggins, the Lula Washington Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II and the Zadonu African Dance Company. She has also worked with noted choreographers such as Donald McKayle, Dianne McIntyre, Alonzo King, Donald Byrd, Rennie Harris and Camille A. Brown. In addition to her concert work, Ray has also appeared in music videos and industrials in the U.S. and Europe.

Always open to new opportunities Ray did not hesitate when the Dallas Opera approached her about choreographing its production of Samson et Delilah, which is performed Oct. 20, 22, 25, 28 and Nov. 5 at the Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. The opera, which runs in repertory with Verdi’s La traviata, is based on the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah found in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. The story tells of the enslavement of the Hebrews by the Philistines and when Samson urges them to resist their masters the High Priest of Dagon sends Delilah in to destroy Samson. The Dallas Opera’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ three-act French opera is directed by Bruno Berger-Gorski with conductor Emmanuel Villaume, costumer designer Carrie Robbins, set designer Peter Dean Beck and lighting designer Alan Burrett. The cast includes Clifton Forbis, Olga Borodina, Richard Paul Fink, Michael Chioldi and Ryan Kuster as well as eight dancers of Ray’s choosing.

TheaterJones caught up with Ray in between rehearsals to ask her how she is enjoying this experience as well as her inspiration for the movement and how choreographing for an opera differs from setting work on a dance company and the challenges that come with it.

Nycole Ray working with the dancers for Dallas Opera. Photo: Celeste Hart

TheaterJones: How did you get involved with Samson et Dalila?

Nycole Ray: The Dallas Opera was looking for a choreographer for the production of Samson et Dalila and they reached out to me and I was eager to step up to the plate!

How did you get along with the director on this project?

With this being my first time choreographing for this art genre (though I have danced in opera productions before), it has definitely been an interesting process and very different than just creating a work how I see fit, but it has been a really good challenge for me. I mean, you’ve got so many people on stage at the same time and just navigating through that has been quite challenging. But what has been so wonderful is the director, Bruno Berger-Gorski, has been so much fun to work with. He is high energy all the time and he knows what he wants, so trying to create those visions for him has been fun and interesting. He is sure in his ideas, but he is also open to my creativity. He has very specific things he is looking for and things that he wants to happen, so I have been charged with making those things happen within in his vision as opposed to just creating whatever I want. Collaborating with him has been a lot of fun; we have had no dull moments in this process.

What exactly was Bruno’s vision and how did he convey this to you?

Before we started rehearsals, he and I had a five-hour meeting where we were able to watch and talk about the opera, and he was able to give me more insight about the opera itself and his vision for this production. He didn’t want to go mainstream with it. He wanted it to be this beautiful production, but he wanted it to be real in what was really happening at that time. So, for the bacchanale, which is usually this beautiful ballet, he said he didn’t want it that way. There is some sensuality in it, but he didn’t want this huge ballet production. He also has the chorus and the supers [extras] really involved along with the dancers in creating all of these little vignettes that happen in that piece of music. You’re going to have to shift your eyes all over in order to see all these things happening at the same time.

Was it difficult adapting to this new environment?

I did learn a lot about the process of the opera and I continue to learn in rehearsals. When I go to rehearsals for dance it is me, my assistant and the dancers. Here, you’ve got the stage manager, the assistant stage manager, the union reps, wardrobe, props. All of these people and how they work in tandem is so awesome to see and it is an experience for sure. I mean you’ve got the assistant stage manager telling people what to do while they’re singing. He has Bruno’s notes on the way he wants things to happen and he’s telling them what to do and where to go while they’re singing. It’s fascinating, absolutely fascinating and watching the inner workings of it has been really insightful for me. I really enjoyed doing this and the process of it.

What challenges did you come across in the rehearsal process?

At the rehearsal hall everything is taped out on the floor, but you truly don’t get a sense of what it is such as a platform or some stairs until you get into the theater with the sets and see what changes we need to make. Also, the dancers do not have much room to move, and so navigating through stepping off the platform and into the dancing while the supers and chorus are all around them, it is a challenge making sure everyone is safe. I tell the dancers just to be cautious and keep moving.

What was your time frame on this project? How did it differ from the time you usually get in the dance studio?

I did have a longer time to think about the choreography than I usually do. After I was approached, which was very early in the year, I then had a Skype conservation with Bruno in probably June where he gave me some of his ideas. I then thought about these ideas while listening to the opera and started having some choreographic ideas that went along with his vision. So, I had a little bit of time and then we had our five hour meeting, which was two days before our first rehearsal. Despite this, I would say that I probably didn’t get as much time with the dancers as I would in a dance studio.

What types of feelings or ideas for movement did listening to the opera bring out of you?

From the start I wanted to do something a little bit different than this opera’s previous productions, and I am mostly speaking about the bacchanale, which is this big beautiful scene that usually involves a lot of dancing. And so I wanted to marry classical ballet technique with more grounded modern movements that also included some sensual elements as well. I wanted it to be very mixed in terms of movement and also include partnering, of course. I wanted it to be actually very rooted in its movement. I am not going to say African, but there is a little of that. I really pulled from a lot of different genres and styles of dance that I mixed in there and I hope it reads well to the audience.

What’s in store for those coming to see this opera for the first time?

As not really an opera goer, after listening to and seeing Samson et Delilah I thought, how could I identify and connect with this? Now that I have had a chance to delve deeper and truly understand the opera itself, I have a greater appreciation for the art form. When we got into rehearsal with the chorus and the singers for the first time they blew my mind! They had me sitting up in my chair and thinking this was so beautiful even with just a pianist for accompaniment. So, even with that simple instrumentation, I look forward to the orchestra itself as well as the voices of the leads and the chorus. They are just amazing! I think for people coming just seeing all these elements together, including the live musicians, the live singers, live dancers and the scenery and then having this story that involves a lot of drama and combining that with Bruno’s direction and how he has put it together: This opera’s going to be something else.

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

 

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Preview: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s Donkey Beach

Postcard from Donkey Beach. Photo: Frank Robertson/DGDG

Danielle Georgiou Dance Group returns to its zany storylines and feminist roots in Donkey Beach, part of  AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Dallas — Over the last six years Danielle Georgiou has made a name for herself in the Dallas arts community for her unique collaborations with local singers, actors and musicians as well as for putting out work that is real and relevant and always pack a punch. Her use of originxal music, tanztheater (expressionist dance) and dark humor to bring attention to taboo topics such as gender roles, sexual orientation and feminism is both disconcerting and engaging at the same time. You can see all these elements at work in Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) newest production, Donkey Beach, which premieres June 22-25 at Hamon Hall in the Winspear Opera House as part of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project.

Inspired by the beach party movies of the 1960s featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Georgiou and her team, including Justin Locklear and Ruben Carrazana, have created a similar setting where the sun always shines, the songs are about bikinis and surf boards and the teenagers say things like “gee whiz” and “cowabunga” while busting out classic ’60s dance moves like The Swim and The Mashed Potato. The concept for the show came to Georgiou while watching Disney’s Teen Beach 2 one evening. “I really liked the idea of being transported to a different time and place,” Georgiou says. “I also love the ’60s because it was the first time that women really had a voice in society and were comfortable in their own skin.” Georgiou adds that she’s also a fan of the femme fatale characters in the movies from the ’40s and ’50s.

The structure of the show is a musical with songs and dances woven in between dialogue and modern dance techniques such as weight sharing, concaved body shapes and pedestrian movements. “This is definitely a musical, but it doesn’t have the typical happily ever after at the end. I mean boy meets girl and the two of them kind of fall in love, but then everything starts to fall apart. There is no happy ending in this musical.” Georgiou doesn’t tell me this to spoil the ending of the run through I was about to see of Donkey Beach at Eastfield College in Dallas last Saturday afternoon. Actually, Locklear alludes to this fact multiple times in his opening monologue, which explains how Donkey Beach came into existence.

To sum it up, a seahorse enchantress and an evil gin—“it’s an evil genie,” band member Trey Pendergrass shouts out multiple times throughout the show—had a falling out and in her anger the enchantress turned the genie into a donkey. Heartbroken and looking like a literal ass the donkey creates a magical place where everyone is happy all the time. Locklear and the band then lead us into the opening scene, which depicts a bunch a miserable teenagers at a summer camp where it rains all the time. With Locklear’s urging the lead characters Jimmy (Matt Clark) and Susie (Debbie Crawford) drink from a bottle of donkey water that then opens up the portal to Donkey Beach. You can definitely draw some parallels between this story and that of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which also includes magical beings and a remote island.

The music for the show has a Beach Boys vibe with lyrics about bikinis, surf boards and beach parties, which will be performed live by Locklear (vocals and bass guitar), Pendergrass (percussion) and Cory Kosel (vocals and guitar). Like all of Georgiou’s productions, she uses these original tunes as a means to poke fun at specific societal norms and stereotypes with the ultimate goal of opening up the audiences’ eyes to certain issues in a non-threatening and usually ridiculously funny way. An example would be Crawford’s solo with a ukulele, “because of course she can play the ukulele,” Pendergrass states as he brings the instrument over to her. The song starts off light about young love, but then turns heavy when she questions why society makes excuses for men when it comes to domestic abuse and how society typically looks the other way when it happens. The song ends and the performers are quiet for a minute, allowing for the viewers to absorb the message, before Will Acker jumps up and says, “Dude you killed the mood. This is a bonfire!” With that cue the band starts playing and dance madness ensues. You also have to appreciate the irony of Carrazana portraying a woman complete with a grass skirt and coconut bra in a movie genre known for its plastic images.

Later in the show you will notice the performers make vague references about world events such as mass tragedies and natural disasters as well as smaller, more personal tragedies. When asked why she didn’t name specific tragedies like the recent bombing in Manchester, England, Georgiou responded that she didn’t want to limit the show to just the here and now. “I want it to represent all time periods, not just what is happening today. I want the show to mean something in a universal way.”

Georgiou loosely describes the show as having three acts: the first being the gloomy camp scene where we meet the teenage characters; the second on Donkey Beach where the characters are transformed into 1960s talking and dancing beach kids; and the final scene between the enchantress and the donkey, which Georgiou says contains the meat of the show. “This is where the bottom just drops out of the show. Everything before this is just pretense.” I don’t want to give the twist away, but I left the rehearsal pondering to myself if given a choice would I rather live in miserable reality or in a joyful lie.

>This preview 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: 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: 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.

Q&A: Choreographer Donald Byrd

Spectrum Dance Theater's Donald Byrd. Photo: DL Artists
Spectrum Dance Theater’s Donald Byrd. Photo: DL Artists

Dallas — With a dance career spanning more than four decades, half of which he spent running Donald Byrd/The Group, as well as receiving international frame for the Harlem Nutcracker (1996) and a Tony nomination for his choreography in Broadway’s The Color Purple (2005), it’s no wonder Donald Byrd is hailed as one of today’s leading contemporary choreographers.

Byrd’s extensive résumé also includes performing with modern dance great Twyla Tharp and creating more than 100 modern and contemporary works for his own group as well as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Philadanco, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet and Dance Theater of Harlem. Outside the dance sphere he has worked with some of the most well-known theater and opera companies in the U.S., including The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, San Francisco Opera and Seattle Opera.

Byrd ran Donald Byrd/The Group from 1978-2002 before taking over as artistic director for Seattle-based Spectrum Dance Theater in 2002. Under Byrd’s leadership, Spectrum Dance Theater has embarked on an exhilarating transformation that has attracted world class dancers and has produced some of the most avant-garde works in contemporary dance today, according to the organization’s website.

Spectrum Dance Theater + Donald Byrd will make its Dallas debut Sept. 27 at the Winspear Opera House as part of TITAS’ 2014-15 season. The company will present Byrd’s piece LOVE (2012), an evening-length work that studies the complex landscapes of intimate relationships set to Benjamin Britten’sCello Suites and performed by world-renowned cellist Wendy Sutter.

TheaterJones asks Donald Byrd about the Seattle dance scene, the challenges facing young choreographers today and what audiences can expect when Spectrum Dance Theater takes the stage in Dallas this weekend.

TheaterJones: How are you feeling about Spectrum Dance Theater’s upcoming Dallas debut?

Donald Byrd: I am more excited than anything else. I’m curious to see how audiences in other places respond to the work. I think the only nervousness I may have about it is that because the community may not have any history with the company previously the work might challenge them in ways that are unexpected. However, with that being said I have to rely on the expertise and knowledge of the presenter which is TITAS and Charles Santos. He knows the audience and he believes that what we are bringing will be something that audiences there will respond too.

The company will be performing your evening-length work LOVE. The public’s view on love has been largely influenced by television and movies. How do you wish to change our perspective with this piece?

This piece in particular is not so much about changing our perception of love. The piece is very abstract in a lot of ways. So, it is evocative in terms of the way it expresses ideas about love and is not provocative in that way. It’s really about the audience being able to construct, in a very subtle way for themselves, a narrative based on the abstraction of movement and the visual relationships of the people on stage.

Watching your work you have this way of pushing your dancers to new emotional depths. How do you help them accomplish this during the rehearsal process?

Photo: Natt Watters
Photo: Natt Watters

I work with dancers the same way I would with an actor. I think of the movement as being text and so often my comments and directions to the dancers would be similar to what I might say to an actor. For example, I might say I don’t understand why you are doing what you’re doing. Why are you putting your arms around her? Why do you move away from her? Even though the movement is abstract in some cases there are kind of gestural elements that ground the movement. I push the dancers to create a relationship with the people that they are onstage with given what the context of the piece is. With a piece like LOVE I might ask a dancer, alright, how much are you in love with this person or do they love you more than you love them? So, when they reach for you, are you welcoming that reach or are you indifferent to it? Or, do you move away, and why are you moving away? I think those kinds of human behavioral things communicate to the audience. And even though some audiences say they don’t understand dance, I think they can understand these human behaviors and so the piece makes sense to them.

Do you keep up with the New York dance scene and what your colleagues are doing?

Because of my schedule I have to be selective about what I see. Usually I try to see the work of my friends or somebody’s work that I haven’t seen in a long time and I want to catch up on what they are doing. It’s just the challenges of the day-to-day of operating a dance company that makes it almost prohibitive to have time to go see anything else. And that’s true even in Seattle.

Whose work has you seen recently?

This summer the Ailey Company was performing a new work by Robert Moses, and I hadn’t seen his work in at least 10 years so, I flew to New York and went straight to the theater from the airport to catch his piece. When Kyle Abraham was here in Seattle I made a point of going to see his work. I saw his work a couple of years ago in New York and I was really impressed with him so, I wanted to check in on his development and where he was going. There are also a couple of people working at New York City Ballet right now that I am really curious about, but I am not in New York enough to be able to see them.

Did you have a previous relationship with Spectrum before you took over as artistic director?

No, I didn’t. I had a relationship with Pacific Northwest Ballet and I was actually here in Seattle 12 years ago when the former artistic director, Dale Merrill, announced that he was resigning. I was setting a piece for Pacific Northwest Ballet when another choreographer, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, approached me and said I should think about applying for the job. I was planning on closing my company in New York, but I still liked the idea of running a dance company and she encouraged me to talk to Spectrum about it. Part of the appeal here in Seattle for me was I wanted to see how I could contribute to the building of an audience for contemporary dance in Seattle. I was also interested in the education programs attached to Spectrum. There are a lot a thing I have learned over the years of running my company in New York in terms of things you can do in the community and the impact you can have on the community that I wanted to share with Spectrum. For example, part of Spectrum’s mission is to educate the community about dance as an art form, but also as a social civic instrument. Those kinds of ideas are thrilling to me.

You did an interview with the Seattle Times in 2005 in which you had this to say about the Seattle dance sphere: ‘Seattle presents a lot of challenges for me. The biggest one is the nature of the dance scene, the fact that there is no real modern dance audience per se. And it is very frustrating that we’ve received national funding to build up the company but have been unable to develop a solid local donor base.’

Do you still view the Seattle dance community in this way?

I do not! Since that time I know I have been able to create a donor base here that’s really good and actually we have been very dependent on them this past week. We now have major donors that we can count on who make multiple gifts to us each year. That has taken a lot of work and I think part of that was helping people understand the new identity and brand of Spectrum as it transitioned from what it was before I came and after. So, as people began to understand that and got excited about it they started to come on and give donations. And thank you reminding me about that because that reminds me to be grateful and also that the work we have been doing has been paying off.

What’s the biggest challenge young choreographers’ face today?

I think there are several big challenges for them. The first one being, and this is an old song, there is increasingly more competition for fewer dollars. Another challenge, and I think this is always true, is creating infrastructures and mechanisms that can support them for the long term to be able to do their work. I would like to see more young artists become lifers in the art form and not stop when things start getting hard. Another challenge, and this one is more internal, is remembering that they are artists and being engaged and not question what that means to be an artist. In the not-for profit and dance art world there are two parts: the business part (figuring out how to make a living) and then there’s the career part (figuring out how to sustain yourself over time). But ultimately it is about the art. There are some young makers of dance that are very good at the business side of it and others who are good at the career, but I would like to stress that they all should know themselves and create for themselves a way of looking at it that says, is my work getting better? Am I becoming on a daily basis the artist that I desire to be? I think that question is sometimes difficult for young artists to ask because they are so overwhelmed by the economic challenges in the world today.

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

Dream Maker

Ann Williams with DBDT company members. Photo: Robert Hart
Ann Williams with DBDT company members. Photo: Robert Hart

Ann Williams reflects on her time as artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the company’s impact on the Dallas community and her plans for the future.

Dallas — Teacher. Mentor. Dream maker. These are only a few of the titles Ann Williams has acquired over the past 37 years as founder/artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the oldest, continuously operating professional dance company in Dallas. But after the company’s Spring Celebration Performance at the Winspear Opera House this weekend Williams will hand the reigns over and take on a new title: retiree.

“Next year I am looking forward to completely stepping back and enjoying DBDT from afar,” Williams says. “I will travel some, play bridge and enjoy the company of my friends and relatives.”

The two-evening Spring Celebration includes performances by Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and Kirven Douthit-Boyd (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater). Dancers from DBDT will also be performing in new works choreographed Lily Weiss (Booker T. Washington HSPVA) and Christopher Vo (dancer on Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH).

And while Williams will no longer be a part of the day-to-day activities of the organization once she retires, she will remain supportive and continue to seek out new funding opportunities. And the company can still expect to see her at rehearsals, programs, master classes and workshops. “But only on a limited basis and only as a guest/friend.”

As for the task of uncovering DBDT’s next artistic director Williams say the search has been going quite well. “We have 11 applicants from several different cities and states including New York. We have a dedicated committee not just from the Dallas community, but people who are interested in getting the best possible person for DBDT. The committee will choose a finalist very soon.”

The outpouring of love and support Williams has received since making her announcement last May proves DBDT is indeed a Dallas institution. “I do feel honored with all the love and attention that has happened this year from the local community, especially the dance community. It has made me feel special.”

Since starting the company in 1976, Williams has established five performing dance troupes and currently employs 12 administrative staff and 12 dancers on an 11-month contract. DBDT has performed in 14 countries with tours in Peru, South Africa, Uganda, Austria, Japan, Italy and many more. Most notable venues include Lincoln Center in New York City, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and the 2012 London Olympics. DBDT’s repertoire includes works by Alvin Ailey, Ulysses Dove, Talley Beatty, Christopher Huggins, David Parsons and Darryl B. Sneed, to name a few.

Like all dance companies, DBDT has experienced its highs and lows: economic declines, dancers leaving for other cities and housing complications (DBDT’s home is now 2700 Flora St.), but the company has managed to stay afloat thanks to careful planning and realistic goal setting. “DBDT also has a staff and board of directors that are dedicated to keeping the doors of the company open and support our mission of providing artistic excellence. We are supported by many individuals, corporations and foundations. Our audience and patrons have been with us during the highs and lows and we have rewarded them with great choreography and programs.”

When asked if she has any regrets Williams says, “I think I have accomplished the goals that were necessary and achievable. There can always be more, but I am grateful for our home in in the Arts District and the performance space we have with the Wyly Theatre. It would have been super to get that $1 million gift, but I believe that can happen with the next artistic director.”

As for her legacy, Williams would like to be remembered for the services she has provided to many dance students who would not have had the opportunity otherwise. “I believe I have opened doors of opportunity for many dancers, students, parents, organizations in the City of Dallas, the State of Texas and many parts of the nation and around the world. I have given from my heart and soul so that others can fulfill their dreams.”

This feature was originally published on TheaterJones.com.

Preview: Dallas Black Dance Theatre Spring Celebration

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

Christopher Vo pushes Dallas Black Dance Theatre mentally in his new work touch (listen), part of the company’s Spring Celebration, honoring the legacy of Ann Williams.

Dallas – “Remember guys, calm, easy and mindful,” says choreographer Christopher Vo to the members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre as they prepare to run through his new work, touch (listen), last Friday afternoon. In this piece Vo challenges the dancers to be more impulsive and alert in their movement choices.

“I really wanted to create this sense of community,” Vo says. “The dancers are good at taking movement in and executing it, but they needed some help when it came to running and walking together. This was my gift to them.”

A Dallas native, Vo attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts before being accepted to the Juilliard School in New York. From  2008 to 2011 Vo toured and taught master classes across the country with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. He was also a principal dancer in Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Awaydance musical and was a featured dancer throughout Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH. In 2013 Vo performed in the world premiere of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s My Brother’s Keeper and also headlined Dance Planet 17, a free dance event the Dance Council of North Texas puts on every year.

Before heading into rehearsals Vo sent an e-mail to the dancers asking them what kind of piece they were interested in doing. “Half of them wanted to dance to an Ella Fitzgerald or Stevie Wonder song while the other half wanted something more instrumental. I decided to challenge them with a more classical piece of music.”

touch (listen) begins with six couples lounging stoically on the ground. At the start of the music they slowly inch backwards across the floor. One by one the dancers stand and begin running. As the violin swells and descends the dancers spontaneously break into pairs, trios and quartets creating visually pleasing lines and rotating formations as they go.

Vo is an impulsive mover. He doesn’t create movement ahead of time. Instead he prefers the dancers to discover what works for them in that moment. “I don’t want the movement to feel forced. I like when it happens organically.”

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

Vo adds that the choreography for touch (listen) was really a collaborative effort between him and the dancers. “I see myself more as the architect and the dancers as the lumber and the screws of the dance.”

While finishing the dance Vo asked the dancers several times to just go with the flow rather than give them specific pathways. “In this section I want you to be less creative here (Vo points to his head) and just go with the momentum.” But he still expects the dancers to be mindful of where everyone is spatially. This is especially crucial when there are two groups on stage rotating clockwise with the purpose of joining together in one straight line at the end. Viewers will certainly notice if one group’s timing is off.

Vo’s teaching style is firm yet encouraging, a combination the dancers respond well to. “I don’t want to discourage them. I want to motivate them to keep pushing for their best each time.” Vo is also a strong believer in repetition. He will run the same few phrases of movement at least five times, tweaking something each time. “I like repetition because I like to exhaust all the options in order to find the correct movement.”

Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Spring Celebration Performance, which honors the legacy of founder Ann Williams, is May 16-17, 2014 at the Winspear Opera House. In addition to Vo, the program also includes DBDT performing works by Bruce Wood and Lily Weiss (Booker T. Washington HSPVA), and features guest performances by Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and guest performer Kirven Douthit-Boyd of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Weekend Performances: Jan 24-26, 2014

If you have some free time this weekend make sure you check out these dance performances:

1. Alonzo King LINES Ballet – Jan.25 at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas presented by TITAS in association with the AT&T Performing Arts Center. LINES Ballet is a celebrated contemporary ballet company whose works draw on a diverse set of deeply rooted cultural traditions, imbuing classical ballet with new expressive potential.

2. SMU Dance Sharp Show – Jan. 25-26 at the Margo Jones Theatre on the SMU campus in Dallas. SMU Meadows School of the Arts presents the annual Sharp Show featuring works choreographed and produced by seniors in the SMU Meadows Division of Dance. Admission is FREE but tickets are required.

3. Dance Theatre of Harlem – Jan. 26 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. In revitalized DTH brings its innovative and bold new forms of artistic expression to audiences in New York City, across the country and around the world. Check out my interview with AD Virginia Johnson and Texas native Stephanie Rae Williams HERE!

 

Q&A: Pilobolus Dance Theatre

Courtesy of Pilobolus
Courtesy of Pilobolus

The Assistant Associate Director of Pilobolus discusses the company’s unique configuration, ground breaking choreography and plans for the future.

Dallas — If your New Year’s resolution is to see more dance performances then you are in luck. TITAS’ dance-focused 2013-14 season continues with the radically innovative and always-intriguing Pilobolus at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House in the Dallas Arts District this weekend.

Connecticut-based Pilobolus was founded in 1971 by Robby Barnett, Alison Becker Chase, Martha Clarke, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton, Michael Tracy and Jonathan Wolken. Today, the company is run by Artistic Director Robby Barnett and Assistant Associate Director Renee Jaworski.

Jaworski received her BFA from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. After graduation she began working with MOMIX, performing and teaching throughout the world, before joining Pilobolus in 2000. Since then she has served as dance captain, master teacher, rehearsal director and most recently director and choreographer for many of the company’s collaborations with artists and entities such as Takuya Muramatsu, the rock band OK Go, RadioLab and Sidi Larbi Cherkoui.

Pilobolus currently has more than 100 choreographic works in its repertoire and has performed for stage, television and online audiences all over the world. The company has received a number of accolades, including the Berlin Critic’s Prize, the Scotsman Award, the Brandeis Award and a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding achievement in cultural programming. In 2010 Pilobolus was honored as the first collective to receive the Dance Magazine Award, which recognizes artists who have made lasting contributions to the field.

TheaterJones asks Renee Jaworski to look back on her last 14 years with the company, to share what Pilobolus looks for in its dancers and tell us about their upcoming Dallas performance.

TheaterJones: You have been with the Pilobolus for 14 years. Correct?

Renee Jaworski: Yes! I started with the company as a dancer and have danced with multiple components of the company including Pilobolus Dance Theatre, which is what’s coming to Dallas, and Shadowland, which is a show we do mainly in Europe. I was also the rehearsal director, and I am currently one of the associate artistic directors. I am also a teacher and choreographer.

What is it about the company that has encouraged you to stay?

I think it’s the fact that I was never looked at as just a dancer. We are looking for people who think and don’t just move—people who think about why they’re moving and how two moving bodies can create different things than what we normally expect to see in dance. Pilobolus is also this large community that invites people in who will challenge each other to create something that they haven’t thought of before.

Did you always want to be a performer?

I actually wanted to be a teacher and it developed into wanting to be a performer. I realized that to be a good effective teacher there is a sense of performance in it. So, I started studying more performance and incorporating that into my teaching, which only made me fall in love with performance even more. And from performance I realized I never really thought about something twice the same way because I like things to be different every time and I like to keep exploring. This then kind of opened me up to my love of choreography.

How would you describe the company and its movement quality?

Photo: John Kane
Photo: John Kanes

The company overall is about community and bringing the world together through a performance or educational experience. What’s interesting is that when the company started making work back in 1971 people really questioned whether it was dance at all. And to this day we are always trying to get people to question whether what we do is considered dance.

I don’t think of us as a modern dance company. I mean we do have elements of modern dance, but we also have elements of marital arts, theater, Indian dance, meditation, yoga and even poetry. We take from any place where we find inspiration. It’s a magic show sometimes.

Since the beginning Pilobolus has always consisted of six members. Is there any situation in which you would consider adding more dancers to the group?

Well, the company actually started with four men and then they added two women about a year later. Today, we are working with seven members, but we never have more than six dancers on the stage and generally we will have a configuration of four men and two women.

One of the reasons we have seven people in the company now is because our touring schedule is so rigorous. It got to be that we needed an extra person because the dancers’ bodies would start to give out. So, now we are considering whether seven is enough. The company is configured the way it is because we like to keep our dancers as long as possible. The community really benefits when our dancers stay for a long time and really get to know each other. Because they have worked together for so long, the material they present on stage suddenly become something different to watch.

Because you draw inspiration from so many different styles of movement does that make the task of finding new dancers more difficult?

Yes, it is. Especially when we are auditioning women. We could have 300 women come out to an audition and dismiss half of them right away because we can tell that they just don’t have the open mindedness and versatility that we are looking for. Sometimes your dance training can become a detriment to you and can hamper your ability to create new things.

Can you tell me a little bit about the pieces we are going to see?

Sure! The program opens with Licks which we premiered in 2013 and is a piece I did with Trish Sie who is a video and film director. It’s a fun piece full of crazy movement. In it we use multiple lengths of rope and the ropes actually become our partners in dance.Transformation is an excerpt from our production Shadowland which is touring in Europe. This piece depicts the illusion part of what we do such as how we can take multiple bodies and create one image with them. Automaton is a piece we collaborated with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on and it sort of questions the attachment that we have with machinery and technology. The program will conclude withAll Is Not Lost and one of my favorite pieces, Rushes, which is the result of Inbal Pinot and Avshalom Pollak’s collaboration with the company. It’s kind of a quirky story with some interesting characters.

What would the company like to explore next?

The thing is that we don’t really know what we haven’t explored until we get in there and just start playing around. We are super interested in working with non-dancers. I’m currently working with another company member, Jun Kuribayashi, on a community project. We’ve got multi-generational participants where I think the youngest is 13 and the oldest is in her early 70’s, and we are creating a piece that is going to be performed during one of our shows at the end of January.

We also want to continue to play with mediums that you wouldn’t immediately connect to dance and see what comes out of that. So, we are always looking for that next problem to solve.

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