Ballet Frontier of Texas brings one of ballet’s oldest and most popular productions to Fort Worth with its version of Giselle this weekend.
Fort Worth — One of the only pre-professional ballet companies in Fort Worth, Ballet Frontier of Texas(BFT)has blossomed over the last five years with its drive to expand its repertoire to incorporate more contemporary works by new and seasoned choreographers, while at the same time still paying homage to the classics such as Les Sylphides, The FireBird and this weekend,Gisellewith performances that focus on authenticity both in character portrayals and choreography.
BFT Artistic Directors Chung-Lin and Enrica Tseng’s fondness for Giselle is just one of the reasons they chose it for their season closer. Enrica explains, “The choice of the repertoire is all about the dancers that are around us and we felt that the place, the time and the dancers and guest dancers, including Kathryn Boren (Giselle), Dan Westfield (Albrecht), Nathan Vendt (peasant pas de deux) and Hannah Wakefield and Elizabeth Villarreal (peasant pas de deux and Myrtha), make a great combination for this to happen right now.”
This two act romantic ballet was originally choreographed by Jean Carolli and Jules Perrot with music by Adolphe Adam. Today’s versions derive from revivals staged by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The role of Giselle was created for Carlotta Grisi who was the only ballerina to dance it at the Paris Opera for many years. The famous Wilis (ghostly spirits of dead girls jilted on their wedding day) that appear in the second half of the show are led through a dance by their queen, Myrtha, which in BFT’s rendition will be performed by company members Wakefield (Saturday) and Villarreal (Sunday).
“We are so excited to have Hannah dance the role of Myrtha on opening night,” Enrica says. “The character requires a strong presence, technique and acting. BFT is very fortunate to have Hannah as part of the company as she has all those qualities.”
Growing up, Wakefield spent many summers attending ballet intensives with companies all across the United States, including Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, Ballet West, Joffrey Ballet NYC, Tulsa Ballet and Gelsey Kirkland Academy. She earned a bachelor’s degree in ballet from Brigham Young University where she was also a principal dancer with Theatre Ballet. While at school Wakefield also had the opportunity to perform in operas and Broadway shows such as the Phantom of the Opera. She also participated in a study abroad program in Italy where she got to study the origins and pedagogy of ballet at La Scala and World Dance Movement.
Wakefield’s professional dance career includes Utah Regional Ballet where as a demi-soloist she performed in roles such as the Dewdrop Fairy in The Nutcracker, Little Cygnet in Swan Lake and Silver Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty. In addition to performing with BFT Wakefield also teaches jazz and ballet at the Ballet Center of Fort Worth.
“I am so blessed to be performing with Ballet Frontier of Texas,” says Wakefield who joined the company last June. “I truly love classical ballet and all the story ballets and so BFT is just what I was looking for in terms of repertoire.”
While Wakefield has performed in various story ballets throughout her career this will be her first time dancing a role in Giselle, a detail that led her to do extra research to help her get more of a feel for her role. “I watched a lot of different YouTube performances of Myrtha which helped me understand her personality. She is very playful and cute, but also very angry and quite bitter and if you look at the context of the story you can understand why. To me, it feels like she takes on the burdens of all the other Wilis and therefore is kind of like a mother to Giselle in the second act of the show.”
You can see BFT’s production of Giselle April 7-8 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center’s Scott Theatre.
The American Ballet Theatre principal dancer on performing Giselle with LakeCities Ballet Theatre and guest teaching at Dance Planet 22 this weekend.
Lewisville — The image we have of ballet dancers today is changing thanks to professional dancers like Misty Copeland, David Hallberg and Sarah Lane. These dancers have done what many say is impossible and have brought classical ballet into households around the world with their artistic pursuits both on and off the stage. Copeland is the first African-American to reach principal status at American Ballet Theatre (ABT). In 2011, Hallberg became the first American to join the ranks of the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow. And Lane is most recognized for her role as dance double for Natalie Portman in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ feature movie Black Swan (2010). But in the last year Lane has also been making some big moves on stage as well, if her promotion to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in September 2017 is any indication. She also received positive reviews for her debut role in Giselle last spring at the Metropolitan Opera House (MET) in New York City.
Throughout her career with ABT, which started in 2003 as an apprentice, Lane has performed in numerous classical ballets, including Cinderella, Coppélia, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lakeand Les Sylphide. She also created the Chinese dance in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, the Miettes Qui Tombent (Breadcrumb) in Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty, Miranda in The Tempest, Princess Praline in Whipped Cream and a role in Demis Volpi’s Private Light. Lane has also performed in works by notable choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, George Balanchine, Liam Scarlett, Jorma Elo, Marcelo Gomes, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp.
Lane began her dance training in Memphis, Tenn. under the direction of Pat Gillespie at the Memphis Classical Ballet. When her family moved to Rochester, N.Y., she continued her training with Timothy Draper and Jamey Leverett at the Draper Center for Dance Education. At age 16, Lane received a full scholarship to the Boston Ballet’s Summer Program. In 2000 and 2001, she was awarded first place and the Capezio Class Excellence Award at the North American Ballet Festival. In 2002 Lane became a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
Lane will be pulling double duty this weekend as she reprises her role in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’sGiselle and guest teaches at Dance Planet 22. TheaterJones.com caught up with Lane after she returned from tour last week to discuss her rise through the ranks at ABT, preparing for the role of Giselle and participating in Dance Planet 22.
TheaterJones: Growing up, was becoming a professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) your main goal?
Sarah Lane: I have always loved dancing, but I never expected to be in a major ballet company because I just never felt that highly of myself. It wasn’t a goal I felt was obtainable for me until we moved to Rochester, New York, and I started at a more difficult school and was exposed to more teachers and guest teachers in the summers. I loved imagining myself as a professional ballet dancer because of the qualities these teachers brought to their classes and their teaching skills really rubbed off on me. So I kept working, and when I was 16 I came to New York City with a friend and saw ABT perform at the MET for the first time, and it made me think that maybe my dream is to be in ABT.
I always thought that NYC was too big of a city for me and being part of ABT would be too stressful, but then I thought of how beautiful the dancers looked on stage and I really wanted to be a part of that. And I think a lot of this had to do with the ballerina I saw that night, Amanda McKellow, who to this day is one of my favorite ballet dancers. She has such a sensibility when she moves and is so humble and she helped me a little bit with Giselle in the studio, which also happens to be the ballet I saw her perform in when I was 16.
You mentioned that you never saw yourself becoming a professional ballet dancer because you didn’t think that highly of yourself. How did you find the confidence to pursue your goal of joining a professional company?
Well, it’s something that I struggle with to this day. And I guess you can call it my Achilles heel because I have never been incredibly sure of myself. I love what I do and I get lost in it and I get lost in a certain feeling. It’s the feeling and the ideas I bring to what I do that drives me. And also the people that I work with and the processes that just make my performances whole rather than me coming out and thinking ok I can do this, this and this. So, instead of it being about me and myself and what I can do that drives me, it’s more about the artistry and what ideas I am trying to portray. So, in that sense I guess I don’t focus so much on whether I have confidence or not. I would say my confidence has gotten better over the years in that I’ve learned to appreciate the process more, and if I give more to the process then it distracts me when I go onstage so I can focus on the work more.
Looking at your career as a whole what advice do you have for the next generation of ballet dancers?
The most important thing is to have a really good work ethic because if you think you are too good to work or if you have one good show and you don’t think you have to work after that then that’s your downfall. Your whole career is going to be work and it’s not easy for anyone. Humility is also very important and having perspective in life and just keep working. I mean, perfectionism is great because that’s what keeps you working, but another point is you can’t judge yourself so much that you lose your love for what you do.
You were a soloist with ABT for 10 years before being promoted to principal last year. At any point during those years did you just want to throw in the towel?
I felt like I was just bashing my head up against a brick wall for many years. I wanted to go further and I wanted to develop and I wanted to do new and fresh works, but the thing is nothing is ever lined up so you can get what you want all the time. And that is how it was for me. I wasn’t lucky with the timing of how the company was going for a huge chunk of my career. But at the end of the day I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t have to persevere through that time. I learned how to work for myself and drain as much as I could from a role, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was thrown into things faster. I wouldn’t have learned how to keep myself occupied and keep myself entertained with what I had. So, this taught me perseverance and how to motivate myself. I mean if you really love something than you have to keep working toward it. Even when you get discouraged you have to find a way to inspire yourself.
You had your debut in Giselle at the MET last May and received rave reviews. One critic even called you the Giselle for the Millennials. How did you go about making the role your own?
I really enjoy the depth of the story and the ethereal feel of the second half. This wasn’t a role I was thrown into. I have done so many peasant pas’s in my career that playing Giselle just felt like the next step for me. So, for me it wasn’t like all of the sudden I was on that night. It was more of a progression of so many years of continuing to be disciplined and continuing to love what I do. I have such fond memories of doing the ballet with LakeCities Ballet Theatre nine years ago that when I finally did it with ABT I just had such love for it that whatever judgements I had about myself I had to throw out the door because I felt like the ballet didn’t deserve any of that. And even though Giselle is one of the oldest ballets, it still contains emotions and storylines that people can relate with today such as love and betrayal. So, the ballet is still living and breathing the emotions that we have as human beings.
You performed in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) Giselle nine year ago, and you have also been playing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Company’s Nutcracker since 2014. What do you enjoy most about working with these young dancers?
It always helps to having someone older to look up too and learn from so I hope that there is something these dancers can learn from me and that I could be there to give them any tips or offer some encouragement. That’s what I enjoy about having these dancers around and watching and talking to them and just being a part of their productions. It’s really an honor for me to be there and to be a role model for them. LBT has a really good heart and lots of positive energy and they have kind of accepted me into their family and that just means so much to me.
While in Dallas you will also be performing and teaching classes at Dance Planet 22. How would you describe your teaching style?
I think I am a pretty fair type of teacher. I mean if someone doesn’t seem like they are really invested in my class I can be a little tough with them because if you’re not interested now then you are never going to be interested. But if a dancer is working hard, but still struggling with something I am more than happy to be gracious and give everything that I can to help them. The tough love side of me really only comes out when I feel like a student is being lazy or isn’t trying. I love coaching and being with dancers inside the classroom, so teaching is definitely something I see myself doing more of in the future!
You can see Sarah Lane in LBT’s production of Giselle April 6-7 at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theatre and Dance Planet 22 April 7-8 at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Dallas Arts District.
Bruce Wood dancer Emily Drake on partnering with Houston-based METdance in Bridget L. Moore’s new work, Following Echoes, part of the Lone Stars performance on Friday.
Dallas — Emily Drake is not hard to spot on stage amongst the other members of Bruce Wood Dance (BWD). Her fiery red hair and petite statue will always draw your eye, but it’s the way she lives in the movement that keeps us from being able to look away. “Emily is a really gifted performer and an intelligent mover,” says BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh. “She can make just about anything work. So, say you ask her to make a turn go into something else that goes to the floor or in the air and she can very quickly find a way to make that happen. Her musicality is also really remarkable. …There are dancers who can do something on the note and there are dancers who can do something with the feeling of the note in the music and Emily can do with the feel of the note immediately. It’s this emotional intelligence too that makes her performance so satisfying to watch.”
Originally from Nashville, Drake grew up studying modern, ballet and jazz and attended summer programs at The Rock School of Ballet. She came to Dallas in 2010 to attend Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts where she had the opportunity to perform in works by renowned choreographers Martha Graham, Adam Hougland, Jessica Lang, Billy Siegenfeld, Bill T. Jones and local dancemaker Bruce Wood. She met Wood toward the end of college and worked with him on a project basis till she graduated in 2014 and officially joined the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP), now Bruce Wood Dance. Today, Drake is one of the few remaining company members that got to work with Wood directly before his passing in May of 2014.
“He was very intense,” Drake says about her first time working with Wood in the summer of 2013. “He did not let me go under the radar. He pushed me and really laid into me and it was all because he was trying to get something out of me that I wasn’t aware of yet. He just had this energy about him that made the people around him want to be great for him.”
Drake laughs as she reflects on RED, the first piece she learned with the BWDP, and one of the two Wood works the company will be presenting at its Lone Stars performance with special guests Houston-based METdance this Friday evening at Moody Performance Hall. “I was blown away by the physicality of it and at the time it was the hardest dance I had ever done.” Drake explains, “I didn’t know how to balance my energy yet so, I just pushed myself to go 100 percent the entire time and you just can’t do that in this piece. After I learned how to control my energy the piece feels so different now and I definitely get more enjoyment out of doing it.”
In addition to RED, BWD will be doing another Wood favorite, Lovett! and Drake and David Escoto will perform in Bridget L. Moore’s new work Following Echoes alongside METdance company members Danielle Garza and Kerry Jackson. The program also features METdance’s Mario Zambrano’s Volver, Paralyzed by Fear by Houston-based Courtney Jones and Snow Playground by New-York based choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska.
“This show is all about celebrating dance in Texas,” Nikaidoh says about the program which she collaborated on with METdance Artistic Director Marlana Doyle. “At first it was just going to be a shared show and then we thought how great it would be for someone to come in and set a work using dancers from both companies.”
The choreographer they chose is Texas native Moore, who at the time was the head of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She has since been released from her position for reasons that are still unknown. It’s the organization’s loss as Moore has continued to find ways to share her creativity within the Dallas community and her most recent work, Following Echoes, will be making its debut in Lone Stars. “The only directives we had for Bridget was length, the number of dancers and that we would like the work to have emotional weight and be athletic,” Nikaidoh says. “We appreciate her coming in and giving our dancers this opportunity to learn from her.”
As one of the four dancers in the piece Drake was able to give me some behind the scenes information about Moore’s creative process and what is was like working with the dancers from METdance. Drake says Bridget started off the process by talking to them about her feeling for the piece. That it would be her way of showing appreciation toward Bruce as well as delve into the different transitions we go through in life.
“She then used the different images we have of Bruce in the studio to create a motif based off of how each image made her feel,” Drake says. “Some of the movement was planned while other times she would just give us a directive like right leg developpe in a circular motion.”
Drake adds that the structure of the piece is a mix of ensemble work with solos plugged in, but in the ensemble sections the dancers are rarely doing the same things at the same time. She also says there is not a whole lot of partnering involved in the dance. “Bridget likes to keep your eyes moving around the space. She likes filling up the stage so big, full lines of energy are very important to her.” Drake describes the piece as, “Kind of like being on a rollercoaster because there are these moments of high energy and others when the movement calms down, which is represented through the highs and lows in the music.”
The cast learned the piece in a very short time at the BWD Gallery back in December and then to keep things balanced went to Houston to rehearse at METdance’s studio space a few weeks ago. “It has been a really nice collaboration,” Drake says. “Everyone was so easy going and honestly we were just enjoying each other’s company.”
As for Drake’s future as a dancer she says, “BWD is home for me. It has given me everything I didn’t know I was looking for and there has never been a moment that I felt like I wasn’t growing as a dancer.” She adds, “From the start everyone was so supportive and I never really felt like I was in this alone and that’s what I like about the company. BWD has always been first and foremost about the group so, if you don’t love it then this is not the place for you.”
Avant Chamber Ballet celebrates its artistic growth with three physically and musically challenging works in Beauty and Bach.
Dallas — One major sign of a business’s staying power lies in its ability to grow even when facing obstacles that are out of its control. Since its inception in 2012, Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB) has been sticking to its mission of reconnecting ballet with live music by providing live chamber music at every one of its performances, while also stretching audiences’ understanding of classical ballet with Artistic Director Katie Cooper’s bold choreographic choices and keen eye for interesting and diverse guest artists and local collaborations. Cooper will need to rely on these skills moving forward in the midst of The Arts Community Alliance’s (TACA) announcement last month that it will be cutting its funding to local arts groups. To try to counter this hit to ACB’s bottom line, Cooper has been busy applying for grants as well as promoting the heck out of their performances with the hopes of increasing ticket sales.
The silver lining in all this is that people have been talking about ACB’s upcoming Beauty and Bach performance, which takes place Feb. 17-18 at Moody Performance Hall, since the company made the announcement back in the summer. The line-up includes George Balanchine’s musically challenging Concerto Barocco, the world premiere of Cooper’s Appalachian Spring featuring a 13-member orchestra and Cooper’s restaging of Aurora’sWedding from Sleeping Beauty with music from Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky’s score, which is arranged by Bryan English. Dallas native Brad Everett Cawyer will conduct the whole evening with the group of musicians he has hand-picked with ACB Music Director David Cooper.
When asked if ACB is ready for such an ambitious program Cooper replies, “Musically it is ambitious and I think the company needs to grow in that way because artistically we are the strongest we have ever been.” She adds, “I almost hate to use the word ambitious because I think it’s not ambitious in some ways because we have been working toward this since the beginning. Yes, it’s a bigger program that we have done before, but we are definitely ready for that.”
Cooper also notes that a program such as this one enables the audiences to see a variety of balletic styles in one setting. And with live accompaniment. “In this case we have a beautiful neo-classical Balanchine piece, my Appalachian Spring which is quite neo-classical and modern ballet, and then Aurora’s Wedding, which is the only super classical ballet we’ll do this season.”
With her strictly classical background you would think it would be challenging for Cooper to tap into the modern nuances of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring (1944), but Cooper says her lack of modern training actually worked in her favor. “It wasn’t hard for me to create something different because I am not a Graham dancer and therefore her work is not in my mind or body. I know Martha’s verision, but it’s so far apart from my vocabulary that I knew nothing was going to come out looking like hers.” Cooper adds that a lot of the movement for the piece was a testament to how fantastic the music is, which was composed by Aaron Copland and features a 13-member chamber orchestra.
“It’s such beautiful music and it’s easy to dance to because Copland wrote it for Martha Graham so, the counts are really clear and melodic sounding.” She adds, “There are also a lot of familiar themes like ‘Simple Gifts’ which is just really famous, so a lot people can sing the words to that song. So, in that I think Appalachian Spring is a very accessible piece for audience members who don’t get to see music concerts and dance pieces very often.”
Unlike other ballets of this time period, Concerto Barocco was created with no story or theme in mind. Instead, the choreography is a direct response to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, which will be performed by soloists Eleanor Dunbar and Lauren Densinger. The work is split into three movements with the third one being the allegro section featuring the entire ensemble, which ACB was in the process of cleaning when I stopped by the company’s rehearsal at Bruce Wood Dance’s studio in the Dallas Design District two weeks ago.
All 10 dancers hop on pointe into two parallel lines that extend diagonally across the space, their arms moving from fifth then alternating side lines, as they shift their focus from side to side to match the syncopated chords of the music. The dancers’ stamina and continuity are tested with the section’s many formation changes and complicated phrasing such as asymmetrical arm and leg movements as well as quick balances and constant weight changes on pointe. “Balanchine’s choreography is so incredibly clear and every note of the music has a step, so really the dancers never stop moving for the whole 18 to 19 minute ballet.” Cooper adds, “It’s all about clarity and stamina.”
Choreographer and Hurricane Katrina survivor Michelle N. Gibson shares her story in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Cultural Awareness Series.
Dallas — In August 2005, Michelle N. Gibson and her family, including her newborn son, piled into their car and drove away from their New Orleans home. A home they would never return to due to the flooding and destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. With very few supplies and no means to contact family and friends, Gibson and her family drove all the way to Dallas where her boyfriend at the time had recently resided. It was in a hotel lobby where Gibson got her first look at the devastation caused by Katrina. “We had no idea what was going on because we didn’t even have electricity in the hotels so, we didn’t know about the conditions of the convention center or the whereabouts of our family and friends. Let me tell you! When I watched the TV for the first time and saw the people in front of the convention center looking like it was a third world country, I just lost it. I have never felt so helpless.”
That first year after relocating was a tough one for Gibson, who knew nobody in the area. She chose to stay home with her young children instead of finding a job as a dance educator. She says at the time she didn’t even want to dance. All that changed the day Vicki Meek called her out of the blue and told her to get down to the South Dallas Cultural Center. “Now, if you know Mama Vicki then you know when she speaks you better listen. She said she heard that I had been in Dallas for a year and she had not laid eyes on me so I needed to make my way down to the South Dallas Cultural Center.”
Gibson soon found herself at the South Dallas Cultural Center where she met Meek who, to this day, has been a source of comfort and support for Gibson. “The South Dallas Cultural Center was the space that gave me a new start. It gave me a new place to create and a new home and I am forever grateful to Vicki and the center.” She adds, “Vicki also enabled me to pick back up with Exhibit Dance Collective, a dance company I started in New Orleans which is kind of like the Urban Bush Women of the south in that the work was all about the feminist empowerment movement and women of color.”
Today, in addition to running Exhibit Dance Collective, Gibson also teaches dance at Brookhaven College and Mountain View College in Dallas. She also holds an artist in residence position with the Ashe’ Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans. Over the last 12 years Gibson has also taught dance for the Dallas Independent School District and has conducted numerous dance intensives and workshops for universities and cultural centers across the U.S. and in Germany. Gibson earned a B.F.A in dance from Tulane University and her M.F.A in dance and performance studies from Hollins University/American Dance Festival at Duke University.
Gibson’s choreographic works include New Orleans Second Line: Takin It To The Roots performed at the American Dance Festival in 2001; Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters with the Dallas Children’s Theater; Krump accompanied by the LoneStar Wind Orchestra at the Meyerson Center; 2008 South Dallas Dance Festival premiere of I Made It, But Some Didn’t, a tribute to souls survivors of Hurricane Katrina; and the Dallas premiere of Evolution: Honoring, Recognizing, and Uplifting Women of Color and Sisters of the Yam at the South Dallas Cultural Center in 2012.
This weekend Gibson will be sharing her Katrina evacuation story using some traditional New Orleans dance moves and music in Displaced, Yet Rebirthed, which is part of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s (DBDT) Cultural Awareness Series at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. It was recently announced that the dancers will be accompanied by The Kickin’ Brass Band and New Orleans trumpeter Thaddeus Ford in the grand finale. The program also includes Christopher L. Huggins’ tribute to South African President Nelson Mandela in His Grace.
After receiving the call from former DBDT Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore asking if she would be a part of the performance, Gibson spent a week with the company exploring her movement aesthetic which she calls a fusion of jazz, contemporary, Afro modern and New Orleans second line, a style Gibson says she has been cultivating since graduate school.
“Second line is not something you learn in a dance studio. For me, second line is kind of the traditional dance of New Orleans so for my thesis I began to look at a dance that’s done from an impulse and then started creating a language so the movement could be taught.” She continues, “In my classes I will usually have a live brass band there because the music cannot be separated from the movement. Like when you go church and the spirit hits you it’s like a buildup of adrenaline that needs to release. So, that’s what I try to maintain in my second line aesthetic.”
Gibson created Displaced, Yet Rebirthed during her residency at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign last year and says the process was like a therapy session with herself. “It has taken a while for me to creatively through dance do a work about Katrina because I’m still wearing it. We ALL are still wearing it. And this piece is about what we are still living through every single day.”
When it was time to go into the studio with DBDT Gibson says she knew the dancers were technically good, but that this work was not just about the movement. “It’s about the dancers being able to embody a real life experience such as the loss we all felt after Katrina. Because Katrina was a loss for us all emotionally, mentality and spiritually. So, I went in thinking of the work as a compositional piece and focused on getting the dancers to understand how to allow the human experience to be the movement and not the movement being the movement.”
Gibson also points out that there is a fine line between being authentic and acting when creating a piece on such an emotional topic like Katrina, and so to keep the piece from becoming overly dramatic she would sit down with the dancers before every rehearsal to just talk. “You see, I always wanted them to know where I was in my spirit as a human being and not just as a choreographer and talk about my intentions for the work. We would talk about different parts of Katrina and how it happened for me so then they could take my experience and make it their experience.”
The Dallas native on coming home and starting Don’t Ask Why Dance Company, which makes its world premiere this Friday.
Plano — As in any industry, the Dallas dance market has seen its fair share of highs and lows since I moved to the city almost a decade ago. In the two years following the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2009, the Dallas dance community saw an impressive rise in the number of professional dance companies in the area, including Avant Chamber Ballet, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Bruce Wood Dance. The dance scene’s next noticeable growth spurt happened around 2014 with the influx of more local dance festivals such as Dallas DanceFest, Rhythm in Fusion Festival and later, Wanderlust Dance Project. Since then the dance market has plateaued, with many dance companies and organizations struggling to find cost effective ways to increase funding and ticket sales without disrupting their bottom lines.
Now, the Dallas dance market is about due for another growth spurt and I believe it will come in the form of fresh talent like Avery-Jai Andrews, who grew up in Dallas but left to pursue dancing elsewhere and is now returning home to start her own dance company. Like many serious dancers here in Dallas, Andrews attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before being accepted into New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating from NYU in 2014, Andrews decided to move overseas where she danced professionally with artists in Italy, Israel and Germany.
In 2016 Andrews made the decision to come home to Dallas and start making her own work, which is how her dance company, Don’t Ask Why, came into existence. The company’s first performance is this Friday, with performances at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., at the White Theater, part of the state-of-the-art facilities that make up the new Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano. Titled GESTALT, which is a German word meaning an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts, the 45-minute piece features Italian-based contemporary dance company Keyhole Dance Project.
TheaterJones talked to Avery-Jai Andrews to find out more about her European contemporary dance style, the lessons she has learned abroad and what viewers can expect to see at Don’t Ask Why Dance Company’s premiere performance.
TheaterJones: What made you decide to come back to Dallas to form your own dance company?
Avery-Jai Andrews: Dallas is such a vibrant city, and I know for me and my dance friends when we come back home there is always something new happening in the dance community, and I think that is what’s pulling a lot us [professional dancers] back to the area. With that said, I have spent the last three years traveling between New York, Europe and Israel, and I finally had enough of that and wanted to come back to Dallas with the intention of settling down and creating my own work. So, in October 2016 I made the decision to start changing things so I could start to create my own non-profit.
How has your perception of the dance scene in Dallas changed since leaving for college in the fall of 2010?
I remember we moved into the new section of Booker T. at the end of my Freshman year, so I really got to experience the changes happening in Arts District first hand, but by the end of my Senior year I was ready to leave home and experience being a college kid. I feel like when I left that dance wasn’t something that I wanted to do here in Dallas. I thought that I needed to be in New York in order to make it as a professional dancer. My mind wasn’t opened up to the idea until I left America and I started seeing what was happening dance-wise in other countries and as my own voice started to become more clear. During this period of time I started to have more desire to share and to create, and I think that’s when the urge to find a place to settle down and start choreographing began to take over.
I mean when I went to college I had no idea that I really wanted to create and start my own company. I was just ready to be a dancer, join a company and to be living that New York fast-paced life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love New York City, but I have started to realize that you are limited there. Everything is very expensive there, so when it comes to creating your own work in the city, you know outside of working to make money to pay your rent, you also have to find the free time and the money to be creative and I felt that would be more possible here. I just feel like Dallas is asking and wanting the young, different voices too. They want different flavors and there are a lot of people who want to support the arts. It’s so great to go to shows here and see an audience that is excited to be there and I feel like sometimes you miss that in the big cities where there are always dance performances happening.
Why did you chose to pursue a dancing career abroad after graduating from college?
I was blessed to study abroad over the summer to Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria and that was my first taste of dance outside of the U.S. and more specifically the European contemporary style. It showed me a whole other world. I mean, just the way they use the space, sets, lights and costumes; it’s such an integrated feel that I think sometimes I’m missing out when I’m here in America. The experience opened my mind up to all that dance can be. That dance can be something more than I already see and so, when I got back and entered my last year of school I knew that I wanted to go back and felt like I needed to immerse myself in dance outside of the U.S. So, as soon as I graduated I ended up going to Israel to Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Dance Journey program for five months.
Even with all the conflict that was happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis during this time, I still had a great time and the program helped me acknowledge that I have the tools and skills to be an artist and that I could go forth and be a professional. And because it is an international program I got to meet so many wonderful people from around the world and it is actually where I met Matteo Zamperin from Italy who started Keyhole Dance Project. I also met Elise Cleaver there, and I was in Hamburg with her in 2015 creating a new work. So, I still kept in contact with a lot of those people and that has afforded me the opportunity to travel more just from that program. The Dance Journey program really set me up to continue this deep desire of whatever was brewing in me to get out and explore the world. And just being in other cultures and living there, not just visiting or being there a week or two, but living in other countries has really expanded me as a human and had me questioning a lot about who I want to be and how I want to live my life.
As of today, how would you classify your movement style to audiences?
I am definitely not classical and I wouldn’t even say modern because I even see modern as a bit more classical so, I would say I am within the realm of European contemporary dance. What I like to focus on as a creative is, the dancers have to be physical and dynamic with their bodies but yet still relate to the people who are watching them. How can we still show that we are human, but then also be more expressive within our own bodies? So, I definitely put in those lines and we have big movements and we take the space and travel, but then I want us to be able to transition into just being human and being a body at the same time.
Can you explain Friday evening’s program to me?
The program is 45 minutes long with no intermission and I would describe it more as a performance experience.GESTALT is a collaboration with my friend Matteo and his Italian-based company, Keyhole Dance Project. He and I formed a good rapport through Kibbutz’s Dance Journey program and I knew that I wanted that again so, when I decided to produce my own show as a premiere for Don’t Ask Why I immediately reached out to him.
The theme of the show comes from its title GESTALT, which basically means the perceived whole is more important than the individual pieces that make up the whole image. That has served up very well in the creation process because Matteo hasn’t been here this whole time and just being a start-up we have been rehearsing here and there and so we were literally creating in pieces. And some of the material we worked with had been planned a year ago so most of our collaboration came into play when we started putting all these pieces of movement together. GESTALT is a very dynamic and layered piece and I’m personally enjoying that each of the seven performers is having an experience of their own throughout the work.
What is the inspiration behind the name Don’t Ask Why?
Well, when my mom came to my shows she would tell me ‘that was great, but why did that happen?’ and I would say, ‘Mom you don’t need to fully understand what I was thinking. I just want you to experience the movement.’ In my mind, as long as the show made her feel something then the job was done. I just want people to feel something when they see my work and that’s one of the reasons behind the name. The other is more personal and goes back to when my best friend Micaela White passed away right before I went to college and a year later I was in another scary situation with a close friend who was in the hospital and these experiences made me started questioning why me? Why am I in this place? At that time this felt like a very dangerous place psychologically to be in and so, I told myself that I was going to stop asking why and just keep moving forward. I have taken this philosophy with me since then and it has been a very productive thing for me to live by.
It has been another eventful year for dance in Dallas. TITAS brought a whopping 11 national and international dance troupes to Dallas in 2017, including Bridgman Packer Dance, Doug Varone and Dancers, Ballet BC and Malpaso Dance Company. Dallas dance institutions Texas Ballet Theater and Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) tie for second with five programs each. DBDT also experienced its first season without founder Ann Williams at the helm and as DBDT’s programs have shown new Artistic Director Bridget L. Moore is not afraid to take news risks while also respecting the company’s modern roots.
And as for the smaller companies, Bruce Wood Dance and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance both had stellar years with numerous premieres by special guests and their own company members. Avant Chamber Ballet is still pushing the boundaries of ballet with its Women’s Choreography Project while both Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet and Contemporary Ballet Dallas continue to build stronger and more consistent works.
We also saw the continued evolution of local dances festivals here in Dallas, including the fourth annual Dallas DanceFest, the fourth annual Rhythm in Fusion Festival and the second annual Wanderlust Dance Project. We have also seen many of the young dance professionals in the area forming their own dance companies, projects and movements, including Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project, Adrian Aquirre who is founder of Uno Mas Dance Company and Madison Hicks who is the founder of Moving Forward Dance Project.
So, you can see progress has been made in Dallas, but going into 2018 funding and tickets sales remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind no matter the size of your dance company. We have seen some companies cut costs recently by looking in-house for new choreographic ideas as well as seeking lesser priced venues for performances. I expect to see more of this happening in 2018 as well as companies getting more creative with their marketing, including social media, to promote their upcoming shows.
And as I reflect over the last year I can’t help but notice that once again most, if not all, of the dance premieres I got to preview were produced by some of my favorite local dance people, including Joshua L. Peugh (Dark Circles Contemporary Dance), Danielle Georgiou (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group), Sean J. Smith (Dallas Black Dance Theatre), Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman (Bombshell Dance Project) and Albert Drake (Bruce Wood Dance). I love the uniqueness these artists bring from their training, travels and artistic influences to their own creative processes; but the one thing they all have in common is they all treated me to a truly memorable experience, which is why they, along with a few others, have made it on my list of favorite new works by local choreographers.
In no particular order, here are my favorite new works made locally in 2017:
Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou
Nothing made me laugh as much as Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) Donkey Beach did back in June as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project. Inspired by the beach movies of the 1960’s, Georgiou along with Justin Locklear (music and lyrics) and Ruben Carrazana (script) used live surf rock music, popular dance moves like The Twist and The Mashed Potato as well as a slew ‘60s slang to transport audiences to one amazing beach party. And as only DGDG can do, the cast kept us laughing with their catchy song lyrics and quick-witted comebacks while also drawing our attention to controversial topics such as sexual orientation and gender neutrality in subtle and thoughtful ways.
Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman
In their Dallas debut this fall, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project showed audiences what they are all about in what I believe to be their signature work, Meant to be Seen. In this eight-minute duet the former Dark Circles Contemporary Dance members relied on their instincts and experimental partnering as well as classical and modern dance stylings to show audiences that female dancers are also capable of handling the more aggressive and robust dance moves generally associated with male dancers. Performing to text and music by their movie icons Marilyn Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn, Bernet and Rodman cleverly added a hip, feminine vibe to balance out the more powerful movements in the piece.
Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger
Bollinger proved not to be a one hit wonder with her second visually moving work, Hillside, which premiered at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance back in November. Like her first work Carved in Stone, in Hillside Bollinger relied heavily on her artistic eye, including stunning lighting effects and three-dimensional architectural shapes as well as a large cast to bring to life her narrative of a woman’s journey through the ups and downs of life. Bollinger accomplished this feat with long, swooping body movements, authentic human connections and a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside. Kimi Nikaidoh also gave a masterfully performance as the lead character with her unyielding body control and raw display of emotions.
HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh
Peugh returned to his light-hearted roots with plenty of finger jabs, pelvic thrusts and leg twitches in HALT!, part of the Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Spring Series: Bleachers last May. Inspired by watching the fencing competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, Peugh took common fencing techniques such as lunges, attacks and advancements and added in his signature loose-limbed jumps, heavy walks and primal positions to put a modern spin on this centuries old sporting event. The matching white outfits and fencing masks added an air of mystery, which only heightened the viewers’ anticipation.
Chasing Home by Albert Drake
The Bruce Wood Dance company member has found his groove as a choreographer if his latest work, Chasing Home, which was part of the company’s Journeys performance last June, is any indication. With an original score by Joseph Thalken, the work focused on the communal acts of a wedding, including the after party featuring the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, as well as a friendly game of soccer to represent the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps. Drake incorporated a slew of dance styles, including Graham technique, soccer drills, B-boying, classical ballet and Irish step dance. The most poignant moment in work came from Emily Drake and David Escoto. The couple’s swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing were clearly in Wood’s style, but the vulnerability and sensuality present in the couple’s partnering was uniquely Albert Drake.
Interpretations by Sean J. Smith
Last February, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) company member Sean J. Smith was tasked with putting together a work highlighting the company’s 40 years of dance innovation and community outreach, which was then presented at DBDT’s annual Cultural Awareness Series. With a dancing background that includes jazz, tap, ballet, modern and classical, Smith incorporated all of these styles along with video and audio recordings that featured DBDT alums and faculty members to create Interpretations. The choreography flowed seamlessly from slow and methodical to fast and daring with an emphasis on musical accents and individual showmanship. I personally enjoyed the big band dance section at the end in which the men of DBDT defied gravity with numerous leaps, turns and foot slides.
Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate
Shanon Tate’s depiction of the relationship between sisters in Somewhere in Between at LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Director’s Choice last spring resonated strongly with me. Tate beautifully captured the complex nature among sisters in a number of poignant duets against a three-dimensional floral stage setup designed by Tom Rutherford. The familiar chords of Antonio Vivaldi played through the speakers as the three couples pulled, twisted and fell away from another while also engaging in a number of tender embraces.
I absolutely love all the dance experiences that are happening this month. In addition to all the Nutcrackers and other holiday dance performances occurring around town, there is also plenty of opportunities to see some free dance performances as well. The NorthPark Mall’s Sights and Sounds of the Season features a number of Dallas’ elite dance companies in free performances running throughout December.
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) will also be hosting a free performance Dec. 15-17 at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library in downtown Dallas. Entitled Things Missing/Missed is a devised, movement theatre work written by Justin Locklear and Houston playwrights Melissa Flower and Philip Hays with choreography by Colby Calhoun and Danielle Georgiou. The ensemble cast will use physical theatre techniques, puppetry and contemporary dance to bring to life the story of a young couple on the brink of disaster and a hermit, who may or may not, be stealing their property.
Things Missing/Missed is based on the real story of a hermit who renounced all interaction with other people and hid in the woods outside of North Pond, Maine for 30 years, which engendered myths of forest monsters, stealing from pantries and sock draws. The legend is juxtaposed against T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and from this structure, the play explores the sensations of missing, being missed, and being erased, according to DGDG’s press release.
“We believe in storytelling through movement and the power of dance to communicate ideas that are normally hidden,” Georgiou says. “Each word or phrase embodies a gesture and movement that can fundamentally alter our perceptions and emotions, and there is something beautifully haunting in exploring that.”
If you haven’t seen any of Georgiou’s work over the last six years, then you are definitely in for an experience. Georgiou and her tribe of quirky writers, actors, dancers and singers are known around town for producing work that chips away at the thick societal shell surrounding individuals to ultimately reveal the imperfect beauty that lies beneath. The group accomplishes this with its quick-witted dialogue, catchy original tunes, and modern-based movement choices. The themes are always real and relevant and Georgiou’s creative use of satire and irony to broach controversial topics such as gender roles, sexuality and political viewpoints is pure genius.
I have had the pleasure of seeing many of Georgiou’s shows, including NICE, The Show About Men, War Flower, and Donkey Beach, and yes, some of the content and language did make me feel uncomfortable at time, but I never felt judged or preached too. DGDG’s performances are also a mind-bending experience and I am excited to see what they have in store for us with Things Missing/Missed.
Things Missing/Missed will be performed Friday, December 15 at 7:30p.m., Saturday, December 16 at 2:00p.m. and 7:30p.m., and Sunday, December 17 at 2:00p.m. All performances will take place at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. All shows are free and open to the public!
Around the Holidays the NorthPark Mall in Dallas turns into a zoo thanks to the upscale mall’s unique holiday attractions which include Santa Claus, the trains and Sights and Sounds of the Season, which is a FREE performance series featuring the musical and movement stylings of schools, churches, synagogues and community and professional dance troupes from around North Texas. The performance series runs Nov. 28 through Dec. 22nd and the Dillards’ Court and North Court and again this is FREE!!!
With two little ones at home I am well versed with the trains and Santa Claus attractions at the mall, but I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have never stopped to watch any of the dance performances presented by the many well-known professional and pre-professional companies in the area. That is going to change this year especially since the only way to see Bruce Wood Dance’s Mistletoe Magic will be through this performance series. (Bruce Wood Dance performs tomorrow at 1pm in the North Court area.)
Looking at the performance line up online, I am amazed with the number of dance companies both professional and pre-professional that will be presenting in these 30-60 time slots as well as the variety of movement styles that will be showcased. I mean this Saturday alone starting at 10am you can catch some of the most popular names in the Dallas dance community, including 8&1 Dance Company, Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Contemporary Ballet Dallas.
After checking in with some of these companies on social media, I can tell you that Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will perform Joshua L. Peugh’s Les Fairies as well as a section of a new work that Peugh is planning to introduce in the spring. OK! that alone has me hooked! Danielle Georgiou Dance Group will also give us a sneak peek of a new creation and perform Colby Calhoun’s Bedtime Stories. And Contemporary Ballet Dallas will perform to some holiday classics along with the school’s student ballet, tap and hip hop youth ensembles.
And while I have already included a link to the full line up, I wanted to pull out some special dates for all you dance lovers out there so you can go ahead and mark your calendars:
Dallas Black Dance Theatre Academy Performance Ensembles
The Hockaday School Dance Department
Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School
Collin County Ballet Theatre
Chamberlain School of Ballet
Avant Chamber Ballet
The Ballet Conservatory
Bombshell Dance Project
Dallas Ballet Company
I hope to see you all there!!! Get there early to find a parking spot and claim a front row seat!
Moving Forward Dance Project will be hosting its second event in January, aptly titled Moving Forward II.
Created by Booker T. Washington alum and Juilliard student Madison Hicks, Moving Forward Dance ProjectII is a three-day dance workshop where students get the opportunity to work with professional and pre-professional artists from The Julliard School. Dancers will have the opportunity to train in a safe and encouraging atmosphere where the MFDP faculty will share their wealth of knowledge and experience, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Hicks came up with the idea for the project during her first year at the renowned Juilliard School. (Check out this article on the Dance Spirit web site from 2016 about Hicks’ life as a Juilliard student!)
“I wanted to create a workshop for the young artists in Dallas to give them a glimpse of what concert training is like.,” Hicks says. “I have always had a love for teaching and choreographing, and in college I got to dive into my choreographic studies even more. Although I began choreographing at Booker T. Washington HSPVA, I thought about how much I would have loved to explore choreography at an even younger age than I did. I believe young artists have the capacity to create in an environment that encourages their choreographic voice.”
Hicks credits her time at Springboard Dans Montreal in 2016 and 2017 with helping her find her voice as both a dancer a choreographer. “This workshop pushed me even more to create an open environment for young artists to begin exploring their voices. I have found in my training and research that too often, we are not encouraged to train in anything besides technique until much later in our training and careers. The purpose of Moving Forward Dance Project is to bring this encouraging and mature environment to the young artists in Dallas.”
I couldn’t agree more! I grew up in the competitive dance world where tricks and flexibility were the focus of most of my classes. I did not experience my first composition class till my Freshman year of college and by that time I was pretty stuck in my ways. What I mean by that is after years of learning to pick up choreography quickly at conventions and trying to replica my dance teachers movement styles I was now being asked to think for myself when it came to creating movement. Looking back I wish I had more opportunities to explore choreography outside the competition realm before entering college. I was hard for me to reach my full potential when I still had some many hurtles to overcome. So, I urge are you young professionals out there in Dallas to please take advantage of this unique opportunity.
Moving Forward Dance Project II takes place Jan. 6-7 at Pure Movement Dance and Fitness in Allen, TX, and includes master classes as well as workshops focusing largely on improvisation and composition. And along with modern, contemporary and ballet classes, this year’s event will also feature repertory classes.
This year’s faculty includes Hicks, Kevin Pajarillaga (Bruce Wood Dance and Yin Yue Dance Company), Alysia Johnson (Juilliard School) and Jillyn Bryant (Bruce Wood Dance).