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: Bombshell Dance Project

Both Headshot - Photo credit Katie Bernet

Photo: Katie Bernet

Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman of Bombshell Dance Project on their unique partnership and creating their first program in Dallas.

Dallas — Together, Emily Bernet and Taylor Rodman tenderly cup their faces before slowly moving their hands down their bodies in a mildly seductive manner to the sweet sound of Marilyn Monroe’s voice as she answers a reporter’s question about whether or not she is happy. “If anything I am genuinely miserable,” Monroe states as Bernet and Rodman walk, glide and jump from one side of the space to the other, stopping intermittently to engage each other in catch and release action and simple gesturing such as a hand to the chest or a head on the other person’s shoulder. As the music changes so does the dancers’ movement quality, which becomes more aggressive and robust before once again slowing down and eventually fading out.

Meant to Be Seen showcases both Bernet and Rodman’s classical and modern dance backgrounds as well as their curious nature and instinctual approaches to movement, which they explored deeper during their time with Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. The eight-minute duet also features the dancers’ penchant for more explosive and full-bodied movement, which the dance partners and best friends point out is the main reason they formed Bombshell Dance Project in 2016. “The name has an ironic ring to it since neither of us are blonde or very curvaceous,” Bernet says.

Rodman adds, “I just feel like the word ‘bombshell’ in itself is pretty universal and empowering, which ties in nicely with what we want to achieve with the company.”

So, it seems quite fitting that the two would gravitate to text and music by their movie icons Monroe and Aubrey Hepburn in their first company work, Meant to Be Seen. The piece will be presented along with There I Said It and Kismet in the Bombshells’ first Dallas program at the Sammons Center for the Arts on Oct. 20. When asked what ties these three works together Bernet says it’s not so much a theme as it is a feeling. “For the last year we have been caught up in this feeling of angst, but it’s contrasted,” Bernet explains. “We talk a lot about contrast and underlying feelings such as what something looks like versus what it is or how it feels. And also what people look like on the outside versus what’s on the inside.”

Bernet and Rodman met their sophomore year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, but say they didn’t get close until their junior year when they joined the repertory dance company. “We just clicked right away as friends and creatively speaking,” Bernet says. “We are both pretty easy going and are drawn to movement that is big and powerful more so than soft and structured.”

Meant to Be Seen. Photo: Lynn Lane

The two say that they never saw themselves as the balletic type—instead preferring the challenges and artistic freedom associated with modern and contemporary movement. “I never really saw the ballerina in me,” Bernet says. “I started in a competition studio, but the second I found modern and contemporary in high school and later in college, I knew that is where I belonged.”

Rodman shares a similar story. “My body is just not meant for ballet, which I am totally fine with because I think it has helped me find different pathways and areas that I can use my body and challenge myself in various ways, which really became evident in high school. I just always wanted to be moving really BIG!”

During high school both dancers also found the same mentor in Professor Kyle Richards. “He definitely helped me to trust in what I was creating and to not be afraid to make work,” Bernet says. “One of the first things I learned from him was that the work doesn’t have to be perfect.”

She adds, “He was also big on starting from text and using feelings for inspiration, which has definitely influenced our work.” Nodding in agreement Rodman adds, “He was always really good about telling us not to take ourselves too seriously because in high school you know all the pieces in the shows are going to be super dramatic and intense and he really pushed us to see the lighter side of creating movement.”

After graduation the dynamic duo parted ways, Bernet heading to Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, where she focused on modern dance and performance; with Rodman moving up north to attend Boston Conservatory, where she studied improvisational techniques and choreography. Bernet credits their diverse college experiences with adding more depth and intrigue to their rehearsal process, which she says has made the work something that it wouldn’t be without the two of them.

Explosive, aggressive and full-bodied are just a few of the choice terms Bernet and Rodman use to describe their movement, which the duo says they haven’t been able to do until now. Both dancers learned early on that opportunities to move in such a forceful way would be limited due to their gender, a realization that strongly irked Rodman. “The seed was planted in high school because I always seemed to be in a dress or standing in the wings wanting to do the men’s section because it was so full-bodied and aggressive, yet soft at times and very textured.” This archaic approach to the female’s role on stage really started to bother Rodman in college where she remembers learning the men’s sections on the side just to fulfill that void for more demanding movement.

For those unfamiliar with the general rules of classical and contemporary dance, Rodman explains that in a lot of the roles she has performed since high school she has either been asked to play the damsel in distress or the femme fatale. “I was either made to feel like I couldn’t complete this task without a partner by my side or asked to be overtly sexual in a non-sexual kind of way, whereas the men’s sections were always extremely big, exciting and used the entire stage.”

Walking into Preston Center Dance where the Bombshells were rehearsing a couple of weeks ago I knew I was in for a very relaxed and fun experience if the dancers giggling from down the hall was an indicator. Bernet and Rodman were very considerate of each other during the rehearsal, taking turns answering questions and later taking turns with suggestions or critiques when going over movement. The two could also communicate with one another using just a look, which they say is one of the advantages of being such close friends.

“As far as creating movement I think it has been easy for us because we know each other so well,” Bernet says. “When we work collaboratively a lot of the time I will do a move and then she will do a move and eventually it kind of blurs together.”

Rodman adds, “Just being the two of us in the room this first year has been great because we work so well together that most of the time we don’t need to talk we just keep moving.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Preview: LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Dracula

A behind-the-scenes look at LakeCities Ballet Theatree’s upcoming performance of Le Ballet de Dracula in Lewisville.
Dracula

Photo: Nancy Loch Photography

Lewisville — If you are looking for something frightfully fun to do with the kiddos this Halloween, I suggest checking out LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) fall production of Le Ballet de Dracula at the Medical City of Lewisville Grand Theater, Oct. 13-14. Complete with stellar set designs, creepy costuming, vibrant dancing and an easy to follow narrative thanks to a ghoulishly charming MC (Art Director Tom Rutherford), LBT’s Dracula has become a Halloween tradition for many families in the area, including mine. Having been a fan of the production for the last 6 years, I was excited to receive an invitation to LBT’s studio, which is located inside the Ballet Conservatory in Lewisville, to watch some rehearsal. While I was there, I got a behind the scenes look at the second half of the show, which features the brides of Dracula, and I also got the chance to talk to two of the lead performers.

I walked into rehearsal a few weekends ago while the company was going through spacing for the brides of Dracula section of the show. Known for her clean and creative choreography, it was no surprise Lannin spent most of the time tweaking the dancers’ formations and going over specific body nuances such as how the dancers should hold their hand over their hearts and where their eyes should be focused in their diagonal lines. Timing and musicality are especially important in this section as the music is very slow and purposeful so any mistakes the dancers make would be easily noticed by the audience. And with no make-up or costuming to hide behind, the dozen or so dancers really had to amp up their performance quality in order to make the scene more believable, which they accomplished with some encouragement from Lannin and artistic staff members Janet Waters and Deborah Weaver who also sat in during the rehearsal. For example, toward the end of the scene Lannin told the dancers, “You really need to explore your characters here. You once loved this man (Dracula). Do you still love him? Or are you angry about what he has done to you? Just really feel that pain and make this moment your own.”

The instructors also had no qualms about calling out corrections during the run-through, which the dancers eagerly took in. I attribute the dancers willingness to take corrections to Lannin’s nurturing teaching method, which seems to be especially effective for the baby brides, as she calls them, who are as young as 12. Lannin would calmly say things like “your body can not show the landing,” “Oh, that was not a pretty picture” and most importantly “you must be performing as you learn. We don’t have time to learn and then perform.”

Guest Artist Adrian Aguirre, a newcomer to the production, says he has really enjoyed working with Ms. Lannin in the studio. “Her critiques are always very constructive and uplifting. She also has a great sense of humor which I appreciate a lot.” He adds that he is the type of dancer that likes it when the music takes control of the movement and he found that to be true in this production, which he says made learning his role that much easier. Aquirre is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts and is also the founder of the dance group, Uno Mas, which made its debut at Dallas DanceFest last month.

During rehearsal I also got to sit down with LBT Company Member Carley Greene who plays Aurelia, the love interest of both Marius and Dracula. Now a high school junior, Greene has been steadily rising through the ranks of LBT, but it wasn’t until last spring that she had her breakout moment in Lannin’s And The Things That Remain at LBT’s Director’s Choice performance. She came out the gate then with a dynamic solo showcasing impressive body control and a new level of artistic maturity that I had yet to see from her. I was glad to see that her confidence and joy of dancing are still present in her Dracula performance. As for how Greene feels about playing the lead character in the ballet she says, “It has been a great challenge for me to portray a lot of different emotions while also dancing and interacting with everyone on stage. Aurelia is so special to me because of the various emotions I need to express and because I get to dance to music that is so climactic and nuanced.”

Lannin made a wise decision years ago to record every performance so the dancers can reference it to learn their new roles as well as to refresh their memories of group dances such as the maypole dance in the first half and the brides of Dracula in the second. By watching the videos Greene says she is able to determine how much she has grown from year to year. “I am a completely different dancer today than I was last year,” Greene says. “I think every year I get more comfortable with the material, but this year particularly I feel I am able to express myself more freely.”

>> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

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Dance News: Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden join SMU dance faculty

 

 

Desmond-Richardson.-Photo-courtesy-of-Richardson.

Desmond Richardson. Photo: Gene Schiavone

WOW! I can not believe two of the industry’s most in demand choreographers will be joining the dance faculty at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts for the 2017-2018 school year. Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden really started the contemporary dance movement with their founding of Complexions Contemporary Ballet in 1994. The idea was to reinvent dance using a mix of methods, styles and cultures, which have lead them to create some groundbreaking dance works, including  Higher Ground (2001), Moody Booty Blues (2006), Cry Me a River (2009) and Moon Over Jupiter (2010).

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Desmond Richardson. Photo courtesy of individual.

I got to speak with Desmond back in 2013 for TITAS’ annual Command Performance, which also marked his last season of dancing on stage. I was blown away with his openness both in the interview and on stage. It’s no wonder he has been called one of the greatest dancers of his generations. His extensive dance career includes The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater and Ballet Frankfurt under the direction of William Forsythe. He has also appeared with the San Francisco Ballet, Royal Swedish Opera Ballet, Washington Ballet and many others. Desmond is a Tony-nominated actor and the first black American principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre.

Dwight Rhoden started dancing at the age of 17 and has performed with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Les Ballet Jazz De Montreal and as a principal dancers with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Under his and Richardson’s direction, Complexions has become a dance institution that is much in demand. Their need to create work that delivers a profound passion for diversity has really framed its vision and become the company’s hallmark. Rhoden is a beneficiary recipient of various honors and awards, including the New Yor Foundation for the Arts Award, The Choo San Goh Award for Choreography and The Ailey School’s Apex Award in recognition of his extensive contributes to the field of dance.

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Dwight Rhoden. Photo courtesy of individual.

I have meet both of them and I can honestly say they are the most down to earth individuals I have ever met in the dance industry. Both have strong viewers when it comes to presenting work and are very poetic with their descriptions of what they do. But, alas, I have never had the opportunity to take class with either one of them so you SMU dance students are pretty darn luckly!

I can’t watch to see the piece they set on the students!!

 

The duo will be teaching advanced ballet classes in the fall and spring and will also be choreographing a new work for the students.

 

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Dallas DanceFest Profile: Hailey von Schlehenreid

And here is my last profile for this weekend’s Dallas DanceFest. I hope you enjoyed learning more intimate details about some of these companies and their dancers. Hope to see you at Moody Performance Hall on Saturday! This profile was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Courtesy of Hailey von Schlehenreid

Dallas — With her busy work schedule which includes teaching and choreographing for various local dance organizations, Hailey von Schlehenried is proving that Dallas can be more than just an incubator for dance talent. Rather, it can also be a showcase for accomplished choreographers. Von Schlehenried first caught audience’s attention at Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) Women’s Choreography Project last year with her piece, Yin and Yang. “Working with ACB was such a dream for me. I realized from that project that you have to trust yourself. A project won’t work out if you don’t believe it will.” She adds that the experience also taught her a lot about working with live accompaniment. “It’s difficult when you rehearse one way and you’re used to one thing and your dancers are used to rehearsing one way with recorded music. Working with the ACB dancers really helped me to be more open to the music I’m working with and appreciate the value of live orchestration.”

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, von Schlehenried is the resident choreographer and co-director of Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas. She is a registered teacher with the RAD, a graduate from the Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies (CBTS) and is proficient in many forms of dance, including ballet, lyrical, jazz, modern and Flamenco. She has been dancing and studying dance for more than 20 years and has been choreographing for the last six years. Her choreographic credits include Royale Ballet’s annual Nutcracker production, festivals, benefits and competitions. Von Schlehenried is also proficient in flamenco dance and performs as a guest artist with Daniel de Córdoba’s Bailes Españoles.  In 2017 she was chosen for Avant Chamber Ballet’s Women’s Choreography Project where her work Yin and Yang was commissioned.

As an emerging choreographer, von Schlehenried says she’s both nervous and excited about presenting her work Flower in Rain at this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DDF). The piece, which features music by Max Richter, is a contemporary ballet duet that she created on Texas Ballet Theater dancers Riley Moyano and Amanda Fairweather. As for why she selected these dancers, von Schlehenried says she was inspired by the couple’s on stage and off stage connection. “There is such an honesty and trust when they dance together and it’s really beautiful to watch.” She adds, “I was really in love with this recomposition by Max Richter for a long time and I knew I needed to create to it, and when these dancers walked in the room everything kind of came together. They inspired the movement and the music finished it off.”

In regards to the job market here in Dallas, von Schlehenried says that things have really picked up in the last couple of years, but there is still more work to be done. “As a choreographer, the opportunities have started to get a little better as I grow my network, but there is still a need to keep this going and create more opportunities and platforms for dancers and choreographers. There are so many amazing dancers and choreographers in Dallas and we need to keep them here.” Von Schlehenried believes DDF is a step in the right direction, and she is looking forward to seeing so many artists and dance genres being presented on one stage this weekend. She is especially excited to see Bruce Wood Dance, Texas Ballet Theater, Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. “I think it’s going to be a good two days of dance.”

» Hailey von Schlehenried’s piece, Flower in Rain, will be performed this Sunday at 3:30pm as part of Dallas DanceFest.

» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:

 

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

  • Ballet Ensemble of Texas
  • Ballet Frontier of Texas
  • Dallas Black Dance Theatre
  • Danielle Georgiou Dance Group
  • Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
  • Indique Dance Company
  • Kat Barragan Dance
  • LakeCities Ballet Theatre
  • NobleMotion Dance
  • SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
  • Texas Ballet Theater
  • Uno Más
  • Wanderlust Dance Project

 

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3

  • AJ Garcia-Rameau
  • Arden Leone Dance Company
  • Bruce Wood Dance
  • Center for Ballet Arts
  • Contemporary Ballet Dallas
  • Dallas Ballet Company
  • DBDT:Encore!
  • Dallas Youth Repertory Project
  • Granadans
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Rhythm In Fusion Festival
  • Royale Ballet Dance Academy
  • Rhythmic Souls
  • Texas Ballet Theater School

 

» More information about Dallas DanceFest is available at www.thedancecouncil.org

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Avant Chamber Ballet Announces 2017-18 Women’s Choreography Project Recipient

Michelle Thompson Ulerich Dance Photo 2

Michelle Thompson Ulerich

Dallas – It was announced this week that New York-based choreographer Michelle Thompson Ulerich is this year’s winner of Avant Chamber Ballet’s (ACB) Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), which will take place April 21-22 at Moody Performance Hall in conjunction with ACB’s spring performance. Never one to just stick with the status quo, ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper started the project in 2015 with the objective of providing more opportunities for up-and-coming female choreographers to showcase their work. Since then the WCP has gained quite a following in Dallas thanks to Cooper’s insistence of live orchestration and her eclectic programming, which has included works by herself, Shauna Davis, Elizabeth Gillapsy, Emily Hunter, Amy Diane Morrow, Janie Richards and Hailey von Schlehenried. Cooper continues to enrich the Dallas arts landscape with her “dare to be different” attitude when it comes to the rules and traditions surrounding classical ballet and the expectations that come with being a choreographer in this particular genre. Cooper has also successfully brought live music and dance back together, which I think is putting positive pressure on other professional companies in the area to find creative ways to incorporate more live music in their performances. I can’t wait to see what Cooper and ACB have in store for us in the coming years.

Below is Avant Chamber Ballet’s press release in its entirty:

Avant Chamber Ballet Announces Women’s Choreography Project Winner

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 30, 2017

Dallas, TX – For the last three years, Dallas-based Avant Chamber Ballet has broken stereotypes and glass ceilings with live music and new works. This season’s Women’s Choreography Project presented in April 2018 is no different.  “You might not notice the imbalance and sexism in ballet from the outside,” says Avant artistic director Katie Cooper. “There are more female ballet dancers than male by far, but there are very few female choreographers getting commissions from professional ballet companies. With Women’s Choreography Project, we give emerging women choreographers the opportunity they need to take their careers to the next level.”


Avant Chamber Ballet held an international search for the right choreographer to commission a new work for this season. Out of over 50 applicants, Michelle Thompson Ulerich was chosen to be this year’s winner. “I am thrilled to be choreographing for the artists of Avant Chamber Ballet,” says Ulerich. “Texas was my home for 14 years, and I am looking forward to coming back to create and to bring some of my New York experiences with me.”

Michelle is a choreographer, dancer, and teacher in New York. In 2017, she will present new works in New York; Austin, Texas; Napa, California; and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Prior to moving to New York, she was a professional ballerina with Ballet Austin for 14 years. Michelle has been teaching ballet at SUNY Purchase since September 2016. She has created works for Ballet Spartanburg, Ballet Austin II,  Ballet Zaida, MOTION Dance Theatre. Her work for Avant Chamber Ballet will be presented on April 21-22, 2018 at Moody Performance Hall on the program Moving Music alongside masterworks by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Paul Mejia.

 

Also commissioned this year through the Project is a new work from Kimi Nikaidoh. As the artistic director of Dallas’s Bruce Wood Dance, Kimi has choreographed for her own company of modern dancers but this will be her first commission with a professional ballet company. “I’m beyond lucky that Dallas provides me with the opportunity to create work for high-caliber modern and ballet dancers,” says Nikaidoh. “Working with the lovely ACB company will be a delight!”

 

MOVING MUSIC

Women’s Choreography Project

George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie

Christopher Wheeldon’s The American pas de deux

Paul Mejia’s Serenade in A

April 21-22ND, 2018

Moody Performance Hall, Dallas, TX

 

Tickets available through TicketDFW.com

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Dallas DanceFest Profile: imPULSE Dance Project

Impuse dance project

Photo courtesy of imPULSE Dance Project

And yet another profile for Dallas DanceFest. This was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Artistic Director Anastasia Waters on the company’s mission and her expectations for their first showing at Dallas DanceFest.

Dallas — ImPULSE Dance Project (IDP) was created out of founder Anastasia Waters’ desire to change the way the general public perceives modern dance. IDP’s mission is to make dance more accessible for the general public by integrating their dance works into the environments that surround people in their everyday lives. The name stems from Waters’ impulse decision to make her dream a reality after a long internal struggle. “Though it has been a long time dream of mine, the thought was always very scary and overwhelming with the actual logistics of starting a company. Where will I get funding? Who will dance with me? Where will we dance? One day when all of these questions were running through my mind I had the impulse just to do it. So, that is where the name imPULSE Dance Project comes from and I have been acting on impulses in regards to this company ever since.”

Waters received her BFA in modern dance at Texas Christian University. During her time there she had the opportunity to perform in works by Susan Douglas Roberts, Elizabeth Gillaspy, Suki John and guest artists Robert Battle, Loretta Livingston and Alexander Beller. During Waters’ senior year she was awarded the Emerging Choreographer’s Award for her modern pieces Bedtime Story and OmnipotenceBedtime Story was also chosen to be performed and adjudicated at the 2010 American College Dance Festival. After dancing with Dallas-based Muscle Memory Dance Theatre for two years, Waters left to start her own company in 2012.

While this will be IDP’s first time presenting at Dallas DanceFest, the group is no stranger to festivals in general. The company actually premiered its very first work, True Colors, at the Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival in 2013 and has also performed at the Denton Dance Festival and Out of the Loop Fringe Festival. Waters credits dance festivals for helping IDP grow because she says they gave them an outlet to perform back in the beginning when they didn’t have the funding to put on their own productions. She adds, “Various festivals have helped us establish an audience and reach people we wouldn’t have otherwise. I believe they have also helped me acquire and keep dancers as they offer us more opportunities to perform, which is ultimately why we do what we do!”

For DDF 2017, IDP will perform Waters’ piece Between Wind and Water, which she explains is an abstract representation of vulnerability. “It is a dance on finding the courage to expose one’s deepest self in order to form real desired connections and relationships. In the dance these feelings are represented by images of wind and standing exposed in inclement weather.” The work features Waters’ signature movement style, which she says is very athletic and comes from her love of experimenting with power in dance so her movement contains a certain amount of weight and grounded quality.

As a first time presenter Waters says she is most looking forward to having the company share the stage with so many other talented companies in the area. She is also interested to see how her work translates onto a larger stage stating, “Most of the performances we do are held in very intimate black box settings, which I love, but we are all very excited to perform at Moody Performance Hall.”

» imPULSE Dance Project will be performing Between Wind and Water at Dallas DanceFest this Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:

 

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

  • Ballet Ensemble of Texas
  • Ballet Frontier of Texas
  • Dallas Black Dance Theatre
  • Danielle Georgiou Dance Group
  • Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
  • Indique Dance Company
  • Kat Barragan Dance
  • LakeCities Ballet Theatre
  • NobleMotion Dance
  • SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
  • Texas Ballet Theater
  • Uno Más
  • Wanderlust Dance Project

 

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3

  • AJ Garcia-Rameau
  • Arden Leone Dance Company
  • Bruce Wood Dance
  • Center for Ballet Arts
  • Contemporary Ballet Dallas
  • Dallas Ballet Company
  • DBDT:Encore!
  • Dallas Youth Repertory Project
  • Granadans
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Rhythm In Fusion Festival
  • Royale Ballet Dance Academy
  • Rhythmic Souls
  • Texas Ballet Theater School

» More information about Dallas DanceFest is available at www.thedancecouncil.org

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Dallas DanceFest Profile: Bruce Wood Dance

Austin Sora in Bruce Wood’s Zero Hour. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

And yet another profile piece for Dallas DanceFest. This features Bruce Wood Dance Company Member Austin Sora! This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Company member Austin Sora on joining Bruce Wood Dance and what she’s looking forward to at this year’s Dallas DanceFest.

Dallas — Dallas DanceFest (DDF) will forever be dear to Austin Sora as this was where she made her performance debut with Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) in the late choreographer’s Requiem back in 2015. Since then Sora has really come into her own as an artist, beautifully acclimating to Wood’s quirky yet poetic movement style and finding deeper emotional connections to his work with the help of BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh and Artistic Associates Joy Bollinger and Albert Drake.

“I like that Bruce has a very distinct aesthetic that is consistent with all his pieces even through there is such a variety of styles within that aesthetic. I love that it is kind of a marriage of technical skill and athleticism, but still very emotional and human.” She adds, “His work is also really personal and so, even though I never knew him, I feel like I have been able to get to know him through his work and through people who knew him and worked closely with him. That’s been a really special experience for me.”

Born in Toronto, Canada, Sora moved to New York City when she was accepted to Marymount Manhattan College where she earned a B.F.A in dance and a minor in arts management. It was during her senior year when she briefly crossed paths with Nikaidoh who was there setting a work for the senior showcase. “I wasn’t in her piece, but my friend David Escoto was and he went on to join BWD after graduation. It was actually David who mentioned my name to Kimi when she was looking for another female dancer, and so I came down to Dallas on kind of a trial contact and I have been here ever since.” This is Sora’s third season with the company.

Sora says she is excited to be dancing in an excerpt of Wood’s Red at this year’s DDF, which takes place Sept. 2-3 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. “Red is really physical and athletic and there’s a rawness to it, and the music is very driving. You just feel like there’s this constant struggle to keep on going amongst all the turmoil and chaos happening around you.” Sora points out that in rehearsal Joy would talk to them about the period of time in which Bruce created this piece, which was around when 9/11 happened, and how he didn’t intend for the piece to be about that, but it definitely influenced the work. “It’s very emotional and there’s a lot happening and I don’t even think that by the end you overcome the struggle. You just keep coming up against a wall that won’t let down.”

Sora also mentions the reasons she enjoys performing at DDF, which include getting a chance to perform for different audiences and the comradery she feels amongst the artists backstage. “The dance community here in Dallas is thriving and so, festivals like this are kind of like a celebration of that for me.” She continues, “It’s just exciting to see everyone together on the same stage. It’s always inspirational to see all the different dance groups that are out there. And for growing companies festivals are important as they help to build momentum and create new opportunities.”

» Bruce Wood Dance will be performing an excerpt of Red on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:

 

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

  • Ballet Ensemble of Texas
  • Ballet Frontier of Texas
  • Dallas Black Dance Theatre
  • Danielle Georgiou Dance Group
  • Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
  • Indique Dance Company
  • Kat Barragan Dance
  • LakeCities Ballet Theatre
  • NobleMotion Dance
  • SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
  • Texas Ballet Theater
  • Uno Más
  • Wanderlust Dance Project

 

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3

  • AJ Garcia-Rameau
  • Arden Leone Dance Company
  • Bruce Wood Dance
  • Center for Ballet Arts
  • Contemporary Ballet Dallas
  • Dallas Ballet Company
  • DBDT:Encore!
  • Dallas Youth Repertory Project
  • Granadans
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Rhythm In Fusion Festival
  • Royale Ballet Dance Academy
  • Rhythmic Souls
  • Texas Ballet Theater School

» More information about Dallas DanceFest is available at www.thedancecouncil.org

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Dallas DanceFest Profile: Ballet Ensemble of Texas

And here is another profile on one of the local pre-professional ballet companies performing at Dallas DanceFest this weekend! This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Photo: Cathy Vanover

Ballet Ensemble of Texas Artistic Director Allan Kinize on the benefits of dance festivals for aspiring professionals and what the company has in store for Dallas DanceFest 2017.

Dallas — Formed in 2001 by Lisa Slagle, Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ (BET) goal is to present quality ballet performances for the local communities and to provide advanced ballet students with the opportunity to prepare for a career in dance. Over the last 15 years BET has done just that with its tight knit group of fiercely driven and gifted dancers and the company’s refreshing renditions of classic story ballets such as The FirebirdCoppeliaThe Nutcracker, and Aurora’s Wedding. The company spends countless hours in the studio (Ballet Academy of Texas in Coppell) honing their musical aptitude, technical execution, stylistic versatility and performance quality, which typically result in packed performances throughout the year. Many of BET’s former dancers have gone on to dance professional with American Ballet Theater, Texas Ballet Theatre, Sarasota Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Colorado Ballet, just to name a few.

For this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DDF), BET will be stepping outside its comfort zone slightly in Tammie Reinsch’s Generation#.Featuring the entire company, the work blends ballet, contemporary and modern movements with props, including oversized emojis created by Wendy Lamar, to tell a light-hearted tale of how modern technology is affecting the personal relationships among today’s youth. “Generation# is a fun-filled, but contemplative look at how all our ever evolving technology is affecting our lives, and specifically young lives,” says BET Artistic Director Allan Kinize.

Kinize has been an advocate for DDF from the beginning and BET has been fortunate to have presented work in three out of the last four events, including this year’s performance of Generation#. “As a director, I see many benefits in participating in these types of festivals. First and foremost such venues give our dancers another opportunity to show their talents to the viewing public. The dancers also get to see other companies perform, and they get the chance to meet those dancers in a supportive artistic setting.” He adds, “These festivals also give the choreographers of BET the opportunity to either choreograph a new work or to set something that deserves additional exposure.”

Kinize also notes that his dancers are always very enthusiastic about participating in DDF, and have expressed those thoughts to him this year and in the past. “DDF gives the dancers a chance to see what we are accomplishing and that of the other groups in the area. Also, performing in such a beautiful theater is a special bonus for them because the pieces look and feel professional and are managed by professionals.”

» BET will perform on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall as part of DDF 2017.

» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:

 

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

  • Ballet Ensemble of Texas
  • Ballet Frontier of Texas
  • Dallas Black Dance Theatre
  • Danielle Georgiou Dance Group
  • Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
  • Indique Dance Company
  • Kat Barragan Dance
  • LakeCities Ballet Theatre
  • NobleMotion Dance
  • SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
  • Texas Ballet Theater
  • Uno Más
  • Wanderlust Dance Project

 

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3

  • AJ Garcia-Rameau
  • Arden Leone Dance Company
  • Bruce Wood Dance
  • Center for Ballet Arts
  • Contemporary Ballet Dallas
  • Dallas Ballet Company
  • DBDT:Encore!
  • Dallas Youth Repertory Project
  • Granadans
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Rhythm In Fusion Festival
  • Royale Ballet Dance Academy
  • Rhythmic Souls
  • Texas Ballet Theater School

 

» More information about Dallas DanceFest is available at www.thedancecouncil.org

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Dallas DanceFest Profile: DGDG

chatter

Colby Calhoun in Chatter from DGDG. Photo: Lynn Lane

Here is the first of several profiles I am doing on companies performing at this year’s Dallas DanceFest. This one was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Dallas — Since stepping on to the Dallas arts scene six years ago Danielle Georgiou has had the opportunity to present her work in some pretty interesting spaces, including warehouses, art galleries, Klyde Warren Park, the Wyly Theatre, Hamon Hall, Bath House Cultural Center and the theater at Eastfield College. As one of the performance companies chosen to present at this year’s Dallas DanceFest (DFF), Georgiou will soon get to add Moody Performance Hall to this eclectic list of venues. “I have never presented any of my work on this stage before so, I am looking forward to this new experience and working with the facility’s technical and production crews. It will be interesting to see what happens.”

Created in 2014 under the guidance of arts patron Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas, DDF strives to provide local and regional dance performance companies with the opportunity to showcase their work to a wider audience base while also giving them the chance to connect with their peers and experience work outside their own genres. This includes Georgiou’s own dance theater style, as she calls it, which is influenced by German choreographer Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater performance style and those of modern dance pioneers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. Together with her creative partner Justin Locklear, Georgiou has been able to produce work that is frank in nature, uninhibited in movement quality and thoroughly entertaining.

Regarding the couple’s working relationship Georgiou says, “Justin has brought out in me a new understanding of my own creative process. He constantly pushes and challenges me, and he is not afraid to ask the questions that I don’t really want to answer. He has given my work a particular context that wouldn’t necessarily be there without him.”

For DDF 2017 Danielle Georgiou Dance Group (DGDG) member Colby Calhoun will be performing, Chatter, a solo work Georgiou created for him two years ago. “Colby and I have a special connection in that we both have the same approach to dance making and other creative artistic processes, and we can understand each other without actually communicating.” She adds, “I was very lucky to find somebody who is also willing to throw themselves physically into movement, because as a performer my comfort area is to physically assert myself in order to find what the choreography is supposed to be, and Colby works much like me in that regard.”

An extremely physical work, Georgiou says the movement in Chatter represents the ongoing dialogue and many voices she hears inside her head all the time. “I find that my body and mind have a hard time resting and that is where Chatter started from, which was dealing with the push and pull of daily life and finding moments to try and quiet down, but never really being able to and just having this internal struggle with myself.” Georgiou adds that creating the piece was a cathartic experience for both her and Calhoun. “It felt good getting it out of my system and Colby has even said that after he performs it he feels relieved that he finished it. Watching him perform the piece, it’s a different experience each time.”

As far as what Georgiou is most looking forward to at this year’s DDF she says, “I know the festival’s audience base is going to be very different from our audience base so, I am interested to see what their reactions are to the type of work I make. A lot of times people are not sure what type of work I make so, I think this will be a great way for people to find out that yes I make dance, but I also make theater.” She adds, “And maybe this will encourage them to want to see some of the other works that we do that is this collaboration between different genres, and maybe it will help expand their knowledge of what dance can be. That it doesn’t have to be something very classical and traditional in nature. That it can explore new realms of movement and story.”

» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:

 

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

  • Ballet Ensemble of Texas
  • Ballet Frontier of Texas
  • Dallas Black Dance Theatre
  • Danielle Georgiou Dance Group
  • Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
  • Indique Dance Company
  • Kat Barragan Dance
  • LakeCities Ballet Theatre
  • NobleMotion Dance
  • SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
  • Texas Ballet Theater
  • Uno Más
  • Wanderlust Dance Project

 

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3

  • AJ Garcia-Rameau
  • Arden Leone Dance Company
  • Bruce Wood Dance
  • Center for Ballet Arts
  • Contemporary Ballet Dallas
  • Dallas Ballet Company
  • DBDT:Encore!
  • Dallas Youth Repertory Project
  • Granadans
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Rhythm In Fusion Festival
  • Royale Ballet Dance Academy
  • Rhythmic Souls
  • Texas Ballet Theater School

 

» More information about Dallas DanceFest is available at www.thedancecouncil.org

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