Q&A: Avery-Jai Andrews

Avery-Jai Andrews (bottom) in Notturno with Keyhole Dance Project. Photo: Mario Squotti

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.

Avery-Jai Andrews. Photo: Courtesy

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.

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

 

 

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Favorite New Dance Works in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donkey Beach by Danielle Georgiou

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

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

Meant to Be Seen by Emily Benet and Taylor Rodman

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

Hillside by Joy Atkins Bollinger

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

HALT! by Joshua L. Peugh

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

 

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

Chasing Home by Albert Drake

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

Interpretations by Sean J. Smith

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

Somewhere in Between by Shanon Tate

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Miss Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s Free Performance This Weekend!

Full Cast of Things Missing Missed_ Photo by Trenton Ryan Stephenson (1)
The full cast of Things Missing/Missed. Photo: Trenton Ryan Stephenson

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!

 

 

 

 

Free Dance Performances at NorthPark!

mistletoe magic
Austin Sora and David Escoto in Bruce Wood Dance’s Mistletoe Magic. Photo: Lynn Lane

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.

les fairies
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance in Les Fairies. Photo: Chadi El-khoury

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.

bedtime stories
Colby Calhoun’s Bedtime Stories. Photo courtesy of Danielle Georgiou Dance Group

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:

Dec. 2

Dallas Black Dance Theatre Academy Performance Ensembles

Dec. 5

The Hockaday School Dance Department

Dec. 9

Texas Ballet Theater Dallas School

Collin County Ballet Theatre

Chamberlain School of Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet

Dec. 16

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!

 

 

 

Save the Date: Moving Forward Dance Project II

 

madison hicks
Madison Hicks. Photo: Kenneth B. Edwards

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 Project II 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

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).

 

>>Ticket information is available at www.eventbrite.com

>>You can also find out more information about the event by checking out Moving Forward Dance Project’s instagram page as well as its Facebook page!

 

 

 

Falling Up: Preview of Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance

 

BWD-Hillside
Bruce Wood Dance in Joy Aktins Bollinger’s Hillside. Photo: Sharen Bradford/The Dancing Image

Bruce Wood Dance prepares for the physically taxing elements in Joy Atkins Bollinger’s Hillside, part of the company’s RISE performance this weekend.

 

Dallas — Against what will be a backlit stage, Kimi Nikaidoh slowly walks across the space in Bruce Wood Dance’s (BWD) main studio with a pensive expression on her face. Her left arm habitually reaches out to brush across the other dancers’ feet, which are swaying haphazardly as the dancers lay prone on a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside made of dense Styrofoam and reinforced with half inch plywood. As Nikaidoh moves further downstage, the dancers start a series of quick lower body exercises, including flex and pointed toes, turned out feet and crisscrossing legs, which they perform in tandem as well as off time. Even without the lighting this image is striking thanks to the dancers’ simplistic movements, which stir up a wealth of emotion, and are also recurring themes in choreographer Joy Atkins Bollinger’s new work, Hillside, for the BWD’s RISE performance this weekend.

Bollinger began her dance training at the age of 7 at the Fort Worth School of Ballet with Victoria Fedine and Paul Mejia. During her time there she performed in productions of The Nutcracker and Cinderella with the Fort Worth Ballet Company. She eventually was invited to the Cedar Island Summer Intensive for two consecutive years where she lived and studied with Suzanne Farrell, who was one of George Balanchine’s muses at the New York City Ballet during the 1960s and ’70s. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a B.F.A. in ballet, Bollinger joined the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) in 2002. She worked with BWDC for four years while also dancing as a guest artist for Irving Ballet, Metropolitan Classical Ballet and Madison Ballet. Today, Bollinger is an artistic associate with Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance where she is restaging Wood’s works and starting to make some of her own, including Carved In Stone, which was her first full-length dance for BWD and was met with critical acclaim at the company’s SIX performance last year.

Bollinger says the inspiration for Hillside came from an image she kept seeing in her head of just a slope.

“I just couldn’t shake this image of an abstract hillside that looks like someone just took some marley and squished it from the sides so it just has a ripple in it,” Bollinger says. “And I could also see the dancers starting out with their legs in the air and a figure just walking by and brushing their hand against that.”

To bring this idea to life, Bollinger had her brother who happens to be an architectural engineer help her create an architectural file, which is what the Styrofoam factory referred to when cutting the material. From there the prop had to be assembled and then reinforced so the dancers would be able to run across and perform on it. “So the meat of it is actually a dense foam that weighs between 200 and 300 pounds that we then covered with a thin carpet and marley flooring.”

In addition to the even, smooth look on top, Bollinger also needed the prop to be light enough to slide around the stage, which the dancers do a couple of times throughout the piece. Bollinger explains that the prop begins up stage and will move to mid stage during Nikaidoh’s personal struggle before being shifted to a diagonal, which will represent Nikaidoh’s new perspective on life. She adds, “The first transition will have these flashes of light and as the music changes the downstage will be lit, but the upstage will be dark so all you can see is the front edge of the prop creeping into the light.”

If you had to opportunity to see Carved In Stone, you will be able to see some similarities between that piece and Hillside, most obviously Bollinger’s penchant for large casts and captivating stage design and lighting techniques. She has also taken a page out of Wood’s book with the use of understated movement and silky smooth partnering sections. Like Wood, Bollinger also relies heavily on instinct so that her movement always has a continuous flow to it, but keeps in context with the piece’s narrative and imagery.

This is most clearly seen in the large group section near the end when all 14 dancers run into the space, including three dancers on the hillside, to perform a breathtaking series of body arcs and under-curves, which Bollinger layers with balletic legs and textured arm movements to fast-paced instrumentals. With the use of creative pathways and musical timing, Bollinger avoids the clutter and chaos that generally comes with such large dance works; instead making smart choices that add more dimension and emotional depth to the already deeply empowering work.

And as for why Bollinger decided to work such a large cast she says, “There is just something so satisfying and fulfilling about seeing a lot of bodies on stage. The piece reads stronger with more bodies and the music is so big and powerful, and there are so many layers at the end that I just wanted there to be a moment where everyone can see the big picture.”

Hillside makes it premiere at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance at Moody Performance Hall Nov. 17-18. The program also includes Wood’s Lay Your Burdens Down and The Only Way Through Is Through. This program will be dedicated to two choreographer/instructor Kim Abel; and to former BWDC dancer Doug Hopkings, both of whom passed a way in recent months.

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com

 

Fresh Perspectives: Preview of Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice

Booker T. Alum Rebecca Troyak makes her choreographic debut at Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Director’s Choice performance this weekend.

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Rebecca Troyak. Photo: Courtesy of Troyak

Dallas — Walking into Bridget L. Moore’s composition class freshman year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA), Rebecca Troyak was immediately drawn to the worldly choreographer’s energy and teaching methods.

“She has such a power about her and she is just a beautiful person inside and out,” Troyak says about her dance mentor. “She is so thoughtful about her work and is so willing to bring something new out of you. I didn’t know I had the ability to choreography until she brought it out of me. She also has had an amazing career and it is refreshing that someone so talented is willing to be so opened about her experiences and share her knowledge.”

Moore shares with TheaterJones that her first choreographer opportunity occurred in college at The Ohio State University with the late Jeraldyne Blunden, founder of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. “Jeraldyne saw something special in me and invited me to workshop choreography on the dancers in the company,” Moore says. “That was a rare and unique opportunity and was the catalyst for honing my craft as a choreographer. I also had wonderful teachers who continued to push me as an artist even after I had long graduated. These same teachers are now my friends and colleagues and continue to support me and the work that I do. I now offer the same support that was given to me as a young aspiring artist and choreographer.”

Moore’s passion for nurturing the next generation of dancers and performers is just one of the many refreshing characteristics she brings into her role as the new artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT), which is evident in the lineup for her first Director’s Choice performance Nov. 3-5 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas. Along with an expanded version of Moore’s Uncharted Territory, the program also features Andy Noble’s Tower and a duet by newcomer Troyak.

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Moore in rehearsal with DBDT. Photo: Xavier Mack

“Bridget has this kind of mindset where she wants to nurture young artists, which is so wonderful and I am so grateful that she wants to help nurture me still at this time in my life,” Troyak says. “I mean it is definitely scary walking into a room knowing that I am younger than most of the dancers, but everyone at DBDT was so responsive and supportive that it made the process really easy.”

“I have always been impressed with Rebecca,” Moore says about her decision to have Troyak work with the company. “But I was extremely pleased to see her sensibility and approach to working in a professional setting with DBDT. The dancers were very receptive to her process, and she being a college student had no bearing on her artistic integrity, information shared with the dancers or the professionalism she brought to DBDT.”

“Rebecca is exceptionally gifted, both as a performer and choreographer, and is a young artist with considerable promise. There is a level of maturity and sophistication about her work and that is essentially the reason why Monophonic was selected to be a part of Director’s Choice.” (See a video of a previous performance of Monophonic above.)

Originally from Ontario, Canada, Troyak and her family moved to Dallas when she was 12. She attended BTWHSPVA where she was a member of the Repertory Dance Ensemble I. During her four years there she had the opportunity to work with various renowned choreographers, including Jessica Lang, Dwight Rhoden, Sidra Bell, Lar Lubovich, Takehiro Ueyama, Clifford Williams, Troy Powell, Adam Houghland and Andy Noble. Troyak has also trained at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Batsheva Dance Company, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet School. Troyak is currently a junior at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance under the direction of Jodie Gates and William Forsythe.

Troyak will be presenting her work Monophonic, which is a duet she created alongside her best friend during her senior year at BTWHSPVA. The piece explores the couple’s unique relationship using a blend of contemporary and modern movement devices. “I say we are an unlikely duo because we are complete opposites. He is super outgoing and I am on the shy side, but what makes are relationship work is that he has given me so many qualities of him and vice versa and we have become better people because of each other.” She adds, “The piece is really just about exploring the give and take of relationships and human interaction and connection in general, and what we have to offer one another.”

Troyak points out that name of the piece, Monophonic, is a musical term meaning one sound. She says the dancers demonstrate this idea by staying separated in the beginning, but as the work evolves they come together to be one person or one sound. “So, they are not individuals by the end. There are two people who have given and taken so much of each other that they are in harmony with one another.”

The music Troyak selected is a dramatic opera piece that she says fits her choreographic personality. “I am an emotionally driven person so, I like music that is emotionally charged and that is what I found in this opera piece.” She adds, “When I am dancing I like to feel the music. I don’t want to just do shapes in the space. I want to feel every moment that I am making in space and feel the intention and purpose of what I am doing and I think music is so powerful and it definitely drives my movement a lot of times.”

After teaching a company class and watching the dancers improv for a bit, Troyak chose DBDT company members Claude Alexander III and Jasmine White-Killins to perform her piece with Zion Pradier and Hana Delong acting as their understudies. Known for his dynamic stage presence, lyrical athleticism and effortless partnering, it’s no surprise why Troyak chose to work with Alexander. What is surprising is that Alexander will be dancing with White-Killins after being paired up with Alyssa Harrington for multiple seasons. (Harrington moved on from DBDT at the end of last season.) “Because I didn’t really know the dancers going into this process I relied on my instincts when it came to matching up the couples. I just kept switching them around and I just kept going back to Claude and Jasmine.” When asked what drew her to these two dancers Troyak says, “During company class Claude caught my eye right away. He has something really unique to offer, which this piece definitely requires. And what is awesome too is that Claude and Jasmine are actually really good friends and so they could really connect to the work.”

Troyak also says this experience has taught her a lot about herself, including how to take ownership of the room and how to share her knowledge in terms that the dancers could easily understand. “It was a different task for me and I am thankful to Bridget for allowing me to have complete control from beginning to end. Troyak adds, “What has surprised me the most about myself during this process is my ability to take ownership and lead the space. Because I’ve been so used to the other role where I listen and don’t talk, I surprised myself by being able to take charge and go up to the front of the room and say exactly what I wanted. And what was really amazing for me was watching the dancers’ change how they were moving to fit the demands of the dance.”

>This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

 

Q&A: Stephanie Rae Williams, Dance Theatre of Harlem

Stephanie Rae Williams of Dance Theatre of Harlem returns home for the Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival and the Dance Council Honors this weekend.
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Stephanie Rae Williams. Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dallas — As the oldest of six siblings, Stephanie Rae Williams says her parents had to get creative when it came to financing her love of dance, especially classical ballet. Williams credits her mom with discovering the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which also happens to be where she will be performing this weekend, along with attending the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence by the Dance Council of North Texas. “My mother is such an amazing woman and she just wanted me to have all these different opportunities in dance and so, she was really the one who sought out different scholarships that were available and helped me apply for them,” Williams says. Her mom’s hard work paid off in 2005 when Williams was awarded the South Dallas Dance Festival scholarship, which she used to attend Julliard’s summer intensive that same year. The scholarship also gave Williams the opportunity to perform at the SSDF, which was a big deal for the 16 year old at the time. “I think I performed a classical piece, which is nothing like the solo I will be performing this time.”

The event, newly renamed Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival in honor of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), runs Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School and includes performances by Williams, Sydney Winston (2017 SDDF scholarship recipient), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. The schedule also features a master class with former Bruce Wood Dance Company member Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase and an industry roundtable. The event is made possible by Arga Nova Dance with the support of Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center.

For SDDF, Williams will be performing José Limón’s Chaconne, courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH). Out of the four casts, Williams was the only female chosen for the solo, which she describes as modern-based and challenging, yet extremely satisfying to perform. “There’s something really gratifying about the way Jose Limon choreographed this piece. It feels like you evolve as a human being throughout it and by the end of it you’re like dead, but alive at the same time.”

Growing up in Allen, Texas, Williams started her dancing at Texas Ballet Theater School (formerly Dallas Dance Academy) when she was 8 years old. She grew up training in ballet, jazz, lyrical, tap and hip-hop with Joyce Seaborne Bader, Lyndette Bader and Fiona Fairrie. After graduating from Allen High School, Williams joined Ben Stevenson’s Texas Ballet Theater for a season before heading to New York City. There she worked with Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden at Complexions Contemporary Ballet before joining DTH’s ensemble company in 2010. After DTH returned from hiatus with Virginia Johnson at the helm in 2012, Williams was then asked to join the revived company and has spent the last five years here gaining more confidence in herself and her craft. “It’s the first company that I was able to make my home and really feel like I could grow and be nurtured there. What’s interesting is that half that dancers that came with us to Dallas in 2014 have moved on and yet I am still here. It’s surreal being one of the veterans that the new company members now come to show them the ropes.”

When asked if she ever gets the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, Williams responds, “Yes, I do sometimes get the urge to explore opportunities outside of DTH, and I have done that with Virginia’s approval, but DTH remains my home base.” Williams mentions that she just completed four shows with the Seattle-based Arc Dance Company, which she says Johnson was nice enough to allow her to do. “It a lot of fun because for once I wasn’t the seasoned dancer. I was the new girl and I feel like it’s really important to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable anywhere, and so I am really thankful I have a director that encourages these types of opportunities.”

As far as what Williams is looking forward the most at SDDF, she says, “Just mingling with everyone there and also seeing so many smaller dance companies from professional to the local high schools perform. And because it’s not just the professionals performing this really does feel like the whole South Dallas community is coming together to celebrate dance throughout these three performances.” Williams adds that she is also looking forward to seeing the kids attending the festival as she believes there are not enough black dancers for them to look up to in the industry today, especially in classical ballet. “I was the only black girl in my entire dance school, but I just thought that this was the norm. It wasn’t until I walked into DTH to audition that I noticed there was this whole other side missing from my dancing because at DTH when we dance there’s this whole other type of soul that we bring to the stage.”

While in town Williams will also be attending the DC Honors where she will receive the Natalie Skelton award for artistic excellence. The event takes place at Dallas Black Dance Theater on Sunday afternoon and will include food, a silent auction and performances by local companies and scholarship recipients. In addition to Williams, this year’s honorees also include Kathy Chamberlain, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy. As far as Williams’ reaction to the award news she says, “I was both humbled and excited when I heard I would be receiving this honor. It’s just really nice knowing that I have so much support here in Dallas and it means so much to me to be recognized in this way.”

» For more information about Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival, please visit www.becklesdancingcompany.org, and for more information about the Dance Council Honors, please visit www.thedancecouncil.org

This article was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

News: South Dallas Dance Festival changes name to Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival

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Mary Lois Sweatt

Formerly the South Dallas Dance Festival, the new Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival (SDDF) is dedicated to the memory of Mary Lois Sweatt (1939-2016), whose vision and support were integral to the success of SDDF in years past.

Entitled Spreading Our Wings, the new SDDF features performances from Stephanie Rae Williams (Dance Theatre of Harlem), Sydney Winston (who attends Point Park University), Beckles Dancing Company, 410 Line Dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company and Momentum Dance Company, just to name a few. To note, Williams was the SDDF Scholarship recipient in 2005 and Winston is this year’s recipient.

 

Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has danced with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012.

I spoke to Williams back in 2014, two years after DTH was reformed under long-time

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Stephanie Rae Williams. Photo: Courtesy of DTH

DTH dancer Virginia Johnson, when the company was touring in Texas and she shared with me what is was like seeing the legendary dance company for the first time. “I was 16 and my mom drove me to Tyler, Texas, on a school night to see them,” Williams reminisces. “I remember how shocking it was because I had never seen so many dancers of color onstage doing ballet before. It was a beautiful experience.”

Williams began her career with Texas Ballet Theater in 2006 and since then has dance with the Francesca Harper Project and Ballet Black before joining the restored DTH in 2012. Williams will also be receiving the Natalie Skelton Award for artistic excellence at the end of this month at the Dance Council Honors, which will be hosted by the Dance Council of North Texas and held at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

The schedule for SDDF also includes a master class taught by Christie Sullivan, a youth dance showcase, a industry roundtable and many opportunities to see some dancing! The festival takes place Oct. 27-28 at Ann Richards Middle School in Dallas. Go check it out!

See the press release below for more information:

 

ARGA NOVA DANCE with support from Ann Richards Middle School and South Dallas Cultural Center present [Mary Lois] Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival – Spreading Our Wings

WHAT:  SDDF 2017 “Spreading Our Wings”

WHEN: Friday, 27 October 2017, 8:00 pm, Saturday, 28 October 2017, 3:00 pm & 8:00 pm

WHERE:  Ann Richards Middle School, 3831 N. Prairie Creek Rd, Dallas TX 75227, cor. Military

TICKETS:  Tickets online: eventbrite.com/e/sddf-2017-spreading-our-wings-tickets-38340657940

Advance sales are: 10.00 general, 5.00 for seniors, students, members of Dance Council or ARGA NOVA DANCE.  Please bring ID or printout to the box office with you.

Tickets at door: 15.00 general, 10.00 for seniors, students, members of Dance Council or ARGA NOVA DANCE.

Master Class: $5.00 participants, $15.00 general

ADVANCE TICKET SALES: eventbrite.com/e/sddf-2017-spreading-our-wings-tickets-38340657940

WEBSITE:  www.BecklesDancingCompany.org

SDDF 2017 schedule

October 27, 2017 – Friday: Evening Performances, 8:00 pm

October 28, 2017 – Saturday: Open Master Class, 10:00 am

Youth Dance Showcase, 3:00 pm

Round Table Discussion, 5:00 pm

Evening Performances, 8:00 pm

 Master Class with CHRISTIE SULLIVAN

ARGA NOVA DANCE is supported in part by: South Dallas Cultural Center, City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, Sammons Center for the Arts, Star System donors to ARGA NOVA DANCE.

2017 SDDF [ML]Sweatt Dallas Dance Festival – Spreading Our Wings, is supported  in part by Ann Richards STEAM Academy and LINKS, Inc. Dallas Chapter.

Schedule subject to change, only as necessary.

 

Dance Council of North Texas Honors returns to Dallas Black Dance Theatre

The Dance Council Honors has thankfully split from Dallas DanceFest and will return to its more intimate setting at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

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Me at the 25th Dance Council Honors Sept. 30, 2012 at the Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Dallas.

I know I am not the only person happy about the fact the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) will no longer be squeezed into Dallas DanceFest (DDF). For the last few years the DC Honors has occurred in conjunction with DDF and unfortunately has suffered as a result with the main complaint being the length of each evening’s program.

The presentation of the awards also lacked the comradory and celebratory atmosphere that has always been a part of the DC Honors, which is why I am glad that the event has split from DDF and will be returning to Dallas Black Dance Theatre on Oct. 29 for some food, fun and fantastic dancing. And, of course, we will hear from this year’s DC Honorees, which include Kathy Chamberlain, Stephanie Rae Williams, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy.

Over the last couple of decades, these incredible individuals have made huge strives to better our local dance community thanks to their passion, dedication, knowledge, cultural awareness and above all love for the art form of dance. Because God knows we are not in it for the money!

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Kathy Chamberlain. Photo courtesy of Chamberlain School of Ballet

I know I will be there to watch Kathy Chamberlain as she receives the Mary Bywaters Award for her lifetime contribution to dance.

I met Kathy one day at Sandy’s Shoes and Dancewear back in the summer of 2009. I had just moved to Dallas from Cleveland and knew absolutely no one in the local dance community. She took me under her wing and she and I had multiple phone conversations about the ins and outs of the Dallas dance scene. She is the one who lead me to local dance writer Margaret Putnam. I started off by reading a lot of Margaret’s reviews, which at the time were published in the Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones.com (TJ). This eventually lead me to contact TJ where I have now been writing dance previews, Q&As and reviews for the last six years.

Kathy was ultimately the one who jump-started my career here in Dallas and I will forever be grateful to her. And her willingness to help me is also one of the things I like most about our local dance community. Although everyone is technically in competition with one another they are always willing to lend a helping hand and offer up support when needed. So, I recommend offering your support to the dance community by coming to this year’s DC Honors. Even if you don’t know any of the honorees you should still come. I did when I first moved to Dallas and it taught me a lot about the city’s dance culture and the wide range of work being made here as well as the wealth of talent being fostered in our city schools and studios. You should definitely check it out!

 

I have included the official press release below:

 

For Immediate Release:

WHAT:  Dance Council of North Texas 2017 Honors 

WHEN: Sunday, October 29, 3:00 P.M.

WHERE: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 2700 Ann Williams Way, Dallas, TX 75201 in Dallas Arts District

Dance Council of North Texas is pleased to honor five people within the area dance community who have made a significant contribution to world of dance.

 2017 DCNT Awardees:

Kathy Chamberlain is receiving the Mary Bywaters Award, which recognizes a person who has made a lifetime and significant contribution to dance. Dance Council of North Texas is delighted to join with Chamberlain School of Ballet, (CSB) Plano, as itcelebrates its 40th Anniversary. Chamberlain School of Ballet is the supporting school for Chamberlain Performing Arts, a leading North Texas pre-professional dance company founded by Ms. Chamberlain. She received the prestigious Ford Foundation Scholarship for study at the School of American Ballet, NYC.

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Stephanie Rae Williams. Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Stephanie Rae Williams is the recipient of the Natalie Skelton Award honoring a person who is currently performing. Ms. Williams was featured in Dance Magazine’s “On the Rise” in 2013. In 2005, she received the South Dallas Dance Festival Scholarship from DCNT. Stephanie was a Fellowship recipient at the Ailey School, a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Winner as well as a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Finalist. As part of DC Honors, Stephanie will perform My Funny Valentine, choreographed by Darrell Mourie. She appears through the courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem, NYC.

 

The Mary Warner Award for service in dance recognizes Patty Granville, who exemplifies

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Patty Granville. Courtesy of Garland Center for the Performing Arts

the individual whose vision is essential to the dance community. Ms. Granville has been the Director of the Garland Center for the Performing Arts since its opening in 1982. As one of the founders, she has served as producer for Garland Summer Musicals since 1983. In 2003, the Garland City Council unanimously voted to rename the Performing Arts Center to the Patty Granville Arts Center. Patty provides countless opportunities for performers, musicians and craftsmen to participate in musical theatre.

 

Larry White Educator Award recognizes Alpana Kagal

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Alpana Kagal Jacob

Jacob for her inspiring and innovative contributions to her students’ development. After her Arangetram and graduation, she has been teaching Bharata Natyam to young children and adults. Alpana has been a guest lecturer at both UNT and TWU and has served as choreographer and teacher for Dallas Theater Center Summer Workshop projects. Alpana has taught at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Brookhaven College and Richland College. She is a disciplined  and loving teacher to all her students.

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Malana Murphy. Courtesy of Next Step Performing Arts

 

Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award celebrates the exemplary contributions of Malana Murphy to America’s original dance form: tap. Malana began her professional career at the age of 14 while performing in the production of Calling All Kids, choreographed by Gracey Tune. In addition to graduating from Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Malana has performed commercially and in industrials. Malana’s love for tap dancing has inspired her to share her passion and knowledge with students locally and across the United States. She is also the head of the local tap dance festival RIFF, which stands for Rhythm and Fusion Festival.

Program:

DBDT: Encore! will perform as well as Dance Council 2017 scholarship recipients.  The opening number is generation# (sic) choreographed by Tammie Reinsch of Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Doug Voet of Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie will serve as the event’s emcee with Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran Nycole Ray providing production assistance. Reception, refreshments and a silent auction will complete the afternoon’s agenda.

TICKETS: 

$35 – ADULT 

$30 – MEMBERS, Dance Council of North Texas

$20 STUDENTS, ages 13 through 18.  

STUDENTS, ages 12 and under: Free when accompanied by an adult

Tickets available: www.thedancecouncil.org  or by phone 214 219-2290