Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet
George Balanchine's "Symphony in Three Movements" by Pacific Northwest Ballet (photo by Angela Sterling)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: Alice in Wonderland

photo courtesy Avant Chamber Ballet

Avant Chamber Ballet brought a family classic to life this weekend at Eisemann Center with Alice in Wonderland. Artistic Director Katie Puder and her creative dream team pulled off a fantastical production with live music, animated characters, and kitschy set design. A charming cast featuring young students alongside seasoned veterans made for entertaining dynamics that lifted the audience spirit. We fell down the technicolor rabbit hole with them and had a blast.  

Original composition by 16 year-old wunderkind Chase Dobson was as whimsical as the story. His ability to combine the concepts of craft and creativity at such a young age only illustrates his maturity as a musician. His alliance with Puder can only lead to greater things. Madelaine Boyce as Alice made her way through the antics strong and steady. At certain points, Puder laced a few references to Swan Lake in her choreography; a clever homage. Dallas Blagg was flawless with his entourage of slinky caterpillar legs, ladies dressed in gorgeous green goddess unitards and pointe shoes. An audience favorite, soloist Rachel Meador played a coy and sassy Cheshire Cat. One wink of her eye and she was, ahem, the cat’s meow. 

Yulia Ilina nailed her role as the stern Queen of Hearts. With legs that start at her neck and a commanding stage presence, no one else could have portrayed the character better than she did. Dancers in enormous tutus cut like playing cards trembled with knocking knees in front of a smoky red backdrop. Dobson’s score for “The Queen and Crochet Match” was intimidating and ominous, a perfect precursor to Alice’s trial. Juliann Hyde as the White Rabbit was another charismatic trickster who paired well with Alice’s naivety, and helped maintain a cohesion that could have otherwise been lost in the mayhem.  

Besides her panache for staging classical works, Puder’s fun deviation into a story ballet was a success. She’s doing a wonderful thing. Pulling talent from every corner of the artistic community and giving them a home to grow is ambitious and thoughtful. Whatever rabbit hole she decides to fall into next, I’ll blindly follow. 

-April 13, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review: Focal Pointe

Beckanne Sisk in "Rubies" photo by Luke Isley

Chamberlain Performing Arts' Focal Pointe served a mixed bill of young talent and seasoned pros. Guest artists Beckanne Sisk and Tom Mattingly of Ballet West gave outstanding performances. The impeccable Sisk charmed the audience with her sassy Esmeralda, and killed it in a rare, fiery performance of Rubies Pas de Deux. Having the opportunity to see a Balanchine work in the North Texas community, executed by the flawless Sisk, was like unwrapping a box of fine chocolates. You truly taste the difference when you’ve seen the real thing.    

CPA students also performed classical works by Carter Alexander and Lynn Short. The contemporary “Omnipotence” turned a classic upside down by remixing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air on the G string into a beatbox, and the dancers were on top of their game with high energy. With its airy chiffon dresses and soft lighting, “Veni Emmanuel” was an ethereal lyrical ballet, reminiscent of Balanchine’s Serenade. 

Chamberlain’s partnership with Alexander and Short is a professional dream that will continue to elevate the company above others. If Focal Pointe is any indication, we can expect nothing but excellence from this collaboration.

-March 30, 2014

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review: Avant Chamber Ballet

ACB dancer Juliann Hyde, photo courtesy

Aside from the pillars of dance education who are churning out the future elite, Dallas has been sorely lacking a professional ballet company to bring the city any repute. With my generation’s advent of contemporary dance culture, classicism, it seemed, was dead. 

Until now. 

Never before in the Dallas community have I seen a young, homegrown company so refreshing, so dynamic, I was practically twitching with excitement. Classical ballet is alive, and it’s Avant Chamber Ballet. 

Opening their new season at Eisemann Center Saturday evening, ACB’s Fall Dance Concert served mixed repertoire and superb guest artists. Artistic Director Katie Puder “gets it”. From all aspects of the performance, Puder has crafted a company that is reminiscent of what would only be available to the upper crust of New York society. The dancers perform to live musical accompaniment; a menage of talented young artists who compose original scores and master the classics. Puder’s choreography is exquisite. If Balanchine hit the nail on the head, Puder hammered it in last night. Her “Italian Suite” set to Stravinsky was a vibrant homage to the Balanchine aesthetic. Soloists Brittany Bollinger and Juliann Hyde performed spirited variations, ripping through the choreography with grace and precision. In her world premiere “Exactly Woven” Puder arranged a neo-classical harmony of energy and tedium. Its initial calculated intensity culminated into a tsunami of sharp allegro that would wash over the dancers, creating a tightly knit machine. With her gorgeous line and exacting manner, Sarah Marr was slaying in contrast to her sunny disposition in previous roles.  Overall, Puder’s dancers are polished, professional, and have upped the ante for local ensembles.

Among other reasons this company wins, Puder is bringing diversity and novelty to the table. The audience got an excerpt from old-school Russia with Yulia Ilina portraying the Dying Swan, while in the same breath getting to experience the works of acclaimed choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon. The stunning Michele Gifford gave nothing less than a perfect performance in Wheeldon’s “The American”, while guest choreographer Joshua L. Peugh’s company, Dark Circle Contemporary Dance, blew the proverbial lid right off. His use of traditional Korean motifs in “Jjigae” combined with the electric talent of his dancers made for a fresh, unforgettable performance; almost like a Korean Pina Bausch. Noteworthy was the engaging Jennifer Mabus, who always manages to stand out despite her being the most petite dancer in the crowd. Praise be to Peugh for employing such a fantastic variety of dancers.    

Ok, Puder. You have our attention.

-October 13, 2013

Friday, May 10, 2013

Celebrate and Encourage Diversity

So I’ve made an observation over the years. It’s a familiar picture: I’m at Joe Schmo studio, class is over, I walk through the lobby to leave, and notice a hoard of preschoolers bouncing off the walls, getting ready for class...and they are all Caucasian. Not a single Latina, African American, or Asian. 

What’s up with that? 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with one ethnicity in itself. However, the last time I checked, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex was a highly diverse and industrialized community. Education, engineering, and technology industries abound, staffing people from every continent. These people have children. Children have hobbies. A lot of children like to dance. So where is the rest of the world when I leave ballet class?

I know this trend is a drop in the cultural bucket, and the question I pose is meant to be broad. Let’s just say, it will be a beautiful day to step into a lobby and see more future Paloma Herreras and Michaela DePrinces in the ballerina gene pool. 

Michaela DePrince, photo courtesy TeenVogue
Yuan Yuan Tan, photo courtesy

Paloma Herrera, photo courtesy

Saturday, March 23, 2013

New York 2013

I made a pilgrimage over Spring Break. The baseball fan headed to Yankee Stadium. The actor’s ticket to the Oscars. The photographer’s lunch date with Annie Leibovitz. I paid reverence to the holy grail of dance education: The School of American Ballet.
Photo of Balanchine teaching class displayed in the hallway/
photo taken with permission
I point to a photo of George Balanchine. “Ballet exists in America because of that man.”  It is the most concise, significant snippet of dance history I relay to friends, family, or whomever I happen to be talking to at the moment. We can split hairs as to the earliest influences and origins, but no other man revolutionized the art form like Balanchine. Having instituted SAB in the 1930s, he rewrote the script on classical technique, and established a company that would challenge artistic and societal convention for decades to come. 

Having met the respected Suki Schorer a couple of months prior in Dallas, I was invited to take a tour of the school on my next trip to New York. Located in the creative mecca that is Lincoln Center, I made my way to the Samuel B. and David Rose Building. As soon as the elevator doors parted, I could hear Tchaikovsky being played on the piano. The melody seemed to dance, if you will, down the hallway and into the lobby. Darci Kistler breezed by me only a few moments later. Of course, being that I was on their home turf, any such sightings are normal, even ignored. It was surreal. Not as surreal, however, as having Schorer be my personal tour guide. In all honesty, I don’t think she was actually expecting me to show up and her assistant was out. Nonetheless, this peon is forever grateful to such a gracious host.