Dallas — Dallas DanceFest started out promising Friday night at Dallas City Performance Hall and ended brilliantly. But in between, a mixed bag.
If diversity qualifies for anything, diversity there was: ballet, Mexican folklórico, high-end energy modern dance, thoughtful modern dance, quirky contemporary, hip-hop. Why some of these works even made it past the adjudicators is a mystery.
In the opening work, six young girls in filmy lavender dress skirt around the stage in Ballet Ensemble of Texas’ Friends Dance from Coppélia, their steps bright, their heads tilted. They move on a diagonal, then split into groups of twos or threes. Suddenly the ballet’s heroine Swanilda arrives, infusing the playful spirit with new energy. Danced with remarkable élan, Masumi Yoshimoto captures Swanilda’s zest for life with brilliant footwork, long arching arabesques, and hops on pointe.
It’s hard not to smile when the stage opens for Mosaic Dance Project’s Amores Jaliscienses as seven men in black boots, pants and jackets let loose a volley of fierce stamps. Their faces are hidden under sombreros and their hands crossed behind their backs, better to keep the focus on their feet. They disappear, and seven women move like a colorful whirlwhind, their enormous billowing shirts flipping and swirling. The entire enterprise is lively.
Gina Lewis’ Inevitable Displacement had a somber tone, as A.J. Garcia made her way across the stage on a diagonal plane, slowing for a while, dropping to the floor, curving back on herself, every movement rich and fluid.
On the wacky vein, in Amy Diane Morrow’s Carry On (études on effort) friends (Hailley Laurèn, Rachel Elyse Meadow and Ms. Morrow) in boots, drab shorts, messy hair and backpacks seem set out for a hike. But they are anything but organized, stumbling and lumbering. Cell phones come out, “I’ll see you later grandma” and at the end, each pulls out a balloon. None of it makes sense, but the end is deliciously comic.
Max Richter’s music all but overpowered Nycole Ray’s Opaque, performed by Dallas Black Dance Theatre II. Men and women alike wear floor length black skirts that flare out dramatically when they leap and spin. The movement is all rush and surge with no let-up.
About Will “Willdabeast” Adams’ On to the Next One, performed by Dallas Cowboys Rhythm & Blue Dancers, what can be said? Hip-hop suitable for a high school halftime?
Text seems to be a stable for contemporary dance and when it disappears, I for one will be grateful. (The only choreographer who really did text justice was David Gordon of the Judson Dance Theater and that was years ago.) LaQuet Sharnell-Pringle’s What It Is What It Ain’t starts in a very sincere vein with Ms. Sharnell-Pringle pondering what it means to be human, and eventually, talk turns into dance. The dance part features three couples with mixed feeling for each other, tenderness turning into shoving matches.
More conflict arises in Andy Noble’s 9/Tenths of the Law, performed by Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Repertory II. Here though, it’s all about athletics, where one man marks off a space with chalk and his rival keeps shoving him aside. Eventually, all 13 athletes are at each other’s throats.
Jiyan Dai’s Classical Theme B for Texas Ballet Theater School was indeed classical, but with a twist. Six dancers in black tutus take over the stage with a fierce disregard for safe balances, ducking their heads down and lifting their shoulders. They resemble dangerous birds, somewhat along the lines of the vicious male swans in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Soloist Kirsten Johnson is especially confident with elongated turns on pointe and sharp fouettés.
Ending the program on a brilliant note was Bruce Wood’s Requiem, set to Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor and performed by 13 dancers from Bruce Wood Dance Project. Wood’s delineates every action—be it bodies leaning forward from a bench, swooping leaps, or arms slicing the air—with meticulous care, so that everything is performed in uncanny symmetry. Every arm shoots up at the same angle in perfect timing, every leaps ends on the same second. That alone would put Requiem in a league of its own, but it also the inventive choreography that captures what is haunting about Mozart’s music that makes Requiem a masterpiece.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Read Margaret's review of the Saturday performances here
» Read more about the 2014 DDF, including profiles of various companies and more in our special section devoted to the DanceFest.
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more images, click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at bottom left of your screen.