Dallas — “Remember guys, calm, easy and mindful,” says choreographer Christopher Vo to the members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre as they prepare to run through his new work, touch (listen), last Friday afternoon. In this piece Vo challenges the dancers to be more impulsive and alert in their movement choices.
“I really wanted to create this sense of community,” Vo says. “The dancers are good at taking movement in and executing it, but they needed some help when it came to running and walking together. This was my gift to them.”
A Dallas native, Vo attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts before being accepted to the Juilliard School in New York. From 2008 to 2011 Vo toured and taught master classes across the country with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. He was also a principal dancer in Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly Away dance musical and was a featured dancer throughout Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH. In 2013 Vo performed in the world premiere of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s My Brother’s Keeper and also headlined Dance Planet 17, a free dance event the Dance Council of North Texas puts on every year.
Before heading into rehearsals Vo sent an e-mail to the dancers asking them what kind of piece they were interested in doing. “Half of them wanted to dance to an Ella Fitzgerald or Stevie Wonder song while the other half wanted something more instrumental. I decided to challenge them with a more classical piece of music.”
touch (listen) begins with six couples lounging stoically on the ground. At the start of the music—Similarities Between Diverse Things by Joby Talbot—they slowly inch backwards across the floor. One by one the dancers stand and begin running. As the violin swells and descends the dancers spontaneously break into pairs, trios and quartets creating visually pleasing lines and rotating formations as they go.
Vo is an impulsive mover. He doesn’t create movement ahead of time. Instead he prefers the dancers to discover what works for them in that moment. “I don’t want the movement to feel forced. I like when it happens organically.”
Vo adds that the choreography for touch (listen) was really a collaborative effort between him and the dancers. “I see myself more as the architect and the dancers as the lumber and the screws of the dance.”
While finishing the dance Vo asked the dancers several times to just go with the flow rather than give them specific pathways. “In this section I want you to be less creative here (Vo points to his head) and just go with the momentum.” But he still expects the dancers to be mindful of where everyone is spatially. This is especially crucial when there are two groups on stage rotating clockwise with the purpose of joining together in one straight line at the end. Viewers will certainly notice if one group’s timing is off.
Vo’s teaching style is firm yet encouraging, a combination the dancers respond well to. “I don’t want to discourage them. I want to motivate them to keep pushing for their best each time.” Vo is also a strong believer in repetition. He will run the same few phrases of movement at least five times, tweaking something each time. “I like repetition because I like to exhaust all the options in order to find the correct movement.”
Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s Spring Celebration Performance, which honors the legacy of founder Ann Williams, is May 16-17, 2014 at the Winspear Opera House. In addition to Vo, the program also includes DBDT performing works by Bruce Wood and Lily Weiss (Booker T. Washington HSPVA), and features guest performances by Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Bruce Wood Dance Project, Texas Ballet Theater and guest performer Kirven Douthit-Boyd of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
» Click here to read our interview with Ann Williams
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com
» Photos by Robert Hart; click on the slideshow icon at the bottom left of your screen to see more photos from this shoot