Dallas — Sometimes you hit the jackpot—and that I did—along with the rest of the audience Friday night, opening night of the Dallas DanceFest. It offered the riches of many dance styles—neoclassical ballet, tap, classical Indian dance, clever modern, whimsical modern, moody modern, nutty contemporary, lush ballet and sassy nightclub dance.
The program opened with Dallas Ballet Academy’s Highland Daunce, created by former member of New York City Ballet Jason Fowler. The Balanchine influence was evident in the constant forming and reforming of patterns, neat and quick, with some jaunty knee work and arms thrown akimbo, Scottish style. Their plaid shirts, blue bodices and white puffy sleeves accentuated the Scottish flavor, and the delighted faces of the 18 dancers gave the dance a glow.
The meaning of the title of SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble’s The Bread of Idleness—created by a former SMU student Kailey Andriot—is a mystery. In turquoise skirts or black pants, three couples moved as smooth as silk, with lifts and falls uncannily calm.
Not often do we see Indian classical dance, this time performed by Indique Dance Company (Indian Cultural Heritage Foundation) and choreographed by Shalini Varghese and Bhuvana Venkatraman. Most classical Indian dances have complicated stories about the gods, but Thillana ventured into the abstract. Even so, all those familiar elements came to life: heads moving back and forth, stamping feet with legs bent, black eyes dashing here and there, intricate finger gestures performed by six curving bodies clad in persimmon, avocado and gold. The music was an intriguing mix of traditional Indian and new age and the overall affect was quite charming.
Dallas Black Dance Theatre II’s Tears of War featured men in fatigues and dog tags and women in black dresses. They run, run, run back and forth desperately, sometimes dodging helicopters overhead. At the end, the men collapse and their lovers pull on black shawls and kneel in mourning. It is a powerful dance, but too repetitive and overblown.
For sophistication, it would be hard to beat Rhythmic Souls’ The Consequence of Sound. The music itself was fascinating: Regina Spektor’s jazz-pop and Eric Satie’s minimalism and repetition. In spiffy dress of black, white and grey, the six dancers appear first slouched over chairs spread out in a line, then they tentatively stamp their feet a few times. Once up on their feet, there is a great deal of interplay: mocking smiles, wide-eyed surprises, and frequent challenges. The style is loose and free, but it involves a lot of upper body movement as well. For a real surprise, three dancers stand in a small box of sand and kick it gently, sending sand upwards.
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance’s Marshmallow took the quirky route, opening with men and women putting a marshmallow in their mouths and then gently pushing it into another’s mouth. The interplay is odd—a man pushes his head into a woman’s torso, dancers just walk away, then touch each other in strange ways, and yet there are wonderful lifts with women high overhead, stretching out their arms. It is sweet and touching, and gives the feel of real people at play, not otherworldly dancers.
The mood in Ewert & Company’s Not So Carefully Kept was sad and whimsical, marrying Harry Purcell’s and Nahum Tate’s music and excerpts from The Velveteen Rabbit, read by James Mio. In some ways, statements like “Weeks pass and the little Rabbit grows old and shabby, but the little Boy loves him just as much” has nothing to do with what is happening on stage—three dancers sitting on chairs, pulling them around, upending them, clustering as a group, going their own way. There are many chairs, and many ways of maneuvering them. Perhaps it is a metaphor for chaos in the nursery, and the binding trust between the Boy, the Rabbit and the Skin Horse. However the dance might be interpreted, it was touching.
The rest of the program featured a lovely duet, Ben Stevenson’s Lost and Found, performed by Texas Ballet Theater’s Heather and Alexander Kotelenets; a jazzy Blues House performed by Dylis Croman and Tyler Hanes; and Bruce Wood’s sassy Smoke, set to popular Ray Charles tunes and performed by Dallas Black Dance Theatre. Dancers form a mass of lines and let loose with outrageous fanny-waggles, bumps, grinds and bobbing heads. It was a hoot.
» 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.
» Her review of Saturday's showcase is here
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. Click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at bottom left of your screen to see more images. The cover photo is Rhythmic Souls.
» Below are links to profiles of the dance companies that we've published: