Q&A: Clifford Williams

The former Complexions dancer on making it as a freelancer and working with Adam Hougland on his new work Awaken, part of the TITAS Command Performance this Saturday.

published Friday, May 15, 2015

Photo: Karsten Staiger
Clifford Williams

Dallas — Watching Clifford Williams perform with some the hottest names in dance today, including New York City Ballet Soloist Misty Copeland, you would never guess that he didn’t start dancing till he was 16. Over the years his gorgeous legs and natural prowess have gained the attention of many notable dance companies, including Dance Theatre of Harlem and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. In addition to his stage credits, Williams has also appeared on TV in Debbie Allen’s The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker on BET in December 2014 and can be seen in the new dance drama Flesh and Bone which premieres this November on Starz. Williams’ dance training includes F.H. LaGuardia High School of Art and the Performing Arts, The Ailey School and The School of American Ballet.

In 1998, he attended The Julliard School where he met Dallas native and acclaimed choreographer Adam Hougland which leads us to Williams’ most recent project, performing in the TITAS Command Performance at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Winspear Opera House Saturday night.

Williams, along with Albert Drake of the Bruce Wood Dance Project, will perform in a newly commissioned work by Hougland called Awaken. Williams will also perform Dwight Rhoden’s Ave Maria with the beautiful Yuan Yuan Tan from San Francisco Ballet. The evening’s program also includes dancers Sarah Mearns and Tyler Angle (New York City Ballet), Cervilio Amador and Janessa Touchet (Cincinnati Ballet), Rebecca Rasmussen and Steven Ezra Marshall (MOMIX), Davit Karapetyan (San Francisco Ballet) and Lil’ Buck, who is flying in from Germany to present two work, including his version of the Dying Swan solo. Dallas-based Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will also be performing Artistic Director Joshua L. Peugh’s Critics of the Morning Song with company member Alex Karigan-Farrior.

TheaterJones talked to Clifford Williams about working with Adam Hougland and Albert Drake on Awaken, getting to dance with Yuan Yuan Tan for the first time and his advice for making it as a freelancer in today’s highly competitive field of dance.

Photo: Courtesy Adam Hougland
Choreographer Adam Hougland


TheaterJones: This is not your first time performing at the TITAS Command Performance. What made you decide to participate in it again?

Clifford Williams: Well, I have built quite a bit of a base here in Dallas and it’s just nice to be able to perform somewhere where I have a relationship with a lot of students. It’s just another community that I can bring my art too and Charles Santos always puts together such an amazing gala that it’s really an honor to share the stage with the plethora of artists that he brings in.


I know you and Adam Hougland went to Julliard together, but had you met Albert Drake before starting rehearsals for Awaken?

I didn’t know him personally, but I have heard of him and he did audition for Complexions one year. So this was our first time working together and he is lovely. He is a wonderful mover and a powerhouse.


And has Hougland ever choreographed for you before?

No, we have actually never worked together as choreographer and dancer so this was an exciting experience for us. We did dance together during his senior year at Julliard. And one of his most famous pieces, Beyond, he created for senior production and I wasn’t lucky enough to be in it, but here I am now.


How would you describe his process for putting together this duet?

We never actually spoke about a motivation or what it was that we were creating. It just kind of happened on its own. There’s obviously a little bit of a power struggle and there’s a bit of, you know, I can do this better than you, but in a very healthy way. The piece starts very calm and then it livens up and it’s really just replicating what the music is doing. And working with Adam was just a wonderful experience. It was completely collaborative and he was very open to our ideas and was very helpful all the way around.


You are also performing a piece with Yuan Yuan Tan from San Francisco Ballet. What can you tell me about that?

Yes, I am so looking forward to dancing with her. We will be performing Ave Maria which is one of Dwight Rhoden’s works which I just did back in November with Misty Copeland. I have always wanted to dance with Yuan Yuan and Charles has helped me cross that off my bucket list. What I love about Yuan Yuan is that she is always working and striving toward being a better artist. For instance, she is getting off a plan today (Thursday) and coming into the studio to rehearse. So, as much as she has achieved and as big of a star that she is it’ still all about the work for her. And I think the piece is going to be really nice. We are both kind of creature-esque in a way what with our long limbs and I think it’s going to be really beautiful.


You have obviously done well for yourself as a freelance dancer. What advice do you have for other dancers looking into freelancing?

It’s a rough business, but it’s all about knowing your worth and knowing what you bring to the table. I think once you allow yourself to just be who you are hopefully people will start to recognize that and appreciate it. For me, I just tried to diversify as much as I could. I danced with Complexions for a long time; I have done a couple of television projects in the past couple of years; I was just a title character in Debbie Allen’s The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker that came out in December; and I’m in Flesh and Bone which premieres in November on Starz. So, it’s not necessarily about conquering the world, but to saturate the market with all the things that I really enjoy doing. I mean I went to LaGuardia for voice. I didn’t start dancing till I was 16 so I do really enjoy other genres of art.


What is your role on the new Starz series Flesh and Bone?

I am part of the ensemble that is in all eight episodes. I am a member of the company and I do have a couple of lines here and there, and you may or may not see me singing next to Alex Wong by the piano.


It seem wherever your career has taken you, you always gravitate back to Complexions. What is it about the company that keeps you coming back?

Dwight’s style is kind of anything and everything and that really speaks to me. He really likes to cross pollinate between ballet, modern and street dance. I mean that’s how the company was born. Dwight and Desmond brought together a bunch of their friends and people who were interesting to them. The whole philosophy and style of Complexions is kind of my philosophy at this point. It has really become a part of my dance style and who I am as an artist.

» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at Thanks For Reading

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Q&A: Clifford Williams
The former Complexions dancer on making it as a freelancer and working with Adam Hougland on his new work Awaken, part of the TITAS Command Performance this Saturday.
by Katie Dravenstott

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