Dallas — Light and Dark. Good and Bad. Love and Hate. What these seemingly contrary yet complementary forces have in common is they all play a pivotal role in Hailey von Schlehenried’s new work, Yin and Yang, part of the third annual Women’s Choreography Project (WCP), which was created by Avant Chamber Ballet Artistic Director Katie Cooper in 2015 with the objective of providing more opportunities for up-and-coming female choreographers to showcase their work. Since then the WCP has gained quite a following in Dallas thanks to Cooper’s insistence of live orchestration and her eclectic programming, which has included works by herself, Shauna Davis, Elizabeth Gillapsy, Emily Hunter, Amy Diane Morrow, and Janie Richards.
Von Schlehenried clearly remembers how she felt while sitting in the audience at the first WCP at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts. “I had never heard of a women’s chorography showcase like this one before and I wanted to see my friend Kaitlyn McDermitt perform so I decided to go. As a very musical personal I was immediately drawn to the live music aspect of the show as well as the wonderful dancing by the company. I knew right then that I was going to apply for next year’s WCP.” She kept that promise to herself, but when she wasn’t selected for the 2016 WCP she took that as a challenge to keep working and pushing her choreographic diameters. “I like to create work that moves the audience. I don’t want it to be necessarily about the steps. I want the work to take you to a different place. This is what I wanted to show Katie and I just knew I needed to take it to the next level.” Von Schlehenried’s hard work paid off late last year when she was chosen out of a pool of 60 applicants to create a piece for ACB’s third installment of the WCP, which takes place at Dallas City Performance Hall, April 20-21.
Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, von Schlehenried is the resident choreographer and co-director of Royale Ballet Dance Academy in Dallas. She is a registered teacher with the RAD, a graduate from the Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies (CBTS) and is proficient in many forms of dance, including ballet, lyrical, jazz, modern and Flamenco. She has been dancing and studying dance for more than 20 years and has been choreographing for the last six years. Her choreographic credits include Royale Ballet Dance Academy’s annual Nutcracker production, festivals, benefits and competitions. She also has been selected as a project tier choreographer by Ronald K. Brown for the National Choreographer Intensive where her work was presented. “My main upbringing was in ballet and Flamenco dance. It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old when I started taking more lyrical, modern and contemporary classes. When I moved to the U.S. I took a break from Flamenco, but I started up again when I met Daniel de Córdoba after high school. He helped me rediscover my love for Flamenco dance and has been my teacher ever since.”
For her piece for the WCP, von Schlehenried says she was intrigued by the opposing dynamics of lightness and darkness and how you can’t have one half without the other. She says it just evolved from there until one day it hit her that this piece was about the yin and yang of life. “This is where the piece took over for me. It became more about finding that balance in life between the good and bad, light and darkness and how each side needs the other in order to become whole.” The 10-minute pointe piece features 10 dancers performing a blend of balletic and contemporary movements, which von Schlehenried says she has strategically broken up into various couplings and ensemble sections. She describes the piece as having a strict ballet foundation with lyrical influences woven throughout to give the piece a nice flow. “It’s definitely an abstract piece because I do not like to force stuff on the dancers. I want the piece to be more about the movement and shapes versus a specific narrative.”
Von Schlehenried says it has been a pleasure working with the company dancers on this piece. “They have just been so open to my ideas and then going with them. You see, I like to work with people on the spot and they just went with me there, and I really appreciated their enthusiasm. Everyone worked so well together, and I am excited to see what the final product looks like on stage.”
This year’s WCP will also feature new work by ACB company dancer Kaitlyn McDermitt and a world premiere by Cooper to music by Astor Piazzolla as well as the restaging of Janie Richards’ critically acclaimed ballet L’Inverno. The WCP will split ACB’s mixed repertoire program, Rhythm and Romance, with George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet, which is the biggest Balanchine ballet ACB has done to date with 25 dancers performing alongside a chamber orchestra.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com