Dallas — The former Dallas DanceFest (and before that, Dallas Morning News Dance Festival) hits its fifth year with a new name and what seems to be the transition out of its growing pains. Dallas Dances, presented by the Dance Council of North Texas at Moody Performance Hall, has found its footing by offering a delectable sampling of the dance community’s diversity and excellence. The September 1 performance delivered a wide range of styles among its 15 dances, with a nice mix of premieres and previous repertoire. It’s a lovely way of introducing new dance audiences to our scene and giving ongoing patrons a sneak peak of what’s to come.
Considering the show’s variety and its occurrence at the very beginning of the season, rough spots and weak performances are expected, but overall, the dancers’ positives outweigh the negatives. Even though it had a two-and-a-half hour run time, the evening didn’t drag.
The show’s opening with Avant Chamber Ballet highlights the area’s growing commitment to live music with dance, and Avant proves that they don’t slack on this vision. Guitarist Miguel Antonio and violinist Eleanor Dunbar play Astor Piazzolla for a spicy duet between Emily Dixon and Eugene Barnes III, from Katie Cooper’s Persuasion. Dixon shines as usual, and Barnes proves that he’s stepped up his game.
Booker T. Washington’s Repertory I company begins their work Volante with a predictable line of contemporary tricks. Dressed in biketards and socks, it initially looks to be a cookie-cutter contemporary modern piece, but choreographer Jennifer Archibald shows that she has much more up her sleeve than the overly performed pitched battements. The caliber of dancers at Booker T. has never been in question, but their seamless partnering transitions, ensemble precision, and dynamic range are still surprising given their ages.
The first of three Indian dance companies in the festival present a subtle love story through gestures interpreting the song’s lyrics. Singaar Ko Rehne Do, choreographed by Akhila Rao for Kathak Rhythms, illustrates a passionate conversation about beauty regardless of adornment. Four ladies in long dresses and ankle bells skim across the stage creating rhythms that one can only hear, not see. They would have likely benefited from a more intimate space and better lighting, as their facial expressions (a key element in many Indian dance forms) gets lost.
kNOwBOX dance delivers a haunting solo, The Memory of Love, with a suspenseful Hyun Jung Chang beginning with tense stillness, moving through desperate athleticism, and ending with dejected heaviness. Dallas Youth Repertory Project then livens up the mood with an excerpt from Robert Battle’s Baseline, a jazzy, bouncy work that would have had more vigor with enlivened facial expressions. Still, they’re one to watch for the future.
Kendell Miller Roberts’ Thoughts and Prayers uses a 1968 Robert F. Kennedy speech and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to subtly highlight current events. Dancers from SMU Meadows School of the Arts find solemnity during the text then groove to Gaye’s upbeat yet serious tune. To close out intermission, Megan Storey and Gabriel Speiller dance a powerful duet from Yin Yue’s Begin Again. The June premiere proved a turning point for the company and so far, it’s one of the best pieces in DFW from 2018. It’s thrilling to see it again and for potentially new audiences.
The second act opens with a bang, as Samantha Pille convinces the entire house that she is the best black swan the Metroplex has seen in a while. Performing the iconic Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake with Alexander Kotelenets, the two elicit the most varied audible responses from the audience, as patrons gasp, giggle, and cheer with delight.
Continuing the ballet theme is Chamberlain Performing Arts with Albert Drake’s Laniakea, a contemporary work that seems to be a good challenge for them. They navigate the complex choreography fairly well, with quite a few striking moments.
On the heels of their recent Eisemann Center performance, Tejas Dance delivers Bharatanatyam with Ardhanareeshwara, a duet between choreographers Bhuvana Venkatraman and Chintan Patel. Illustrating the unity yet distinct masculine and feminine qualities of prominent Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, the dancers maneuver through percussive stamping, long balances on one leg, and graceful gestures. Clear, captivating, and beautifully expressive, it’s one of the evening’s best.
The next company conjures another superlative: most surprising. 6 o’Clock Dance Theatre’s large cast finds a stunning unity and cohesion with Zach Ingram’s contemporary ballet work Brush to Canvas. Their water-colored costumes are as diverse as their appearances, but they float through solos and ensemble with amazing clarity. The oft-used music of Max Richter and Ezio Besso finds new life with this promising company.
Big Rig Dance Collective performs the most abstract of the evening, with the duet You Are Not My Enemy, choreographed by Jane Hawley. Brittany Padilla’s original sound score has her narrating what seems to be a movement class with an internal conversation, as Crysta Caulkins-Clouse and Lily Sloan dance separately then together, with a satisfying conclusion.
Young dancers from Malana Murphy’s RIFF Dallas ensemble fly across the floor to a cover of “Dream On” with awe-inspiring tapping. Dallas Black Dance Theatre then brings down the house with an excerpt from Juel D. Lane’s How to Kill a Ghost, proving that they’re some of the best athletes in Texas.