Dallas — It has been a busy summer for Avant Chamber Ballet (ACB). In addition to preparing for its 2019-20 season, which kicks off with Morphoses Sept. 7-8 at Moody Performance Hall, the company also moved into its own studio space in the Dallas Design District in July. ACB Artistic Director Katie Cooper says that having their own space has been transformative for the company.
In previous years, Cooper says that the company would not have been able to put on a fall show because of the limits of renting or being lent space owned by ballet schools. “We had to wait till summer intensives and summer classes were over for us to have daytime hours.” This meant either rushing to put a performance together in late September or competing with a busy October arts month.
She adds, “So for us to find this weekend, and it worked for everyone involved, including musicians and everything, I am super happy and lucky that everything aligned for our fall show.”
Even though the company is heading into its seventh full season, Cooper says that in many ways this feels like their first year as a real company. Cooper explains, “We’ve transitioned to paying the dancers weekly, which is huge. And it makes sense for the dancers be paid weekly because every week that they’re working is actually a good work week now that we have a home.”
This weekend’s triple bill includes Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses, Cooper’s Sisterhood and the world premiere of Cooper’s Brahms Trio.
Regarding the program, Cooper says, “It feels like my miracle repertory because there was so many different puzzle pieces that had to come together and I am just so excited about it.”
One of these puzzle pieces was when the schedules of musicians Alexander Kerr (Dallas Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster), David Cooper (ACB Musical Director and Chicago Symphony Orchestra Principal Horn and Cooper’s husband) and Fei-Fei Dong (international piano soloist) aligned so they could perform alongside ACB in Cooper’s Brahms Trio, which is named after the work composed by Johannes Brahms.
Cooper says that she has always wanted to choreograph to the Brahms Trio and describes the music as very danceable, beautiful and romantic. She also says she wanted to do the classical music justice by only using classical choreography.
“I really wanted to do it well because it is a very classical piece of music and classical ballet,” Cooper says about the choreography for the piece. “And unless you do classical ballet right then it’s not good. It’s almost easier to pull off something really contemporary and new because when it’s classical it has to be well-rehearsed, interesting and clean.”
She adds, “The choreography has to be really good because there’s no bells and whistles or quirkiness that’s going to keep the audience’s attention. It really has to be beautiful, musical and interesting in its purity and the reflection of the music.”
Also on the program is Wheeldon’s Morphoses. As Cooper proudly states, ACB is only the third ballet company to perform the work after New York City Ballet and Washington Ballet. For those unfamiliar with the ballet, Morphoses is a complex and athletic ballet for four dancers set to György Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1. ACB’s cast includes Juliann McAloon, Kara Zimmerman, Alexander Akulov and Marlen Alimanov. The music will also be performed live by Cezanne Quartet.
Rounding out the evening is Cooper’s Sisterhood, which the company premiered last May. The work features music by composer Quinn Mason and is a nice departure from Cooper’s classical roots. Instead of tutus and pointe shoes the dancers perform in trendy sportswear and sneakers.
When asked about these particular choices Cooper says, “I wanted to challenge myself with something different with the sneakers and clothing. Sneaker ballets are such a specific modern American thing. Just think of Jerome Robbins and Justin Peck does a lot of them now. I just wanted to explore something new, and that music I just loved.”
Cooper adds that putting Sisterhood on this program just made sense because it creates a nice balance with the other works. “The three ballets are so incredibly different and that’s what you always hope for in a triple bill. That they all have their own internal world and they’re all radically different.”
Looking back on the last several years Cooper says the company has really developed into what she wanted. “I always said I wanted a company that I would have wanted to dance to in. That every show there’s good stuff that’s fulfilling for the artists both physically, mentally and emotionally.”
“To me, being able to present this season that we have going is really finally the culmination of a lot of years of work.”
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com