Dallas — On the final weekend of February, the TITAS/Dance Unbound Festival Preview at Moody Performance Hall was a dazzling “greatest hits” of dance in Dallas. The preview brought together B. Moore Dance, Bruce Wood Dance, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Texas Ballet Theater to perform some of the most provocative and visually stunning choreography that has been created for Dallas companies, performed by four of Dallas’s best dance groups.
Although it certainly did not come off as such, the festival preview was a hastily organized event. China-based company BeijingDance/LDTX was originally slated to perform, but the closure of the U.S. border to travelers from China meant that the company was forced to postpone their entire U.S. tour.
To “make lemons out of lemonade,” as TITAS Executive Director Charles Santos said when he announced the program on Saturday, TITAS leadership decided to put together a preview event for a dance festival set for Aug. 21-22, 2020 that is in the works. TITAS/Dance Unbound had originally planned to announce the festival at a later date, but the sudden gap in programming provided a unique opportunity to let Dallas audiences in on the secret. Thanks to the hardworking administrative leadership of the four dance companies who participated last weekend — and no doubt to some miraculous alignment of the scheduling planets— B. Moore Dance, Bruce Wood Dance, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Texas Ballet Theater were all able to participate in the festival preview.
The companies brought a true feast to the Moody stage. The movement, visuals, and themes of the works performed were compelling. Indeed, the preview would have been a good way to introduce a newcomer to the Dallas dance scene. The program also had the dancers working hard. Nearly every piece was fast, intense, and complex: you could practically see the sweat flying.
First up was Texas Ballet Theater’s Samantha Pille and Alexander Kotelenets, who performed the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake with meticulous technical precision that amplified the sense of devious calculation that motivates Odile, the black swan, as she seduces Prince Siegfried. Together Kotelenets and Pille were masterful and brought fresh insight to a very well-known narrative. Pille’s stunning pirouettes were icing on the cake.
Next Bruce Wood Dance company members Lauren Hibbard and Seth York performed an excerpt from the longer work Forbidden Paths that was choreographed on the company in 2018 by Garrett Smith. The full work, which sheds light on government censorship of dance in Iran, is both sharp and tender. This excerpt was more tender than sharp. The curtain rises with Hibbard kneeling, hands behind her as if tied, while York touches her face and then her hands, releasing her from bondage. He lifts her, upside down, with feet flexed, before releasing her carefully. Hibbard shifts her weight alternatively to rely on her own strength and to gain support from York, as if the latter is teaching her to move independently—a fitting commentary on what it might be like to be released from the bonds of censorship.
Following Forbidden Paths was Sketches of Flames, choreographed in 2016 by Bridget L. Moore and performed by her company B. Moore Dance. A lengthy, high-energy work, the piece takes its cue from Spanish flamenco music, with costuming, lighting, and swaying hips reminiscent of Spanish culture. While dancers were in top shape as they sliced the air with straight arms and used pointed fingers to create cutting lines, the work itself lacks direction. It came off on Saturday as an homage to Spain, with no clear narrative arc, something that would benefit a piece of this length.
The final work of the first half of the evening was The Edge of My Life…So Far, a dance choreographed by Bruce Wood in 2010 for Dallas Black Dance Theatre. A solo for an individual woman dancer, DBDT’s Nycole Ray commanded the audience with a devasting performance that brought out the pain and exhaustion embedded in the choreography. Wearing a plain dress, Ray rise deliberately from a chair and moves to an adjacent table. But her meticulous movement breaks down as her limbs move out of control and sweep a thick layer of flour that covers the table into the air, across her body, unleashing desperate, angry, emotion onto the stage.
Post-intermission, Texas Ballet Theater returned to the stage with Crash, a work choreographed by Jonathan Watkins in 2014 for the company to a commissioned score by Ryan Cockerham. As with Texas Ballet Theater’s performance in the first half of the evening, the cast delivered with work with real strength, poise, and fluidity. Jiyan Dai in particular stood out for his ability to marry solid technique with emotional persuasiveness. But the piece could have benefited from more editing as it came across as a few minutes too long, a bit too much like a montage than a progression.
The penultimate work saw B. Moore Dance company member Brittney Myers dressed up in black feathers around her neck as she performed Blood Diamond, a new solo choreographed by Moore, to dark music by Billie Eilish and Rosalía. Her splayed fingers conveyed something witchy, as they stood out like shadows against bold backlighting behind her. Like Sketches of Flames, Blood Diamond conveyed setting and mood well: with reds and blacks lighting the stage and Myers’ sharp, intense poses, we know we’re in a dangerous, unpredictable place. However, also like Sketches of Flames, the piece needed additional structure to give it direction and framework or a natural rise and fall.
Despite a few quibbles, the evening was a real treat. Anyone interested in the future of dance in Dallas should reserve tickets to the August festival as soon as they become available. These companies have something to say, and Dallas audiences should be ready to listen.