Dallas — The best way to enjoy a drawn-out Dallas DanceFest is to go with the flow. One part is devoted to a Master of Ceremonies (Carl Youngberg) who takes a leisurely, homey approach, a second part is devoted to awards, a third to showcase talented scholarship recipients, and the rest to an eclectic mix of dances performed by companies mostly from North Texas, with a few from Houston and Austin.
It made for a busy if not very coherent program on Friday night, opening with awards given to Elizabeth Gillaspy (dance education), Christian Waits (service to dance) and Melissa M. Young (artistic excellence), and near the end, Mary Six Rupert (tap legend) and the legendary New York City Ballet star Edward Villella (lifetime contribution to dance).
But there were rewards for the patient. In no particular order they were:
Matt Luck’s start-and-stop Alarm Will Sound featured an agile Todd Baker from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual arts, moving with the fluidity of a panther.
In pale blue tutu, Helena Cerny from Ballet Academy of Texas dispatched a variation from Don Quixote with a serene confidence belying her age (15), looking especially lovely in turns that initiate from developpé.
On the neoclassical front, Texas Ballet Theater School’s Samantha Pille, Adeline Melcher, Elizabeth Moller and Loretta Williams—wearing filmy tutu skirts—flitted through Caleb Mitchell’s demanding Jubilee with ease, leaping like gazelles and then flying off.
They made a startling contrast to Robert Battle’s floor-pulverizing Battlefield where 14 girls from Dallas Youth Repertory Project moved in tight formation. They were intense, but not nearly as fierce as the music demands.
Marred only by dim light, Bruce Wood’s witty Anything Goes, set to Cole Porter tunes sung by various artists, zips along at a brisk pace. Four men go ga-ga over Emily Perry in “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” as she treats them with mocking nonchalance. Albert Drake spins a giddy Austin Sora in “What Is This Thing Called Love,” her legs splayed like a puppet’s, before she dismisses him like a toy she had lost interest in.
If you have seen anything by Amy Diane Morrow, you know that you’re in for something wacky, and that she delivers in We’ve Been Here Before for Austin-based The Theorists. Five women in black dresses trudge and lumber in scatter-shot directions before perking up when the music switches from Chopin to the Buena Vista Social Club. Throughout fragmented voices drift in and out.
The two Houston-based companies, NobleMotion Dance and METdance Company were equally compelling, the first for an introspective quietly, on my father’s back, and the second, Camille A. Brown’s New Second Line, fascinating in the use of space and dynamic movement.
The chief disappointment was a tame variation from Balanchine’s ebullient Who Cares? Principal dancer Jennifer Lauren from Miami City Ballet apparently was having an “off night.”
Also on the program were a sophisticated Basic Space by Rhythmic Souls Tap Company; Dallas Black Dance Theater’s speedy Furtherance; Texas Woman’s University International Dance Company Korean Fan Dance; Contemporary Ballet Dallas’s excerpts from Sous le Cied de Paris; and scholarship winners Imani Butler in Gooey and Sheridan Guerin in 1 Of 4.
As for an off-the-cuff speech, no one could match Villella as he recalled how he got dragged by his mother into his sister’s ballet class in Queens, stood at the back mocking the pretty little girls, and was told “to keep you from distracting the girls, you are going to have to show up tomorrow in tights.” He did, and the rest is history.
Saturday night’s show of Dallas DanceFest at Dallas City Performance Hall will feature a different lineup with a few repeats from Friday night, and the award presentations will be repeated.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Margaret Putnam's review of Saturday night