Dallas — In the six years that Dallas Dances (formerly Dallas DanceFest, as it was named in 2014) has been opening the new dance season during Labor Day weekend, the festival has delivered varying lineups, genres, and abilities on the stage of the Moody Performance Hall. Presented by The Dance Council of North Texas, this year’s second performance, Sunday, Sept. 3, performance wasn’t completely homogenous, but it didn’t quite contain the stylistic diversity of past shows. Overall, though, it turned out quite nicely, with some great standouts.
Tejas Dance was the only non-Western dance form on the bill of 11 dances, with A Daughter’s Letter. Choreographed by Bhuvana Venkatraman and performed by Chintan Patel, it used expressive, clear gestures with the stylized upper- and lower-body patterns of bharatanatyam to tell a modern, heartbreaking story. Pity it was so short, as Patel so eloquently conveyed the pleadings of a dying girl who was hit by a drunk driver. In her last words, she was trying to convince her mother that she refrained from alcohol at the party to avoid the very fate that befell her.
Brandi Coleman’s work always stands out, regardless of context. Her work from last fall’s SMU Meadows Dance Concert, And One More Thing…, garnered well-deserved applause with its funky, blues music. Scat-style vocals from the dancers led to authentic movement dynamics and a tight sense of ensemble timing. Precise execution, delicious suspense, and plenty of sass culminated in a slam-bang finale.
Vincent Hardy and Zion Dance Project stunned with an excerpt from Promised Land, an earthy, mysterious work that illustrated segments from the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites as they traveled through the desert towards the Promised Land. The hardships of the journey, Moses’ struggles with leadership, and the determination of all to complete the task read loud and clear through the dancer’s weighted, intense, and articulate execution. Hardy’s choreography allowed for individual artistry to shine through, while strong unison sections, poignant character moments, and pleasing staging gave the work complexity and cohesiveness.
With similar soundtracks and moods, two works performed to Philip Glass complemented each other, even with different vocabulary. The Texas Ballet Theater Studio Training Company executed Hailey von Schlehenreid’s Intention with a consistency and caliber worthy of the organization. DBDT: Encore! brought a whirlwind of swirling movement and nonstop traveling with Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Tidal Intersections, delivered with the same excellence as they did at their April concert.
LakeCities Ballet Theater brought back alums Steven Loch and Anastasia Tillman as Franz and Swanilda (respectively) for an excerpt from Coppelia. The segment was a nice festival choice, as it demonstrated the principals’ lively acting abilities, delightful partnering, and individual technical merits. LBT company members pleasantly danced their ensemble and small group segments, although it paled a bit in comparison to the leads.
Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts performers surprised with an admirable execution of Gabriel Speiller’s Light Again. Bach mixes with a cacophony of rhythmic text in the first part, but the sound score smooths out, allowing for an inspiring story to unfold. Soloist Haley Urban moves frantically against the backdrop of a calm ensemble, but as they begin supporting her, giving structure and guidance to her shapes, she takes on their qualities with confidence, control, and ease.
Another youth surprise was Dallas Ballet Company, with Jason Fowler’s Hommage a la Russe, featuring spicy costumes by Karen Baxter. An impassioned solo by Kendyll Jacobs, a fierce duet between Maggie Kate Howard and Chase Raine, and a cohesive finale added a nice punch to the festival lineup.
Dallas Youth Repertory Project, a group with an admirable mission, faltered with the opening number Pardon the Interruption by Marlee Fleisher. The “interruption” was text and other music interspersed among the quiet notes of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” and the jarring changes were not welcome. The piece was made even more forgettable by timing issues and blue-clad, stoic dancers not fulfilling the movement qualities and spatial patterns.
A couple of pieces had potential but didn’t stand out overall. 6 O’Clock Dance Theatre goes jazzy with Lady Gaga, some sass, and spicy costumes. Switching between ballet shoes and black heels, they move between contemporary ballet and voguing. Overall, some of the pictures need a larger group, and the choreography doesn’t have enough energy for such thrumming music. Chamberlain Ballet reprises Lisa Hess Jones’ beautiful Veni Emmanuel, and the dancers performed it nicely but didn’t rise above in context with the rest of the performance.
The event seems to have worked out some kinks over the years, but questions and issues still remain. As a positive, the festival is an excellent introduction to the North Texas dance scene, whether one is looking at auditioning for companies, training under the professionals they might see on stage, or just interested in seeing more dance. Due to the timing of the adjudication process, virtually all the pieces are repeats from the previous season. This means that for those who regularly see dance, it’s either a simple rehash or greatest hits compilation, depending on how one looks at it.
Then there’s the ever-present question of who gets in, which Emily Sese addressed in Saturday’s performance review. Some pre-professional organizations prove they perform on an equal level as the professionals, while others too easily demonstrate the caliber gap. Also important to note is the geographical boundaries of the festival. In past performances, companies from the region (including Oklahoma and other parts of Texas) were welcomed in.
All this to ask our community and The Dance Council, what exactly do we mean when we say, “Dallas Dances”?