Command Performance Gala Delivers Pyrotechnic Dance and Christmas in the Summer

"This is the pyrotechnics of dance," says executive director Charles Santos about the upcoming 20th anniversary of the TITAS' Command Performance Gala. Now, if that doesn't spark your interest in dance, I don't know what else can. Pyro-technics, people.

Then there is the inclusion of not one, but two, new commissions for the evening of dance at 7 p.m. May 2 at the Winspear Opera House. That's a first for the Gala, but it is the 20th anniversary of the production after all, so why not?

For the first commission, Santos reached out to TITAS and Gala favorite, Jessica Lang, whose company's now infamous work, Among the Stars (or the dance with the giant skirt), had its world premiere at the Gala in 2010. For this show, she'll be setting a new work on Julie Kent, of American Ballet Theatre, and Clifton Brown, now of Jessica Lang Dance, but formerly of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

"This will be an emotional and interesting pairing," says Santos, "With this commissioning, unlike others in the past, I have given Jessica free rein, just letting her go with it, because she's so brilliant, and I trust her."

If Lang's previous work is any indication, it will be subtly stunning, poetic and physical. And with Kent and Brown as her dancers, their individual gracefulness and seductive quality of movement is sure to make it a dynamic piece.

It has been nearly seven years since a Gala performance has included a local artist, and a nonprofessional has never been on stage for the Gala. But for its second commission, TITAS rectified these points by presenting a world premiere by Dallas choreographer Bruce Wood, starring Albert Drake, of his eponymous named company, and high school senior Mykal Stromile.

For Stromile, this performance is just the first milestone in what promises to be a bright career. A senior at the Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts, Stromile is one of the five students recently accepted into The Juilliard School.

What better way to celebrate your graduation and acceptance into one of the most prestigious art schools in North America than to dance in a world premiere work? Stromile and Drake's duet is entitled Hide Me Angel.

"Albert and I are on our own personal quests in search of spiritual affirmation, which is something we [are] developing on a more intimate level [through the rehearsal process]," says Stromile of the piece.

Wood's piece addresses a complex view of religion and the role of God in the everyday life of these characters, while also speaking to the audience and giving them pause and reflection on their own spiritual journey -- a process that Stromile is taking as he works with Wood and Drake.

In many ways the piece will reflect the dancer's process. When a dancer enters the rehearsal studio, it's a spiritual experience, and while you might not be looking for God, per se you are definitely asking the dance gods to bless your feet and knees and give you the strength to pull out an amazing performance. Which is exactly what Wood is going to be expecting of Stromile, and this young dancer is ready for the challenge.

"This local coupling speaks to the innovation happening here in Dallas, and to the support [TITAS] has received from the community and our honoree for the evening, Donna Wilhelm," Santos says. Wilhelm gave a significant gift to TITAS for the organization to continue their mission of building capacity and exploring new avenues of performance. Wilhelm's generosity alone has lead TITAS to be able to produce two world premieres, create a platform for one rising talent, and to bring in nine professional dancers.

Other highlights from the evening include two pieces presented by MOMIX, a company of dancer-illusionists. Then, Brown will grace the stage a second time in David Parsons' Caught, a stroboscopic solo piece (if you are prone to seizures, this might be the perfect time to visit the bar) that features more than 100 leaps in six minutes. This piece gives even the most seasoned dance critic goosebumps. It's not one to miss, but again, if you have a light sensitivity, please be careful.

The Gala has something in store for the bunheads too. The iconic Paloma Herrera of American Ballet Theatre will be dancing with the strong and controlled Gonzalo Garcia of New York City Ballet in two pieces from George Balanchine, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and the "Rubies'Pas de Deux from Jewels. While the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is a gentle piece of work set to an excerpt from Swan Lake, "Rubies" is crisp, clean, and witty.

Ashley Ellis and Eris Nezha of the Boston Ballet will perform a pas de deux from La Bayadère, and for the first time ever at the Gala, the grand pas de deux from The Nutcracker will be staged.

"We had avoided them in the past, but really there is no reason to do so. It's a crowd favorite, and it's The Nutcracker," says Santos.

I tend to agree. Who doesn't love a little Christmas in the summertime?

Tickets to the Command Performance Gala at 7 p.m. May 2 start at $12 and are available at

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Danielle Georgiou