2014: A Year in Dallas Dance

The Dallas dance scene is alive and well, and if 2014 is any indication, 2015 is going to provide us with a lot of entertainment, opportunities to perform and chances to expand the community.

In an effort not to sugarcoat anything, I will say that we are still facing issues of sustainability, funding, training, location and visibility. Money will always be an obstacle for dancers and dance companies, especially in a city like Dallas. Based on population, we're a large city -- one of the largest -- but when you look at how much local grant money and public arts funding is available, the city shrinks. We're all grappling to win over the same people and the same performance venues, and that can be problematic. While there are many venues to choose from, many of them are costly to rent. Yet, from my own experiences this year and from what I have witnessed as an audience member and writer, the future is looking brighter.

2014 saw the reemergence of festivals, and the advent of new companies, programs, dancers, directors and spaces. Let me start with the Dallas DanceFest.

After a 10-year hiatus, the Dallas DanceFest returned with a new venue, the Dallas City Performance Hall, and a new vision to feature works "curated to reflect vibrancy, vitality, diversity, and excellence, and boast a new level of artistic excellent for artists and audience." Produced, once again, by Gayle Halperin and the Dance Council of North Texas, the Dallas DanceFest kept its Labor Day Weekend performance dates and welcomed 18 companies.

The Dance Council was smart to bring back this festival. It called attention to the growing dance community in Dallas -- companies have tripled over the last five years -- and the development of Dallas as a city for dance and for the arts. "It's a catalyst for bringing the dance community back together. Dance is strong here, and this is a great opportunity for an assemblage of dance companies and audiences to be together in one place. It brings what we have to offer as a city to the next level," said Charles Santos, Executive Director of TITAS and one of the jurors for the DanceFest in an interview with us back in August.

Though the companies selected were predictable, the programming did include some surprises, like a performance from Dallas-based dance company, Ewert & Company, which has been around for 14 years. Directed by Anna Marie Ewert-Pittman, a much-loved instructor whose company always provides the audience with a nostalgic narrative, delivered once again with "Not So Carefully Kept," a reimagining of The Velveteen Rabbit.

It was also exciting to see tap dance represented, as it is the most commonly overlooked and under-appreciated dance form. But tap has gone through a transformation since its heyday in the Hollywood movie musical era -- from a form of pure entertainment to a form of artistic expression and emotional exploration. Dallas also has something unique to offer the tap dancer: We are one of the few cities that hosts a full-time professional tap dance company, Rhythmic Souls. And they have quite a lot in store for us in 2015 with RIFF, the first annual tap dance festival to take place in Dallas. It will take place January 16-19, 2015 at the historic Majestic Theatre, so mark your calendars.

DanceFest also included performances from emerging companies Avant Chamber Ballet and Dark Circles Contemporary Dance. Avant Chamber, directed by Katie Puder, performed Christopher Wheeldon's pas de deux from "There Where She Loved," and Dark Circles, directed by Joshua Peugh, performed an excerpt from "Marshmallow," which they premiered at the Sanders Theatre in Fort Worth in the spring of 2014. Avant Chamber has steadily been producing and performing original pieces in Dallas, and traveled to Waco for the {254} DANCE-FEST to present the only ballet, and the only piece en-pointe, at the strictly modern dance festival. Dark Circles has also had quite the year of well-received shows, and Peugh was called an "important discovery" by Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times for his piece "Slump" with BalletX.

It will be interesting to see what the Dallas DanceFest has in store for us in 2015 (they just announced the dates -- September 4-6 -- and applications will be available April 21-May 21, 2015). Maybe we'll see the inclusion of other emerging dance companies, like Dallas Neo-Classical Ballet, 8&1 Dance Company, imPULSE Dance Project, Big Rig Dance Collective and Epiphany DanceArts.

2014 also marked a new era for two of Dallas' more recognizable companies, Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) and the Bruce Wood Dance Project (formerly known as the Bruce Wood Dance Company).

In early 2014, DBDT founder Ann Williams officially retired from her position as Artistic Director, and April Berry, former principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, took over. She has some extremely big shoes to fill, but her background, experience and aesthetic vision as demonstrated by the return of The Director's Choice series, show that she is ready for the challenge. She will no doubt continue to showcase the strength and versatility of the DBDT dancers.

The Bruce Wood Dance Project had one of the biggest hurdles to overcome: the unexpected loss of their founder, choreographer and director Bruce Wood. In May 2014, Wood passed away, just weeks before his company was set to perform at the Dallas City Performance Hall. In honor of the man who lived the show business life, the show went on, and the company is still going strong, now under the direction of Kimi Nikaidoh, former Bruce Wood Dance Company and Complexions Contemporary Ballet member, and friend.

This was also a milestone year for for established companies Elledanceworks, Contemporary Ballet Dallas, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre and Contemporary Dance Fort Worth.

Celebrating 17 years of dance, Elledanceworks is one of the only companies in Dallas that is all-female and is largely comprised of dance educators. If you grew up doing modern dance in Dallas, you probably trained under one of these women, or your teacher did. They are also the resident dance company at Collin College and continue to present work that is educational and steadfastly connected to classical modern dance technique.

Contemporary Ballet Dallas is celebrating its 14th year. Founded in 2000 by Southern Methodist University dance alumnae, CBD performs a diverse repertoire of modern, ballet and jazz influenced works, and provides a platform for emerging choreographers to present their ideas. Artistic Director Val Tabor was even named on our 100 Creatives List for her commitment to the Dallas dance community, and the dancers in CBD are working professionals in the dance education field who also perform with many other companies in Dallas.

Muscle Memory Dance Theatre (M2DT), the youngest of these established companies at 10-years old, faced a tough question this year: what to do next? For the first time, Director Lesley Snelson turned the artistic reins over to two unknown artists in the Dallas dance scene and let them run wild with her company. Their fall show, Wrapped and Uncovered, welcomed choreographers Megan Odom, from the University of Colorado Boulder, and Randee Paufve, from Oakland, California. It was an interesting collaboration that kept true to M2DT's desire to use props in their performances, experiment with space and give chances to young dancers and choreographers.

Contemporary Dance Fort Worth (CD/FW) is Fort Worth's first professional modern dance company and it's a member of Dance/USA, the national dance service organization for professional dance companies. That's indicative of what CD/FW does for the dance community. They are committed to educational programs and public dance art works that call attention to the art form. Every summer they host the Modern Dance Festival at the Modern in Fort Worth, and bring in companies and dancers from outside of Texas to share the stage with local performers. They also bring dance films that would normally only be shown in New York. Even this month, they are presenting Phil Kline's Unsilent Night, a community "caroling" project for musicians and dancers. Kline's work first premiered in New York in 1992, and since then it's been presented in over 50 cities and four continents, and it will be the first time it's done in Fort Worth.

And last, but not least, 2014 saw new spaces becoming available for dance. Most notably, the 6th Floor Studio Theatre at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. Thanks to the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Elevator Project, six small-budget arts companies are able to perform one show from their respective seasons at the Studio Theatre space, including a show for DGDG, my company. For much of this year, and last year, when the Dallas City Performance Hall first opened without the originally planned black box spaces, concerns about the cost of rent for venues at ATTPAC and DCPH were at the top of the obstacle list for leaders of smaller and mid-sized companies. So, when ATTPAC sought out smaller companies for the Elevator Project, it was a solution to that.

For two weeks, DGDG presented NICE, a dance theatre piece exploring the expectations placed on women to be "nice." We utilized dance, text from the etiquette queen herself, Emily Post, real-life incidents of "not so nice behavior," and a score composed and played by Paul Slavens. All the dancers were so invested in the work, that along with my assistant choreographer and my co-director, Justin Locklear, they were able to clearly bring my vision to life, and the magical tunes, lyrical voice, and creative movement of Paul Slavens tied it all together. We sold-out our entire two week run, which rarely happens in Dallas dance.

Here's to 2015, let it be another dance-filled year.