My story on the North Texas college-dance scene, focusing on resident choreographer programs at SMU, UTD and TCU, leads Sunday’s Dallas Morning News arts coverage. The experience gained by students is key to their future professional careers and also provides opportunities for audiences to see work that otherwise would not be available here.
I’ll dig deeper into this phenomenon with looks at the individual residences
over the next two weeks, leading up to the performances eventually. Meanwhile, I caught this weekend’s season opener of Contemporary Ballet Dallas, a decade-old company founded by SMU graduates.
CBD revived a Halloween-themed concept, Danse Macabre, for Friday and Saturday shows in the small hall at the Eisemann Center. The program of seven premieres and one revival got off to an appropriate start with House of Mirrors by choreographer Jill S. Rucci, featuring a ballerina (Jeana Robers Mosher) haunted by Night Terrors (Rachael Burns, Victoria Dolph, Danielle Georgiou, Jennifer Obeney and Carolyn Robbins).
In the second half of the program, seen Friday, Diablo by Jennifer Arellano employed a similar strategy. To music by Bach and Saint-Saens, the title character (Brandon McGee) controlled his Minions (Audrey Archer, Brittany Bollinger, Lea Essmyer, Sandra Plunkett, Addison Reed and Emilie Rupp) until a last-minute reversal.
These dances contained accomplished group work, but they weren’t as frightening as Beset by Confectionary and Not a Clue! were funny. Beset by choreographer Anna Marie Ewert-Pittman (who also has a piece in the SMU Fall Dance Concert) was a competition between Lela Bell and Jennifer Mabus with candy at stake. It required a broom to clean up.
In a takeoff on the popular board game, Not a Clue! (2002) by CBD co-founder and artistic director Valerie Shelton Tabor ended the night with a tour de force of hilarious tableaux fueled by slapstick pantomime. This is the kind of fun, accessible piece that can be enjoyed by audiences that might not sit still for other types of contemporary dance and shows that there is still a place for mimetic, acting-driven movement if it’s well conceived.
My other favorite piece of the evening was All for Fire by Victoria Dolph, which built momentum through depictions of the four elements. Jennifer Obeney, portraying Water, emerged to twirl and whip a long ribbon into eye-catching shapes. Dolph created some beautiful juxtaposing as the other elements arrived. Dolph also stood out as The Dame, the femme fatale in Obeney’s wryly dry Dance Noir, a takeoff on the detective genre that included Sam Spade/Mike Hammer-style voiceover.
Less successful was Love Lost, a duet choreographed by CBD assistant artistic director Lindsay Bowman. Starting with the treacly music by Evanescence, the piece was a clichéd look at the ups and downs of a young relationship that included some fine dancing by the ubiquitous Obeney and Stephen Raikes but also a lot of moody dead spots apparently meant to create atmosphere.
Aberration, Part II by Kate Walker showed what it’s possible to do with mood and inventive movement as Bollinger, Essmyer, Georgiou and Lisa Lagravinese created mystery out of Walker’s snake-like choreography.