by Kelly Trager
Dallas DanceFest, presented by the Dance Council of North Texas, came to the Dallas City Performance Hall September 4-6, and it was truly a wonderful celebration. The annual event, featuring three shows in three days, showcased many of the area’s diverse dance companies, celebrated accomplished and upcoming dance artists and educators, and gave dance lovers plenty to cheer about.
Saturday evening’s performance consisted mainly of ensemble work, ranging from the young talent of Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Ensemble and the SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble to companies such as Chamberlain Performing Arts, Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble, NobleMotion Dance, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, METDance, and Dallas Black Dance Theatre. It was a Who’s Who of Texas Dance.
An excerpt from Balanchine’s “Serenade,” performed by Chamberlain Performing Arts began the night. The curtain came up on a stage full of tulle as the dancers beautifully executed Balanchine’s timeless choreography, leaping and swirling dream-like with the strains of Tchaikovsky, leaving the crowd wanting more.
The next two pieces could not have provided more contrast. Houston Repertory’s “Where Angels Dwell” was a line of long-limbed dancers clad in white and shadow moving forward and away, while the quick-stepping acrobatic movement and street clothes- styled costumes of NobleMotion Dance made the stage shake and tumble with energy.
The young talent of the Ensemble from Booker T. Washington delightfully performed Jessica Lang’s “Solo in Nine Parts,” a piece reminiscent of the early classical modern dance of Jose Limon or Paul Taylor. It was perfectly set on these dancers, and each turn, jump, and step was enthusiastically performed with conviction and received with appreciation by the audience.
The other young group, the ensemble from SMU, had incredibly strong talent- beguiling presence and technique- and the compelling music of Duke Ellington, Nina Simone, John Coltrane made the audience want to see more from a piece that felt incomplete.
The visual experience of Dark Circles’ “White Day,” which began with tip toeing ladies dropping petals like confetti as they crossed the stage, and continued through the pairings of intensely athletic dancing coupled with the soundscape of strong and repetitive music drew in the audience and felt like a party and a reflection at the same time.
METDance from Houston opened the second act with a lone performer, growing increasingly frazzled and without escape. His leap into the audience brought on the suited ensemble who stomped and circled, bringing themselves round and round again into the fold, also without escape. The thought-provoking work looked a bit like a wonderfully organized flash mob on the food truck lines on a weekday lunch hour.
Red tunics and leaping dancers categorized “Memoirs” performed by Dallas Black Dance Theatre. The beautiful lines and unison movement, coupled with the crimson intensity of the costumes, came at the audience and didn’t relent for the entirety of the piece. It was electrifying.
There were two solos in the evening, incredibly different and equally stunning. The first was the traditional Indian Dance “Aadineye Kanna,” performed by the expressive and captivating Smriti Krishnan of Birmingham, Alabama’s Natayananda: Joy of Dance Company. The rhythmic gestures, articulate eyes, and stamping feet led the audience through a narrative progression that was colorful and beguiling.
The second solo, a tribute to the Russian ballerina and teacher Maya Plistetskaya, was Fokine’s “The Dying Swan,” performed by Olga Pavlova whose bourrees floated so gracefully across the stage that she seemed weightless. Yet, the tone of Ms. Pavlova’s interpretation imparted the perfect amount of gravitas. Simply breathtaking.
The evening ended with a Dance Talk, in which moderator Catherine Turocy and representatives from each company answered audience and moderator questions about their works and process. This bonus talk really breaks down the fourth wall and allows the audience into the world of the dancers and choreographers, though most of the audience was not lacking in their dance education.
Sunday afternoon’s performance was focused on the Dance Council Honors, a celebration of the eight Dance Council Honorees, recognized for their achievements in the field of dance and dance education. The presentation of the awards was interspersed with delightful performances by the young scholarship recipients- a preview of the next generation of upcoming dance talent, an intermission for the silent auction to gather its final bids, and wrapped up with a performance by Dallas Black Dance Theatre. MC Michael Rey led the festivities, and the dance community showed its appreciation to the amazing leaders and for the future of dance in Texas.
Overall the festivities– part performance, part fundraiser, part recognition builder– felt like a party where all in attendance were truly happy to be. The dancing was sharp, the audience was wildly enthusiastic, and the conversation took off after the final curtain dropped.