Dallas DanceFest showed signs of growing pains Friday and Saturday evenings. Or, shrinking pains.
Because the event at Dallas City Performance Hall was two days instead of the three in 2014 and 2015, and fewer dance companies were represented, events were added to Friday and Saturday that previously took place on the third day.
That would be the presentation of awards given in the Dance Council of North Texas honors — Texas Christian University’s Elizabeth Gillaspy received the dance educator award — and performances by Dance Council scholarship recipients. All five awards were given on each night Friday and Saturday and the seven scholarship performances were split between the two nights. That made for a very long program each night.
Luckily, there was some terrific dance to make up for it, although the overall fest was less stylistically diverse than in previous years.
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The three big North Texas professional companies were represented on both nights. Strangely, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Bruce Wood Dance Project performed the same work twice.
DBDT’s Furtherance, by former Alvin Ailey dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd, is a gorgeous, delicate work that the company premiered in February, merging classical technique and a modern aesthetic, expertly performed. Excerpts from Bruce Wood’s Anything Goes (using Cole Porter songs) added lighthearted wit to a showcase filled with more contemplative work.
On Friday, four dancers from Texas Ballet Theater School performed Caleb Mitchell’s ebullient Jubilee, with effortless long leaps. The TBT professional company had two of Saturday’s highlights, with Ben Stevenson’s Cathedral and the humorous 3 Lads.
The former was a romantic pas de deux performed passionately by Allisyn Hsieh Caro and Alexander Kotelenets. 3 Lads had three cocky dancers trying to one-up each other in strength and dance abilities. Drake Humphreys, Andre Silva and Joamanuel Velazquez delivered the physical comedy.
Another group performing the same piece both nights was Houston’s NobleMotion Dance, with the reflective quietly, on my father’s back (an excerpt from L’Dor Vador), by Andy and Dionne Noble. The piece featured Jesus Acosta and Tristin Ferguson slowly moving diagonally across the stage. She often stood on his back as he lay on the floor.
On Saturday, Fort Worth’s Ballet Concerto performed August Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano. The series of divertissements beautifully danced by Shea Johnson and Lea Zablocki was so old-school classical that it was refreshingly out of place among all of the modern, contemporary and neoclassical ballet on the program.
For some stylistic diversity, Texas Woman’s University International Dance Company performed Korean Fan Dance and scholarship recipient Manogna Nuthi delighted the audience with an Indian classical work, accenting the sound of bangles on her ankles and wrists.
Other highlights came from Rhythmic Souls Tap Company’s Basic Space, and Shauna Davis Dance’s Air & Lack Thereof. Austin’s The Theorists performed the most modern and interesting work of the festival, with Amy Morrow’s We’ve Been Here Before.
Last year, Houston’s METdance was the standout company, and it accomplished that again this year with Camille A. Brown’s New Second Line. Taking a cue from the second line of New Orleans’ parades, 12 dancers were in tight formations using space like no other company I’ve seen. Here’s hoping that in future years the Dance Council doesn’t rule out regional companies.
The festival’s lifetime achievement award went to Edward Villella, dancer, choreographer and artistic director (New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet). Miami company dancers Jennifer Lauren and Kleber Rebello paid tribute to him both nights with works by Balanchine, who was a mentor to him.
The third DanceFest was not as strong as the previous two. Finding a way to work in the honors outside the main performances and shortening the 30-minute intermission by a third would do wonders.