In a year with a record number of performing arts festivals in North Texas, with more to be added in 2015, the inaugural Dallas DanceFest will perhaps go down as one for the history books. Ten groups representing an impressive range of styles kicked off the event Friday night at Dallas City Performance Hall.
DanceFest is a reboot of a former outdoor festival produced by the Dance Council of North Texas. Its 20-year run ended in 2004 in part to make way for the building of the AT&T Performing Arts Center and other buildings in the Dallas Arts District. City Performance Hall, with 750 seats and a deep, wide stage, is proving to be top-notch for dance. The event continued Saturday for 10 more groups; and today there will be performances along with the Dance Council Honors.
Pre-professional organizations pepper the fest; Friday began with Highland Daunce from the Dallas Ballet Company. The large symmetrical corps formations in Jason Fowler’s choreography are reminiscent of Balanchine’s large-cast works, such as Theme and Variations, but with a definite Celtic twist — and en pointe. Despite a few bobbles and imperfect synchronicity, it was an enjoyable start to the evening.
Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Dance Ensemble proved that polish is important with Kailey Andriot’s The Bread of Idleness, which was anything but idle. Six dancers engaged in dramatic coupling, with some memorable mirroring and repetition, and outstanding form by the students in one of the area’s best college dance programs.
The Indian classical dance group Indique Dance Company thrilled with Thillana, choreography by Shalini Varghese and Bhuvana Venkatraman. Dancing in the Bharatanatyam style, with colorful costumes, board-straight cores, liquid arms and precisely angled fingers, the six dancers kept it upbeat to music by Indian rock band Agam, their ankle bells in perfect harmony with the music’s melding of tabla and guitar. Smiles, on the dancers and audience members, were constant.
The heaviest work of the night was Christopher L. Huggins’ Tears of War, danced by Dallas Black Dance Theatre II. With the men in camo pants and black tank tops, the women in funereal black, it captured the horrors and realities of war, of madness, anguish and mourning. Tony Tucci’s lighting (he lit all the DanceFest shows) highlighted a long, diagonal swath on the floor, with the dancers running up and down its length, often ending with athletic lifts and daredevil catches. The fatal gunshots at the end were perhaps too literal, but war isn’t pretty.
The biggest crowd-pleaser was the modern tap outfit Rhythmic Souls. In Katelyn Harris’ The Consequence of Sound, the six dancers engaged in impressive, well-timed hoofing, with several individual show-off moments. A particularly fantastic section had three dancers in little sandboxes, each slide of the shoe making a scratchy sound in skatelike motion. Outstanding vintage costumes (not credited for any of the groups) were the icing.
Dark Circles Contemporary Dance offered excerpts from Joshua L. Peugh’s Marshmallow, displaying his knack for whimsy as men and women try to woo each other by feeding the titular treat, then paired off with swooping dips and high lifts. Of all the contemporary choreographers in town, Peugh’s dance vocabulary is becoming a standout for its uniqueness. (The company’s fall show is Thursday through Saturday at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center’s Sanders Theater; don’t miss it.)
Ewert & Company’s Not So Carefully Kept, choreographed by Anna-Marie Ewert-Pittman, was the most modern work of the Friday showcase. Dancers Haylee Barganier, Lela Bell and Rebekah Caffey rearranged, crawled over and moved their bodies with 10 white chairs as a James Mio reading of The Velveteen Rabbit played over Purcell music. “He longed to be real” is the takeaway phrase in a piece that conjured images of loss and looking back at the past while also thinking of the future.
The Fort Worth-based Texas Ballet Theater’s entry was Ben Stevenson’s duet Lost & Found, featuring Heather and Alexander Kotelenets, which to no one’s surprise was danced with exquisite technique and form. Lovely coupling filled with lifts and dips were accented with showboating opportunities for Alexander Kotelenets.
Broadway dancers Dylis Croman and Tyler Hanes were equally gorgeous in Nathan Madden’s jazzy Blues House, leaving us envious of her leg extensions and their chemistry.
Finally, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre revived Bruce Wood’s Smoke, using Ray Charles music and ’50s and ’60s popular dance styles, such as go-go and the frug, to evoke smoky bars. A cluster of dancers moved at once, drawing long, slender body lines and faces angled out and up, as if an Al Hirschfeld illustration come alive.
All in all, it was a great first night for the reinvigorated DanceFest.